Ness and Jeff prepare in different ways for a rescue attempt for Paula at Fourside. Fleshing out an in-game event.
Written for Wasuremono for the New Year's Resolution challenge at Yuletide Treasure. Beta-read by J Chaos
Jeff wrapped a wet towel around his forehead and envied Ness's ability to not feel the sun. Or at least be used to T-shirt weather -- his school uniform shirt was already developing interesting sweat stains, and the last time he had worn a T-shirt in the Dusty Dunes Desert, he had gotten a sunburn and heat stroke. "I don't think the monkey is coming back, you know."
"Wait for it, Jeff." Ness held up a hand. And sure enough, like some Saturday-morning cartoon, a cloud of dust along the road signaled the return of the monkey. It chattered at them, explaining that it had been to Fourside and back.
"Are you getting this, Ness?" Jeff asked. He had picked up a bit of the monkey language from the Bubble Monkey in Winters, but Ness seemed to have an almost magic ability to understand animals.
"Yep. I got it"
The monkey nodded at them, saying it was going home now then headed of, back into the confusing desert caves.
Ness took a step to the side, out of range of the traffic on the road. "Want to try it out, Jeff?" He seemed ready to go, starting to do a set of runner's stretches that Jeff thought he probably learned from television.
"If it'll get us out of this desert," Jeff placed a hand to his head, and took off the now-dry towel. He used it to clean his glasses.
"We should head back to Fourside," Ness said. "We still need to get Paula back, now that we know Jackie's Cafe was a false lead. I think that maid-"
"-Electra, right. I think she'll let us in to see Mister Monotoli for Apple Kid's Yogurt Machine." Ness said.
"Well, it's better than getting kicked out of the building by Pokey's goons," Jeff replied. "Or attacked by aliens, or... whatever Moonside was."
Ness nodded. "So we sneak in, get Paula, and teleport out."
Jeff raised his eyebrows. "Are you sure that will work? It took that monkey a lot of space to teleport."
"Well, then we'll fight our way out," Ness said. "I don't like hurting some security guards who are just doing their jobs, but if they're holding Paula hostage, we don't have a choice. Jeff?"
"Yeah?" Jeff said.
"If they are humans, can you not use your gun or bottle rockets? I nearly lost my eyebrows when you used one against the statue, and I wasn't even the target. And we'll be fighting inside again."
"I'll see what I can do," Jeff said. "If I know we'll be fighting inside, I can aim them better. I thought we were outside with Mani-Mani."
"Great. Back to Fourside, then." Ness motioned for Jeff to stand behind him, then set off at a run along the side of the road. Jeff followed, panting as he tried to keep Ness's pace in the desert heat. The last couple of weeks had given him a lot more exercise than he'd had all year at Snow Wood, but this was a lot more strenuous than hiking. Maybe even worse than all the fights, or the caving. He kept his eyes on Ness's back, determined to keep running even if his heart burst, not to be left behind. Just as he thought he was going to faint, Ness started to slow, causing Jeff to nearly bump into him. Jeff finally looked away, to see the tall skyscapers of Fourside, dark against the crimson sunset sky.
Ness was panting as well, as he handed Jeff a can of tomato juice. It was warm, but it was liquid and Jeff was grateful. "How far did you think we ran?" Ness asked.
"At least a hundred meters," Jeff said. "Maybe two." He should have clocked it, but who knew what relativistic effects psychic teleports had.
"You're kidding, right?" Ness said. "It wasn't that much. You're just out of shape."
"I'm not out of shape," Jeff said. "Not anymore. You could try putting chalk on your shoes next time and measure it."
"All right. I'll do that. Jeff?"
"Yes, Ness?" Jeff asked.
"I need to practice this. Are you going back to the hotel?" Ness said, looking away, towards the straight sidewalks and city streets of Fourside.
"I'm heading to the department store first," Jeff said. He had to tell himself that it was all right -- he wasn't going to get kidnapped, like Paula was. He'd bring a flashlight, just in case, though. Besides, he was dreadfully low on bottle rockets, and, thanks to Ness, he would need another weapon. "You want to come too, to get some chalk?"
"Yeah. I don't think either of us should go there alone."
There was plenty of sidewalk chalk available in the toy department. Ness quickly purchased some of the glow-in-the-dark variety. "You're not planning on practicing tonight in the dark, are you?" Jeff asked. "Aren't you worried about muggers? Or gangs? Or the crazy taxies and street signs that keep attacking us?"
"I'll be fine, Jeff. A couple blasts of psi and that'll solve the problem," Ness said. "Unless you want to come too?"
"I need to check some stuff back at the hotel." Jeff had taken the Yo-yo he had purchased with Ness's chalk out of the package, and was practicing with it. Supposedly the yo-yo had been developed originally as a weapon. Jeff thought that it might be all right for hunting... provided the rabbit was very slow, and was either knocked cold in one hit, or was patient enough to wait for the hunter to rewind it. He was beginning to wish they had saved the slingshots they had picked up in Saturn Valley. At least a slingshot made sense as a weapon. "Come on." He pocketed the yo-yo, then opened the door that the two of them had discovered on their first trip.
The arms merchant was already there, hanging out behind a set of appliance boxes, reading a magazine. "Shh! Hey, kid, don't slam the door. Someone might hear you."
"Sorry, mister," Jeff said. "You have any more bottle rockets?"
"Yeah, yeah, you kids and your fireworks," but he was already turning to one of the boxes --- labeled as a toaster oven -- and checking it. "You got cash, right? I don't take checks, especially from kids."
Ness nodded. "We've got plenty of cash."
"Just remember -- you get caught, these babies fell off a truck," the arms merchant said, taking the bills Ness handed him. "What, did you just get these out of the ATM?" he asked skeptically.
"Yeah. You going to sell my friend these or not?" Ness asked.
"Just want to make sure this ain't no bust or anything. You kids don't look like cops, but you never know."
"Ness, do you want to get any bombs?" Jeff asked.
"We can't use those indoors," Ness said.
"Depends on how much collateral damage you want," the arms merchant said. "Theoretically, I mean."
"None!" Ness said. "No bombs. Just the fireworks."
"Fine. Here you go. Ten bottle rockets." He handed them a smaller box, which proclaimed itself to be a toy oven. "Keep on the look out for bad guys."
Jeff carefully held the box as they left, feeling a bit silly to be carrying a box that some marketing department had pretty much designed to scream 'Toy For Girls'. "He seemed a lot nicer than last time."
"Probably because you didn't need to convince him you wouldn't shoot yourself in the foot," Ness replied.
"You going back to the hotel?" Jeff said. "I need to check with Tracy about things we've got in storage, then pack my bag, then I'm getting some sleep."
"I need to practice teleport," Ness replied. "I'll do it outside the hotel -- I'll stay in sight. Don't worry, Jeff."
"Well, all right."
"Hello, Escargo Express? Can I help you?"
"Hi. Is this Tracy?" Jeff leaned against the counter of the hotel, balancing the black courtesy phone against his ear, as he took out a small notepad and pen.
"Sure is. Who is this?"
"Jeff. Ness's friend."
"The geeky kid who retrieved all the broken machinery?" Tracy asked.
"Hey, be nice. Yeah, that's me. Do you still have any of that?"
"Let me check. Please hold."
After one repetition of 'Yesterday', and a couple of dirty looks from the hotel clerk, Jeff was about ready to hang up, before Tracy returned. "Sorry, you're clean out. Unless you count the thing labeled 'Pencil Eraser' that just came back."
"Nope, I don't think we'll need that for a while." At least, he didn't think so. Who knew giant pencil statues were so common as to need a Pencil Eraser? He had taken to carrying pens after Moonside, when he lost three pencils in his pocket to the thing.
"Sorry. Did you get the Yogurt Machine?"
"Eventually," Jeff said, "But-"
"Good. Neglected Class is improving. Successful deliveries are up one hundred percent this week."
"But it was in a cave in the desert! Full of monkeys!" Jeff said. "We had to bribe them with food to get the thing."
"Considering Neglected Class's normal record? That's a success. How's Ness taking the whole Paula thing, by the way?"
"Excuse me?" Jeff said, puzzled by the non sequitur.
"Well, Mom told me that his girlfriend was missing," Tracy said. "I just wanted to know how Big Bro was handling it."
"She's not his girlfriend, Tracy. She's just a friend of ours," Jeff said.
"Jealous, much?" Tracy's voice sounded amused.
"No. Just wanted to correct a fact." He lowered his voice, concerned that the hotel clerk might overhear. "We're going to get her tomorrow."
"Good. Mom thought he sounded really bummed out about the whole thing."
"He's been pretty cheerful around me," Jeff said. "Determined, maybe."
Tracy laughed. "That sounds like the Ness I grew up with. He's a bit of a Mommy's boy. Doesn't talk much about things like that except to Mom. But don't tell him I said that. Hey, I'm going off shift right now. Nice talking to you, Jeff. Tell my brother and Paula hi. Also, Mom says Ness needs to bring you and Paula by for dinner sometime, so she can meet you in person."
"I'll tell him," Jeff said, and hung up the phone. He had already packed his bag for tomorrow, arranging each bottle rocket so that he could quickly light them and fire, and putting the other things he carried in the side pockets. There was nothing left to do, but get some sleep, and wait.
He walked back to the room, turning the key in the lock. It remained empty, with only his bag hanging on the chair. "Ness? Are you in the bathroom?" But the bathroom was as empty as the rest of the room. "Is he still practicing?" It was getting late -- he had taken longer than he thought getting things ready.
Jeff picked up the key and his gun again, and headed outside the hotel. There was almost no traffic on the road, which surprised him, and no one on the sidewalks. The city looked as quiet as the desert had. He didn't even see Ness, but walking under one of the streetlamps casting amber glows on the sidewalk showed the sign of trampled chalky sneaker prints. Ness had been here.
There was a cloud of dust coming in from the road, the scattered moonlight making it look like someone had slammed two erasers together, and Jeff pressed himself against the side of the hotel. But, it was farther along, at the end of the block, and heading away from him, into the park. He started running, trying to catch it.
As he got closer, he saw the running form, which swerved, not quite in time to miss the tree. "Ness!" Jeff yelled.
His friend was sprawled on the springy grass, looking rather startled, and covered with some kind of black stuff -- soot, maybe. There was a person-shaped mark on the tree in the same black soot, in such a way that Jeff was sure that some morning jogger was going to swear he had found Jeebus in the park tomorrow.
"Are you all right?" Jeff asked, offering a hand to help him up.
Ness didn't take it, instead standing up on his own. Jeff caught the glint of white light that marked the use of his healing powers. "Yeah. Just came in a bit too close there. A cup of coffee or a skip sandwich will fix me right up." He smiled at Jeff, looking like he was trying to stifle a yawn.
"Ness, you look like you're going to fall asleep right here. If we're going to do anything tomorrow, we need to get some sleep." Jeff replied.
Ness shook his head. "I think a couple of more times and I'll have the Teleport down enough that I can do it in a hallway. That'll make things easier."
"Not when you can't concentrate enough to teleport somewhere. We'll be hundreds of feet up in the air, Ness. I don't want to end up floating above Threed."
"Just trust me, okay, Jeff?"
"I'll trust you when I know you're fully rested. Do I need to dig out scientific papers on what lack of sleep does to you, Ness?" Jeff put his hands on his hips. I'm starting to sound like his mother. Or Paula. It always had been Paula who had urged the two of them to stop. She'd always phrase it like she was the one who needed it, even after Jeff had noticed she no longer needed to rest as often as she said she did.
"Just five minutes more," Ness said.
"Five minutes or five trees?" Jeff asked. "Ness, we don't need the teleport to win this. We've faced down things before, without Paula."
"Yeah, but she wasn't a hostage before now," Ness said. "What if she's in danger?"
"If she were really in danger, she would have called us. That's what she did in Threed, and back with those cultists, right?" Jeff said.
"Or she could be..." Ness said. "Buzz Buzz said three boys and a girl. What if all four weren't going to make it? What if we didn't make it in time."
Ness's optimism had finally cracked, Jeff noticed. He actually looked fearful -- not determined, or confident at all, which was different than Jeff had seen him before, even when they had first met, stuck inside a crypt in Threed. He put his arm around the other boy's shoulders. "I don't know, Ness. But, if that's so, I don't think Paula would have gone down without a fight. And I don't think she'd want us to not go on. This is too important."
Ness took out something from his pocket -- the sound stone he carried --- and held it. "I know it's important, but I guess I've gotten used to having her around. And you, too, Jeff. We're friends, all three of us, and I don't know if I'd be able to do this without you."
"You won't have to, Ness, buddy," Jeff said. "I guess I was wondering how you did it."
"Did what?" Ness asked.
"Kept going. I mean, the first time I saw some of those stinking monsters in Threed, I was about ready to pack it up and hitchhike back to Winters." Jeff said. It was a bit of an exaggeration, but he had felt pretty over his head when he had crash-landed in a town full of zombies, in a foreign country, to save two people he had only known in his dreams.
"Well, I guess it was just seeing how powerful that Starman Junior was that Buzz Buzz fought. That got me through Onett. I mean, when you see weird stuff like that, you gotta do something."
"Like hide?" Jeff said. "Not everyone would go out after seeing alien robots."
"I suppose not," Ness said. "After I had did what Buzz Buzz said, and visited Giant Step, I just... well, you remember how it felt when we visited Milky Well?"
"It felt like being in a park," Jeff said. "Compared to the caves and the fields and the plant monsters, it was nice."
"I guess I felt like it was more than 'nice'. It felt familiar. Like I was supposed to be there. Heck, I felt the same thing when I met you and Paula. Like we were supposed to meet." Ness said. "Wonder if that's how Paula knows things like she does."
"Maybe," Jeff said. "Never really understood the psi thing. Maybe she knows we'll come for her. It's why she didn't call for us."
"You think?" Ness said.
"Well, it makes sense," Jeff said. "As much as anything makes sense."
Ness smiled at him. "Thanks Jeff."
"For what?" Jeff asked.
"Oh, never mind. Race you back to the hotel?"