This story is a prologue to the GENO series that Ryan and I write. It's about two of the characters who later join up, Lance and Jenny.
This is actually not necessarily canon to GENO, or at least it isn't yet. It started out as a creative writing assignment for my fiction class. The assignment was to write a short story, max 15 pages double spaced. This story is 14 pages single spaced, 28 pages double spaced - AKA way longer than my professor wanted. The one I turned in for class was only 16 pages because I wanted to try to meet the limit. The result is that a lot of the story didn't make sense to anyone in my class. I have continually tried to rework it since then, but haven't been very successful. I think I have enough ideas about these two, and enough of a REAL love story worked out between them, that I could fill a whole book. It's just a matter of motivation and organization.
Basically I'm saying that this version of their story is missing huge aspects that I wanted to include. The process of re-writing it is ... more daunting than I thought it would be. Maybe some encouragement from you all would help. Or criticism, whatever.
One of the main things that will probably be changed ENTIRELY is the ending. All of the ending. So, if the ending pisses you off, don't worry, because it's going to be really different.
I have some other problems with this story as well, but I would much prefer to hear what you guys think before I start putting any bias in your head. So please read it, I know it's long, and thanks in advance for any help.
Seeking Xian, Draft 3
“Hey, Prince Charming.”
Lance Larkin curled up into a ball and shut his eyes as tight as he could before Charlie turned on the lights.
“Hey. Homo. Get the hell up.”
“I love you, too, Charlie,” said Lance, trying to curl up tighter. “But I am extremely, extremely sleepy right now.”
“Dude, dude, dude,” Charlie sang. “My favoritest dude. Please do not get me fired today.”
“Tell Lobs I am on my way,” said Lance.
“You aren’t on your way, though,” said Charlie. His voice rang out like a siren. He had the highest pitch voice on staff and that was probably why he always ended out on wake-up call duty. Since the intercoms on Lance’s floor had broken last week, Charlie had been doing extra hours delivering messages. Charlie said he hated it, but given the sing-song nature of his early-morning wake-up calls, Lance had a feeling Charlie found a secret joy in the job.
“I will extricate myself from these covers under one condition alone,” said Lance.
“I know what the condition is,” said Charlie. “And I put it on your laptop.”
“Oh. Really?” Lance opened his eyes. His pupils protested in agony. “I will let you know when I can see …”
“It’s there, it’s there,” said Charlie. “Sit up and I’ll be out of your pretty hair.”
Lance pulled himself into a sitting position and shielded his eyes from the ceiling’s bare fluorescent tube. By the time he blinked the doorway of his office into focus, Charlie was gone. Lance could hear him slide his keycard into the room next to his.
Lance crawled to the foot of his bed and reached over to his desk. He picked up the disc on the laptop. Jenny Lee’s If You Miss Miss Jenny Earth Day tour from six years ago. 14-year-old Jenny winked at him, her fingers forming the sign language for “I love you.” She had pulled her pink hair into a side ponytail, and her underdeveloped hips jutted to the side in a parody of sexiness. She hadn’t grown out of her petite boyish frame until a couple years later, but Lance had all of her old rare discs. Lance folded up a napkin into an envelope and slipped the disc inside for safekeeping. He had lent Charlie the box as well, but apparently Charlie had lost it.
Lance pulled himself out of bed and struggled to the door. Charlie had made his way down the hall in the intervening minutes.
“Charlie,” said Lance.
“Finally, his Royal Highness has made it to the threshold,” said Charlie, keycard poised in the slot of the next office on his list.
“Did you lose the box for Miss Jenny?”
“Yep, no clue where it is,” said Charlie, breaking eye contact to slide the card.
“Did you at least like her performance?”
“It was okay,” said Charlie. “She’s got nothing on Veronica Clapton, though. Speaking of Xian-imported records, there’s an import ship coming out to Virginia today, and I’m willing to bet my new DVDs are on that thing.”
“Oh,” said Lance. “I suppose I am going to be stationed in Virginia today as well, then.”
“Didn’t I tell you that? And how come you aren’t on your way to Lobs yet?”
Lance sighed. Virginia meant water tower duty.
Lance knocked on Lobs’ door: three knocks, gentle.
“There’s my little lark,” said Lobs from inside. Lance peeked his head in.
“Good morning, Frank,” he said.
Frank Lobs had been the boss of every member of Lance's family, every friend, and everyone he knew. Most people called him Mr. Lobs, but because Lance had first met Frank at a young age, Frank had requested the title "Uncle Frank." Lance dropped the "uncle" prefix once he got hired at Terrian Technologies, but could never bring himself to call Frank Mr. Lobs.
“I guess Charlie told you already,” said Frank. “I’m sorry, Larkin. But you did too good a job on the weather satellites last week.”
I could just get a day off for that, Lance thought. He knew Frank would never consider this option because Lance was one of the best technicians at Terrian. His tiny, wiry frame made climbing the water towers easy, and he had been born with an uncanny ability to survive without oxygen longer than most other people. Some humans experienced negative genetic side effects to the changing air on Earth, but not Lance. His ability made him perfect for satellite work. Other technicians had died due to suit failure, but Lance always had a few extra minutes to repair his suit before asphyxiating. He was never sure of quite how long he had or how far his longs could go, because he had never really tested it.
Lance’s lack of need for oxygen and his climbing ability also made him ideally suited for outside work, especially in areas where air was particularly contaminated by disease or pollution. Almost all of Terrian Technologies’ water towers were stationed in a lot in Virginia, where the air was thick with toxins and unsafe to inhale. Most TT employees still called the water tower lot Virginia even though the lot actually extended well into what was once North and South Carolina. The massive irrigation system refined the water and brought it well up into Canada. Terrian Technologies and its subsidiary, the Gadorox Food & Drug Administration, had its base in what had once been called Canada’s Northwest Territories.
“Get some breakfast in you,” said Lobs, throwing a packet of papers at Lance. “You have a lot to cover.”
Lance perused the packet on his way to the cafeteria. Six water towers, and the oxygen tanks would only last three hours. It was a job for Lance alone.
Charlie whistled at him from across the room. He was seated with the rest of the electricians, and his spiky blonde hair stood out. Lance and Charlie were the only blondes at TT, which was how they’d become friends despite being in different departments. We genetic anomalies have to stick together, Charlie had said, slapping Lance on the back.
Despite the similarity in hair color, Charlie and Lance couldn’t have looked more different. Charlie’s pale blond spikes contrasted with his tanned, toned form. As an electrician, Charlie didn’t have to bother staying in good physical shape, but he could build muscle with practically no effort. Lance remained lean and wiry no matter how many sit-ups and push-ups he did in his room; his high cheekbones and pale complexion earned him the nickname ‘Prince Charming,’ but most of the other satellite techs called him ‘Princess Lancey’ behind his back. Being Lobs’ favorite ‘little lark’ didn’t help Lance’s reputation either, but Lance didn’t much care what the other TT employees thought. He was faster than they were at almost every task, so he figured most of the mockery was rooted in jealousy. He also found it hard to talk to people he didn’t know, and preferred to be alone whenever he could.
Lance sat by himself, flipping through the packet and planning the best order to fix the three water towers. He ate his eggs as fast as he could before heading to the airlock. Better to get his chores over with so he could go home sooner.
Practically no one was on outside detail that day, so the highest-quality suits were still hung up on the rafters. Even the best suits had leakage problems, and Lance knew quick repairs might be in order. He threw a roll of duct tape into a toolbox and strapped the box to his back.
Lance nudged his way through the other technicians and saw his shuttle on the far side of the airlock’s landing strip. He grabbed an oxygen tank on his way over and climbed inside.
Lance climbed the water tower for three hours before his hands started aching, chapped by the insides of the suit’s gloves. The sky was brown that day, stained with splotches of murky copper. The cracked, grassless ground confirmed that it hadn't rained in days. The water tower had no ladder proper, but Lance was used to the spread out rungs.
Lance could hear a tiny hissing in his ear: a leak in the mask. The higher Lance got on the tower, the thinner the air became. Lance had worn worse suits doing weather satellite duty, but he didn’t want to risk breathing the air here. Even holding his breath wouldn’t prevent exposure to the Virginia toxins. With one hand, Lance monkeyed his way up one of the water tower’s supporting poles. With the other hand, he reached into the toolbox on his back and pulled out the duct tape. He stabilized the roll between his legs and managed to pull off a piece as he climbed. He had no time to waste.
Lance reached the midway platform: 700 feet. He stuck out his tongue and felt around for the water tube, sipping slowly. The water always tasted like carrots to him. Most of his co-workers whined about the rusty taste, but Lance had been familiar with the water since birth. Both of his parents had been mechanics, and young Lance had tagged along with his father on satellite expeditions since his seventh birthday.
Lance didn't look down. He couldn't. He never got vertigo, but the sight on the ground made him squeamish anyway. He knew what he would see: people crawling like ants under the water tower. People without masks and suits. People even poorer than he was who had grown sick from the air.
Both of Lance’s parents had died of the disease in the air. Lance’s ability to survive without oxygen had helped him escape as much exposure to the toxins as other people; he simply didn’t breathe as often as others, so did not inhale as much diseased air. Almost every TT employee eventually sickened because of suit leakage problems. Most of Lance’s co-workers were already developing the first symptoms: bloodshot, yellowed eyes, aggressive tendencies, and slight retardation. Mental faculties decreased over time until the brain shut down. If victims didn’t kill themselves first and instead let the disease run its natural course, cause of death would be digestive failure. The sick couldn’t keep their food down, and starved to death, too mentally handicapped to understand the pain.
Gadorox Food & Drug had begun as a company bent on finding the cure, but no one understood precisely what the mix of toxins on Earth truly was. The company’s title drug, Gadorax, was notorious for numbing the pain, but didn’t seem to do much more. The best and brightest scientists had emigrated to the Xian Galaxy. Only the destitute and the TT employees remained.
Earth had become a protectorate of Xian, but the Xian government could scarcely be bothered anymore. At first, Xian scientists had seemed to be searching for the cure and continued to drop off treatments via shuttle. The monthly shuttles still came and dropped off pills, but most people knew the treatments were no more than placebos. Most of the Xian “shipments” simply exported entertainment: music, films, and shows from the other Galaxy. Earth’s citizens were expected to immerse themselves in Gadorax’s pain relief pills and Xian’s finest pop stars. Most people, especially the truly poor, were content to turn a blind eye to Earth’s crippling industries and do just that.
The scientists on Xian might have been able to find a cure, but it must have been hard to remember Earth’s desolate surface once one reached the lush metropolitan galaxy … or so Lance imagined. He had no idea what the Xian Galaxy looked like, but fantasies about it haunted his dreams.
Jenny Lee had only half her hair extensions in when she thought of the perfect rhyme. She dashed to her computer and started booting up her recording programs. She adjusted the mic next to her desk and started humming a few lyrics.
"Jenny, are you decent?" Mrs. Lee’s militant knock pulled Jenny's head back to reality.
"Come in," Jenny called out. Her mother swept into the room, her black hair swirled into a pouf on the top of her head. Her cheekbones jutted out like a broken picket fence as she smiled.
"Jenny-love," she rasped, her larynx long destroyed by Gadorox cigarettes. "You need to finish up your hair. Harrison is on his way over with some poster designs for Japan."
The Japan tour. It was always the Japan tour. Mrs. Lee had decorated Jenny’s room to celebrate the trip, as she always did whenever the next tour was announced. Jenny would be out getting her nails done and by the time she got back, her whole room would be re-vamped in a different cultural style. This time, walls had been re-done in paper and wood, the old French lamps replaced with twisting dragons. The Versailles chairs were gone and the Marie Antoinette bed replaced by tatami mats. All the evidence of Jenny's tour in France removed and replaced by dragon wall-hangings and Anime posters. The background on her desktop computer had become a Japanese flag.
"Mom, I was trying to write a song," said Jenny.
Mrs. Lee shook her head with that same fixed smile. "Lovey-love. Baby. We have people to do that for you. Anyway, I just told you. Harrison." She clapped her hands. "Chop-chop. Extensions!"
Jenny started minimizing her computer programs with reluctance. Her mother reached over and closed them.
"I didn't get to save yet," Jenny protested.
"No slacking until those extensions are in." Mrs. Lee gave Jenny's shoulder a squeeze. "And try to hit the gym before Harrison gets here."
"I already boxed this morning."
"Good, good ... but you're going to Japan. You know how they are about weight over there. Skip the carbs today."
Jenny nodded dimly as her mother twirled out of the room and pulled the paper doors shut.
Jenny pulled herself out of her computer chair and moved back her vanity table. She began putting in the rest of her pink hair extensions with one hand. With the other hand, she entered in the combinations for her make-up applicator. The machine hummed as it began to calculate the proper colors for Jenny’s eyes and cheeks.
She couldn't remember the lyrics anymore.
Terrian Technologies gave every lead mechanic their own office with a cot inside. Most mechanics couldn't afford to live outside the office on their salary, and Lance was pretty sure that TT had organized it that way. Frank could call anybody into his office any time he wanted. There was no "clocking out."
Frank called Lance in for all manner of mindless tasks. No one else could organize his desktop icons properly but Lance. No one else could proof-read his e-mails quite like Lance. No one else could fix the mechanism for opening and closing the window blinds quite like Lance. Whatever the tiny task, Frank always needed Lance to do it. Frank had gotten older and Lance had become a sort of nurse, doing far more computer work than your average mechanic. He had learned how to hack and how to code. Frank had unwittingly taught Lance everything about how the Terrian system ran.
Lance knew his abilities were compromised at Terrian Technologies. He desperately wanted a promotion, more money, anything to get out. His parents had long since passed away from the mysterious sickness. Lance knew that the longer he wore the leaky TT masks, the more likely he was to pass out on the job and never wake up. Lance dreamed, as everyone dreamed, of the Xian Galaxy. All he needed was enough money to afford the trip, and he knew he could get a job there … but no one had enough to afford the trip. Not even his boss, and Frank Lobs was the richest man Lance had ever met.
Lance had been stealing a nap after his water tower trip, but a buzz on the intercom from Frank pulled him back to reality. Lance swung his feet to the floor and got up. He stepped on something hard and plastic and cried out in pain. He bent over to inspect the object; it was the box for Jenny Lee’s If You Miss Miss Jenny tour. Charlie must have finally found it, but had chosen to throw the box haphazardly into Lance’s room as opposed to putting it on the desk. Lance felt tears welling in his eyes, only partly from the pain. He found the napkin with the disc in it and gently restored it to the now-broken box. He wasn’t sure he would ever be able to replace such a rare item. Hands shaking, he returned the box to its proper place on his shelves.
Lance flipped on the lights and looked at his reflection. He tried to pat down his blonde hair and look presentable for Frank, but it was obvious he had just been sleeping. His chin was flecked with stubble and his eyes were rimmed in red. Only Lance’s big elfin eyes betrayed what a pretty boy he could clean up to be; his face was often covered in engine grease, sweat, and the occasional oxygen mask. He pulled a rubber band out of his pocket and tried to pull his hair into a ponytail, but it still wasn't quite long enough. He licked his hands and smoothed his bangs behind his ears. His hair got in the way of everything; he couldn't afford haircuts, and couldn't cut it himself. He had been trying to grow it out so that he could always pull back.
Mr. Harrison arrived at the Lee residence at 12:00 sharp. He was a small man with gentle, feminine hands. He used wax on his hair and Vaseline on his hands and lips. He had been getting cuts of Jenny's wages since the beginning of her voice acting career (age 12), had helped her begin her music career (age 13), and had introduced her to Gadorox pills (age 14 and a half). Jenny grew accustomed to taking as many pills as Harrison would let her have; she would then lie in her bed, only half-aware of her surroundings, imagining that she could feel the rotation of the Earth. Her mother would fill her room with lights and posters as Jenny swathed herself in covers, refusing food and watching old children's cartoons. Harrison had insisted to Mrs. Lee that Gadorox would help Jenny’s career, and he wasn’t entirely wrong.
Gadorox took away Jenny’s hunger. The hunger for sushi and milkshakes, the hunger for friends and education, the hunger to write down all the chord progressions in her head. Jenny stopped missing her school, stopped calling her friends. She signed contracts without reading them and rode in a pink limousine built like a tank. Mrs. Lee had called Jenny's one and only boyfriend and told him that Jenny was too busy focusing on her career. Jenny never found out whether he had cried, and in the whirlwind of touring, she forgot his name first and the color of his eyes second. After that, she forgot everything else.
Jenny had never seen a paycheck, a bank, or a single dollar bill. She had never made up one of her own login names or passwords. The only tracks she had ever written for her own albums always got the fewest radio plays; audiences wanted formula, not emotions. Eventually, Harrison convinced her to stop worrying about writing her own music. Occasionally, she had flickers of melody lines or couplets; the music wouldn’t leave her dreams.
The Gadorox helped Jenny to go through the motions. She had learned how to ski virtually. She learned martial arts and boxing. She learned dance. Gadorox didn’t affect her physical stamina, only her emotional willpower.
Jenny absorbed the information that Harrison gave to her like a wispy pink sponge. When she turned 18 and he ordered her to get on her knees and pleasure him, she did the only thing she had ever been taught. She followed orders. He had stroked her head, but she hadn't felt it because of the hair extensions.
Jenny could hear her mother and Mr. Harrison in the kitchen. Her mother's raspy laugh echoed through the door. Jenny didn't like the paper walls; she could hear everything outside her room.
"Jenny-love! Come out and talk with us."
Jenny pulled herself out of bed and checked her reflection. She smiled at herself and posed. She stretched. Jenny Lee, the Terrian princess of pop.
Jenny walked into the kitchen and leaned against the wall. Harrison pulled out a chair for her and slid over his briefcase. He had loaded up some images to the screens inside.
"Hello, Jenny," he said. "We've got a lot to discuss today."
"Just the poster designs for Japan, right?"
Harrison shook his head gently. "We need to sort out terms for the 'Baby Love the Stars' music video."
"Jenny-love-baby ... you didn't get Space." Mrs. Lee stroked Jenny's husks of hair. She had gotten used to not being able to feel it when other people stroked her hair, and often wondered why everyone still did it.
"That's right, Jenny," said Mr. Harrison. "We didn't get a satellite reserved. Or at least, that’s what we have to assume, since Terrian Technologies never made contact with us. We aren't going to get to film in space. We're going to have to come up with an alternative vision. I have some ideas ..."
Jenny shook her mother's hand off. "But that was my idea. That was the only idea I've had that you've agreed to all year. The song is about space. It's about -"
"Jenny, Jenny. Don't you think you need to calm down? Have you taken anything today?"
Jenny shook her head. "I'm feeling sick today. I don't need anything."
"Are you sure?" Harrison's eyes crinkled into a Santa Claus smile. "I brought you something. 500 milligrams this time."
Jenny shook her head. "I want to talk about this music video thing, please."
"We are talking about it, lovey," said her mother.
"No, we aren't. We're talking about pills again. I want the movie to be in space. Can we at least get a blue screen or something? It's just not going to make any sense otherwise."
Harrison and Mrs. Lee exchanged glances. "Jenny," began Harrison. "You know we can't afford to get blue screen equipment. I'm not even sure who still has that. This isn't exactly the Xian Galaxy." He laughed gently and Jenny felt bile rise in her throat.
"Why are you bringing up the Xian Galaxy? We know. We know this isn't the Xian Galaxy."
Mrs. Lee cleared her throat. "Lovey."
"Mom, I'm going to my room. Let me know what you guys decide about the stupid video." Jenny felt her heart beating faster than it had beaten in a long time. The feeling made her dizzy, giddy, and most of all hungry. She managed to get out of the chair and back to her room.
She realized as she collapsed on her bed that she could still hear the conversation between Harrison and her mother. They clearly didn't realize that the Japanese decor allowed for Jenny's eavesdropping.
"I'm so sorry," said Mrs. Lee. "I don't know what's gotten into Jenny today."
"She said she was sick," replied Harrison. "She just needs to take her pills. She's probably suffering withdrawal." Jenny could hear him snapping his briefcase closed.
"Well, she's going to have to move on from the satellite idea," said Jenny's mother. "I'll talk to her about it."
"Don't worry," said Harrison. "She'll get over it. She always does."
"Lance, I've got all these e-mails and I need to sort them into folders. I just don't have time for all this. You hop on here and do these, will you? I'm going to go take a nap."
Frank walked over to his cot without waiting for a response and curled up. Lance could tell he'd received an order and not a request, and slid into Frank's huge leather chair. At least he could be comfortable while he did Frank's job. Frank's office was the largest and his chair had been built to accommodate Frank's old arthritic body. Lance, still sore from climbing the tower, appreciated the extra cushioning.
Going through Frank's e-mails was basically electronic filing. Lance had to read each e-mail before deciding how to classify it. Almost all of the e-mails were requests from mechanics. Lance tried to stay awake as his eyes glazed over technical descriptions of the various satellites. He had worked on almost every single one, so he was familiar with all the problems and could even remember solving most of them himself. As he read, he began to wonder if anybody else even worked at TT besides himself.
After six hours of sorting e-mails, Lance began to feel angry at how out of hand Frank’s procrastination had become. Thousands of e-mails, and Frank couldn't be bothered to sort them before now? If he'd only been doing it all along, Lance would be the one sleeping and not Frank.
Lance began to scroll down to see how many more e-mails remained. Too many. He sighed and stretched, then looked back at the screen.
He cocked his head, bemused. One of the senders had a name that rung a bell. Dick Harrison. Lance opened the e-mail (“Satellite Reservations”) and skimmed it. Then, he tracked back and began to re-read the e-mail more carefully.
"Is this what I think it is?" he whispered. “Frank,” he shouted. “Frank, wake up! I need a huge favor from you.”
Jenny slouched into her seat. Harrison stroked her leg as she flipped open a compact and started wiping off her make-up. Her cheeks dazzled with glittery stars. The last show had been in Tokyo at 3 AM, and Jenny hadn’t slept in about 30 hours. A pound of foundation disguised her dark circles, but the stars were perfunctory decoration.
Jenny had spent the time before the show recording some dialogue for the cartoon Ferret Falafel, which was about to start its sixth season. Jenny's character was a little pink ferret with stars on its cheeks. The show had gained massive popularity in Japan and so Harrison had programmed Jenny's make-up applicator to do similar stars. Even though she had been rubbing at them for five minutes, the gold glittery outlines wouldn't come off. Jenny let out a scream of rage.
Harrison jumped. "Jenny! What's the matter?"
"These stars. These stars look so stupid! They won't come off!"
"Jenny ... they look wonderful." Harrison patted her leg again. She shook him off. "Now, Jenny. Calm down."
"No. I'm sick of this."
"Well, you were bound to go through your diva phase eventually."
Jenny turned her head slowly towards him. Her eyes had hardened into slits. "I’m not a diva. I’m an adult. How much longer until we get to the satellite shuttle?"
"Not much longer ... darling ..." Harrison's eyes flicked with fear. It was the first time Jenny had the pleasure of seeing his hands shake. He tried to force his face into a reassuring, gentle expression, but his head looked like a rubber mask. Jenny couldn't help cracking a smile. A real smile.
"Good," she said.
Lance had plastered posters from Jenny's Golden Glimpse shoot all over his office. He had printed them out and cut off the white edges of the paper. It gave him something to do while he waited.
Lance had checked his hair six times in that final hour. He didn’t have time to wait for the laundry service, so he had washed his blue uniform in the sink that morning and dried it under the hand drier, even though he knew that it would be covered by the space suit. He paced the room, debating going to the bathroom to check his hair again. It was too long. He looked scrubby, like a poor satellite mechanic. Why, why, why did he have to be a poor satellite mechanic? His stomach felt like it was climbing a water tower and leaving the rest of his body far behind.
Jenny had been waiting in her limousine for three hours before Harrison finally got confirmation that the Terrian Technologies representative was on his way. Jenny and Harrison strapped on their masks and suits and de-activated the limo security. As the air-lock hissed open to let them into the smoky daylight, the TT satellite shuttle scooted to a sloppy stop. Jenny leaned against the limo, surveying the tiny ship. She felt her heart speed up and she heaved, wishing she had some Gadorox. She managed to slow her breath down and looked at Harrison.
Harrison had kept his eyes on Jenny since they emerged from the limo. He reached in his suit pocket and pulled out a bottle. Harrison shook it tantalizingly so that Jenny would hear the clacking of the pills inside. With effort, she ignored him and set off towards the tiny Terrian Technologies ship, telling herself that Harrison couldn’t see how much her hands shook inside the gloves of her suit.
The airlock on the TT ship slid open as Jenny and Harrison approached. Jenny and Harrison stood inside the first partition in silence as the lock slid shut. The second door opened to reveal another suited figure. A blonde man with large nervous eyes. A twenty-something. Jenny’s eyes widened in surprise. He’s probably only a couple years older than I am.
“Hello, I’m Lance Larkin.” Jenny accepted Lance’s handshake. His grip was firm even through the suit’s material, but he seemed to be having trouble with eye contact and letting go of her hand. He held his helmet under his arm, and Jenny realized she could take hers off. She reached up and attempted to undo the clasp.
“Oh, let me do that for you,” Harrison interrupted, moving her fingers away from the safety catch.
“I can do it myself,” Jenny mumbled. She managed to get the mask off, albeit not very gracefully. A hair extension had come out in the ordeal. Lance stared at it, bewildered.
“It’s not my real hair,” Jenny said, almost annoyed at Lance’s expression. “It’s all extensions. My real hair is about an inch long, but I still bother to dye it pink.”
Harrison stared at Jenny, shaking his head in wonder.
“I figured it must be,” said Lance, still unable to look her in the eye. “Otherwise, you couldn’t have switched from the short bob on your American tour to the long braids on your South American tour. I knew your hair couldn’t grow that fast and those tours were pretty close together. I just never thought I’d see one come out. Did it hurt?”
Harrison laughed loudly, falsely. “I take it you’re a fan of Jenny Lee. Well, allow me to introduce you to the Terrian Princess of Pop. I’m Dick Harrison, her agent.”
Lance shook Harrison’s hand. “I know who you are. I’ve read every interview with Jenny and bought all her DVDs.” Lance turned back to Jenny, trying hard to meet her eyes this time. “My favorite song is ‘Free’ from your first album. It’s much more lyrically adventurous than your later pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved Jenny Puff Magic Cake Sparkles, but as an album I didn’t feel it was –”
“Innovative?” Jenny interrupted. Lance looked a little taken aback, so she softened her tone. “Ever since my first album, I don’t get to write my own songs anymore. Well … I still write. I just have to fight tooth and nail to get my tracks recorded.”
“However, ‘Baby Love the Stars’ is an original track,” Harrison cut in, his voice sweet. He gave Jenny’s shoulder a warning squeeze.
“That’s great,” said Lance, managing a careful smile. “It’s my favorite track on Cake Sparkles by far, and I’m really excited to help you out with it. I’m going to go prepare for take-off. Is there anything I can grab to make you more comfortable? Mango juice? Meteor Vodka Martini?”
“Do you have a liquor license?” Harrison demanded.
“All Terrian Technologies shuttles are equipped for passenger travel,” Lance replied. He gave Jenny a stronger smile and tried to pat down his hair. “In plain English, that means I’ve got a little machine that’ll mix you whatever you want.”
Jenny felt herself smiling back and her face heating up. She realized this was the first time she had met a fan who was a guy her age, and also the first time that she hadn’t been separated from a fan by a plastic bubble. Most audience members were pre-teen girls who had been infected by a host of Earth toxins, and Jenny always had to be protected. The days of shaking hands and kissing the cheeks of adoring devotees were over.
She was starting to feel the after-shock of embarrassment after spewing out the information about how Harrison wouldn’t let her record her own music anymore. She had said it because she knew it would get a rise out of Harrison and she wanted to make this video her own special victory. But she hadn’t expected Lance. He felt so devastatingly real … and here she was, buried in her hair extensions, leftover make-up, and a thick haze of sleep deprivation. But his skin, his eyes, the smudge of dirt on his left cheek … from his shaggy hair to his space boots, Lance was a real person, a person who knew Jenny’s life backwards and forwards. Worst of all, he knew how fake and pathetic that life really was ... an entire life that could be summed up in DVDs and magazine interviews. Jenny’s smile faded and her stomach gave a lurch.
Harrison glanced at Jenny, who seemed unable to respond to Lance’s offer, and spoke up. “Jenny will take a sparkling water, as will I.”
Lance nodded and slipped into the cockpit.
As Lance locked the TT ship into the satellite’s docking station, he felt his heart knocking into his ribs as fast as it did during initial training. He’d done these types of satellite trips so many times that he could have landed in his sleep. Yet this … this was not exactly a normal trip.
Lance returned to the cabin to tell his passengers they had arrived. Jenny’s eyes were closed tightly and her face looked tinged with green. Lance furrowed his brow; he had tried to keep the flight smooth, but Jenny must have gotten motion-sick. Harrison had been sorting through something in his briefcase and didn’t seem to notice Jenny’s distress or Lance's presence. Lance slowly reached out and touched Jenny’s knee. Her eyes snapped open, softening when she saw it was Lance’s hand. She almost looked on the brink of tears. The look surprised Lance so much that he managed to keep his hand there on her leg.
“Are we here?”
“Yes,” Lance said, picking his hand up with reluctance and walking back over to the cockpit. He dragged out some oxygen tanks. “We’re going to need these for the shoot out in space. I can teach you how to hook them up.”
Jenny followed Lance through the airlock into the satellite. “Who’s going to be filming this?”
Lance glanced at Harrison. “He didn’t tell you how this was working?”
Jenny blushed. Lance smiled; she was embarrassed and nervous. This realization was enough to make his stomach settle and voice strengthen.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “Your regular film crew is back at the TT office. You’re going to go outside the satellite with me and I’ll show you where to go. We’ve set up cameras on the satellite and they’ll be controlled remotely. You’ll be able to hear the song inside the suit, as well as directions from Harrison and your team back at TT.”
“I’m going out in space all alone?”
“No, no, no,” said Lance, trying to talk away the fear that flickered in Jenny’s eyes. “I said I’ll show you where to go … I meant I’d be out there with you. In my suit, too. We’re both going to be securely tethered to the ship, so you won’t float away. I’ll make sure to … to keep track of you.”
“I think I can manage it,” said Jenny. Lance glanced at her, taken aback by her change in attitude. She had stood up a little straighter.
Harrison continued to look through his briefcase. Lance felt uneasy.
“Well, I’m going to go tell the staff back at TT that we’re almost ready to start shooting,” said Lance, heading out of the main room in the satellite interior.
“Can I come see the control room?” asked Jenny.
“Of … of course,” said Lance, again surprised.
Lance flipped on the lights and glowed inwardly when he heard Jenny’s gasp of surprise. “I guess you’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said.
“It’s sort of like the set we did for –”
“The 'Tantrum Dreamer' video,” the two said together, then laughed.
“I loved that video,” said Lance, letting himself fall into a chair.
“Are you kidding? It was so stupid,” said Jenny, but she was smiling. She threw herself into the chair opposite him and watched as he pulled on a headset. “I don’t even like the song. I didn’t write it. It’s all just clicks and beeps. Remixed robot stuff.”
“That’s cool, though,” said Lance. “And you did a husky jazzy technique with your voice. You don’t use it anywhere else on your albums.”
“Shouldn’t you be contacting my team?”
“I’m on it, I’m on it,” said Lance, connecting the headset to the mainframe. Jenny picked up a headset of her own, and after she threw a questioning look at Lance, he shrugged and connected hers as well. He dialed Frank’s office and asked them to connect him to wherever Jenny’s team was. Frank’s voice boomed: “So, is she everything you dreamed she’d be?”
Jenny started giggling again. It didn’t sound like the giggle she did at the beginning of the hit song 'Outbreak' from Cake Sparkles. It was gentle and bell-like, like an old ring-tone from far away. Lance felt his ears getting hot as he said, “Frank, hi. Can you link me over to Jenny’s camera crew?”
“I take it it’s going well,” said Frank’s voice. He transferred the call and the phone rang somewhere.
“Hey, Mom. Let the camera people know that Lance and I are going out to space soon.”
“Lance? Your … trainer? The mechanical man?”
“Yeah, that’s right. He’s great.” Jenny gave Lance a wink and then started laughing at herself. Lance felt his heart soar in her laugh and he smiled. He wondered if his ears were the color of her hair extensions. He wondered what she looked like without her hair extensions and eyeliner. He wondered about the true color of her eyes. No interviewer had ever determined it, and she wore purple contacts all of the time.
Lance was strapping Jenny into her oxygen tank when Harrison closed his briefcase with a loud smack. He stood up.
“Jenny, I need to have a word with you.”
“Can’t it wait until we’re done filming?”
Harrison’s eyes hardened. His face betrayed no hint of its usual condescending smirk. “Is there a place we can talk privately, Mr. Larkin?”
Lance hesitated. “Well, there’s a bathroom off of the control room. I won’t disturb. Let me know when you’re ready for action, Jenny.”
Jenny shot Lance a smile and slipped off the oxygen tank. “Be back soon,” she said, following Harrison to the control room.
Harrison pulled the bathroom door shut and slipped the lock into place.
“You really don’t need to lock it,” said Jenny.
Harrison turned around to face her, a fire searing in his black eyes that she had never seen. “Jenny, your behavior today has repulsed me. I am your agent and you cannot socialize with that mechanic in that manner.”
Jenny sputtered. “But … but … I’m just … !”
“I call the shots on your behavior. You’re nobody without Dick Harrison. I let you have your way on this one video shoot. We’re doing it in space despite that it’s a huge time sink and a money-waster. I’m extremely dissatisfied with our current professional relationship.”
“Are you quitting?”
Harrison looked at the ceiling for a moment, and then turned his eyes back to Jenny’s. “No, I’m not quitting. We’re relocating.”
“I said we’re relocating.” Harrison walked towards her. Jenny backed up unconsciously. She didn’t like the look in his eyes. He was a small man, but she hadn’t eaten carbohydrates in weeks. She couldn’t weigh more than 95 pounds. She did some math in her head, tried to appraise his BMI. She racked her brain for memories of her boxing lessons.
Harrison’s face broke into a grin. Jenny had begun to quail. “We’re relocating to the Xian Galaxy,” he said. “You’re going to be a back-up dancer for the band Skywarp.”
“Skywarp? But they’re … they’re that little teeny-bopper group.”
“Don’t interrupt me!” Harrison smacked Jenny across the face. She felt tears sting in her eyes. She lunged at Harrison’s eyes with her pink nails, but he caught her wrists in time.
“Jenny. You’re in your twenties now. You can’t be sweet little virginal Jenny anymore. There’s no market for it. No one believes in the little princess anymore. Not even you. You’re figuring it out yourself.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Jenny could feel her voice rising to hysteria. She tried to control her tone and keep it level, but her heart felt as though it was about to explode in her chest. She gasped for air. When was the last time she had eaten? She couldn’t even remember.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re getting too old for this gig. Your fan base is dying out from whatever’s in the air on Earth. The only place to go from here is down. Unless you come with me to work for Skywarp, you have no career.”
“I’m not leaving!” Jenny tried to say it as loud as she could, hoping Lance would hear. She tried to stomp her feet. She began to scream.
Harrison knew what she was after. He put a hand over her mouth and pushed her against the wall. He whispered in her ear. Jenny couldn’t understand what he was saying because she was sobbing. He started to undo the clasps on his suit.
“No, no, no,” said Jenny. “It’s been years since I’ve had to … I’m not doing it anymore.”
“The audiences may not believe it,” said Harrison. “But I know you’re still a virgin. This is in your contract. I have a right to –”
Jenny didn’t let him finish. She screamed as loud and long as she could. In a surge of adrenaline, she freed her wrists from Harrison’s grip and clawed at his face until he screamed in pain. Visions of her virtual reality boxing classes spun in her mind. She pummeled his solar plexus until he started coughing and moaning like a squalling cat.
Shaking from head to toe, Jenny opened the bathroom door.
Lance was standing outside with a lit soldering iron. He had it raised as though it were a sword, but lowered it once he saw Harrison’s limp body. “It sounded like you had it under control,” he said, his voice shaking like a child’s. “I knew you had martial arts training, and boxing, too. And … I figured you wouldn’t … want the extra help. I … I’m sorry, I have no idea how to fight anyone.”
“I thought I did … but I did all right,” she said. She could feel her hand sweating inside her suit. “Did you hear everything?”
Lance turned off the soldering iron and sighed. “You signed a contract. You’re stuck.”
Jenny pulled Lance close. “Can I trust you?” she whispered.
“Of course.” Lance looked like he was going to throw up. It’s been a rough day for both of us, Jenny thought.
“Do you know what it’s like … to want to escape? Would you do anything for me? For the Xian Galaxy?”
“Well,” she said. She was whispering so quietly now that he could feel her lips brushing his ear. “What if there was an accident?”
Moments later, the Terrian Technologies satellite shuttle suffered a unique oxygen leak in the bathroom. Harrison, passed out on the ground, slowly asphyxiated as Jenny and Lance filmed her music video out in space.
As Jenny mustered the fake tears on the phone to her mother, she squeezed Lance’s hand.
“Mom, I just … I still just want to get to the Xian Galaxy. It’s what he would have wanted. We still have the tickets.”
Lance fell asleep with Jenny in his arms. She barely fit on his office cot. She had taken down all of the posters of herself and put them in the trash. Her hair was an inch long as promised. Her eyes were blue.