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Jen Air: Out There

 

 

Jen Air: Out There

By John Coutelier

 

Copyright 2016 John Coutelier

Published by John Coutelier on Shakespir

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Out There

About John Coutelier

Other books by John Coutelier

Connect with John Coutelier

Introduction

Outside of a town called Irongate, there was a lighthouse on top of a hill. Most did not know the story of how there came to be a lighthouse on top of hill miles from the ocean or any large body of water, so to them it was curious. Strange and lonely and out of place. Much like it’s occupant, Jennifer Airhart.

 

At least, she had been lonely. Now, due to a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances, an old friend had returned to her – Kaya Cade. They had explored the world together as children but, again due to a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances, they had separated in their teens and not seen each other in quite a few years. It seemed Kaya genuinely repentant for the bullying and cruelty she had inflicted on the other girl as a teenager, and so Jen had given her a chance. And not just her.

 

There was another girl, still a child, who had also been left alone in this world. A responsible of course would have turned her over to the proper authorities to find a home to care for her, but Tenley Tych was a unique case in several ways. Her now deceased mother had not only trained her in a variety of deadly skills, but the Queen Titania had made her into a changeling, possessing far greater agility and strength than any normal human.

 

Titania was not the Titania of stories and myth, but a creation of Alvin Stag and his corporation who had rebelled against her creator. It was that, ultimately, that had brought all these people together.

 

So now Jen lived in a lighthouse on top of a hill, and it was still strange and out of place, but it was no longer lonely.

Out There

The stars were very distant. To describe how distant they were was almost impossible. You could be given all the facts, the figures… but, say the distance between two cities was a hundred miles. That was maybe a two-hour drive, depending on traffic, but it was something you could feel, experience for yourself. But a hundred million, billions… those numbers mean nothing, as they are so far beyond a human being can experience in a lifetime. Basically, the universe is really, really big. And Jennifer had never lost her sense of wonder whenever she looked at it and the endless possibilities it offered.

 

The object she was looking at this night was a little closer to home than usual, a mere two hundred and fifty miles above her head, so barely off the ground, really. Right now it was a bluish white blob with antennae like ears. Nevertheless, as she adjusted the telescope, beside her the young Tenley was bouncing and flapping her arms, wailing, “I want to see!”

 

The fair star gazer sighed, “That’s… that’s not how you ask nicely.”

 

“No,” the little raven haired girl folded her arms, her head inclining to the left as her dark eyes shone on the woman. “No it’s not.” She didn’t say anything else, but you didn’t have to be an expert at reading body language to get her message. It was ‘I can punch a hole through your chest and your heart out faster than you can blink. That I haven’t done so already shows exceedingly good manners on my part.’ Which was hard to argue with, really, but Jen nevertheless stood her ground.

 

“I still have to focus and set the tracking,” she explained, “but if you don’t want to ask nicely, I suppose I could forego all that and leave you staring at some fuzzy white spheres.”

 

“Fine,” Ten huffed, stepping back a little. “I don’t really care, anyway. It’s just a shiny, expensive tin-can. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”

 

“Well, that tin-can was made with the cooperation of scientists and engineers from all over our globe,” Jennifer explained while tapping the keys on her laptop set up on a tree stump. “That alone is almost a miracle, never mind the great feat of engineering that it was to get it up there… and that should be it…”

 

As Jen finished her adjustments she turned back to look again through the eyepiece. At least she would have done; her eye never quite made it. Something very rapidly accelerated into her side and the next thing she knew she was lying on her back several feet away gulping for breath. She supposed she ought to just be glad the girl seemed genuinely interested, even if the manner in which she expressed it still left something to be desired.

 

The van was parked by the edge of the forest, Kaya Cade sitting inside the open side door plucking her guitar strings. “I don’t get why we couldn’t do this at the lighthouse,” she asked idly, “you got plenty of telescopes on top of that tower.”

 

“You said I needed to get out more,” Jen answered. Besides, if she’d been at the top of the tower with Tenley there…

 

“This isn’t exactly what I meant.”

 

Sayuri Oshiro sat cross-legged on the ground near the van’s front tires. “I like it,” she said, arching her neck. “It reminds of when I went camping as a little girl. It’s good to get away from things, sometimes.”

 

“Your dad’s got you working hard at the store?” Kaya asked.

 

“He bought a crate filled with calculators and I’ve got to figure out some way to make a profit them. Don’t suppose you want to buy a calculator, do you Jen?”

 

The blonde scrambled up, flushing and stuttering nervously, “I-I don’t, really… no… I’ve an app on my tablet…”

 

“It’s all right,” Sayuri assured her, “no-one needs to buy a calculator anymore. I’m done for,” she sagged and groaned, sliding back against the tire. “I’ll be out on the streets. Forced to sell my body.”

 

Tenley turned to her and squinted. “You mean your kidneys and stuff?”

 

“Something like that… it’s an idea anyway.”

 

Kaya shrugged and tried to perk up her former band’s drummer. “Hey, come on… it won’t come to that.”

 

“No?”

 

“Nah. I mean, you could sell drugs. Stan Greif at The Mill is always looking for new employees. Benefits suck and he has a very literal interpretation of what it means to fire someone. But the pay’s decent.”

 

“Great. So my choices are life on the streets or life in prison.”

 

“You’ll work it out,” Kay winked. “You always do,” she turned to face the telescope. “In the meantime, can the rest of us see this station thing?”

 

Tenley seemed a little unwilling to surrender the eyepiece, but Jen shuffled by on her knees to her computer, clicking on it to bring up the image of the tin-can tumbling through space miles above them.

 

Sayuri pulled herself up and staggered over. “So what are they doing up there?”

 

“Oh… all sorts of experiments,” Jen said, arms bouncing excitedly. “Weather, biology, looking for dark matter…”

 

“Dark matter?”

 

“Oh, yeah,” Kaya grinned wickedly, “she was telling us about it the other night. See, scientists looked into space and did all these sums, and then they realized that most of the universe was missing. But rather than think their sums and theories were wrong they decided to just make up that there was all this stuff that no one can see. Dark matter.”

 

“Yes, well,” Jen huffed and folded her arms, although she again supposed she should just be glad anyone paid attention to anything she said, “When you have a better theory than Einstein to explain the behavior and structure of the observable universe, I’m sure scientists will be happy to hear it.”

 

“Obviously, giant space lizards stir the galaxies around with their tongues which the stars all stick to.”

 

“And… where did the invisible lizards come from?”

 

“God bought them from a pet store, of course. And they’re not invisible – they’re just really well camouflaged.”

 

“So, you think the universe is just an infinite vivarium for God’s lizards?”

 

Sayuri wondered and asked, “Can a vivarium be infinite? I mean, could you really call it a vivarium if its dimensions are endless…”

 

“See,” Jen sighed, “your lizard theory just creates a lot more questions than it answers.”

 

But Kaya wasn’t ready to relent quite yet. “Yeah, well you’re going to be feeling pretty dumb when the end times come and the Earth is mistaken for a big blue bug.”

 

Suddenly Tenley’s ears perked up and she shushed them. “All of you stop yapping,” the girl demanded as her black eyes slowly turned from the telescope.

 

“What is it?” Kaya asked.

 

Ten inclined her head, listening intently as she spoke slowly, in as low a voice as she could manage. “You know, when I was changed, the world started to look very different. People were brighter, and I can see things I couldn’t before, like red clouds and swirls over there where something pooped by that bush. And I hear more as well. People talking a long way away, footsteps, and if I listen carefully I can even hear your heartbeats.”

 

“Why are you telling us this now?”

 

“Because, I count five of them.”

 

Kay glanced around at the others, obviously not needing a calculator to notice the discrepancy. “So… either one of us is a Time Lord, or…”

 

“There’s someone watching us,” the girl confirmed, nodding gently as The girl whispered. “He’s over there, under that tree… don’t look, dummies!”

 

“’He’?” The three women had moved into a small, tight circle around Tenley, their heads touching as they leant over her.

 

“Sounds clumsy and heavy, and obviously is very stupid to be sneaking around me like that, so it’s most likely a man.”

 

“So what do we do about it?”

 

“Well,” Ten yawned, “I’m kind of sleepy so I’m going back to the van. You all have fun with your telescope.”

 

And she wandered off, leaving the three women in their circle with their eyes nervously darting between each other, until Sayuri finally broke the silence. “So, are we just going to stand here, or go after her, or…”

 

“Just wait a second,” Jen suggested.

 

Then, after a few seconds, they heard an anguished howl and a human shape came screaming and spinning out of the bushes, before collapsing to the ground with a soft thud. Tenley stepped out after it brandishing a broken branch almost the same size as her.

 

Jen wondered if somehow a portal had indeed opened in time and space as the portly gentleman scrambled to his knees fixing his deer-stalker hat while raising his other arm to defend against the girl. He looked like some Victorian adventurer, which further begged the question of what he was doing here.

 

“W-w-wait!” He spat, wiping saliva from his jaw as he got up. Jen just hoped that was from where Tenley had hit him, otherwise she would have no hesitation letting the girl hit him again. She was already getting ready for another swing. “I assure you ladies; I mean you no harm!” He sounded English, posh, and mildly panicked.

 

“Hold on, Ten,” Kaya got between them. “Who are you, and why were you spying on us?”

 

“Please forgive my indiscretion,” he said, remaining on his knees as he held up his palms. “I was unsure whether you were friend or foe. A man in my profession can never be too careful.”

 

“I don’t think Peeping Tom really counts as a profession…”

 

Sayuri looked curiously at the man who appeared to be their prisoner. “Wait… I think I know his voice. It’s on the radio. That paranormal show… Mystifying Yarns, with… Lionel Baker.”

 

“Ah!” The man turned to her as if seeing a light. “A believer!”

 

“Well,” the Japanese drummer looked down a little guiltily. “To be honest, I only tune in to have a laugh.”

 

“Ah,” the man deflated. “Well, be that as it may, I am indeed the Sir Lionel Baker. Gentleman, polymath, purveyor of mystery. And host of the aforementioned radio broadcast.”

 

Kaya scoffed, “Well it’s a pretty dumb title. Only yarn that ever mystified me was when my mum gave me a sweater with Donny Osmond’s face on it. I’ve always hated Donny Osmond.”

 

“Yeah, well, what are we going to do about him?” Sayuri asked.

 

“I don’t know. I think he’s in Vegas at the moment…”

 

“No, not Donny Osmond. I meant what are we going to do about Lionel?”

 

“Oh… right,” the punky guitarist tore herself away from whatever terrible memory she was reliving. “Well, I guess he seems harmless enough.”

 

Tenley had been waiting impatiently, loosening and gently swinging her large stick as the others talked. “Well I still think he’s fishy,” she grumbled, “and ought to be battered.”

 

“Charming little girl you have,” Sir Baker noted, feeling his jaw. “Although, may I suggest a little less sugar and caffeine in her diet…”

 

Ten glared and emitted a low growl, but Kaya was still between them and held up her palms. “Stand down, kid.” The girl seemed to obey, albeit reluctantly, backing off a couple of steps.

 

The only person who had remained quiet through this exchange, Jennifer, now padded around in a circle, giving Lionel a wide berth, going up and leaning in to Kaya then whispering in her ear.

 

“Good point,” the punk nodded, turning back to Sir Baker. “Why would you think we might be foes?”

 

Lionel peered up at her, considering a moment, before shaking his head. “My vehicle was driven off the road, a few miles back that way,” he explained. “Of course, I had to be sure you were not part of the gang of ruffians that assaulted me.”

 

“And why would any ruffians assault you?”

 

“As I alluded to before, it is a professional hazard. You see, I know things. Secrets that some individuals, such as those who control Stag Corp, would rather not have out in the open.”

 

The women, and girl, all exchanged a look, all knowing that despite how ridiculous this man seemed that much of what he said, that last sentence at least, was completely true.

 

*****

 

Jen hadn’t been back to Stag Corp since the battle with Titania, although she had stayed in contact with Doctor Jana Sarkis to help those affected by the corporation’s, and in particular Alvin Stag’s, irresponsible experiment in synthetic biology. He had used technology that could have been used to feed millions of people, or clear up waste and pollution made by human beings, and instead created what he considered to be humankind perfected, redesigning the species from scratch. But thanks to how she was treated, Titania grew bitter and broke free changing the lives of many others, such as Tenley.

 

But Stag Corp was in fact a subsidiary of a far larger organization – Meridiem – that Jen had so far been unable to penetrate far into. She could find no information of any of their activities in Antarctica or why they had sent her parents there, never to return. But now her mind swirled with the possibility that Sir Baker might have, by accident most likely, stumbled upon something that might finally lead to answers.

 

“I have travelled all over this world,” Lionel explained as the van juddered along the road, “seen many things. Things that cannot be explained by science.”

 

Up front, Kaya leant over and whispered in her friend’s ear, “yeah, Jen. Science doesn’t have answers to everything.”

 

The blonde sighed and groaned, sitting back as the van was driving itself. She held her tongue, hoping this man’s stories would actually lead to something interesting eventually.

 

“I came to this town, finding it to be a focal point for all manner of paranormal events and other activity,” Sir Baker carried on in the back, Sayuri listening very politely while Tenley crossed her arms and watched suspiciously from the opposite bench.

 

“Other activity?” The drummer asked.

 

“When I was a boy, growing up in a sleepy English village,” he said, eyes and finger drifting to the roof and the sky beyond, “I was taken… by them… I expect they’ve been drawn to this place for the same reasons I have.”

 

“Them?” Ten raised a brow as she asked. “You mean, you were kidnapped by pirate pigeons?”

 

Kaya remarked facetiously, “Bet they thought that was a coup.”

 

Then Sayuri grinned and suggested, “I suppose they made their demands in Pigeon-English.”

 

Jen rolled her eyes. She was beginning to suspect that behind his ramblings, Lionel didn’t know anything at all that would help her. Even his story about being driven off the road might have been woven by him to avoid admitting to simply falling asleep at the wheel. “This whole conversation is driving me coo-coo,” she muttered.

 

“I understand your skepticism, ladies,” Lionel said, shaking his jowls. “But I assure you, the paranormal is real. Once you have seen the things that I have seen, heard the testimony of thousands, there can be no more doubt.”

 

Jennifer however did have doubts, being that eyewitness testimony was the least reliable form of evidence. She believed that most people were truthful when they reported seeing things, although she might question their interpretation of what they saw. And human senses could be deceived in so many ways, so doubt was generally a very positive thing to have. And then there were people who preyed on those who lacked answers, encouraged them to devote themselves to just one belief and close their minds off to all other possibilities because it profited that individual to do so. What she wasn’t sure of yet was whether Lionel was a true believer or a predator. She supposed she didn’t care at this point – she just wanted to know if he actually had learned anything about Stag Corp, but was unsure how to bring up the subject. So she waited, hoping he would get around to it himself, while tapping the dashboard impatiently.

 

“You know what though,” Sayuri said, “I remember when I was little girl staying at a hotel that they said was haunted by the ghost of an old maid. Didn’t believe at first, but then, when we about to leave, my dad lost his keys. We searched all over the hotel room but they were nowhere to be seen. Well, we’d all given up and were heading out to the lobby to check the lost and found, when suddenly we heard a ping and turned and they had just been dropped on the side table.”

 

Kaya scrunched her face. “A ghost found your dad’s keys?”

 

“What else could it have been?”

 

“Truly,” Lionel nodded sagely, “there are more things in heaven and earth than can be dreamed.”

 

“Maybe,” Kay agreed, “can’t see anyone in Hollywood rushing to buy the rights to that particular tale though. Now, I remember, after my hamster died, all kinds of weird crap started happening. I would be woken up by scratching in middle of the night, my schoolbooks all started disappearing, and one night I was listening to music on our old cassette player and it started to play backwards. You remember, Jen?”

 

She did, and she sighed. “You had mice. The tape played backward because it got twisted in the machine, and your schoolbooks didn’t disappear – you left them out where you knew the bin men would take them.”

 

“It wasn’t twisted in the machine – my dad checked!” Kaya adamantly protested. “I told you Jen – science can’t explain everything.”

 

“If science could explain everything, there wouldn’t be any more science,” Jen reminded everyone. “But if there’s something we don’t know the answer to, it doesn’t mean that therefore the spirit of your dead hamster must be behind it.”

 

Kaya frowned, perhaps sensing the growing impatience in Jennifer’s voice. Sayuri meanwhile rolled her eyes and insisted, “well, my story might not have been exciting, but at least it was true.”

 

“Not all poltergeists are malign,” Sir Baker nodded again, “but, if thrills are what you seek, then I can relate to you the tale of an exorcism I once attended in South Africa…”

 

“Actually, you know what bud,” Kay interrupted, “as fun as this has been, you said something earlier about Stag Corp. I think we want to know about that.”

 

“Very well,” Lionel said with a deep sigh. He looked like the kind of person who should have held a pipe as he spoke, but the others wouldn’t have allowed that in the van. “As you may be aware, the premises were sealed off some time ago. The official explanation has been some gas or chemical leak… but I have reason to believe there was far more to it.”

 

The others were all well aware of that, but Kaya said anyway, “really?”

 

“I have it on good authority that twenty-five years ago, Alvin Stag acquired a piece of alien bio-technology. They have since been conducting all manner of unholy experiment, including the engineering of extra-terrestrial and human hybrids and it is that which caused all the ruckus they’ve been covering up.”

 

There was a moments silence as the women all exchanged nervous stares. Disregarding the aliens and the hybrids, it sounded close enough to what they already knew to be true. They needed more. “How do you know all that?” Kaya was the first to ask.

 

“I have a source. A former employee of the company. I was on my way to meet them, when… well, you know the rest. And then I met you lovely ladies.”

 

“Do I look like a lady to you?” Kaya asked, also growing impatient. “Like someone who’s never had to work for a living?”

 

Jen peered at her and started to say quietly, “You never have worked…” and then yelped as the punk’s fist hit her arm.

 

The stargazer smirked, then yelped again as suddenly the van shuddered and lurched. There was a sickly screeching and squealing as the seats and everything else inside rattled. The confusion stopped just as suddenly as it had begun, the van having veered a little and stopped at the side of the road, the computer shutting down the engine.

 

Kaya pulled herself straight, pinching the bridge of her nose. “What happened?”

 

The blonde stirred next to her, shaking her face and looking across the dashboard. “Tires are all gone. Like we ran over some spikes…”

 

“It’s a trap!” Lionel roared.

 

Through the glass they saw beams of torchlight bouncing under the trees outside, getting closer. Jen squinted, and for an instant caught a silhouette of a man raising a stick toward them. “Shhh…” Jen began urgently pressing buttons which caused shutters to close over all the windows just before a heavy, leaden, rain began to fall on the van.

 

“Shit,” Kaya finished, unbuckling and clambering into the back along with Jen to join the others. “Guess the old windbag’s not just full of hot air after all. What do we do now?”

 

The blonde was on her pad, scrolling and bringing up camera views of outside. About half a dozen men and women clad all in black were closing in a semi-circle around the van. Probably there were more hanging back under cover of the trees, as from that direction a tall man marched forward.

 

“Hold your fire, you berks!” He barked. “I want that fat lazy pug alive.”

 

Alive? Jen thought, if these people were working for Stag Corp to prevent information leaking out, why would they want Lionel alive? Perhaps they wanted to know who he’d been in contact with… but something didn’t feel right. They were organized, but they didn’t look like typical corporate mercenaries. There was a woman among them with spiky blue hair and silver eye shadow, and a man whose face was covered in tattoos. They looked like a well-armed gang.

 

“You in there,” the gang leader called, “I know you might be thinking about calling the cops. They won’t get out here in time. I’m giving you thirty seconds to open the doors, and if you don’t, we blast.”

 

“Ladies,” Lionel lips juddered as he wiped sweat from his brow, “I strongly urge not to acquiesce to this man’s demands. The moment we step outside we will all be gunned down.”

 

Jen peered across, asking, “Why does he want you?”

 

“I believe I already explained.”

 

Kaya shook her head. “The guy out there is no shady corporate agent. He wants you… sounded kind of personal.”

 

“He’s a liar!” Tenley glared at Sir Baker indignantly. “A bald-faced chubby liar.”

 

Lionel meekly held up his hands, “steady on, dear…”

 

“I say we gut him and throw him out there.”

 

“Um, guys?” Sayuri urgently drew everyone’s attention back to the screen. “They’re very close now…”

 

Sure enough, they were already at the door, getting ready to place charges. Jen considered gassing them, or launching the smoke grenades while they all escaped through the other door. But she suspected there were others hidden out there, and they might not all be able to outrun them. Plus they were likely to hurt themselves running blindly through the forest at night. The best option seemed to be to go along, for now, and hope for a better opportunity to present itself.

 

Kaya evidently reached the same conclusion, saying, “I don’t think we’ve got a choice.” Jennifer grimly nodded, opening the doors. As the others filed out, hands over their heads, she turned to the more reluctant and very grumpy Tenley.

 

“I think its best you play along as well,” Jen said, “j-just for now…”

 

“Fine,” the girl huffed, “but if they do anything weird, I’m killing all of them,” she warned before jumping through the doors and obediently stepping to one side. Jen didn’t see any problem with that, under the circumstances, and followed.

 

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 the quivering jelly of the radio personality. “Well, not that shocked to be honest.”

 

Tenley sidled up to Jennifer, glaring up as she hissed, “He’s being weird…” but Jen shook her head.

 

The leader didn’t hear, or didn’t want to, as he just carried on, “did he tell you all some crap about the government chasing after him, or the evil corporations?”

 

Lionel composed and 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 big smile on your face, eh?” He suddenly unsheathed a knife, pressing the tip on Lionel’s cheek to draw a tiny trickle of blood before he swiped it just above the frightened man’s skin. “Ear, to ear?”

 

As Jen instinctively put her arm over Tenley, the other’s all turned their eyes to Lionel as his body quaked. Then their eyes were drawn to his feet, and in particular the puddle forming around them as everyone’s nose wrinkled. Tenley smirked, thinking it 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, money, 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, 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 could just take our hard earned cash 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 all my organs are still intact.”

 

“Don’t worry, Li – we’ll be keeping a very close eye on you,” although the thug leader then turned away to address his followers. “Kill the girls,” he snorted.

 

Barrels all turned on the group, Sayuri standing in stunned silence as Jen put herself between the guns and Ten. 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 yelling, “Wait! You don’t want to kill us. We can help you!”

 

“Yeah? How?”

 

“My friend here,” she said, nodding to Jennifer, “her dad once worked for Alvin Stag. She’s a hacker and 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 lopsided, crooked grin as he spun at the punk, head bent forward 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 and let’s see how useful. If not, we can always kill them later.”

 

*****

 

Lionel remained silent as the group was marched through the forest, occasionally glimpsing the stars twinkling through the canopy. Kaya’s attention though was 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? You hoping by wetting yourself the enemy would succumb to crippling laughter while you bravely escaped?” He remained silent.

 

Jen was quiet too, although that was considered fairly inconsequential by her friends as she was often lost in thought, and had a tendency to shrink into herself whenever there were a large number of strangers around. Even so, seeing Lionel broken like this, like a little boy who’d been woken from a wonderful dream to be dragged violently down to earth. “It’s not all his fault,” she muttered, taking pity. “No sense blaming him for all this.”

 

“Oh, I don’t,” said Kaya, “I blame you.”

 

“M-me?” The blonde squeezed her eyebrows together and squinted. “Why me?”

 

“If you hadn’t insisted we all go camping and stargazing we wouldn’t be in this mess now.”

 

“I had no way of knowing,” Jen puffed. “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 all this you know,” Tenley muttered grumbled with her head low, “should just let me kill ‘em. 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 heal ourselves like you can.”

 

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 the responsible one 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, red faced and with 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 disprove 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 said with a white toothed grin, “I like hearing what you were like as kids. It reminds me of how superior I am.”

 

“We had fun though,” Kaya looked back, a sad lost smile on her face.

 

They did, Jen silently agreed. She missed those days, sometimes, when she believed in forest sprites and fairies and would try to catch them. She never did, but she still believed. The moment that changed… it wasn’t when her parents disappeared. She held out hope of them returning for many years, as did her uncle who she lived with for a while. When the other authorities gave up, he turned to spirits, hiring all these psychics, mediums and clairvoyants to try and find her parents. That was when she changed, as they all told her different things, depending on the mood and character of the clairvoyant in question. One very nice, well-meaning lady, told her that her parents had been marooned on an island but were still alive, although she couldn’t give precise coordinates. Another sour looking man said they had been killed in a storm. One very bitter woman hiding behind satin, jewelry and chalky makeup told her that her mom and dad had been kidnapped and sold into slavery. And slowly Jen realized that truth – that no one really knew anything and the people who asserted the most that they did likely knew the least. Fairies or witches or aliens weren’t going to bring her parents’ home. If there was any chance of ever uncovering the truth, then it was up to her to find it herself.

 

Learning to question more hadn’t been a bad thing, she thought. Without the critical thought she’d learnt studying science, combined with her natural drive to investigate, she’d never have been able to uncover the truth about Alvin Stag’s experiments. But had she really just become bitter as well? Was she… not fun anymore?

 

“W-we can still have fun,” Jenny mumbled. “Like the other night when we consumed alcohol and you braided my hair.”

 

“Er… sure,” Kaya looked at her strangely. “I just mean it’s 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, I hope for all our sakes this raid is 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? I can sell you this one for a very reasonable…”

 

One of the mercenaries was busy chewing, hardly taking notice of her as she held out the math machine in one hand and had a stupid, begging grin on her face. “You know boss,” he murmured, “you’re got an app on your phone for…”

 

“Shut up!” Sayuri snapped angrily. Her father’s bad business choices were clearly affecting her more than any of them had thought. “No one needs to know about that!”

 

“Give me that thing,” Tom sneered as he snatched the calculator from her. Sayuri must have just then remembered the situation she was in and backed off a little.

 

“All right,” she held her hands up again, “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 initials on the sign, was actually a sphere with arms and legs and a drunken expression.

 

“You!” Tom thrust out his arm, singling out a member of his party who instantly starting to squirm and avert her eyes. “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 tablet thing…”

 

“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 as he clicked his jaw. “People, you are supposed to be ruthless mercenaries. You can’t get stymied just because of a kid.”

 

Tenley, with her hands tucked 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 half dozen throwing knives, dagger, a whip, Beretta, three hand grenades, darts tipped in various poisons, and the deadliest weapon of all,” she said, posing like a ballerina as her arm stretched around to rest her hand on her chest, “adorableness.”

 

There were many confused stares and crunched faces, people wondering why this child wasn’t more scared. Until Kaya said, “It’s true about the throwing 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…”

 

Tom’s lips curled as slowly he backed off and turned from the strange girl. “Alright,” he nodded, “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. There may not be fairies or ghosts or demons out there, but there were still wonders in the universe waiting to be seen. But whereas Kaya had taken ghosts and fairies seriously when they were young, now she kept making fun of Jen, arguing for no reason. Jen still loved and was fascinated by those stories, she had just changed perspective on them. Grown to understand that the stories themselves weren’t true, but there was a greater truth hidden underneath them – that humans had always sought to understand and comprehend nature. Ancient people just lacked the tools she now had. You had to observe, form hypotheses, test them, and above all question everything. It was harder work than just saying that gremlins did it, 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 looked up and 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 cons, 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, swiveling his gun around his chest to point at the gentleman’s head.

 

There was something about Tom that seemed to stupefy those around him. He could seem calm one moment, then suddenly erupt into violence, then just as quickly revert back. That unpredictability seemed to petrify all these people and render them unable to speak or act at all around him. This time, even Kaya was stunned into silence as she had no answers or explanations that might placate him. Lionel cried pitifully and Jen, without thinking at all, decided she had to stop this.

 

“Wait!” She yelped, rushing to stand between the adventurer and Tom. She very quickly took the photo from Lionel and held it out to compare to their surroundings. It was definitely the same clearing, but the picture showed a large concrete bunker whereas here was just leaves and grass.

 

Tom kept staring through the blonde, his lower lip curling over his teeth. “You’ll wanna step aside there, girlie. Don’t wanna mess up that pretty little face.”

 

Kaya jumped forward, forming another barrier. “You stay away from her face!” The punk snarled. Although Jen was visibly trembling, she reached out and gently moved her friend aside.

 

Jennifer swallowed. “You are making a mistake,” she told the thug leader.

 

Tom snorted. “Alright… I’ll give you a minute to explain yourself.”

 

It was longer than she needed, so first Jen turned around to hold out a hand to the sweating and trembling Lionel. “You see,” she said as he wobbled to his feet, “the universe is full of mysteries and wonders and things we may never completely understand. But we try, and a lot of the time the trick is just figuring out the right question,” with Lionel up looking relieved and perplexed, she glanced across at Sayuri. “Not, ‘how did your dad’s keys suddenly appear on the table’, but, why did no-one see them there before? Sometimes we’re so engulfed in searching for something we don’t see what’s right in front of us.”

 

“And what has any of that got to do with Stag’s vault?” Tom demanded.

 

“Well, a-assuming,” Jen fluttered a bit, but quickly regained her composure, “assuming this photo is genuine, the vault obviously didn’t just up and move itself. So we should consider other possibilities. Like maybe it is here – we just can’t see it.”

 

“Pretty hard to break into something we can’t see. And I would just hate it if we wasted our time coming here… and you all will really hate it, but at least not for long.”

 

“There’s got to be a way in,” Jen insisted, turning back to Lionel, “I need to see all the information you have.”

 

Lionel looked uncertainly between her and Tom who allayed his fears with a swift nod. The gentleman adventurer shakily handed her an envelope. “My contact furnished me with photos and this location, as well as codes he said would grant access…”

 

Jennifer tore open the envelope and thumbed through the pages until she found the said codes. “Two numbers,” she noted, “the first looks like it could be a frequency… I’ll need my tablet. Please.” Again Tom nodded, this time to one of his men, and as Jen went to work scrolling through various screens she warned them, “You might want to stand back. Perhaps to the tree line… yes? Good.”

 

She finished punching the last button with a flourish, and they waited. Tom was about the reach for one of his guns, when he was shaken by a little tremor as the ground opened up. Dirt and grass began to cascade into a small crack, faster and faster as it widened until it became a circular hole covering half the clearing. More tremors echoed through their feet accompanied by a metallic grinding as a sloped concrete bunker entrance rose up and juddered to a halt. And then it just looked like it had always been there, just like in the photographs, although some dirt still dripped from its roof.

 

“Guess it’s my lucky night after all,” Tom snorted, relaxing the grip on his shotgun. “You! Get it open!” He ordered, a couple of men rushing forward and setting to work breaking open the door itself.

 

Kaya stepped sideways, whispering into Jennifer’s ear, “So what do you think is down there?”

 

Jen had no idea. What she would like most was information, she might even dare to hope for information about her parents. But she knew that was unlikely. It would be things Alvin Stag had wanted hidden from Meridiem. Gold and money, maybe. Possibly the odd vanity project of his or a prototype or two from Stag Corp’s history. She knew what Lionel was hoping for – alien technology and hybrids, but she had no reason to think that was at all likely either.

 

But then as the door was opened there was cause for concern, as Tenley suddenly shivered. “You shouldn’t go inside,” she uttered enigmatically.

 

“Why not?” Jen asked.

 

“Something’s there,” the girl squinted into the darkness beyond the portal. “I… I don’t know how I know, but I know it’s something. And it’s bad.”

 

Tom and Lionel and most of the rest had already gone inside. The four females were again prodded to continue, but they were slightly more hesitant than before. After all, Tenley was never afraid. She was stronger and faster and a whole lot more resilient than everyone and thing around her. Really, there was only thing any of them knew that Ten would have any cause to be afraid of, and that was another one like her. But to Jen, fear only stoked her curiosity further. If there was something bad down there, it was better to know about it rather than wait until it got out on its own and caused mayhem. So she went in.

 

It was light inside. One might have assumed the lights had come on automatically after the doors opened, but as Jen descended the steps she felt a warmth despite the lights cool, bluish hue. “UV lamps…” she uttered. “And they’ve obviously been operating for some time…” The corridor in front of her looked unfinished, the ground loose and uneven with mounds of earth scattered along its length. Yet, through the thick glass panes in the walls she could see there were rooms fully stocked with equipment and active computer terminals.

 

A thud turned everyone around, the door they’d entered through suddenly closing, sealing them inside. Tom marched, barking orders to make sure they hadn’t tripped any alarm and to get the door open again. Meanwhile, Jen’s eyes were drawn to one of the mounds. Why ultra violet lights in here? As she was pondering this, a small amount of earth began to slide and then there was a little puff, a small quantity blown away as if something was stirring beneath. Her eyes wide, she snapped an arm out in front of Kaya and Sayuri, blocking their path and then beckoning them and Tenley to one side where she quickly hooked up her pad to the door panel.

 

“What’s wrong?” Kaya asked. In reply Jen just quickly gestured back to the mound as she hurried to get the door open. All around them the mounds were starting to shift and only slowly were the others starting to notice it. Lionel began to backing up toward the women, while Tom cautiously raised the barrel of his weapon to the nearest one.

 

And then the mounds erupted and burst, a fog of dirt and dust filling the corridor. A man screamed as something lashed out at him and he was pulled to the ground. Through all the haze it was impossible to see exactly what was going on. There were bangs and flashes of gunfire, more screams, while Jen worked furiously on her pad.

 

“Hurry up!” Kaya cried.

 

“Hurry? Really?” Jen cried back through her gritted. “I thought I’d just relax a while, rest my fingers a bit…”

 

“Alright. Don’t get sarky,” the punk sternly admonished. “It doesn’t suit you.”

 

“Guys…” Sayuri tugged and pointed deeper into the corridor. Through the dust cloud a creature emerged, walking on four claws but hunched like a hyena. It didn’t have a head, at least not like the head of any animal. In its place was a large bulb like a tulip, the layers of which peeled back to reveal hooks and a round mouth filled with razors from which a long tongue licked. The creature shuddered, and charged, veering a little as it went straight for Tenley.

 

No one had time to shout out anything. The creature leapt, the girl dived and rolled underneath as it sailed over. It slammed into the floor and turned, only backing up a little as Tenley fired on it with her Beretta. In other circumstances the adults might have asked where she got her hands on such a thing, but it didn’t seem too important right now. The creature was undeterred by the bullets and whip out its tongue, knocking the gun from her hand and striking her across the face. She screamed and fell back, being caught by Kay just as Jen got the door open.

 

“This way!” The blonde cried out, making sure her friends and Lionel all got inside before looking around for the mercenaries. Tom and just a few others were backing toward her, not seeing the creature that had attacked Ten. “Look out!” She yelled. One man turned about, just to be struck in the face the same way the girl had been, screaming and covering his eyes as if they had been burned. Tom caught him, firing his shotgun into the creature as he hurried to Jen. After they were all in, she quickly followed and the doors slid shut behind her.

 

There were several bangs as the creatures tried to force their way through, but the entrance remained closed and they seemed to give up after only a few attempts. Of the mercenaries, about a dozen had entered the vault. Now there was only Tom, three other men and a woman, and one of the men was lying on the floor still screaming, his eyes bloodshot as another tried to give him anything to calm him down. His body convulsed several times, his screams muffled by the drool and foam bubbling from his mouth. Then he was silent.

 

Their tongues must have been coated with some kind of venom, Jen realized. Then her breathing stopped as the events of the last few minutes caught up with her. “Ten…” she gasped, looking around. Kaya had sat the groggy looking girl up on a crate feeling her forehead and doing things adults were supposed to when a child wasn’t well. Jen hurried over to them, and saw that the whites of Tenley’s eyes had also turned red.

 

“I’m not feeling so good,” the girl winced and whined. Jen leant over, told her it would be okay.

 

“Hey, don’t worry,” Kaya assured Tenley, herself and especially Jen who looked the most worried. “Kids a lot tougher she looks, right?”

 

Jen nodded. At least Tenley didn’t seem to be having quite so violent a reaction as the mercenary had, and she had a much more advanced immune system. “Your body is probably just adapting to the toxin. You’ll be fine.”

 

“Those things,” Sayuri said with a croaky voice, “they were like guard dogs, right?”

 

It was a fair assumption, Jen thought. “I expect so. Stag must have made them and left them down here.”

 

“For how long?” Kaya asked. “I mean, how would they have survived if there’s no-one here to feed them?”

 

“I don’t know, but… they almost look part plant, so maybe they just absorb nutrients from the soil until an intruder wakes them up. They may even be capable of photosynthesis… that would explain the lights.”

 

Lionel, not hearing their conversation, remained transfixed by the door, staring fearfully even though the banging had long stopped. “My god,” he gasped disbelievingly, “I was right… I was actually bloody right…”

 

Kay shot a mean glance at him. “Wouldn’t get used to it, bub. And you might wanna stand back a bit from the door,” then after an exasperated sigh, she turned quietly to Jennifer. “Was he right? You said yourself this was far more advanced than anything else reported in the world. And, I mean, it’s not actually impossible is it? Aliens and that.”

 

“No,” Jen gently smiled, “It’s not impossible.” It didn’t necessarily break any laws of physics as she understood them. And when she had spoken to Titania, she’s mentioned that Alvin Stag had stolen some of the technology, but not from where. “But all other contingencies must be ruled out first, and humans are occasionally capable of being brilliant without extra-terrestrial interference.”

 

Tom was evidently over the death of his comrade, and listening with interest to the conversation. “You know about these things?” He asked in a way that made it clear he expected an answer, and that the answer had best please him.

 

“Well,” Kaya shrugged, “Not those things exactly…”

 

“They’re ELF’s,” Jennifer elaborated. “Engineered Life Forms.”

 

“So,” Lionel peered across, “those creatures are, what? Dogs crossed with Triffids?”

 

“No. They might have been inspired by such, but they weren’t created through any splicing or modifying an already existing organism. Stag Corp invented a machine to allow them to code a genome from scratch, like writing a computer program, and then implant it in synthetic cells that then divide and grow. The only limits to what creatures can be created with technology like that are physics and your imagination.”

 

The mercenary was unimpressed. “What does any of that shit mean in English?”

 

“Well,” Lionel gulped, pulling down his cap, “to put it in your sort of vernacular, my good man, unless someone thinks of something very clever, we’re royally f….”

 

Kaya gasped in mock shock, slapping her hands over Tenley’s ears so she didn’t hear. The girl flinched and squirmed but remained seated despite her indignation, while Jen started to examine some of the consoles in the room.

 

The mercenary leader’s neck muscles bulged and tightened as he growled, “None of you thought to mention any of this before coming down here?”

 

“The original project was shut down a long time ago. We had no idea Stag had created anything else,” Jen explained. She then considered quietly to herself, “If the lights are what’s been feeding them, then maybe there’s some way we can use that to lure them out of the corridor…”

 

But Tom had a much broader perspective than merely escaping here with their lives. “Just a minute there, missy,” he said, suddenly lurching forward and taking her by the wrist. The blonde gasped, but it was Kaya who reacted most strongly to his sudden assault on her friend.

 

“Hey!” The punk yelled, bounding into and shoving him away. “Back the hell off, zounderkite!”

 

‘Zounderkite’ was one of the words from her book of archaic insults (one of the few books Kaya had ever read all the way through) that Kaya was trying to bring back. Tom, like most of them, had no idea what it meant. What he did have was a shotgun which he slowly raised to menace the punk with as his throat rumbled, “you know, I’m starting to like you less…”

 

“Yeah?” Kaya responded by rolling her tongue to the side. “Feelings mutual. So why don’t you put down that toy and let’s see how much of a man you really are?”

 

“Tom,” Lionel began to plead, “be reasonable, man…”

 

There was a thud, crates crashing to the floor, then a groan that caught everyone’s attention for a moment. Evidently, Tenley had tried to stand but collapsed. Sayuri was kneeling beside her, trying to help her up, but the girl refused despite her muscles being tense and her arm drawn in tightly across her chest. Jen and Kaya rushed over to her as well.

 

“Easy, kiddo,” The punk said.

 

Ten continued to bat away anyone’s hand, only using Sayuri to pull herself up as she growled and grumbled, “why’d the dumb thing go straight for me, anyway?”

 

“You’re the smallest,” Lionel observed sympathetically. “If these creatures behave anything like the natural predators I’ve encountered in my travels around the world, their instinct will be to single out the weakest and most vulnerable members of the herd, which are usually the eldest or the littlest.” Tenley glared, the lights in the room reflecting as flecks like stars in the dark pools of her eyes, forcing him to quickly add, “u-usually…”

 

“Kind of mean though,” Sayuri noted.

 

“As nature often is, my dear. Animals have got to feed, and ideally not risk injury themselves in the process.”

 

“Alright, break it up,” Tom ordered, his remaining compatriots prodding the women with their guns again. “Remember we came here for a reason. That way,” they were herded toward a door on the far side, leaving the mercenary and the gentleman stood next to each other. “You too, Li.”

 

“What’s your game here, Tom?” Lionel asked. “How are you planning on getting out, past those things out there?”

 

“Just got an idea from you actually, Li. You said those things will prey on the weakest members of the herd. So once we have what we came for, we send your groupies out there and while they’re getting chomped on the rest of us slip out,” he explained, Lionel’s jaw hanging open as he digested the cruelty and ruthlessness of that plan. “Nature’s cruel, right? You know the kid’s done for anyway. Now move.”

 

*****

 

They were led into a round room. The lights flickered as they activated, and Jennifer saw there were cables running a thick pedestal in the center. With a swelling in her chest she realized she had seen a room much like this before. Not in life, but in a memory belonging to someone else… Titania. Alvin Stag’s magnum opus. But to her horror she also saw that there was something missing – on top of the pedestal there should have been a large amber crystal. An egg; an artificial womb used to grow the engineered life forms like Titania and the creatures that had assaulted them here. Perhaps someone else had already been here. Already taken it… and who else would have known about this place?

 

“You okay?” She heard Kaya ask.

 

Jen shook her head. “Ten said she had a bad feeling before coming down here…” although Titania hadn’t been in control of Tenley, the Queen had some sort of telepathic connection to those changed by her, which in most case she’d used to subdue the victim’s personality, memories and will. And they could all share thoughts and memories and experiences. Perhaps Tenley’s feeling had been an echo of something that had happened to Titania in the past… but, there were other explanations. Alvin Stag might have removed the crystal egg a long time ago, or any number of things could have happened to it. Speculating now when there was no evidence either way, other than Ten’s vague feeling, which could have just been bought on by her heightened senses, was pointless. And too late to do anything about it anyway. Jen shook her head once more. “It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing we can do about it right now.”

 

“Tie the prisoners up over there,” Tom ordered, “and then you two watch them. Rest of us will look around and see what we can find.”

 

“What about Lionel?” A man asked.

 

“Oh, I don’t think he’ll give us any trouble, will you, Li?”

 

“Erm… n-no,” the gentleman adventurer stuttered. Tom roughly slapped his shoulder.

 

“Good. You stay here and wait until we’re all ready to go.”

 

As the mercenaries went about following their instructions, Lionel furtively twisted his hunting cap between his hands as the prisoners were being bound.

 

“I feel I must apologize, ladies,” he said, “for getting you involved in all this.”

 

“No kidding, Sherlock,” Kaya snorted just as one of the men pressed down on her shoulder, forcing her to sit.

 

“All my life I dreamed of mystery and adventure, but… I was still just a boy playing make believe. I’m afraid, when it came down to it, I’m just too much of a… a…” he faltered, the others all squinting at him as he put his cap back on. “Well, once again, I’m sorry.”

 

As he walked away, Kaya observed, “well, that was odd.”

 

“No doubt Tom plans on using us as a diversion while he and the rest of them make their escape,” Jennifer surmised. “It’s the only reason he would have to keep us alive at this point.”

 

“Oh,” the punk nodded. “I guess that makes sense,” she said, resting her head back against the cold wall. “I’ve been thinking though…”

 

Jen muttered to herself, “well that’s a first…”

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing. Go on,” the blonde said with a facetious smile.

 

“Well, the universe is really, really big, and so, so old, so if there are aliens, some of them must have been around for millions of years. Yet in all the time, there’s no sign of them ever visiting Earth. Why not?”

 

“I see,” Jennifer nodded, “I think what you’re talking about is the Fermi Paradox.”

 

“The for my what now?”

 

“Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist who realized the same thing you just did. That there are billions of planets in the galaxy, billions of chances for intelligent life to evolve. Even using slow moving rockets of the kind we’re capable of building now, it would only take about a million years for that life to have spread throughout the whole galaxy which is, again, billions of years old. Yet, we’ve seen no proof of any other civilization. No definitive proof, anyway.”

 

Kay made a ‘v’ with her brow and lips. “Yeah, well, it’s obvious isn’t it? It must be, because I just said it, but no one’s gonna talk about the Cade para-thingy in the future, are they? But some Italian guy says something that anyone else could have thought of and you’re like ‘oh yes, that Fermi guy said that…’”

 

“Well, he did, and to be fair said it first…”

 

“So it hardly took a professor, did it? Bet he wrote books about it, didn’t he?”

 

“Er… I… I don’t know. He might have written a paper… and he showed all the math, so…”

 

“So what?” Kaya huffed. “Maybe Lionel’s right and aliens are around all the time and we just don’t notice. Maybe probes landed, like, fifty thousand years ago, decided there was nothing interesting and took off again, or maybe stayed and turned into rust and dust. Or maybe the probes are so tiny we can’t see them.”

 

Jen was very confused. She had thought that Kaya would be pleased to know that a distinguished and well educated person agreed with her, but instead she just seemed irritated by it. “Okay,” she meekly offered. “It’s not like that’s the only thing he did…”

 

“Should hope not.”

 

Maybe, Jen thought, Kay believed that because she had thought of it, it therefore wasn’t an intelligent observation and that’s why it annoyed her. All her life, Kaya had tended to under rate herself in regard to what smarts she had. “Maybe star ships all get eaten by the space lizards,” the fair haired stargazed smiled, attempting to lighten the mood. “Anything is possible,” she shrugged. “But in the absence of solid evidence it’s usually best to go with the simplest explanation… that is, the one that requires the fewest assumptions. In this case, that all this technology was developed somewhere here on Earth.”

 

“I guess,” Kay sighed. “Be cool if it was aliens though.”

 

“Coolness has got nothing to do with whether it’s true or not. Besides, isn’t it also amazing just to think of how ingenious people can be? Even if they don’t always put that ingenuity to very good use.”

 

“Yeah, I guess,” Kaya smiled. “Sergeant Pepper’s was pretty, and I don’t Lennon and McCartney were actual Aliens. They were just from Liverpool or something.”

 

Sayuri, who obviously hadn’t been listening to their conversation, suddenly groaned. “You know, I always thought certain death would be harder to cope with. But now, what does it matter? I mean I was never going to shift these damn calculators anyway.”

 

“You still fretting about that?” Kaya asked.

 

“What’s the point of me even making it out of here alive if I’m not going to have a living?”

 

“You could sell them to students. They need them for exams and stuff, right? They’re not allowed to take phones or tablets inside.”

 

Sayuri scrunched her eyes as she considered it. “I… suppose I could put together a package with some rulers and other stuff…” the drummer lit up, straightening herself against the wall suddenly attentive and full of energy. “Yeah. Okay, good… that might work. So I’ve decided to live. Do we have a plan to get out yet?”

 

Tenley whined, “I need to pee.” The girl squinted across the room. Tom and two of the others had left to explore the rest of the bunker, leaving the blue haired woman and a young man of barely twenty to watch over them. They had hooked a laptop up to a terminal, likely to download data from it in order to sell later. She was standing back by the door while he was sat checking his weapons and watching over the transfer. Tenley pushed herself up on her elbows, then addressed the man. “Hey you! Major Minor or whatever…”

 

The young man exasperatedly turned away from what he was doing and demanded, “what?”

 

“I need to pee.”

 

“Jesus…” the man stood, frowning and shaking his head. “Alright… fine,” he slammed his handgun down on a case as he marched forward, past Lionel, and yanked the girl to her feet. “Come on…” he prodded her to shakily walk herself across to the center of the room, where the woman had marched out to meet them.

 

“We should probably just put the little brat out her misery,” she suggested as they turned their backs on the others to follow Tenley. They were all quite firmly tied, after all.

 

In the relative quiet of their surroundings, they all heard the click. The mercenaries slowly turned around to find one of their own guns being waved at them by a very shaky and nervous gentleman.

 

“Please,” Lionel stammered, “I have no wish for further violence, so, both of you, drop your weapons.”

 

The mercenaries exchanged looks, each dropping their guns to the floor as then slowly raising their hands.

 

“What are you doing, Li?” The young man purred, taking a little step forward. “I thought we all had an understanding here. You really ought to give me that thing before you get yourself hurt…”

 

“St-stay back!” Lionel demanded, furiously shaking his hand to remind them it was holding a weapon.

 

“All right,” he backed off a bit. “So what’s next, hmm? You got a plan?”

 

“I… umm…” obviously he hadn’t, and the others being still tied weren’t able to help either.

 

Tenley, stood in the middle of the room with her hands bound behind her back, eventually just rolled her eyes. “You should shoot her,” she suggested, nodding to the silver eyed female mercenary.

 

“What?!” Lionel gasped.

 

“Obviously they’re both going to try and rush and disarm you, so since the glamazon here looks like a tougher opponent than pretty boy, you should shoot her. It’s just logic. Oh, and you will only be able to get one shot off.”

 

The mercenaries and Lionel all looked agape at the strange girl who smiled and shrugged helplessly. The mercenaries then turned their heads menacingly at the gentleman whose eyes widened fearfully as he realized the girl was absolutely bloody spot on. He pulled the trigger just as they started to run, the woman taking a hit to the shoulder and falling. Lionel had no time to turn his weapon on the other one, as he was tackled to floor and curled up helplessly as the mercenary rained down his fists.

 

Ten winced and grimaced as she started to pull her arms apart, straining until the ropes binding her wrists snapped. The glamazon was getting up to help her ally, only to be tapped on the shoulder, looked up, and then was sent spinning back down into the murky depths of unconsciousness by Ten’s fist.

 

Lionel kept letting out little welps and yelps in response to every punch he took, until suddenly it stopped. He opened his eyes to see that the young mercenary who had been beating him was still there with his arm raised, but some kind of vine or whip had coiled around it. He struggled against it, but then was suddenly yanked off Lionel and pulled back across the room to meet Tenley’s foot flying in the other direction. As the girl landed gracefully on both her feet, the young man fell in a heap, joining his comrade.

 

“So,” Kaya said, watching from the side with Jen and Sayuri. “You’re feeling better, then?”

 

“Yes,” Tenley beamed, stretching and cracking her knuckles, “much better.”

 

“The others will have heard all that,” Jen pointed out.

 

“Yeah,” Kay shrugged and wrinkled her nose in Ten’s general direction. “You wanna stop preening over there and get us all out of these? Thanks!”

 

It wasn’t long before a handset on one of the fallen mercenaries cackled, Tom’s voice coming out of it demanding to know what had happened. “Ben? Are you there or not?”

 

The now freed Kaya sauntered across and pressed the button to reply. “This is ground control to Major Tom. Ben hit his head… he might be dead.”

 

After a moment, the radio cracked back, “Guess I underestimated you girls. But it doesn’t matter. The plan stays the same.”

 

“That the plan for you to continue being a massive dick all your life until you eventually die alone and unloved, drowned in spaghetti hoops and your own vomit?”

 

“Heh… not quite…” the ominous note of that lasted less than a second, as it then became clear exactly what he meant. The doors Tom and the remaining mercenaries had left through slid shut, while in the opposite direction was a hiss, shortly followed by high pitched howling.

 

“He’s opening the doors! Letting them in,” Jen said, in perhaps not the most astute observation she had ever made, but it was accurate. “He must have found another way back out to the entrance.”

 

“Well, can’t you just close them again with your magic iPad thing?” Sayuri asked.

 

“I could,” Jen shrugged sheepishly, “but they confiscated it again.”

 

Kaya’s body tensed as a second howl chilled her bones, closer this time. “Guess he’s not at all concerned about his own guys… I only said the fella might be dead.”

 

Sayuri sighed, “Larger share for the rest of them, I guess.”

 

“It looks like information is the only valuable thing left down here,” said Jen. “ELF’s and the crystal eggs… that’s far too dangerous. He can’t be allowed to leave with any of it.”

 

“I think we’ve more urgent things to worry about,” Kay reminded her as there was a third howl. “Can’t you use the computer there?”

 

“No time… check on those two and get ready to run,” Jennifer said, pointing Kaya to the mercenaries. “Ten, do you think you could get this panel off the wall?”

 

Tenley casually strolled to the panel in question, next to the sealed door. It was screwed quite flush into the wall – there was no way she could grip the sides of it as it was. So, after a moment of consideration, she punched the center of the panel, the dent lifting the sides enough to allow her to tear the thing away. “Like that?”

 

“It’ll do,” Jen said, then got to some hasty rewiring.

 

Lionel watched on with his mouth hanging open. “H-how did she…”

 

“Milk bones,” Kaya offered as an explanation.

 

The rewiring worked, as the door hissed as it slid open. “Alright,” Jen panted, “everyone go left. We should be able to loop back through the rooms to the entrance.”

 

The adults carried the very dazed and groggy pretty boy and glamazon through the doors, with Ten following just behind and just ahead of all the howls and chattering coming scurrying after them.

 

Jen and Ten had to open a few more doors, but soon they were back in the corridor they had first entered into, the creatures presumably having all chased them through the side rooms being led around in circle, hopefully making a few of them dizzy. However, the corridor was not empty as Tom and his remaining soldiers were hacking the bunker entrance.

 

“How the bleeping hell are you still alive?” The leader growled, deciding quickly to fix the problem himself and open fire. Jen ducked back behind the door as the shot pockmarked the concrete.

 

“We’re kind of between a rock and a hard place here,” Kaya exclaimed as the creatures were surely now about to catch up.

 

Ten rolled her eyes as she sighed, “you’re all totally useless. Guess I’ll save the day. Again.”

 

The girl unclipped a pistol from the glamazon’s belt before rolling out into the corridor and spraying bullets. Tom dropped his gun as one sparked off it, shaking his hand vigorously as the mercenaries around him were taken out in quick succession, but not before the entrance began to slowly grind and Tom could see his way to freedom.

 

“Screw this!” He yelled, lobbing a small metal egg back down the corridor before he turned and ran.

 

Tenley spat in annoyance, dived and rolled back again through and around the door where the others were waiting, feeling the ground shake from the blast behind her. She had barely recovered when one of the tulip headed dog things appeared, it’s bulbous head peeling and body trembling as it screeched at the girl. Its tongue whipped out, but this time she was ready for it, catching the tip in her hand and squeezing the juice from it as the creature rocked and squealed. She tugged and launched herself toward at the beast. She hadn’t been just telling stories about having a grenade in her pocket either, but in the next second it disappeared down the monster’s throat. It shortly after reappeared in pieces on the walls and ceiling along with the creature’s guts.

 

“There’re more coming!” Jen yelled. “We have to go now!”

 

Fortunately, the concrete walls had held up and the corridor was largely free of obstruction, so it was an almost straight run for the entrance, which Tom had been thoughtless enough to leave open. The only problem was the other creatures were close behind and picking up their pace. They didn’t know exactly how many beasts there were, but it was doubtful even Ten could fight all of them, although she probably would have been willing to try.

 

“Look out!” Someone cried. As they were nearing the entrance one of the creatures dramatically increased in speed, bounding rapidly along the corridor and almost ploughing through the entire group. They dived out of the way in time, the creature skidding to a halt and turning to face them. Raising its bulbous head, it yipped several times. But then, instead of attacking again, it seemed to sense its own freedom was near. Feeling the cool draft from outside, it turned to face the entrance and for the first time in its existence ran out into the world above.

 

“Shit,” Kaya spat. “That’s bad, isn’t it?”

 

Jen was slightly grinding her teeth as told the others to “come on.” She found her tablet on one of the fallen mercenaries as she left, so could use it to reseal the entrance. At least for now they didn’t have to worry about other creatures escaping, although a more permanent solution was certainly called for somewhere down the line.

 

For now, everyone needed a moment to catch their breath, but they couldn’t afford to rest for long. “We’ve got to stop that creature before it hurts people,” Jen panted, “and find Tom before he escapes.”

 

Sayuri panted back, “why worry about him? Just let him go.”

 

But Jen shook her head. “I don’t know exactly what information he got from down there. I doubt he really does either. But I know the kind of people who would pay him for it aren’t the kind of people who should have it.”

 

Ten was examining the ground, looking for prints and disturbances and other things that only she could see. “He went that way,” she said with a nod. “The flower dog thing went over there… toward the town.”

 

“We should really give them a proper name,” Kaya suggested. “’Flower Dog’ just doesn’t seem appropriate.”

 

“Don’t bother,” Tenley said, stepping to walk toward the town as well, “they’ll be extinct soon. It’s what they get for making me feel queasy.”

 

“Alright. Then I guess the rest of us will deal with Tom…”

 

Kaya was suddenly blinded by a bright light from above, the wind picking up and whipping at hair and clothing. “What the hell is that?” Kaya yelled over the noise of an engine. It wasn’t clear anyone heard, but the two mercenaries they had rescued used the moment of confusion to run away without so much as a thanks. No-one was a very concerned about that, as another motor began to grind and whir and everyone simultaneously agreed they had the right idea.

 

Jen, Kaya and Sayuri ran toward the trees in Tom’s direction, Ten running the other as had been previously agreed. No one saw where Lionel went, and again it wasn’t something anyone was too concerned about as higher on their list of priorities was the fact that the bark and trees around them were all now shattering, exploding and splintering all around them.

 

“Helicopters…” Jen panted, “w-we must have tripped some kind of alarm.”

 

“Right,” Kaya yelled. “You know, I think next time we go out somewhere, I should choose the activity. A nice biker bar or something… astronomy is just way too dangerous.”

 

*****

 

Lionel stalked through the chilly woods. The light had gone, presumably after the others, except for the silver blue of the moon outlining the black trees all around. All his life he’d been hunting alien beings, ghosts, psychic powers, but he’d never gotten close. Unverifiable accounts, fuzzy photos, the odd artefact that even he knew could have come from anywhere. But tonight he had seen monsters and powers that were definitely real, and he wasn’t going to let them get away.

 

Fallen twigs and leaves crunched under his heels, but then he froze. There were times when even people without psychic powers could feel there were eyes on them. In this case, a very dark pair of eyes that perfectly mirrored the night around them. He looked up to see Tenley above, stood up on the tip of a branch.

 

“Why are you following me?” She asked.

 

“Following you?” Lionel answered, raising an eyebrow incredulously. “I have no idea what you mean… I was simply running from…”

 

“You are lying.”

 

She had him there, he thought. “Well… perhaps there’s no point in trying to deceive you,” Lionel said, resting himself on a fallen tree trunk. “You’re… not entirely human, are you?”

 

Tenley grimaced, a little pain and confusion momentarily on her face before she answered, “I don’t know what that means. I’m just a kid you know.”

 

“Right,” he supposed philosophers over the years had somewhat muddied what it actually meant to be human. “Let me put it like this; When I was a young journalist, just starting out, I met a girl in India about your age. One of the youngest people ever to achieve a black belt. But, she couldn’t do half the things you can do I’d wager.”

 

Ten shrugged, “probably not.”

 

“So, exactly how strong are you?”

 

“I don’t know, exactly,” she shrugged again. “Strong enough, I guess.”

 

A light shaft suddenly pierced the canopy, striking Lionel’s eyes. As they adjusted he saw that the branch on which Tenley had stood was now vacant.

 

“Little girl?” He said quietly, standing and scanning around. “Little girl, where did you go?” He continued to circle, the white light orbiting somewhere overhead as he pulled down and wrung his cap. “She’s been taken,” he thought, eyes looking to the light above. “By them… dammit!” He threw the cap at the ground. “Why do they never take me!”

 

“I’m here,” Tenley said from the side, causing Lionel to jump. The light started moving away as she peered and tilted her head curiously. “Are you feeling okay?”

 

Lionel tripped over a fallen branch as he backed away, but nevertheless tried to maintain his composure. “Yes… I-I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

“You just seem kind of jittery.”

 

“Well it’s been a very stressful night…”

 

The girl silently stepped closer, her dark eyes shimmering and bright somehow as she lowered her head and said in a low voice, “You really need to stay still. Very, very still.”

 

“You wouldn’t…” he stammered, but as he looked into her eyes he saw that she wasn’t looking back at him. “The creature?” He gasped, and she very slightly nodded. “It’s behind me, isn’t it? Oh god…”

 

He tightly shut his eyes, as if he thought doing so would end the dream and when opened them again he’d be back home in his armchair and a glass of whiskey. Instead when they opened he was still exactly where he was and Tenley had yet again vanished. In a moment of panic, he turned, straight into the bulbous head of the beast as it lurched out of the shadows. Or so it seemed; he still had at least a few seconds before it reached him. Time to think about his life, the mistakes he’d made, the good times, bad, the legacy he would leave behind… or actually forget all of that. As the creature began to charge, it’s head turned as a missile rammed into the monster’s side.

 

It tumbled several times, coming to rest on its feet and raising its mouth only to be knocked back by a piston like blow from Tenley’s left hand. It lashed out its tongue which the girl just avoided, but the creature bought itself time to rear itself and attempt to swipe with its claws. She avoided those as well, ducking underneath and shoulder charging the beast, forcing it back against a thick trunk whereupon she drew back her other hand as far as she could and launched it forward and through to its heart.

 

*****

 

Jennifer collapsed against a trunk, then forward with her hands on her knees as her chest heaved up and down. “I think…” she said under her breaths, “I think we lost them.”

 

“Yeah,” Kaya said, a little less worn out than the others, “but where’s Tom?”

 

Not far. Sayuri screeched as she was suddenly struck and flung aside, the mercenary then jabbing Kaya in the face with a stick as he moved forward. “You ladies wanted to speak to me?” He said, facing Jen.

 

The blonde looked a moment into his wild, hate filled eyes before pushing herself from the tree trunk and attempting to put some distance between them. He threw the branch away and quickly ran her down, bunching up her hair in his hands and pulling her up. Jennifer did all she could to fight back, scratching and clawing at any exposed flesh she could find, but the mercenary didn’t appear to even notice her efforts. Soon he had his arm constricting around her throat.

 

“Shhh… go to sleep,” he cooed. Jen felt the fog moving in, herself slipping away into it. But then Tom’s head juddered and he let go. He stood back, his hand feeling the back of his skull as he turned into another swing from a bloody nosed Kaya with the same branch that he’d hit her with.

 

Tom staggered back, obviously finding it hard to focus as Kay jumped at him with a fist. He retaliated with a few jabs and a hook that sent her spinning, but she came back around and hit him back with a hook of her own. She came forward with some body blows and then an uppercut which sent him down.

 

“Think you’re tough?” The punk spat. “Did you know my dad was a fighter? You should have met him about ten years ago.”

 

Tom groaned, slowly turning himself onto his belly and planting his hands on the ground beneath him while Kaya looked on bloodied and wild eyed.

 

“Come on,” she ground her teeth, gesturing as she readied to pounce, “get up. Get up!”

 

He did, although likely not because she demanded. It wasn’t clear he could really hear anything at this point. But he groggily rose, only to have his nose busted and then Kaya fell on him, raising her fist and then letting it drop on him again and again and again, until…

 

“That’s enough,” Jen said. Kay didn’t hear, until her friend was knelt beside her with arms gently over her shoulders. “Kay… that’s enough. He’s done.”

 

“Yeah…” Kaya leant her head toward her friend and let the adrenaline drain out. Then punched him one more time, just to make sure he stayed down.

 

After she had her breath back as well, Jen found Tom’s backpack. He had a few hard drives and other bits and pieces. She couldn’t risk anyone else getting hold of the information, so she borrowed a little bit of explosive and then put it back, live, making sure everyone was a safe distance away before setting it off.

 

“We can just leave him for the security force to find,” Jennifer suggested. After binding him, the three of them set off to try and find their way back to the van and hopefully Tenley and Lionel.

 

*****

 

When Jennifer was young she believed in many things. She used to carry a camera and notebook and her dad’s old tape recorder around with her everywhere in case she encountered a ghost, fairy, monster, alien or escaped cloned dinosaur. She never did, but even though mystical beings and visitors from other worlds seemed unlikely, her life lately had taken a turn for what some might consider strange. As if living in a lighthouse on top of hill miles from the ocean wasn’t strange enough.

 

As she gazed into the heavens, cool breeze brushing back her hair, at all those distant little points of light, she felt connected to generations millennia past. They had no idea what those points of light were, but like them she saw that it was a universe filled with endless possibilities. She no longer chose which ones she wanted to believe, as to do so would close her mind to the others and to things she had yet to even conceive of.

 

But now there was choice she had to make. She thought that Lionel was a believer, but he was also an opportunist. What would he do now that he had seen real things that the rest of the world didn’t know about? She didn’t care if he tried to expose Meridiem or Stag Corp, but the rest of them just wanted to be left alone. She felt that too much attention from the rest of the world would make it harder for her to find the truth she was after, and there were Tenley’s needs to consider now too…

 

“Well then, ladies,” the man in question said as pulled on his cap. “It has been an educational experience but I really must return to my loyal listeners.”

 

“What will you tell them?” Jennifer asked.

 

“That is the question, isn’t it?” He sighed. “My integrity as journalist of course demands I tell the truth, of course. Or at least a version of it that’s palatable to my listeners. Why?”

 

“I’m… a very private person. I appreciate solitude. And Ten… she’s just a girl, and one who’s had enough stress to deal with in her life already.”

 

Kaya put an arm around him and clarified, “I think what she’s saying is if we get any creepy anorak wearing unshaven pseudo-journalists sniffing around our home, or federal agents who should be more concerned with trafficking and terrorism and things like that, well… we’ll know who’s responsible. And, seeing as how we did save your life and all, it would be real swell if you could return the favor by just leaving us all out of it. ‘Kay?”

 

“I see,” Lionel said, sagging. “Look… I know what it is my people want to hear. They like to hear about New World Order and alien conspiracies. It gives them the impression that there’s someone or thing actually in control of all this chaos. Some hidden meaning. I fear however that I’m just not intelligent enough to figure out the meaning behind all this.”

 

Kay and Jen looked at each other and, apparently satisfied, the punk shrugged. “Goodbye, Li. We’ll see you out there.”

 

He would have just departed then, having doffed his cap, but Sayuri sensed an opportunity and seized it. “Actually, if we are asking for favors, how about an ad spot on your show? A lot of students listen to it, right?”

 

“Well I don’t really have much to do with that…” he tried to explain.

 

“I’m sure you could have a word with someone though, right? And I am a big fan!”

 

“I… suppose…”

 

They were, more or less, back where they had started the evening, out in the woods by the van. Kaya found her guitar inside and started to strum. It had always calmed her. “So,” she said, “do you trust him?”

 

“Not one bit,” Jen admitted. “But, sadly for him, I don’t think anyone takes him seriously anyway.”

 

Kay nodded in agreement. “So… what about this space station thing? It still around?”

 

Jen kept her eyes on the sky. “Unless something catastrophic has happened, it will come around again soon enough. But,” she sighed and turned to her friend. “I-I didn’t think you were all that interested.”

 

“What are ya talking about?” Kay laughed. “It’s cool. Must be amazing to look down on the whole world. See the land and oceans all calm and peaceful. No clue about all the madness actually going on down here. It’s just so far away…”

 

“I guess,” Jen admitted, “I’m just not very good at reading people sometimes.”

 

“Plus, after being stuck underground with that psycho and all those driffids, I’m willing to give space a chance.”

 

“Driffids?”

 

“It’s what I decided to call those things, because they’re part dog, part triffid, obviously. Don’t look like that – it’s no worse than Liger, or Wholphin, or Brony…”

 

“What’s that one?” Tenley asked suddenly, pointing up at the sky. “Is that a planet?”

 

“Hmm,” Jen looked, “I think it’s Saturn. God of agriculture, and time, and various other things. One of the harder working gods…”

 

Ten abruptly interrupted before Jen could give her the same lecture about the Roman pantheon and planets that her mother had delivered to her. “It’s the one with the rings. I want to see the rings.”

 

“Okay, well… let’s see…”

 

It was a universe teeming with possibilities and wonder and, who knew? Maybe it was even possible, Jen thought, that her friends would actually be able to learn something after all.

 

###

About the Author

John Coutelier is the author of the sci-fi adventure mystery ‘Jen Air: The Little Queen’, now an ongoing series that follows the adventures of Jennifer Airhart, her childhood friend and teenage bully Kaya Cade, the fearsome changeling Tenley Tych, and many other friends.

 

All his life he’s been drawn to mysteries, whether they be the mysteries of science, the paranormal, history or dressage – never been able to figure that one out. He has a very broad range of interests such as art and astronomy, video games and origami. Naturally he has a very strong interest in all things fantasy and science fiction related, whether they be books, films, games, or comic books. He is an avid collector of toys, merchandise and all sorts of tat.

 

Growing up with shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who and Blakes 7, the other major influences on his work are HG Wells, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams. In fact there are many, many more, such as Clarke, Asimov, Crichton and Carl Sagan… the list is far too long really.

 

As a young boy, he read a magazine called The Unexplained, and then started a club at school to hunt for ghosts, aliens and bigfoot.

 

He never found them, but he still has the magazine and the camera and binoculars.

Other books by this author

If you enjoyed this, please consider purchasing my novel, ‘The Little Queen’, and look out for more adventures from me in the future:

 

Novellas

Jen Air: Springheel

Jen Air: Out There

Jen Air: Frontier of Forever

 

*The Jen Air Serie*s

Jen Air: The Little Queen

Jen Air: Asterion (Coming Soon!)

Connect with John Coutelier

I really appreciate you reading my book! To get in touch with me, I recommend Wordpress or Tumblr below simply because I’m logged into them far more often than the other sites. But on all I will typically make posts about the projects I’m currently working on, as well as reviews and other articles about the things I like (mainly science and fiction). You can also drop me an e-mail if you’d like:

 

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Jen Air: Out There

Stargazing and astronomy proves to be a dangerous hobby for Jenny Airhart and her friends, as while out camping they are stumbled upon by a paranormal investigator, Sir Lionel Baker - Gentleman, Adventurer, and purveyor of mystery! (The biggest mystery being why did Kaya's mom once give her a sweater with Donny Osmond's face on it?) But Lionel is not so harmless as he first appears, as soon the women are drawn into an adventure with a very dangerous gang. And even greater dangers await them where they're going, beneath the earth, where deadly secrets lie in wait... This novella takes place after the novel 'The Little Queen', and before the upcoming novel 'Asterion'.

  • ISBN: 9781370768370
  • Author: John Coutelier
  • Published: 2016-09-27 03:05:10
  • Words: 16078
Jen Air: Out There Jen Air: Out There