Disclaimer-I don't own the Quest Team, which is owned and copyrighted by Hanna Barbera. No copyright infringement is intended; this story is created for your reading pleasure only and is not producing any money.
by Catherine "Mouse" Beaudet
Dressed in a plain black T-shirt and blue jeans, a blond adolescent's blue eyes stared out of the tiny plane's porthole to the passing clouds. He wondered briefly why there seemed to only be passengers his age, but the thought vanished at a break in the thick cloud cover to reveal a lush green of trees and plants bathed in moonlight. He knew that far below was a vast jungle teeming with life and mystery. And that was where he and his friend were heading, for this jungle. That's when he turned to her. She was roughly a year older than him, with long flaming red hair. Under a pink T-shirt and shorts she wore a tight, light grey body suit. Her ethereal green eyes were squinted slightly in the plane's weak personal light and concentrated on the contents of a file folder on her lap. He didn't remember her having it before boarding the small plane. She could have just been hiding it from him at the time and who knew where she hid things, her Father being an ex-covert operations officer. He couldn't quite see what was written in the file from his angle.
He reached over and gently lifted her chin with his fingers to force her to look up at him. "You're going to ruin your eyes." Jonny Quest stated.
Jessie Bannon took her eyes from the folder to match his gaze, her eyes glinting brightly in the pale light, and a small smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "Let me worry about my eyes."
He smiled back, taking his hand away. "What're you looking at, Jess?"
"It's just something our Dads wants us to look into while visiting with my Mom, mind you they never really voiced that." and she handed him what looked like a photograph while he chuckled softly. "I borrowed this file from Dad." and he laughed outright. She slapped his shoulder. "Shut up and listen! This is an infrared satellite shot of a forty mile long underground complex that no one's been able to explore because of its remoteness and the fact that there's an extremely high level of radiation. Best guesses would suggest large deposits of uranium or plutonium but it's too far from civilization to exploit." She leaned over towards him slightly. "Now, look real close here, next to my finger."
He did so, leaning over some more to get more light. All he could make out was the familiar form of the military's most recent jet. "Looks like the Blackbird. So what?"
"So, there are no airbases or otherwise anywhere near this zone. Any plane would look suspicious flying here without authorization and be chased or shot out of the sky. That or having its computers fried by the radiation."
He rested his chin in his hand, smiling up at her in his usual way when he waited for a forthcoming explanation from her. "And how does Race expect us to investigate this place if the local authority don't want the curious reaching it, or did he not voice that too?"
She smiled sweetly. "What do you think is in that extra bag I brought?"
He shrugged. "Make-up?"
"Right. I don't wear make-up in the jungle, or anywhere for that matter. It's safari and radiation gear. Mom thinks we're staying with her a week and then we're going back to the Compound. In reality we're staying with her for that week and then as long as it takes to get to this area and investigate."
The smile remained. "Aren't we a little optimist?"
"Yes, because your Dad packed us some new gear that he's been dying to try that he thinks'll help us out: Anti-infrared, anti-radar, camouflage gear the Pentagon would love to get their hands on."
Jonny leaned back with a short laugh. "Dear ol' Dad. Always a step ahead of everyone." Then a thought occurred to him. "Does he know we have this stuff?"
"Yes, but he meant it for Mom. She doesn't know about it so we'll end up testing it."
He laughed again. "You've been hanging around me too long." and she turned away, seemingly insulted. He turned to the window, still smiling, then suddenly sat up straight, the smile vanishing suddenly. "Jess, look! Talk about coincidence."
She looked over his shoulder and saw the dark silhouette of a Blackbird. Not far away from it were two more silhouettes of fighter jets. They buzzed by, the reverberations of their engines resounding through the commercial plane. She moved closer to the window and looked down, expecting to see a military base or something. Instead she saw virgin rainforest. "We're off course! We should be flying over the airport by now!"
"What!?" What sounded like an explosion shook the small craft causing Jessie to be thrown across Jonny's lap. Two more explosions quickly followed, threatening to throw her around the plane's interior, but Jonny kept his arms around her waist to protect her from injury. Somehow, between the subsequent explosions, she managed to get to her seat and strapped herself in as another explosion sounded, closer this time. People screamed in utter panic. "I thought you said a plane would be intercepted by the authorities if it got too close to this area!" he asked, realizing just where they were flying over.
"I don't suppose the pilot heard that!"
"I don't think they're the authorities! Think he's in on all this?"
"They are the authorities! The local authorities! And I'd stake my life on the pilot being a charter member!"
Another explosion rattled the plane. "I wish you had used another choice of words than, stake my life!"
"You know what?"
Another explosion, much closer this time, rattled the plane as her hand found his and gripped it tightly. "I wish I had too!" A last explosion ripped the back of the small air craft open and that was the last thing both remembered seeing.
* * *
Jessie Bannon woke slowly to a bright light pointed into her face. She squinted as her senses caught up with her sight and she raised her arms to fend off the glare. Her head and ribs hurt atrociously and her arms felt like lead, but she was alive and on what seemed to feel like a hospital gurney. At least I'm alive, she thought. The light dimmed as a shadow moved across it. It was a masked face.
"Finally, you're awake." came a computerized voice from the mask. "Do not be alarmed. You're safe. Your plane crashed in the jungle and we managed to pull you out in time. Try not to move, you have broken ribs and a mild concussion."
"The others...? Jonny...?" she asked as her throat tightened. This was when she began to look around the room. She seemed to be in a single room with no windows or curtains and just one door. No one else was with her. If Jonny was hurt... The masked stranger hesitated too long and she snapped her head back towards him. "Where's Jonny?" she demanded.
"I'm sorry. No one else survived." was all he answered.
A wave of heart wrenching pain and nausea struck her hard at this painful revelation, her breath catching in her throat, and she slipped back into the silent, darkened comfort of unconsciousness. A silent, pained tear trickled from her eye as all her senses went blissfully black.
* * *
Weeks packed with strange training exercises had passed quickly and unquestioned by Jessie or any one else she had been placed with. The only reason she went along with it all was because life had all of a sudden stopped making sense to her. Jonny was gone and there wasn't much of a chance for anyone finding her in this place, especially if the pilot forged his flight path to throw off any attention. What was the point in fighting when you were out-numbered one hundred to one.
All the men wore the same black and blue uniforms and all the women wore black and pink uniforms. Everyone was forced to wear the masks with the computerized voice synthesizers. Nothing about anyone was recognizable. The training they were forced to do was very close to covert operation training. The trainers said it was payment for saving their lives from whatever would have happened and it would help build character in them. Mentally Jessie was planning her escape as she catalogued every room and training field. There were areas that resembled bleak deserts, torrid jungles, and arctic landscapes. They were given weapons modified to shoot paint pellets and pitted against one another.
Day after day Jessie noticed she and the same man would always be the last ones to be shot in the exercises and they would always end up shooting each other simultaneously. She had since dubbed him her equal. This day the trainers had them stalking each other in the jungle training area. Everything here, the plants and animals, were real and very vicious. Jessie walked alone, her senses alert for any signs of her fellow students in the underbrush. The rustling of leaves came from ahead of her, as she had expected. She leveled her rifle to take aim. But, whereas she had expected one of her comrades to come out, a large jungle cat seeking a meal charged at her. There was no time for her to move. Luckily she didn't have to. A blur of black and blue came rushing out of the bushes next to her and pulled her out of the way. The feline cracked its head against the tree and then wobbled off in pain.
The person backed off her, looked around to make sure the cat was gone, then turned back to her, his posture chiding and annoyed in a very familiar way. She blinked and only for an instant she thought she recognized that posture, but dismissed the thought as quickly as it had come.
"Did you forget that we are not the only living things in this jungle?" her savior inquired in his computerized voice. She recognized his physique as being that of her equal and leveled her weapon at him. He huffed. "And this is the thanks I get." He pushed the barrel aside impatiently, but she brought it back. She heard him sigh. "Look, how about we team up for safety's sake."
Oh, wow! A guy who uses his brains instead of his brawn, she marveled sarcastically.
"I watch your back and you watch mine until we take out the others that are left. After that..."
"After that all bets are off. Deal." and he helped her to her feet. One by one they tagged their fellow students with paint pellets until they were the last ones left. They then turned on each other and tagged each other simultaneously, holding to their previous pattern. The trainers then called everyone out of the jungle and had them line up at attention before them.
"In the past few weeks you have all proven yourselves efficient and effective fighters!" the lead trainer announced through the synthesizer. "And as in all competitions there are those who distinguish themselves from the rest! In all of you there are four who rank above the group and only two who rank highest of all!" He pointed to four, two men and two women, and motioned them to step forward. Jessie was one of the four, as was her equal. "You four are the elite! And from the elite you two are the best!" he stated, pointing to Jessie and her equal. "You will be paired together as leaders and sub-commanders of this group! The rest of you will also be paired off with one who ranks closest to your scores! Each pair will be assigned new quarters via your helmets to make room for the new arrivals! In these rooms you will be free to do and act as you please, so long as you can locate the camera and microphone we have planted! Dismissed!"
They all filed away in silence to a long corridor lined with numbered doors. Jessie waited, wondering which room was hers. She didn't have long to wait. "Soldier 4-4-9-2, proceed to room 2-2-6." came a computer's voice through her helmet. Locating the door she went in, followed by her new partner.
"Where do you suppose the camera and mike are?" came his synthesized voice when the door closed.
"Just about anywhere by the looks of it." The room was equipped with two single beds, a small table between them, a very simple bathroom, and one desk lamp which was already lit. Everything was colored a drab gray, right down to the sheets. Very Spartan, she mused to herself.
"Well, with the time we've spent here, we can probably figure out where they'd hide them, right?"
"Right. You look on that side and I'll take this side." They searched for several minutes before Jessie finally exclaimed in triumph. "Found the mike." and with a sharp pull she ripped it out from under the bathroom door frame and severed the wires.
"And I think I may have just found the camera. There's a small hole in the corner here, the only hole I found in the entire room, unfortunately out of reach too. Think you can reach it if I give you a boost?"
"Worth a try." She took some tissue from the bathroom, wet it, and went over to where he stood. Forming his hands into a stirrup he boosted her up and she blocked the small hole with the tissue. "That ought to do it." and she dropped back to her own feet. They stared at each other for a long awkward moment, unsure of their next step. "Now what?"
He shrugged. "Introductions, I guess."
"Good enough place to start." She held out her hand. "Soldier 4-4-9-2."
"I know that." he chuckled. "Real names would be better."
"Haven't heard that in a while." her synthesized voice sighed. She took her helmet off and a cascade of red hair fell around her shoulders as she brought her green eyes to his mask. She thought she saw him jolt, but it could have just been her eyes playing a trick on her. "My name is--"
He suddenly gripped her shoulders. "Jess? Jessie is that really you?" he asked in urgent disbelief as his hands traveled up to cup her face tenderly.
She tried to back out of his grasp, but he kept a hold on her arms. "How did you...?"
"Jess, it's me."
He tore off his helmet to reveal a crop of blond hair and a pair of blue eyes she recognized. "Jonny!" She almost fainted, Jonny catching her in his arms caringly, before she finally threw her arms around his neck in a joyous hug. They held each other tight, both had silent joyful tears streaming from their eyes, then pulled back to look at each other, almost as if making sure the other was real and not some form of hallucination. They carefully wiped away each other's tears, staying forehead to forehead.
""They said you were dead."" they stated simultaneously. They laughed and held each other again.
"I thought I recognized some of those moves you used in the training, but I wasn't sure." he told her. He pulled her close and held her tight. "I don't think I can ever let you go again." he gushed.
"Please, don't let go." she breathed without thinking, holding him tighter than she ever dared. His arms tightened around her.
The door chime for their room suddenly sounded, reluctantly forcing them apart. They quickly retrieved their helmets and put them on seconds before the door flung open. In strode their two sub-commanders. The male, who seemed slightly taken off by the fact that Jessie and Jonny were standing close to each other, approached Jonny menacingly, anger radiating from him. "You made an idiot of me every time we went out on the grounds." he ground. "I should be team leader."
"Take it easy! You said to do what comes naturally. Is it my fault I had prior training before here?"
"And you." he spat at Jessie. "It's for your own good if you stay away from this creep. He's a goodie two shoes who refuses to do what's necessary. You'd be better off with me."
"I can handle him just fine, thank you." was all she replied and she gave Jonny a knowing nudge. She knew he was smiling at her under his helmet.
"DOORS WILL LOCK AND POWER WILL BE CUT IN TEN SECONDS. PLEASE REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE." came a loud computer's voice through their helmets. There was the sound of a latch at the door and the lights flickered off shortly after. Jessie went over to the small desk and fished in the dark for pocket light she had seen earlier. Finding it she switched it on to bathe the room in its pale light. Erie shadows leapt up in every corner.
"Looks like we're all stuck together." the female sub-commander stated. "Do you think they'll mind if we all take our helmets off? My nose is itching something fierce."
"They won't know. We already took care of the mike and camera here." Jonny informed.
The male's shock was obvious. "How the Hell did you do that so fast?"
"Like I said, prior training." Jonny replied as he and Jessie both took off their helmets, Jonny taking a second to help smooth Jessie's hair away from her face. He had been so happy to find her alive that he took any excuse to be in physical contact with her. She smiled at him. The male straightened at the sight of her. Suddenly she felt uncomfortable around him. "Hey, Jess, during these past weeks did you give any thought to were we are?" Jonny asked, not noticing Jessie's sudden unease.
"A bit. I think we're in that underground complex I showed you in that satellite shot before the crash." she replied as the two other removed their helmets. The woman was a dark eyed brunette, the man a grey eyed brunette. He eyed Jessie with an almost leery smile.
Jonny again didn't notice. "Pretty much what I thought. I figure they're the same one's who shot us down."
"You two know each other?" the woman asked.
Jonny slung an arm around Jessie's shoulders which made the male frown but made her feel suddenly safe. She responded by wrapping her arms around his chest. "Our Dads work together. We've been through some tough times and got through them each and every time. This is Jessie Bannon. I'm Jonny Quest."
"Kyle Merrick. This is my sister, Samantha. Talk about being lucky, we all ended up with people we know. So, how long have you known each other?"
"Since we were kids." Jessie replied. "During that time we've gone up against more than enough mad scientists, killer robots, unknown species, mind control devices, virtual reality warfare, and time travel to make the scientific community jealous."
"Hey, you almost forgot ghostly possessions." Jonny stated with a sly grin as he tightened his hold on her momentarily.
She returned the grin almost shyly, remembering when she and Jonny had been possessed by the spirits of Lady Caroline and Jean Leger on the ghost island of Mornay in the Bay of Fundy. The ghosts had been lovers and, jilted, they had killed each other; Lady Caroline out of blind jealousy because of a letter she found in Jean's writing to a mainland shop girl, and Jean Leger out of spiteful and heated revenge for his murder by Lady Caroline. They reconciled their differences after centuries of haunting by entering Jessie and Jonny's bodies, the only two people in the world that resembled the ghosts like twins, then sealed their accepted apologies with a passionate kiss whereupon they left the bodies. Of course, they hadn't warned their hosts that this was going to happen and so she and Jonny had remained locked in the kiss for several long moments more. Had Hadji not called them out of their reverie the kiss would have probably gone on for even longer. "Oh, no. I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that one." Jonny could have sworn he saw her blush.
"Sounds like you two have enough experience under your belts to last nine life times." Kyle stated, having noticed the silent exchange and the blush. He didn't like the implications.
"And more." and Jess grinned at Jonny almost shyly.
"Um, I have a question that's completely off topic here." Samantha piped up. "Since we're stuck together, what're the sleeping arrangements?"
"There's a good question." Jonny was the one to answer. "You and Jessie should take one bed and we'll take the other, just in case the trainers decide to walk in for a surprise inspection."
Kyle became livid. "There you go, delegating commands and living up your role as leader."
"Hey, I didn't hear you say anything. Besides, I'm not going to be staying in this complex long enough to be a leader to anyone."
"And that goes double for me." Jessie added. This silenced Kyle. "Now that it's settled, Jonny, can I talk to you for a second?" and she pulled him away to the opposite side of the room to a corner. Then, when Kyle and Samantha were both comfortably settled for the night, and out of earshot, "What's your impression of Kyle?" she asked in an almost frightened whisper, her hand gripping his arm tightly.
He thought a moment, noticing the tinge in her voice and realizing how high her fear level was towards Kyle. "High strung comes to mind. He loves to be in control of everything. If his way isn't accepted by everyone then he gets dangerous."
He sighed with a shudder. "I saw him kill a guy in our barracks over a difference of opinion. Why're you asking all this?"
"He scares me, Jonny. I don't know... There's something about the way he looks at me."
He gripped her shoulder reassuringly. "Nah, he's just mad he and his sister aren't leaders of the team. Don't worry about him. As soon as we're gone he'll forget all about us."
"I hope you're right." and they moved back towards the beds. Kyle and Samantha both insisted on sleeping on the outer side of the beds. Facing the wall Jessie slipped in and out of sleep for several hours. She didn't trust this Kyle they were stuck with. Someone whose blood ran as heated as his was too dangerous and unpredictable to let your guard down around. She hoped Jonny could keep him under control. Suddenly she felt a warm hand at her waist, moving lazily down to her hip, and she knew immediately that it wasn't Samantha. She bolted from the bed to see Kyle stretched lazily on the cot next to where Jessie had just been. "What do you think you're doing?" she shouted, waking Jonny who noticed Samantha was now at his side instead of Kyle.
Kyle slowly got to his feet and began to move towards Jessie, almost as if he were stalking her. "Only what I knew you wanted, Red." he purred. Jonny interposed himself between the two protectively. Kyle frowned. "The great Jonny Quest to the rescue. You know I always get what I want."
"She's my friend, Kyle. And this is our room. I won't let you do this."
"You can't stop me forever. The second you turn your back on me I'll be on you like a fly to flypaper. Then, you'll be dead." he warned, his voice menacingly low. "What I want, I get." Then he turned and went to the bed where his sister lay sleeping once again.
Jessie, shaken to her core, moved to the other bed and lay down, her back to the wall. Keeping his eye on Kyle's shadowy form across the room Jonny lay down next to her on his back. He felt her hand on his shoulder and he turned his head in response. He was now face to face with her, staring into her unearthly green eyes. Wow! he blinked. He had never realized how beautiful she was, with her soft features and cascading rivers of red hair, until now.
And she had never quite seen his boyish good looks in quite this fashion. There was just no way to describe how he looked to her. Sleeping next to him suddenly made her feel suddenly strange. The feeling was indescribable, pleasant in a way that was beyond words. Is this what one feels when one... She couldn't finish her thought. "Thanks." was all she stated, all she could say over the tightness of her throat. He could only smile as he put an arm around her shoulders so as to let her head rest against his shoulder. Her arms wrapped around his chest to keep him close, her head comfortably snugged under his chin. It was a strange feeling having to be this close to each other, but at the same time the feeling was just so... right! Just like when they had kissed. This particular situation was oddly comforting to Jessie. She chuckled suddenly at a thought. "I wonder what our Dads would say if they saw us right now?"
He laughed quietly at the comment. "Probably something in the lines of," he cleared his throat, "... You kids have an awful lot of explaining to do." he stated in his best imitation of her Father.
She smiled despite herself. "Or maybe, You kids are still too young to be even thinking of being so close." she added, imitating his Father.
They both laughed softly and he took this opportunity to wrap his other arm around her. Although he probably would never admit it openly he wanted, always had wanted, to keep her as close as he had her now. She felt so small in his arms. It made him feel suddenly protective of her. Jonny had long ago promised himself that he would never let anything ever hurt her. She was just too important to him. He heard her sigh softly and when he looked down he saw her eyes had closed in sleep. He smiled and leaned his head on hers. "Good night, Jess." he whispered as he closed his own eyes. The last he heard before falling asleep himself was a sleepy mumble from her in acknowledgment and then no more.
* * *
Long days rolled by with more intensive training than before. Whereas before the session were more a test of their skills these sessions had a specific target to reach and take out. The terrain seemed oddly familiar to Jonny Quest. A large area of coniferous and deciduous covered land, native to the northeast of North America, and some sort of laboratory on a cliff overlooking a large body of water. An ocean maybe. In a way this made him homesick. He and Jessie had spent the time between training sessions rewiring and reprogramming their helmets to their advantage. The first rule they had been taught was always keep one step ahead of the enemy. Right now everyone but themselves were enemies. At the flick of a switch they could go from synthesized computer speech to a garbling that only each other's helmet could decipher and reconvey. They'd also still be able to hear regular English if spoken. It drove Kyle crazy when he realized he hadn't the knowhow to do this, especially when Jessie refused to do the same for him and his sister. They had nothing against Samantha, that shy little girl who spent most of her time in her brother's shadow, it was Kyle they didn't trust. Especially after the stunt he had pulled that first night. Good thing they weren't in the same room anymore, but he was still a threat. At the end of the day he would stalk the corridors, waiting for either of them to be alone just for a moment. They never gave him the opportunity.
Jonny sat on his cot and watched Jessie tinker with their helmets. Fine tuning, she had called it. He was thinking about the training field they had just run. "Did you notice anything familiar about that cliff they make us capture?" he suddenly asked.
She looked up from her delicate work with a slight puzzled frown. "What do you mean?"
"Well, think about it. Northeastern North American vegetation, a cliff over looking the ocean, a lab. How many places do you know that have those three things in common?"
She thought and her eyes widened in realization. "Just one."
"Right. The Quest Compound in Maine."
"Then, do you think they know who we are?"
"I don't think so. If they did we wouldn't be undergoing the same training as all the others. To them we're just two kids they can use."
"We have to get out of here, then, for two reasons: Alert the authorities to shut this place down and warn our Dads. It's got to be tonight if we want to make the deadline."
"I managed to rig the door like you said a few days back. You'd have to weld it shut for it to lock."
"Good. I'm almost finished with the helmets. I found out these suits are radiation proof, but the radiation is only right above the complex. It's sort of a screen for their communications and other such stuff. There're tunnels leading in every which direction leading up to the surface. We'll need gear though for the jungle, supplies. Weapons. And when we reach civilization we'll need money."
"The depot shed next to the brig. I saw inside it at one time. It has everything we're going to need. As for money I still remember Dad's credit card number and expiry date. All I'll need is a phone and we're on the next flight home."
The evening wore on and soon the complex resounded with the sound of locking mechanisms being activated. Helmets in place Jessie and Jonny checked the door. It slid open without resistance. Using all the stealth they had been taught here they snuck down the corridors towards the depot shed. Next to it was the barred door of the brig. There was pitch darkness inside. Curiosity being stronger they approached the door. An arm suddenly shot out form the dark towards them. They backed out of reach just in time. The man was clearly in sight now. He was muscular and was wearing clothes meant for a trek through a jungle. His eyes were a piercing blue and his hair a brilliant white. At his side appeared another man, dressed the same way, with peppered brown hair and a beard. His brown eyes regarded the young duo as he restrained his friend.
"Easy, Race, they're just kids." he stated in an aged and wise voice.
"Right, Doc, just like the ones who ambushed us. They're as much kids as I'm the Tooth Faery." Race replied in an almost Texan voice.
""[Dad!]"" Jessie and Jonny exclaimed, but all that came from their helmets' voice synthesizers was a garble of noise. These two prisoners were non other than Doctor Benton Quest, Jonny's Father, and Race Bannon, Jessie's Father.
"Looks like these two seem to know us." Race continued, having seen the kids' reaction. "You two think you could let us go or are you gonna gawk all night?"
Jessie held up her index to her helmet, where her mouth would be, in a sign of silence. Quickly the two gained access to the depot and returned to the cell with a miniature arsenal. Jonny also had a crowbar which he jammed into the door's locking mechanism. With a sharp tug the door swung open. Before either adult could do anything an automatic rifle was shoved into their hands. From there they were led off at a run to one of the training fields: the desert.
"[Last time we were here I saw a camouflaged door on the other end.]" Jonny told his companion. "[If we can get there, I'm almost positive we can get out of here once and for all.]"
"[Lets do it.]" and the four began their trek. They quickly made it across to the hidden door and then were soon on their way through deep tunnels leading underground. The occasional guards were easily and quietly taken care of. Ahead was an opening which gave way to the thick Brazilian jungle. "[We have two problems to deal with now. The complex when they find out we're gone and come chasing after us. And the jungle life.]"
"[We've been through worse.]" was all he answered nonchalantly. Once again they were off and running.
Nocturnal jungle beasts howled and roared at the disturbance these four strangers caused. Thick foliage was no match for them. Soon they came to the base of an immense tree. Who knew how long it had been there to grow this large. Beneath it's roots a small cavern had been dug by some now long gone animal or by the act of wind or water. Race and Benton crawled in, ushered in by their unknown saviors. Once they were all in Race turned around and pointed his weapon at the children.
"Race, what are you doing?" Benton demanded.
"Kids or no kids, Doc, I don't trust them."
Jonny raised his hand to his helmet and flicked the switch. "Thanks for the vote of confidence there." came the computerized male voice.
"I thought you could understand us."
"More than you know, Race."
"First of all, that familiarity thing doesn't work with me. You'll call me Bannon."
"I don't think I could ever call you Bannon." Jessie piped up, switching her helmet synthesizer off as well.
"Gee, and just three months ago you wanted me to call you Racer from time to time, only I called you Roger." Jonny replied.
The rifle lowered slightly as sudden realization began to sink in. "Fur on a catfish!" he breathed. "It can't be."
Benton also realized what was happening and removed Jonny's helmet, giving his Son a tight hug. Jessie and Race did the same. "What happened to you two?" Father asked Son after a long moment.
"We were flying over to see Estella, just like we planned, but I guess the pilot was sold out to those creeps at the complex. We were shot out of the sky. Probably explains why there were only kids onboard. Next thing I remember I'm waking up in some sort of hospital room and being told everyone else was dead. Then I was drafted into covert operations for them. No one's allowed to remove their helmets or do anything that would mark them as an individual. Dad, they're planning to use the kids to hit the Compound. We've been training for it this past week."
"When do they plan to hit?" demanded Race urgently.
Jessie was the one to answer. "If the pattern holds it'll be in the next few days, five at the most."
"What're they after?"
"We don't know. We've only been taught to take out the defenses and then stand our ground. The trainers are the ones who actually go in and do the rest, whatever that might be."
"One last question." Benton began. "If no one showed any outward sign of individuality, how did you two figure out you were both there?"
She smiled. "That was luck actually."
"During the sessions each person is scored on performance. Jessie and my score were closely matched so we were paired off. After being assigned quarters and getting rid of the surveillance gizmos we took off our helmets."
"Thinking the other was dead, I can imagine your surprise." the Doctor concluded with a grin.
Jonny smiled and made a dismissive gesture as he reached into one of the packs he and Jessie had brought. He pulled out three pack blankets and handed them to his friends and Father. "You guys get some sleep while you can. I'll take first watch." And, turning to Jessie, "You and I both know Kyle'll be with the first wave." Then, taking his rifle, he went to stand just at the entrance to the cavern. She had to smile at the sight of him carrying a rifle. Even after the training they had to endure she knew he would never be able to shoot it to take a life. It just wasn't in his blood. Jessie waited just long enough for the adults to go to sleep before joining Jonny outside. She kept the blanket tight around her shoulders. He turned to her. "You really should get some sleep. At least one of us has to be fully alert."
She shrugged. "For some reason I just can't get to sleep. I don't know if I'll be able to go back to normal life after all this."
He chuckled. "Our lives were normal?"
A laugh forced itself out of her throat. "Guess you're right." When he changed his rifle to his other shoulder she leaned against him, her cheek to his arm. "Tell me something. What do you think our chances are of getting out of this one without some form of payback?"
Jonny sighed. "Do you really want an answer?"
"Guess not. You know they won't find us tonight. They have maybe a hundred people back there, max. There's no way they can search every possible escape route we could've taken so why don't you come and get some rest."
"Kyle won't give up even if everyone else does. He'll find us even if it takes his whole life, mainly to get you. I realize that now." She heard anger in his voice and something else she couldn't quite place. "Besides, that's the last blanket." he pointed out, indicating the one around her shoulders.
She smiled sweetly at him as she tugged at his arm to pull him back towards the small cavern. They sat against the wall, near their Fathers. She laid her head against his chest, covering them both with the blanket, and soon both were soundly asleep. As the sun crept up over the horizon Race was the first awake to greet it. Raising up to his knees he looked to his Daughter. He was greatly surprised to find her and Jonny snuggled in each other's arms, sound asleep. Both seemed completely comfortable with this. The hint of smiles tugged at the corners of their lips. Reaching over Race shook Benton awake.
"Wh- What is it?" the Doctor mumbled, wiping sleep from his eyes.
"Shh." he hissed. "Look." and he pointed to the kids.
"Oh my." Benton exclaimed softly at the sight.
Race approached the duo and gently shook them awake. Groggily they came to their senses and realized with a start that their Fathers had seen them sleeping. He grinned at their sudden discomfort, but thankfully didn't pursue the matter. Instead he rushed everyone out of the cavern and had them plunge back into the jungle. They were still at several days' march away from civilization and the Questor, a yacht sized catamaran, moored at Fortaléza, Brazil. Race took the point for their small group as Jonny brought up the rear. Jessie was ahead of him and behind Benton. Soon the jungle began to thin as the sun beat down mercilessly on the escapees. Dangerous animals had stayed away, probably more afraid of the group them they were of them. A dirt path, large enough for industrial vehicles, opened up before them. They followed it quietly, keeping close to the side vegetation in case they needed to take cover. A large pick-up truck appeared around the next bend in the road and came to a slow stop next to the travelers. The man at the wheel, an American foreman by his appearance, leaned out of the window.
"You hombres lost?" he asked in an accent that attested to the fact that he had been in this part of the world a long time.
"You could say that." Race opted to say. "Any chance you're heading for Fortaléza?"
"You guys are having a very lucky day then. You found me and I'm heading for the city you want. Hop in the back and I'll take you. Americanos have to help Americanos, right?" Then he noticed Jessie and Jonny who were once again wearing their helmets. He frowned. "Assassinos!" he spat while the adults were climbing in.
Race turned back suddenly. "What was that?"
"Your friends here. They belong to that murderous bunch in the jungle. Last night they killed fourteen of my workers, which is why I'm heading to town. Don't turn your backs on them for a second or you'll find a knife in it." Then, when everyone was aboard, he took off down the road again at a frantic pace. At this rate it would take them a fraction of the time to reach the coast then if they had walked. Ration packs taken from the complex were shared between them and stories from the time spent there were told to help pass the time. The sun seemed to race across the sky as the blue coast got closer and closer. As it began it's descent in the West they arrived in Fortaléza. Race told the driver to head from the local authorities there, when they disembarked, the driver turned to them one last time. "I'm telling you, amigos. First chance you get lock up those two assassinos." and he drove off.
"That guy's really spooked of you two, Ponchita." Race stated.
"Well founded fear, Dad. Some of the trainings were held around villages to terrorize the inhabitants. No one ever got hurt before last night."
After several long hours of explaining and re-explaining to the United States Ambassador, who had flown down an hour after receiving word from them, what they had seen and been through, and after a confirmation that something would be done right away to stop the complex's activities, the Quests and the Bannons left for the port. The Questor sat there in all its imposing glory, drawing a crowd of curious on-lookers. No one in Fortaléza had ever seen a ship such as this. It had tall sail masts, large port and starboard pontoons, and what looked like a research lab/ lounge. Many people stayed mainly to see who the owners of this splendid vessel were. The Quests and the Bannons almost had to fight there way through just to reach their ship. Once on board Jessie removed her helmet, went off to the quarters which were usually reserved for her and threw herself down on the mattress. It caved away slightly under her weight. Now this was a real mattress. Far beneath her she heard the gentle thrum of the engines being turned on as the ship was taken out of the docks. She ran for the terrace deck and watched the land being slowly pushed away by the ship's powerful engines. The ocean had turned a rich orange from the setting sun, a thin line of black growing on the East horizon. Jonny was sitting on the guard rail not far away so she joined him, leaning on the same rail. He too had taken his helmet off. His blond hair seemed to glow in the waning light as his eyes twinkled.
"I wouldn't mind coming back here someday. As a tourist mind you." he voiced, turning to her only to have his breath stolen away by the fierce fires burning in the colors of her hair.
"Maybe during Carnival next year, in Rio." she added.
"I think I know a place you two would rather go right now, though." Benton stated as he approached them. "In fact, you have a friend there who's planning a celebration that's happening in the next few days."
"Where's this, Dad?"
Their faces suddenly lit up. "Hadji. What's he planning?" Jessie inquired.
"None other than a celebration of both your birthdays. Seeing as they're so far apart he picked a date in the middle."
"Our-- Darn, I almost forgot about that. But leave it to Hadji to go all out like this."
"Well, he is Sultan you know." said Jonny.
"Until then why don't you kids go get some sleep. You look extremely tired."
"I don't feel it, Dad."
"Nor do I."
"Never-the-less, a Father knows best. Good night you two." and he gave each a hug. They passed Race in the lounge and bade him good night where upon he mussed up Jonny's hair affectionately and kissed his Daughter on her forehead. Then the duo left for their rooms.
* * *
Late into the night Jonny still lay awake in his bed staring up at the ceiling. He was wearing some of his old clothes he had found in a drawer, a grey cotton sweater and some denim jeans. It was all great and good to finally be safe, in his own clothes, and in a comfortable bed, but sleep was just not willing to come to him. An uneasy feeling gnawed at his soul, chasing all sleep from his mind. There was something missing right now to help him sleep, but he didn't know what. At this time of night he knew the ship was on automatic pilot. Everyone else was asleep. He decided to get up and go to the galley. Maybe a warm drink would help him sleep. Walking down the corridor he crossed Jessie's open door and then suddenly stopped. Peering in he saw she was sitting on the edge of her bed, fully awake, dressed in a pale green T-shirt and black stretch pants. She seemed pensive and ethereal in the darkness.
She looked up at him, her eyes seeming to glow. "I couldn't sleep either." was all she answered.
"I'm starting to think they had something to do with this. I was heading for the galley..." and he hooked his thumb in the direction he had been headed. She took the wind-breaker from the foot of the bed, put it on, and followed him to the galley. He put a small pot of milk on the stove to heat. "Mom used to do this when I was a kid. You know, somehow she always knew when I needed her, for anything."
"Yes, she was good at that." came Benton's voice from the corridor. "I heard you two talking. Is everything okay?"
"Sorry if we woke you, Doctor Quest. We couldn't sleep."
"That's quite alright." He approached his Son as this one poured the warmed milk into three cups containing cocoa powder. "You miss your Mother?"
"Always." They sat together in the lounge, Jessie staying close to Jonny's side as a comforting presence. He let the warmth of the beverage seep through the mug to his hands, adding some comfort. He took a long sip, enjoying the thick silence for a moment. "Sometimes, late at night, I can still hear her voice, her singing. It's like she's not really gone, just in another room somewhere, just out of sight, out of reach. But it's getting harder and harder to remember her face though. Is that something bad?"
It was such an innocent question from him. Jessie put her cup down, gently took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "No." she answered. "It's just sad." He sighed heavily as she placed his cup next to her own and pulled him into her arms, an act that surprised Benton Quest. She held him around the chest, unwittingly forcing him to turn towards her slightly. He leaned back against the couch and held her tight. It was so oddly comforting and calming. "How old was he?" Jessie suddenly asked the Doctor.
Benton had to shake himself out of staring at them to answer. "Barely three. He never quite understood until years later, not long after you left after your first visit. And then it hit him all at once. If I remember right he had locked himself in his room for close to a week, crying. We had to break the door down to get to him."
"It probably made him wish for his stuffed tiger, Tommy." Then, after a quiet moment. "What was she like, I only ever saw her painting and in photos?"
"Rachel was beautiful, the face of an angel." and he looked away in reminiscence. "The day I met her in Ireland I knew she was the woman I would marry. I guess she had felt the same way too because before I knew it she and I began seeing each other on a regular basis. She was incredible, always searching for adventure in every situation, that's where Jonny gets it. She loved to read and hear old Irish poetry and we would sit under an oak reading long into the night. Almost three months later I proposed to her under the same tree during what she called a Faery Moon." At that moment his mind wandered to the images of his departed wife. He remembered her long blond hair, her ethereal blue eyes, the way she smelled of wild magnolias when she passed. Then he sighed sadly and turned back to the kids. Both had fallen asleep, still locked in each other's arms. Benton chuckled softly and covered them both with a cover that lay nearby, and he kissed his Son's head. He noticed how Jonny had grown into a fine young man, his features hinted with aspects of his Mother's face. The smile remained when he thought that this face was probably one of the factors that would, later on, get Jonny into a lot of trouble with the ladies. "Sleep tight, kids." and he took the cups to the galley to dump and wash them.
"Thought I heard some noise." Race stated as he entered the galley, straightening his hair with his hand.
"Sorry, Race, but the kids couldn't sleep." and he turned back to the lounge with a grin.
The ex-Covert Operation's officer followed his gaze and saw his Daughter sleeping peacefully in his friend's Son's arms. "They're starting to make a habit of this." he muttered half-heartedly. "I don't know if I should be worried or be happy about it all."
"Think about it, Race. They've been through an incredible experience; thought the other was dead, forced into an underground militia, and learned that training was geared towards killing. They found each other again and through sheer luck ended up paired off. From then on they only had each other, could only rely on each other to get through the months. It was bound to create an emotional bond between them."
"You're right, as usual, Doc. I guess I couldn't ask for a better guy for her though. After all, they've been friends since they were toddlers." He sighed heavily. The older she got the more she looked like Estella Velasquez, his ex-wife. She was a looker. "They grow up so fast... too fast" he breathed as he saw Jonny inhale deeply in unrest and tighten his arms around Jessie's shoulders. This caused her to snuggle closer to him.
The days went by quickly on the ship, and every night Benton or Race would find Jessie and Jonny nuzzled together somewhere on the ship, fast asleep. Otherwise they would remain fully awake until one of them came in physical contact with the other. At that sleep seemed to come easily. They seemed to be a calming presence to the each other.
Within three days of leaving Fortaléza they came within sight of the coast of South Africa. Madagascar followed only two days after that. Soon the coast of India and the port of Mangalore came into view. Many people were assembled on the pier as they landed and the sailors soon discovered why. A helicopter was not far away in an open area surrounded by numerous private guards and other police officials. One young man stood out against all the khaki and whites of security. His clothes were silk and colored Royal Yellow. On his turban and around his neck he wore a red ruby, symbol of his status in India. He was a Sultan. A joyous smile was on his face as he saw the owners of the ship disembark. Jessie and Jonny ran to him like children. The Sultan, Hadji Singh, held them both tightly in greeting, surprising many of the onlookers and the guards. "Welcome to India, my friends. I am most happy to see you both alive and well."
"It takes more than a plane crash to stop us, Hadji." Jessie chuckled.
"Don't I know it. Now come, our transportation back to the palace is waiting. I have prepared a splendid celebration for your birthdays in a modest attempt to repay your friendship and help you have given me over the years. It all begins at sundown tonight."
During the flight to Bangalore they talked about the celebration ahead. Flattered, the duo maintained that all their friend had planned wasn't necessary, but Hadji wouldn't hear it. His subjects had happily helped in the planning and preparations in thanks for those who had returned their rightful ruler to the throne. After arriving at the palace the young trio and two adults were joined by Hadji's Mother and they went to the surrounding village where today was Market Day. Countless tables and kiosks had been assembled to line every street of Bangalore. There was a colorful array of textiles, metals, pottery, and animals. Loud sounds and wondrous sights reigned supreme. Mrs. Neela Singh drew Jessie off into one direction while the men continued off in another. Jessie and Neela scoured the tables, looking at the exotic wares and trinkets. The Sultan's Mother noticed the particular attention Jessie paid to each item as if trying to decide which one was better.
"Are you looking for something in particular?" she finally asked the young woman.
It caught her slightly off-guard. "Uh... no... yes..." she began. Then, after a slight moment, "I want something to give to Jonny, something special. We've been through a lot in the past few years and I want something that says what I feel about that time and him."
"Ah, a gift from the heart. Not always the easiest thing to find even when so much choice is offered such as here. But, chances are, we will come close."
They came to one table where an old crone sat, smiling at passers-by, almost uninterested in selling her wares. And what wares! Everything glinted of fine, polished metals and sparkled of intricately cut stones. For some reason, looking at these wares, Jessie felt she would find exactly what she was looking for.
Almost across the village from them, the men were also scouring tables and kiosks. While Hadji and Benton discussed the archeological and historical value of many of the presented items, Jonny took Race aside, just out of earshot of the other two. "Race, what do you think Jessie would like for her birthday?" he asked.
"Why ask me? I'm just her Father." came the joking reply.
"And better placed than anyone to know what she likes."
He smiled slyly in understanding. "You want to give her something special." Jonny hunched his shoulders shyly and looked at the surrounding tables. "You two really have gotten close."
Jonny shrugged, hoping it looked non-committal. "I just want to get something special for someone who's special to me." His eye caught the glinting of an object nearby. He looked down and saw the most amazing of necklaces. It was simple and yet splendid in its simplicity. A single chain of gold held a half dollar sized green stone bordered in gold. At a closer inspection he saw a clasp on one side. "And I think I may have found just the thing." He held it up to catch the light and green sparks seemed to explode from it. And within its green depths was enclosed a golden serpent dragon. Hadji came to his friend's side and regarded the locket. "It's perfect. Think she'll like it?" he asked the Sultan.
"Most assuredly, my friend. This is a gift any woman would wish to have in her possession, especially coming from a good friend." he smiled in a conspiring manner. "Shouldn't a locket have something in it though?"
"I think I know exactly what to put in it." He quickly bought it, and an ornate mahogany box, and did his best to make it as inconspicuous as possible as Jessie and Neela returned. Jessie too was hiding something from sight, but he didn't question. After all, if he questioned her about what she bought she would inevitably question him on what he bought. They headed back to the palace to prepare for Hadji's celebration. In Jonny's room Hadji offered the first of his many gifts to his friend; a sky blue, silk Indian garb, an almost exact copy to that of the young Sultan. Also included was a shoulder to hip white silk sash with a ruby broach on the shoulder, a broach once belonging to Hadji. The young Sultan himself wore a gold version of his gift to Jonny with white pants. "This is really too much, Hadj."
"You haven't yet seen what my Mother is offering Jessie to wear. I believe the expression of your reaction to her when you see her is, blown away."
Hiding the small wooden box in a pocket in his sash Jonny followed his friend to a large banquet hall furnished with low set tables and numerous plush pillows in true Indian style. Everything gleamed of gold and shimmered of silk. Race and Benton were decked out in the finest Hadji could supply. All who were missing were Neela and Jessie. They didn't have long to wait. Neela appeared in her most regal attire and behind her was a sight that pleasantly shocked the four men present. Dressed in a slightly greenish silver, tight gown, part of her red hair tied back in an elegant braid, was Jessie who suddenly looked more beautiful than humanly possible. The gown was tight from the waist up with a daring plunging neckline and long sleeves. It flowed loosely about her legs. A matching sash to that of Jonny's was draped from her shoulder to hip with a similar ruby broach.
Race went up to her and wrapped her in his arms. "You really are growing up." he stated softly. "And you look like a real princess."
"Thanks, Dad." She turned to the others and twirled in place just fast enough for the gown to rise up slightly to reveal a pair of silvery green, ankle-wrap high heels. "So, guys, what do you think?"
"I believe that the world has never seen a greater beauty than yours." Hadji stated with an awed bow.
Jessie blushed as Jonny nudged the young Sultan's side. "You ol' smoothy." he muttered jokingly. "You look incredible, Birthday Girl." he then told her.
She curtsied slightly with a smile. "Thank you, and you look very handsome, Birthday Boy." and he blushed. He's so cute when that happens, she thought as she took his arm.
The evening festivities began with much music, dancers, and acrobats hired to entertain them as they semi-lounged on the large cushions. They were the best in all of India. Exotic dishes were served to the cautious guests followed closely by sweet drinks. Everything complimented each other in sound and flavor. So much so that Jonny suddenly felt overwhelmed by it all. Carefully, so as no one would notice, he slipped away from the banquet hall to one of the open air corridors lining the main court yard. Looking down he saw he was on the fourth floor, a cool breeze wafting by the help clear his senses. He sat on the edge of the stone banister and watched the moon's silver orb rise over the mountains. What looked like a flare followed it and exploded in a multitude of bright colors.
"Enjoying the show, my friend?" came Hadji's voice behind him.
He turned as Hadji and Jessie approach. "Sorry I left without warning. I needed some air."
"Quite understandable. I did go a bit, how you say, overboard with the celebrations."
"There's an understatement." Jessie mumbled. "But the thought was appreciated. And what a thought. I feel like a princess in a Faery tale."
Hadji chuckled. "The night is young, my friends. Enjoy it. Meanwhile I will see to your Fathers." and he bade them good night before leaving.
"He means well." Jonny began as he got off the banister.
"Even if he does go overboard with his gifts. Speaking of gifts..." She produced a small wooden box from a fold in her gown and presented it to him. "Happy Birthday."
"Your present, silly." and she pushed it into his hands with a wide grin. "Open it."
He did as he was told and found a half dollar sized gold oval, with an intricately carved gold oriental dragon on it, hanging from a gold chain. Red gem stones in its eyes sparkled ferociously. "Jess, this is incredible!" he marveled.
"I thought you'd like it." She took it from him and slipped it over his head. "Open it."
"An added surprise you'll really love." she shrugged.
He pried the dragon locket open and gasped silently at the sight. There was only one picture in it, a blond woman with rich blue eyes smiling happily. He recognized her immediately. "Mom." he breathed. "Aw, Jess, thank you."
"Your Father helped me find a picture of her. You like it?"
"I love it, thank you." and he wrapped her in his arms to hold her tight. She gratefully returned the hug, secretly enjoying the feel of his silk shirt against her bare throat. Then he suddenly pulled away.
"What is it?"
"My turn." He pulled a small box from his sash and held it out to her. "This's for you."
She gingerly opened the box to reveal the green stone locket he had gotten for her. She took a step back in surprise as he took it out of its box and held it up to the moonlight. She was utterly speechless, watching it spark in the dimness. Jonny moved to stand behind her and cinched it around her throat as she cradled the hollow gem. It had been slightly cold on her skin. He then reached around her shoulders and opened the locket for her, revealing a picture of both of her parents, Hadji, Doctor Quest, and himself in one shot. "Jonny, this is perfect."
He looked down at his own pendant then wrapped her in his arms. "Looks like we had the same idea."
"With all those years together something was bound to rub off." she shrugged, leaning back against him.
He chuckled with a shake of his head when a sudden explosion caught his attention. It was close by and it didn't really fit with those of the fireworks. The ground had trembled slightly in time to the explosion. "Did that explosion sound different to you?"
"Kind of. You don't think...?"
"Let's check it out, just to be on the safe side." and he led the run along the balconies to the outer walls. It took them a moment but soon they found what had to be the cause of the explosion. There were several people gathered at the base of the thinnest wall, all of them wearing familiar looking helmets, applying a substance to the stones. Lighting it, it exploded violently. "It's an attack."
"And with all the fireworks going off the guards can't tell this explosion from the show." One of the perpetrators suddenly looked up and saw the duo on the wall's edge. He gave what sounded like a war cry and numerous grappling hooks appeared to scale the wall. "They saw us. Now what?"
"We get help, what else." and he grabbed her hand, running back to the banquet hall. After informing their family and friends everything went quickly. Guards went right to work and, strangely, Hadji retrieved a bone horn from its place of honor on the wall. He went to a window and blew the horn as hard as he could. Its deep, low ululation resounded in the night far to the mountains on the horizon. "What good will that do, Hadj?"
"It will bring reinforcements. I have recently signed a peace accord with a mountain tribe that no one could defeat, even after so many centuries of existence. They came to me after hearing on my return and willingly offered their services in any matter, mostly defense."
"If they're from the mountains they can't possibly get here in time to help." As more explosions filled the air, unconnected to the on-going fireworks, the most horrific screech shattered the night. Instinctively Jessie grabbed at the closest arm available, Jonny's. "What was that?" she asked, her voice suddenly shaky.
Neela smiled as she looked up towards the ceiling. "Our reinforcements."
The guests tried to move towards one of the windows to get a view of the proceedings, but both the young Sultan and his Mother stopped them. "No, my friends. It is safer if you remain here, away from the battle scene."
"Why's that?" Race asked, perplexed. Outside, the sounds of battle were already dying down.
"Because you are unprepared to actually see us." came a new voice from the window. There, perched precariously in a crouch on the edge of the balcony, was a woman dressed in scant armor and leather. Her long cape and long brown hair floated in a breeze, her face hidden purposefully behind a form-fitting gold mask. A long, particularly deadly looking spear decorated with leather, feathers, and beads was held in one hand and a sword rested at her left hip. "We are not exactly the most normal looking of beings, mythological or otherwise." Two more women, dressed in vaguely the same manner, appeared behind her as she approached the small group. One had a silver mask, the other a brass one. All three women knelt before Hadji and his Mother in respect. "The battle is almost won, Sultan."
"Were they many?" Hadji asked, unfazed by their actions and appearance.
"We were out-numbered twenty to one, Sultan." answered the woman to the leaders left.
Jonny was amazed. "And you won?"
"We are winning, we haven't won yet." the leader corrected. There was a long cry from the outer corridor. A man, one of the attackers, his face hidden behind a familiar looking helmet, burst through the door with a captured spear in hand. He took instant aim for the Sultan and threw the spear. Jessie could only watch in what seemed like slow motion as Jonny pushed his friend aside to safety, but wasn't fast enough to get out of the way himself of the deadly projectile. As a result it embedded itself deep in the young man's chest, knocking him to the floor.
"JONNY!!!" Jessie cried as she watched him fall.
Almost immediately the two women behind the leader threw their own spears at the attacker, pinning him at the shoulders to a nearby wall. The leader, her spear promptly nestled under the attacker's chin, glared into the mask's dark visor. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you right now." she hissed.
"I don't have any reason so go ahead and kill me." he replied without fear.
She backed away a step. "A man willing to kill and then die himself is a man without honor who should live with the guilt of his crimes. Death will not be an escape. Corail, Jena, take charge of him. He'll answer for his crimes at the caves."
Meanwhile Hadji and Doctor Quest were bent over Jonny's form, trying vainly to do something to save his life. Benton had taken both Jessie's sash and his Son's sash and had them pressed into the wound. Jonny's pain blanked eyes stared up into nothingness, blinking away tears every so often. The spear had been removed, against all better judgement, and blood oozed freely from a severed artery. With each beat of his heart his body gushed with the precious liquid. A gurgling sound came with his every ragged breath. A few paces away Neela and Race were having trouble restraining Jessie. She wanted to go to him, hold him, lend him her life so he would live. She couldn't lose him, not like this. The leader came to her for support, holding her shoulders in an almost vice like grip. Green eyes stared up into unearthly grey eyes, pleading desperately through uncontrolled tears. "If you have any medical skills, please, don't let him die." Her voice shook out of fear for his life.
The leader held her in her arms in a Motherly fashion. "He will not die, Little One, if we can be allowed to help. There is a price though."
"I'll pay anything to save my Son." Benton stated urgently.
"Even if it means he will never return to civilization again?"
"What do you mean?"
"Sultan has been to our caves and has seen our people without the masks. He knows what I mean."
Benton turned to the young Sultan at this, waiting. Hadji sighed. "They are known as the Children of the Dragon and for a simple reason. Each have had life threatening injuries like Jonny's at one time or another and were healed with a miracle that left them scarred for life. They have the traits and scales of lizards now."
"This miracle cure causes mutations?" Doctor Quest asked.
"Not quite." the leader continued. She removed her mask to reveal a face covered in thick reptilian scales. The Bannons and Doctor Quest were shocked at the sight. "Our DNA is combined with that of the Dragon's blood. In women it takes a few weeks for the Change to begin showing and even then they are slow in progressing. In men the Change is immediate and complete. Everything outwardly recognizable about him will be gone. Our scientists haven't yet found a way to stop this process without removing the curing properties. But you can decide when we get to the caves. His life is hanging by a thin thread."
Doctor Quest looked at his Son's blood on his hands and made his decision. "How far are these caves?"
"By any means except air, five days. By air, three hours."
"No helicopter can fly that fast and no plane can land anywhere near here." Race informed.
"Who said anything about planes and helicopters." She moved closer to the window she had entered from. "Draco!" she called.
A large lizard's head, complete with spiked horns and glistening scales, appeared from below the sill. "Yes, Dearest." it answered softly, its voice a manly Scottish sound.
Benton, Race and Jessie were awe struck. It was a Dragon, an actual living Dragon. "We must leave now. We have an injured who needs our help."
He looked past her to where Jonny lay. "The boy is already near death's door." Then, seeing Jessie's reaction to his words, "Solara will be waiting when we arrive." He turned his mighty head to the courtyard behind him. "Children, we leave now! You four, come here." Four huge lizards with Riders approached as Draco reached through the window to Jonny. He gently scooped him up, along with his Father, and deposited them both on the lizard's back. "Fly on ahead. We'll catch up." Spreading large leathery wings, the lizard leapt into the air and flew off with it's precious cargo. Neela was next to be placed with a Rider, then Race, and then Hadji.
"You will ride with me, Little One." the leader stated as she helped Jessie onto Draco's back and then climbed on in front of her. With three beats of leathery wings Draco took to the skies after the other Dragons. "You care for the boy very much, don't you?" she suddenly asked as they streaked past mountains and wide valleys.
"Jonny and I have been through too much for me not to feel anything for him. I... I don't know, I think... I love him." She felt like a sudden pang in her heart as she finally voiced her feelings. It didn't hurt, it was more like a pleasurable kind of pain. What's that about?
"Then you should tell him." Draco stated, his great wings beating the air.
"Maybe... someday. I'm just scared that he doesn't feel the same for me. Tell me something though, I know his name is Draco but what about yours?" she suddenly asked the leader.
She laughed. "With all that happened I completely forgot the introductions."
"Age does that, Dearest." and she jokingly slapped the back of his scaly neck as he chuckled.
"And you should know. Forgive me, Little One. I am Drayca Eltanin, Battle Leader to the Children."
"Jessie Bannon. You already know Hadji and Neela. The others are Race Bannon, my Father, Jonny Quest and his Father, Doctor Benton Quest."
"Yeah, a Phenomenologist and one of the best scientists the world has to offer. If any one can find a cure for you guys it's Doctor Quest."
"I hope so, for your friend's sake." Not far ahead the rest of the flying Dragons seemed to disappear, swallowed up by a looming mountain. Jessie could feel their momentum slowing as Draco came in for a gentle landing at the mouth of a cave. He followed the rest of the group in, lumbering like some awkward animal, and soon arrived at an anti-chamber where an ochre colored Dragon stood waiting. Doctor Quest was at its feet with Jonny cradled limply in his arms. A large crimson stain had formed where the spear once had been. His skin was pale with an ashen hue. Jessie could feel a tightening in her heart as she realized just how close he was to dying. Could the Children of the Dragon really bring him back? With a nod from Draco a small group of robed figures approached Benton and took Jonny away down a tunnel. The ochre Dragon followed. Easing themselves to the ground Jessie and Drayca dismounted to join their friends. The Battle Leader blocked their path when they were to enter the tunnel. "I'm sorry, but no one is allowed to enter the Healing Chamber when a life hangs in the balance."
"But he's my Son--" Doctor Quest protested.
"And you have our sympathies, Doctor Quest, but any minute change in this ritual and you will lose him. In this, you cannot help. You can, though, help him in another way. Jessie tells me you are a scientist. Help our scientists find a cure and your Son won't have to endure our disorder."
"It's worth a try, Doctor Quest." Jessie urged.
"Meanwhile, I'm just here for decoration." Race grunted.
"Of course not, Mr. Bannon. You are a warrior, are you not?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say that."
"My Riders need more modern training, something to make us effective in today's world."
"Shoot, why not. It'll keep me busy 'til news comes about Jonny."
"Jena is my Second-in-Command. She will take you to the Training Center." and the two left. Drayca then bowed to Hadji and his Mother. "And you, My Sultan."
"We will go to the Crystal Grotto and meditate. Perhaps we may help in this way."
"Do you need a guide, Sultan?"
"No, I believe I can remember the way, thank you." and he led his Mother off down another tunnel.
She turned back to Benton and Jessie, an arm outstretched to indicate still another tunnel. "Please, the Lab is this way." Draco followed close behind as the walked down torch lit corridors. The tunnel branched in several different directions, but Drayca never slowed in her trek. At each branch Doctor Quest and Jessie could see numerous people and just as many Dragons idling or preforming some task or another. Ahead was an opening through which bright light poured out. In this chamber were desks upon desks of laboratory equipment, all state of the art. Twelve robed beings hovered over equipment as results were turned in from machines. "Gentlemen." Drayca called to them. They turned to reveal completely transformed men. All were lizard in appearance. The newcomers couldn't stop their horrified, if not surprised, reactions. "This is Doctor Benton Quest and Jessie Bannon. They'll be helping you find a cure."
One of the men stepped forward. "Why iss thiss?" he hissed in a raspy voice.
"His Son is undergoing a Healing as we speak."
The lizard-man nodded in understanding. "Then he iss welcome to help."
She turned to the guests. "He's Cur'ail, eldest of the scientists. Any questions you may have, ask him. The others are his Sons, Grandsons and Great-Grandsons."
"Great-Grandsons? How old is he?" Benton wondered.
"Many centuriess younger than Drayca, but old enough to have probably sseen your Grandfather'ss birth, Doctor Quesst." Cur'ail replied.
Jessie looked to Drayca in shock. "Centuries?"
"Ah... yes. It's another side-effect of the Dragon's blood. So long as the Dragons who shared their blood with us still live, and Dragons live to be several thousands of years old, we continue to live as well. I was three when the Healing was preformed on me the first time. I stopped aging at twenty six. I am now twenty years shy of nine hundred."
"Will be virtually immortal, yes." There was a sudden incredible scream from somewhere in the tunnels, a familiar sounding cry of pain. In response Draco lay in front of the entrance to keep Doctor Quest and Jessie from running off. "Yes, that was your Son, Doctor Quest. The Change has begun. It feels like fire coursing through the veins, but it subsides after a few moments. By then, he will have ceased to look like your Son."
"Will we be able to see him?" the worried Father asked.
"In a while. Right now the Healers are helping him adapt to his new predicament. This can take several hours, days if he resists the Change. Hopefully he will be one who will remain stable afterwards. Presently, you have a more important task to concentrate on."
Doctor Quest nodded and turned to the scientists. They led him and Jessie around the Lab, explaining each machine and their uses. Each test and result were shown to them and theories were shared. Everything from environment to climate to diet was examined and subsequently ruled out. Draco and Drayca had remained in the Lab during those long hours, watching, waiting, hoping. At one point, long into the next day, Drayca noticed how sleep had crept up on young Jessie. She was sitting at one of the desks, looking through a microscope, but she kept squinting and rubbing her eyes as if she couldn't see clearly. She approached her. "You should get some sleep, Miss Jessie."
"I can't, not yet."
"Everything will be clearer after a long rest. Right now you risk making mistakes."
"No buts. Come, Little One. I will take you to a room where you can sleep."
She rubbed her eyes tiredly as she got to her feet. "You said earlier that you hoped Jonny remained stable. What did you mean?"
Drayca sighed heavily as she began to lead Jessie away. "The Change also causes changes in behavior, bringing on an eventual state of feral animal dominance, mostly in males. In the past eight hundred years there have been over two hundred affected. All of them were eventually, and regrettably, killed for the survival of the Children. Many were my good friends."
"Heavy." was all she could find to say. Deep down she hoped Jonny wouldn't be affected by the Change in the way Drayca described. Half blind from sleep Jessie was led through countless tunnels to a comfortably furnished chamber. She was hardly aware that Drayca had left her at the door to this new chamber. In a corner was a large pile of huge cushions and blankets. She let herself drop gratefully to the pile and was in and out of sleep for the next few hours. Permanent sleep just wouldn't come to her and she knew why. Someone was missing, Jonny was missing. She didn't dream, or at least wasn't aware of a dream. A faint rustling woke her completely and she looked around the darker than dark room. She couldn't see anything. There were no windows, no light coming through the door, and no lamp anywhere near her. There was another sound, like that of a soft sigh, and something dropped down heavily on the pillows next to her. Jessie quickly sat up and backed up into what she hoped was a wall. "Who's there?"
"Drayca ssaid you'd be here." came a slightly familiar, raspy voice. His eyes could easily see through the dark and he was nearly breathless from his heart beating so hard. She was so beautiful, with wisps of hair falling out of her braid and her gown torn around the hem and sleeves. Her unearthly green eyes seemed to gleam in the dark, like her locket at her throat.
She held her breath. "Jonny?" She reached out blindly into the dark. "Where are you?"
A coarse hand took her wrist and guided it to a face in the dark. "Right here." It didn't feel like skin. It was coarse and scaly, the features were also all wrong to be Jonny. And she had felt claws at the tips of his fingers. She pulled her hand away, perhaps a little too quickly. She heard him sigh sadly. "You can't ssee me and yet you're sscared of me."
"It's because I can't see you that I'm scared."
There was a rattle of wooden matches in a box, as if he had started for the lamp and then had second thoughts about lighting it. "No, I don't want you to ssee me like thiss."
"But I want to see you. What if you're trapped this way for the rest of your life?" There was no response but she could tell he was still there. She reached out again and found his face on her first try. She gently traced his cheek bone with her finger tips and he turned his face into her hand, nuzzling her palm. "You can see in the dark. Give me the matches and help me find the lamp." There was a long silent pause before she finally felt the match box being pressed into her hand. He then took her wrists and guided her over to the edge of the pillow pile. Her hands touched the cool surface of glass and metal, an oil lamp. She kneeled before it, carefully took out a match and struck it on the box's flint. It flared to life, hurting her eyes with the sudden light. She lit the lamp and set the wick so as to keep the light at a comfortable low. Then she hesitated, not turning around just yet. She could see his clawed hand on the ground not far away.
"Do you sstill want to ssee the monsster they turned me into?"
She placed her hand on top of his. "Doctor Quest didn't want to lose you. We didn't want to lose you." I didn't want to lose you, she added to herself. "We had no other choice. But there is a good side to all this."
"Yeah? Like what?"
"Like... Resistance to disease, improved health, immortality..."
"That's something they forgot to tell you. So long as Solara, the Dragon who shared her blood with you, lives you live. Drayca is eight hundred eighty years old. You'll never age, outliving us all."
Jonny had a violent start, pulling his hand away. If he was to live forever he didn't want to do it without his Father, without his friends, and certainly not without Jessie. "No. I don't want thiss. You sshould have let me die." and he quickly got to his feet to go to the door.
"Jonny, wait." She jumped to her own feet, turning quickly to grab his arm. He stopped and she could feel his muscles tense. His back was to her, but she could tell the Change was great. He wasn't wearing the shirt Hadji had given him anymore. The expanse of skin exposed had been transformed into thick, smooth scales of a greenish gold color and he did have claws at his finger tips, sharp claws. Small rounded horns had sprouted from the back of his shoulders. His hair hadn't changed in the slightest. Hesitantly she gave his arm a gentle tug to get him to face her. He did so and instead of seeing eyes full of fear he saw eyes full of sympathy, full of remorse, full of guilt. Her hand touched his cheek as tears brimmed her eyes. Gone was his boyish face replaced with that of a lizard man, but the incredible blue eyes remained. These were Jonny's eyes that had now begun to tear, eyes that she easily found herself lost in many times, like now. "I'm so sorry." she breathed as she let him crush her to his chest. "I didn't want to lose you." she suddenly breathed and his arms cradled her close. She cried, tears streaming down her cheeks to his shoulder as he rocked her slowly, caressing her back in comfort.
"I found it! Jessie! I found it!" came Benton's voice from down the hall.
The duo pulled apart, a little faster than they had wanted, looked at each other in slight surprise, then went to stand at the door to watch as Jonny's Father came running up to them. "Doctor Quest?"
"Jessie, there you are. I found..." Doctor Quest saw the tears on her face and suddenly looked past her to her lizard companion, realization dawning on his face. "Jonny?" Jonny shrugged with a shy smile. "Oh, God. Son, I 'm sorry..."
"It'ss okay, Dad. Jesssie ecssplained it to me." and his clawed hand tenderly gripped her shoulder as not to scratch or hurt her. He would have to be careful for the next while. "What did you find?"
"A cure. I don't know why they, or I, didn't think of this option before. The way they explained this condition, I should have suspected that this could work."
Jessie felt as if she were floating from this news. "Tell us, quickly." she urged.
"They didn't have the means to do this before, taking unaffected DNA and injecting it into an affected host to help the affected DNA begin replication and repair. The new DNA would have acted like an vengeful band-aid, removing the Dragon DNA and keeping it from reattaching itself to the host. A direct blood transfer is all it takes. My initial tests worked. Everyone here is affected so they never had a fresh, untainted source of DNA until now."
"Until us." Jessie turned to Jonny with a happy, hopeful smile. "I told Drayca if anyone could find a cure it was your Dad." He smiled back at her.
"We can start the treatment right away, Son. It won't be easy though. I believe it might be just as painful as the initial Change was."
"Doess Drayca or any of the otherss know?" the Son asked his Father.
"No, she was called away before I found this possible cure. I think she went off to question that prisoner. I know I have a few." and he motioned them down the tunnel he had just come from.
Along the way they met up with Cur'ail who looked slightly anxious. "Ah, Doctor Quesst. I wass looking for you. We found ssomething ecsstra about your treatment."
"We were on our way to find Drayca, but what have you found?"
"Thiss way." he hissed, leading them down a tunnel that slanted down. "Your treatment, Doctor Quesst, will be sslow in progresss and undoubtedly very painful, ass you have ecssplained, but there iss more. We will losse our immortality. We will live a normal life'ss sspan afterwardss, then die."
"Don't be! We've all hoped for ssomething like thiss ever ssince we disscovered the Immortality Factor. You've given uss our mortality back. For that we thank you." They arrived at a deep chamber where they heard Drayca's voice demanding answers from the prisoner. "Do not be alarmed at what you ssee. When angered sshe can be violent." Cur'ail warned.
They walked in to find her standing before the prisoner chained to the wall. His helmet had been removed to reveal his bruised and bloodied face. Jessie couldn't stop the gasp that escaped her throat as Jonny stiffened at her side. "Kyle Merrick." he growled dangerously as Jessie took his shoulder.
"You know him?" Benton asked his Son.
"All too well. He wass at the complecss in Brazsil."
Kyle looked up at the new arrivals and gave a leery, evil grin. "Jessie Bannon, good to see you again, Red. How has the little traitoress been?"
"I'm not a traitor."
"You allowed him and the other to escape." he replied as he motioned to Doctor Quest with his chin. "To me that makes you a traitoress."
"He's Jonny's Father and the other's my Father."
"Yes, the great Jonny Quest. Where did he disappear to?" and he looked around nonchalantly.
"Right here, Kyle, or don't you recognizse the one you alwayss referred to ass the ssnake?"
He looked at him and frowned. "You're not Mister Goodie-Two-Shoes."
"Oh, yess, I am. Would an imposster know that on the firsst night you met Jesssie and I, you tried to rape her in the ssame room your own ssisster and I were in at the time?" Out of the corner of his eye he saw his Father's violent reaction to the revelation.
For a moment Kyle's face was unreadable, but then an ear-to-ear sneer crossed his face. And he laughed. Jonny balled his fists, annoyed and angered. "Oh, this is just too perfect! Pretty boy is now Lizard boy! Hey, Red, what do you think of your knight in shining armor now?"
There was a flash of greenish gold as Jonny, in an impatient fit of rage, tried to lunge at Kyle's throat. Jessie was only one step ahead of him and managed to grab his arm. "Take it easy, Jonny!" and she pressed herself against his hard chest to restrain him. "He's just trying to find an easy way out of all this."
"Oh, you're so right, Red." Kyle snickered. "But this isn't how I plan to escape. You really don't think I would've allowed myself to get captured if I didn't have several ways out, do you? My friends will be arriving soon and then the real fun'll start."
Doctor Quest quickly checked all of Kyle's pockets and found a small red disk no bigger than a dime. "It's a tracker. It allows anyone to follow a signal to its source, mainly to here."
Drayca whirled around to face Corail. All it took was a simple look. The Third-in-Command raced off down the tunnel, shouting orders as she went. The Children of the Dragon's battle leader then faced the Quest men and Jessie. "When the first attack happened at the Palace my Riders saw a large grouping of armed men hiding in a nearby valley. We wondered at first why they did not attack. We know now."
"But what good are spears and swords against guns?"
"Guns get jammed in dust storms. Spears and swords don't. Cur'ail, tell Draco to set up small storms at the tunnels leading to the surface. He'll know how."
Kyle's mad laughter cut through them like a knife as the elder scientist ran off. "You waste your time. Won't be long now, Red. If you let me go and beg me for mercy now, I just might be inclined to let you live, if you're nice enough."
"Fat chance." Jessie muttered, holding Jonny around his torso to keep him from charging.
"Come, quickly!" the warrior woman ordered, leading them at a jog down the tunnels back to the Lab. Seconds later Hadji, Neela, and Race were ushered in followed closely by Cur'ail and three of his descendants. "You nine will remain here. Solara and her promised mate will be just outside this door. Whatever you do, stay here!" Then she ran off to wait out the beginning of the battle.
There was a sudden silence in the room, broken only by the sound of breathing and the distant sound of beating wings. "Might as well start your treatment while we're waiting, Son." Benton suddenly voiced as he retrieved a series of sterile syringes.
"I don't know if I'll be able to sstay sseated when all the fighting breakss out. I can feel..." and he trailed off.
"What can you feel, my friend?" the young Sultan asked gently.
Jonny sat on a stool nearby, watching as his Father drew a blood sample from Jessie's offered arm. He had to smile inwardly at her willingness to help him. Somewhere in his mind a little voice told him that it was because she loved him, but it wasn't yet loud enough to be heard clearly. He pushed it away and turned to his adoptive Brother. "I'm not ssure, Hadj. It'ss almosst like... I don't know... a fighting urge. I want to fight."
Race gripped his shoulder, mentally cringing at the feel of scales under his hand. "Well, you heard the lady, kiddo. Whatever happens we stay here."
Far down the tunnels reverberated the war cries of Dragons and the Children. Jonny stiffened, sitting straight on his seat. He understood the cry. To the death! Even though he felt his Father's hand on his arm he continued to stare at the entrance. He continued this even after feeling the needle pierce his skin painfully and then retreat. Explosions joined the cries along with the sound of gunfire. The others listened now, watching the entrance for any sign of the attackers. I have to do something, he thought. A low, guttural growl escaped his throat instead of words. He was aware of himself thinking rationally and yet there was something stronger that had taken over. An animal instinct. Before anyone could react he had bolted out of the chamber to the winding twists of the tunnels. He was focused only on the sounds of battle now, eager to fight, following the sounds to the source. He could barely hear the calls from his friends behind him. A woman's scream suddenly cut through his hazy senses... from behind. Jessie! He skidded to a halt, whirling around to find a grouping of six armed men surrounding Jessie in the light of the lone torch in the tunnel. Kyle Merrick was one of them. He had her by the waist, her arms pinned to her sides, and a particularly vicious looking blade pointed at her throat. She held herself perfectly still, her eyes riveted on the blade. The others had their weapons pointed on the group that had tried to follow Jonny.
"What did I tell you, Lizard Boy." Merrick gloated with a mad sneer. "I always get what I want, no matter what. And now, you can't stop me or she gets hurt."
"Let her go!" he roared. Everyone in the tunnel flinched at the sound of his voice. This wasn't Jonny Quest anymore. This was a Dragon hybrid... and he was angry.
Kyle recovered enough to press the blade closer to his hostage's throat. "Back off, or you know what happens to this pretty lady." A thin trickle of blood was forming where the blade had cut a shallow wound. Something in Jonny snapped.
"Now you don't want to do anything you're gonna regret there." came Race's voice directed at Kyle.
"Save your breath, Bannon." Merrick snapped, turning to face him. "Your attempt to appeal to my sense of morality is pitiful at best."
Then the light went out.
Jessie stood perfectly still in the dark, suddenly acutely aware of every sound around her. There was a rush of air on one side of her, then the sound of a violent scuffle ensued. Kyle let out a shout of pain as he let her go. Instinctively she dropped to her knees and covered her head with her arms. Then she heard the sound of running before a thick silence covered everything. Two sets of hands fumbled and found her as a light shattered the impenetrable dark. When her eyes adjusted she found it was her Father and Hadji who were helping her to her feet. The six gunmen were strewn across the tunnel floor, visibly dead, blood and scratch marks were everywhere. Neither Kyle or Jonny could be seen. Jessie's eyes surveyed the scene to finally become riveted on the bodies.
"... Jonny didn't...?"
"I'm afraid he did, Misss Jesssie." Cur'ail answered. His eyes were full of sorrow. "He hass become unsstable. The New Change iss not happening fasst enough."
God, no! Please, no! her mind screamed. "But... where is he?"
"I believe he hass gone after thiss Kyle Merrick. And hiss intent iss all too clear. He will kill him, or die trying."
She looked down the tunnel where she had heard the sound of running. "No!" she wailed and took off at a run down the tunnel. Jessie ran blindly, unsure of where she was going, but she had to find Jonny. She could hear her family and friends calling after her, but she ignored them all. Turning a corner she came upon the part battle that had made it into the tunnels. Jena's bright gold hair flashed into sight as she one-handedly dragged a wounded fighter away. She had her spear in the other hand. "Jena, did Jonny come through here after someone?" Jessie called over the battle.
The Second-in-Command looked up, slightly startled. "Miss Jessie! Yes, he was chasing someone!"
"Where'd he go?"
Using the spear she pointed up a tunnel from which strong blasts of cold air came from. Jessie grabbed the spear from her hand as she headed up this tunnel. "No, Miss Jessie, it leads outside!" she barely heard Jena cry after her. Jess continued to run, her chest pounding, oblivious to the drop of temperature. The ground became covered with slippery ice making running more and more difficult in her high heels. Cold air blasted at her almost as if to keep her from advancing, but she pushed on. Turning a corner she could see a gold mass huddled ahead of her. Approaching it she recognized who it was.
"Jonny!" and she quickly stumbled to his side. Once there she noticed his scales had begun to fade showing blue skin beneath. Blue? She turned him over, holding him close in her arms, and felt him shiver. His teeth chattered. That was when it sunk in. He was still part lizard and, therefore, partly cold blooded. The cold was killing him, slowly, agonizingly. Using the spear she cut off her long skirt at mid-thigh level and then draped it over him to help him keep his body heat while adding her own to his. Gently she rocked his near frozen body. "C'mon, stay with me, Jonny. Wake up." Her breath crystallized in the cold corridors.
"... P- pain... Ss- sso... much... p- pain..." he stuttered over chattering teeth, his body suddenly doubling over in a fetal position. A thin mist escaped his frozen lips.
She adjusted her hold on him, smoothing his hair away from his face and tucking the make-shift blanket around him. "I know. It's the New Change, but everything'll be okay now. You'll be fine." She held him close, hoping she herself could stay warm enough until help arrived. Her bare legs already felt painfully numb from the cold. She looked back down the way she came with a slight frown. Hadn't Jena been right behind her?
His trembling hands gripped her arms to keep her close. "... ss- sso... c- cold... t- tired..."
Then Jessie realized just why Jena hadn't followed her to the surface. She was a Child of the Dragon. She was part reptile and therefore knew the cold that reigned here could kill her in a matter of minutes. Looking at his face she could see the pained drowsiness begin to settle in his features. It frightened her. "C'mon, Hot Shot, stay awake." He looked up at her and she realized why. She hadn't used the name Hot Shot for him since she was fourteen, two years ago. It brought back memories, good and bad. "Talk to me. Tell me..." She mentally struggled to find something, anything, to talk about. Her mind grasped at one topic and held on. "Tell me how you keep all those girls at school from asking you out."
A faint smile curled back the corners of his lips as he adjusted his hold on her. "... why... do you... w- want... t- to know... th- that... Ace...?"
She smiled, partly at the name, partly understanding the thought behind the question, and she toyed with the locket at his throat. "I don't know. Maybe I can apply your tactic to my problems at school."
"... An- And... you... h- have... many..." he chuckled. His cold muddled mind struggled to remember just what he had told the last flock of girls at Rockport High School shortly before leaving for Brazil with Jessie. "... I t- told... them... I w- wass... al- already... ss- sseeing... ss- ssomeone..."
Jessica Bannon's interest was peaked. He was already seeing someone? "Did you give them a name?" she asked softly.
His eyelids were beginning to close from cold and pain induced fatigue, but his eyes remained locked with hers nonetheless. "... Yess..." he replied softly.
A loud rumbling sound, much like that of a charging elephant, began to echo from down the tunnel before anything else could be said. Looking up Jessie could see the large lumbering form of Solara racing up towards them, worry in her large eyes. The female Dragon hesitated for just a moment when she saw the huddled duo, then quickly scooped them up in her great paw. Running on three-legs Solara charged back down the tunnels, passing the duo's family and friends, and kept heading down deeper and deeper into the tunnels. The temperature steadily rose to the point of sweltering as she ran. She entered a large, deep chamber where a huge lake of fiercely bubbling water churned and boiled from an unseen heat source. Billows of steam rose up with each froth. Jessie stared at this lake with apprehension before Solara suddenly picked her up and, unceremoniously, tossed her aside. She landed hard, very hard, on the smooth, almost glass like, ground. She recovered quickly to watch in dazed horror as Solara dove into the bubbling maelstrom with Jonny still cradled in her paw. Jessie stumbled to her feet, rushing to the water's edge, but was forced back in agony. The water was so scalding that she stumbled in shock near a wall. Through the steam she could see Solara's head just above the water's surface gently nuzzling Jonny's limp, unconscious form which was half submerged. As she watched she was mildly aware of her Father and friends arriving in the chamber. She scrambled to her feet when she saw Drayca, Draco and Cur'ail enter.
"She... She took him in there!"
Drayca took her shoulders quickly. "It's alright. We'll take care of this." Jessie watched, confused, as Cur'ail and Drayca stood knee deep in the frothing, scalding waters, unaffected by the intense temperature. When her friends tried to follow, Jessie stopped them explaining that she herself had felt the burning temperature of the water. It seemed only Dragons and the Children of the Dragon could enter this water. "Solara!" she called. The great ochre Dragon turned to her, holding Jonny's body close as he began to wake slowly. "Please, Solara, give him over to us!" and she held out her arms in waiting.
A look of horrified shock came over Solara's features. "No! He's mine! My blood flows in his veins, I feel his pain! He's mine! I won't give him up!"
"SOLARA!" Drayca's voice was suddenly commanding, silencing the Dragon, cutting through the souls of everyone gathered. One look at her face and one could see the seriousness of the situation. Then her face softened. "Solara! What about Na'toth, your promised mate? Is this fair to him?" Cur'ail followed her lead as she moved deeper into the water. "This boy is not yours! A New Change is turning him back to how he was before! His family and his friends miss him! His Father wants his only Son back! Please, give him back!" Solara looked at Benton Quest at the water's edge, at his silently pleading eyes, then back to the waking boy in her paws. She had felt the link diminish, but she had tried to deny it. Now, it was impossible to. Many of his lizard traits were beginning to disappear.
As Solara watched, Jonny came back to enough of his senses to cringe slightly at the sight of her face so close to him. He could feel the boiling waters lapping against his sides, but was surprised that it didn't burn him. "What... What's going on?" The raspiness and hissing in his voice were gone.
"A choice I have to make, Little Man: Do I keep you or do I give you back to your Father?"
With a start he backed away even more before turning to those on the shore. The female Dragon nodded at him with a sad smile when he turned back to her and he let himself drop into the churning waters. Cur'ail and Drayca swam out to him and helped him back to the shore. Benton was immediately there to wrap his Son tightly in his arms. Jonny gratefully returned the Fatherly embrace, letting him hold him up. The constant pain from the New Change left him weak and unstable on his own feet. Doctor Quest could feel this in his Son and supported him until Race, Hadji, Neela, and Jessie approached him to welcome his Son back to them and to sanity.
Hadji and his Mother were the first to hold him. "You gave us all quite a fright, my Brother." the young Sultan stated as Neela continued to hold Jonny.
"Believe me, Hadj, no one was more scared than me."
Then Race approached him, a serious look on his face. "Don't you ever do something like that again."
Jonny looked at him sheepishly. "Yes, Sir." After a tense moment Race smiled, head locked him, and mussed up his hair affectionately before releasing him. Jonny then turned to the last, if not dearest, of his friends. She smiled at him, almost shyly, a slight frown creasing her brow. He returned the smile, spreading his hands in a shrug. "Ace...?"
"If ever you pull a stupid stunt like that again, Hot Shot, I will personally kill you." But there was no anger in her voice and her smile remained.
He knew she was more worried than angered. A burst of relieved laughter escaped them both. "Deal." he struggled over the laughter and he opened his arms to her. She accepted the silent offer and threw herself into his embrace, each holding the other as close as physically possible, losing themselves in their own little world. Awareness became muted to the point were they were only really aware of each other. Though neither would ever admit it, they enjoyed this form of physical contact. They could vaguely hear the adults speaking of the battle. It was almost over, the Children of the Dragon were winning, but there was no sign of Kyle Merrick.
He had gotten away.
* * *
Estella Velasquez had received the call at around four in the morning. It was her ex-husband, Race Bannon, asking her if she could drop everything and come to Bangalore. Actually, he didn't really ask. It was more of an order. He was like that. Immediately her mind began to imagine all sort of worst case scenarios of what might have happened to have prompted this call. An accident... a shooting... an attack... Anything could have happened to them which meant anything could have happened to Jessica Bannon, her daughter.
She hadn't heard anything from him in two days, not since he had reported back that he had found both Jessie and Jonny, alive and well. Estella was in the deep jungles of Peru on the site of a new, important dig. As head archeologist on the site she couldn't easily drop what she was doing and leave for India. On the other hand she couldn't very well stay here when her daughter could be in the hospital... or worse.
That was the deciding factor.
Leaving her assistant in charge of the dig she was on her way to town and on the first plane bound for India. By that time her mind had conjured enough worst scenario images that she had begun to anxiously bite her nails. Her flight had a brief stop over in Cairo before continuing on. Within a few hours she reached the Royal Palace in Bangalore. What she found most strange was that it was the Palace guards who met her at the entrance and led her through the maze of corridors to the court yard. That was when she saw Race.
He was leaning up against a wall, staring at the ground, seemingly talking to himself. She thought he looked just a little more haggard and battle worn than he usually did, which brought her level of worry up a few notches. He suddenly looked up, saw her, and pushed off the wall. Estella all but ran up to him. She gripped his arms as he took her shoulders comfortingly.
"Race, what's going on? Where's Jessie?"
"Calm down, Estella. Ponchita's just fine, she just misses her Mom at her Birthday Party, that's all. That and I thought maybe you'd like to see the greatest living archeological discovery since..." and he trailed off suddenly.
"Shoot, Sweetheart, I'm no scientist. That's your department."
"Alright, then. So what's this great discovery?"
"You'll see. C'mon, our transport's waiting."
They turned the corner to find a masked, golden haired, leather clad warrior woman waiting for them standing in front of... Estella looked up, way up, and froze in her tracks at the sight as Race continued forward, unfazed. A gigantic lizard, covered in blue silver scales and with bright yellow eyes, stood on all fours with its massive leathery wings folded against its sides. The great beast looked at Estella quizzically before turning to its human companion.
"Jena, do I suddenly have snakes sprouting from my head?" it asked in a soft masculine, British sounding voice.
The warrior woman had a confused start as she regarded her companion. "No. Why do you ask, Brayne?"
"Well, I suddenly feel like a Medusa. As soon as the woman saw me, she froze."
Jena chuckled. "She's never seen a Dragon before, my friend. If you remember I, too, froze when I first saw you."
Brayne had a heavy sigh, a look of reminiscence in his eyes. "That was so many centuries ago... But, before any more time passes, all aboard." and he lowered himself to the ground.
Race had to physically push Estella towards the huge beast in order to get her to climb on. She sat side-saddle, unsure of herself on the warm lizard, as her ex-husband sat behind her and Jena climbed on to sit at the base of Brayne's neck, where it met his shoulders. Wordlessly Brayne spread his wings wide and took to the air. This brought Estella out of her silent shell.
"Oh, my God! And he flies! This is scientifically incredible!"
"Thought you'd like it."
"How did you find them?" she asked over the sound of rushing air.
"Actually, they found us. The day we arrived here all Hell broke loose and Hadji called them in to help fix things. Jonny got hurt bad and they--"
"Jonny's hurt!? Oh, Jessie--"
"He's fine, they fixed him up. Try not to stare at him too much when we get there though. Anyway, they took us with them back to their caves to help the kid and here we are. The Doc helped them find a cure for a little problem they had that Jonny ended up sharing."
"Problem? What problem?"
The warrior woman turned to them and, understanding what he was asking, removed her silver mask. Thick blue-ish scales covered parts of her face. "We call it the Change. In men it's more complete and they look nothing of what they did before. The Quest boy is recovering well from the New Change. Soon, it'll be our turn."
"Jonny...?" she couldn't continue.
"Was a walking, talking lizard man. He's changing back now, thanks to Benton's persistence."
"I can imagine. He found a cure?"
As they neared a tall mountain Estella could make out the form of another Dragon flying between the clouds. With a sharp turn the shape began speeding towards them. A blur of golden ochre sped by them, followed closely by a strong gust of wind. Estella ducked her head, holding on tight to Race so as not to fall off. Then the other Dragon came to fly parallel to Brayne.
"You kids be careful!" she heard Race shout.
"Sorry, Dad!" came a familiar voice. She looked up and saw Jessie, wearing a green-ish silver, tight dress that had a daring plunging neck-line, and with a matching pair of ankle-wrap high heels, riding on the back of the ochre Dragon. Her red hair flew out behind her like fire. Her arms were wrapped around a lizard-like boy Estella couldn't recognize, but who Jessie seemed completely at ease with. "Hi, Mom!" Jessie called with a wave of her arm.
The boy, too, smiled and waved. "Hi, Estella!" he called.
She knew that voice! "Jonny?"
"In the... well... I was going to say flesh, but I guess scales will have to do until all this is over!" he replied as Jessie laughed. He was wearing slightly torn blue silk pants and soft leather lace-up boots. He had no shirt. His blond hair was ruffled in the intense wind. He didn't seem to mind that Jessie was sitting so close to him or that her arms were wrapped around his waist.
"Are you two alright?"
"Never better!" Jonny added.
"Are you sure?"
""Yes!"" they said in unison.
As the mountain loomed closer Brayne suddenly dove down towards the entrance of the caves. Estella cringed at the sudden drop. "Let's go, Solara!" she heard Jonny shout. They came in for a smooth landing within moments on the outer ledge. The two Dragons lumbered inward with their passengers until they reached an inner chamber where the ambient temperature was more comfortable. There the great beasts began to lower themselves to the ground to allow their passengers to disembark. Jonny jumped down before Solara could completely lower herself and caught Jessie in his arms as she climbed down, keeping her from touching the ground.
"Put me down, you twerp." she struggled.
"No way, Pretty Lady. This is the first time where I might actually be stronger than you and I'm going to take advantage of every second of it."
"You may be stronger, but are you more agile?"
She rolled out of his arms, dropping to a crouch, knocked his legs out from under him, then pinned him on his back, his arms held down at either side of his head. "You were saying, Hot Shot?" she beamed down playfully.
He laughed. "And you're on my side." Solara suddenly got to her feet and charged at the duo, anger and protectiveness in her eyes. Both of them sprang to their feet, first in surprise, then Jessie out of fear and Jonny in her defense. He stood before her with his arms held up to stop Solara's intended attack. "Solara, no! Stop! It's a game! We were just playing!" Solara hesitated, looking at Jonny with a low growl directed at Jessie. "We do this sort of thing all the time! It's okay!" She backed off reluctantly. Keeping his eyes on the ochre Dragon, he took Jessie's shoulders and led her away to where he Mother stood waiting. She threw herself into her Mother's embrace, grateful to have her around.
Race looked to the Dragon, then at Jonny. "You know, she's gotten overly protective of you all of a sudden."
He shrugged. "From what I can tell that's a natural thing for a first time Bonding like this. Comes with the territory."
"Natural!?" Estella was in total shock as she held her Daughter tightly to her chest. "That... That thing tried to kill Jessie. Just what the Hell is going on here?"
Jonny hesitated, not wanting to reveal what he knew, but suddenly sighed heavily in surrender. "Solara's jealous." he finally stated.
Jessie stiffened at this and pulled away from her Mother. "Jealous?! What, of me?" He just looked away sheepishly and she balled her fists on her hips, a frown creasing her forehead. "Alright, what have you been telling her?"
"Nothing, I swear! Well, not directly, not verbally, in any case."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Look, I don't exactly know what happened. All I know is that I could tell exactly what she was thinking, for a time, so I guess she could do the same with me. Whatever she saw she somehow twisted into this jealousy thing." She looked at him, deep into the crystal blue depths of his eyes, clearly not believing him. "I swear, it's the truth."
"Guess I have no choice but to believe you, seeing as I won't be able to get an answer out of you or Solara."
"Now that it's settled, sort of, Jessie, I have a question for you." her Mother spoke up.
Jessie was puzzled when she looked at her Mother. "What's wrong?"
"That dress, that's what's wrong."
Both Jessie and Jonny looked at the dress. The shortness she had been forced to cut it showed off a good deal of her long, shapely legs. And he couldn't quite think of anything to say about the plunging neck-line. There was just so much visible skin... He grinned lopsidedly. "I don't know, I kind or like it."
Jessie slapped his arm, unable to stop the grin. "Don't start, dork." She looked herself over again and peered sheepishly at her Mother. "It... It didn't start out this way, honest. There was a longer skirt, I just had to it cut to keep Jonny alive. There was also a sash..." She looked again at the dress, more critically this time. "God, I really did a number on this thing, didn't I?"
"A nice number."
"And your number'll be up if you don't quit it, Quest."
"Just try it, Bannon." He placed his hands on her waist from behind her, squeezing slightly, causing her to jump with a startled shriek and backing into him.
Estella sighed heavily and turned to her ex-husband. "When are we all going home?"
"Not long. Benton's just finishing up explaining the cure to the rest of them. In a couple of days, when Jonny's himself again and not over the edge, we'll head back for Main on the Questor."
"I can't wait to get home." Jonny piped up as he kept Jessie wrapped in his arms. "Bandit's probably going nuts by now and I actually miss Mrs. Evans nagging." He suddenly started to laugh at a thought. "I even miss school!"
"Over the edge?" Estella demanded.
Race frowned a sigh. "Why is it you only pick up on the negatives?"
"I'm a Mother, it's my job. What happened?"
Jessie shrugged. "He went over the deep-end." she stated matter-of-factly.
Jonny frowned. "Thank you so very much."
"Would you rather I called you clinically insane?" He looked away in surrender, pulling away from her. Before he could move too far she took his arm. "Oh, don't act like that, you Big Baby." and she pulled him close again before turning to her Mother. "The Change causes a mental instability in certain people."
"It happened with me." he continued. "I could hear sounds from so far away as if they were right next to me. I could hear and understand the Dragon's regular speech. Imagine being able to suddenly hear every sound being made no matter where you are and you can't shut it off, no matter how hard you try."
"Didn't know it was that bad, kid." Race muttered.
"Don't talk about it much. Reminds me too much of those six guys..." and he trailed off, a memory coming back to him. He suddenly shuddered violently, tears coming to his eyes. "Oh, God! Race, I killed those men!" Before either Estella or Race could do anything, Jessie threw her arms around her friend to comfort him, his face pressed into the crook of her neck.
"Everything'll be okay, Jonny. It's okay." she breathed soothingly, threading her fingers through his hair. He just held her as tightly as he dared.
Estella looked at them both with a surprised look etched in her face. "How long have they been doing this sort of thing?"
Race merely shook his head with a chuckle. "Long story. I'll explain later."
* * *
Jonny Quest stood at the bow of the Questor at looked out at the rising full moon. The last remnants of the Dragon's Blood had disappeared and he was normal again. He could see the arm of Milky Way above him, arcing across the sky with its many Constellations scattered throughout. Categorically, he picked them out one by one: Pisces, Jessie's zodiac sign, Libra, his Mother's sign, Aires, his Father's sign, and Virgo, his sign. He smiled at the last one he found, Draco, the Dragon. Ironic, he thought. He crossed his arms in an attempt to keep more warmth in his thick sweater. He could hear the large sails flapping in the wind and the waves crashing against the ship's hull. Then he heard a new sound. Footsteps were approaching him from along the walkway. The flash of red in the wind caught the corner of his eye.
"Hey, Jess." he greeted, not taking his eyes from the sky.
Her hand came to rest between his shoulder blades. "Hey. What're you doing out here all by your lonesome?"
He sighed and looked at her. She was wearing a wind breaker over a white shirt, and blue jeans. "I was doing some stargazing... and some thinking. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately."
"Want to talk about it?"
He looked at the ocean, his eyes glassy. "Not really."
"Jonny." she called, her voice ever so soft. She touched his shoulder, getting him to turn to face her. "I know what you're thinking, and you mustn't blame yourself. You did it to save my life, and for that I'll never be able to thank you enough."
A tear fell from his eye. "But I killed to do that."
Ever so gently she wiped the tear away. "I had to do the same thing once, remember? It never gets easy, that's why the good guys use it as a last resort and only then. We're the good guys and that's why you're taking it as hard as you are. It never gets easier."
"How do you make the images go away?" His voice shook.
"You can't. Dad once told me that he still has nightmares of his old service years. I still dream of those I killed. Nameless faces, all of them." She suddenly laughed, looking up at him. "Hey! Who needs the comforting here, you or me?"
He had to laugh with her. "I don't know, the lines got kind of blurry all of a sudden." He wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her ever so close to himself. "Thank you." he breathed into her hair, catching a hint of her sweet scent. Was it perfume, was it her, he could never quite tell.
She let him hold her, enjoying the strength and safety his arms conveyed to her. "Thank you for what?"
He pulled back to look into her face. "For being here, for being a friend."
She smirked. "You sound like a greeting card."
Soft laughter forced itself from his throat. "What else can I say? Apart from Hadji, you're my best friend."
"Is that all I am?" she smiled playfully, her voice coy.
He smiled, the first real smile since they had left Bangalore two days ago. "Well, maybe more than just best friends." She gave him a sweet smile and bit her lower lip as if she were coming to a decision or working up her courage for something. His expression became puzzled. "What?"
"Just this." She placed a quick, gentle kiss on his lips before suddenly taking off like a bullet for her quarters.
Jonny stood there, stunned for a moment, with a quizzical frown on his face. Did she just kiss me or am I still delusional? He touched his own lips then looked at his fingers. In the moonlight he could see traces of her lipstick. He smiled happily and leaned back on the guard rail, still looking at his lipstick stained fingers. Oh, yes! he thought, looking to the vast expanse of ocean ahead. Things are finally looking good. He looked up to the Libra Constellation, his Mother's Zodiac sign, with a smile. Virgo. Best love match: Pisces. Thanks, Mom.
* * *
The quests and Bannons arrived back in Maine too late for Jessie and Jonny to return to high school, but early enough in the summer to make up for all their lost time and work. They would move up a grade just like their friends and classmates. It helped that Doctor Benton Quest was on the School Board. It took the kids roughly a week to finish all their catch up work. Bandit, the family's Miniature Pit bull, had been ecstatic to see them return and had greeted his owner by leaping into Jonny's arms and licked his face. He did the same to every family member, Estella included. Mrs. Evans was just happy to find them all safe and back home. Their first meal was a feast, with so many leftovers to last them to the end of the month. She continued to fuss over the two teenagers well-being until both Jessie and Jonny retreated to the safety of their own rooms, with Bandit in tow.
Summer went by quickly during which the two teenagers were most content just lounging around by the pool-side or in front of the TV watching a movie. This particular day the sun shone brightly making the air warm and nearly unbearable were it not for a light breeze coming from the nearby cliffs over-looking the Atlantic. In the shade of two large trees was a wide, mesh hammock. It rocked gently in the breeze. An open book lying face down on her stomach, Jessie dozed peacefully on the hammock. She wore a pair of short denim shorts and a tight, pink tank-top in an effort to beat the heat. Her sandals were on the ground under the hammock. Something suddenly began to tickle her face, a light feathery object. She swatted at it, but it persisted and she though she heard a stifled snicker. Jessie opened her eyes and saw Jonny holding a blade of grass to her face. He was wearing a pair of dark blue Bermudas with a white T-shirt, sandals, and what she considered to be a ridiculous straw cowboy hat. "Hey, stop that!"
He gave her his trademark grin. "Couldn't resist. You made such a tempting target."
"You're too kind." she stated sarcastically.
"Very cozy setup you have here."
"Mmm, it serves its purpose."
"Got extra room there?"
"Sure, climb aboard." He did so, his head at her feet. Then, after a moment of calming silence and rocking, "So, what have you been doing all morning?"
"Nothing much." He put his hands behind his head, tipping the hat over his eyes. "Took a bike ride into town, called on a few of the guys and hung out at the mall and arcade for a while, then came home."
"Ooo, sounds very productive."
He raised the hat, arcing a skeptic eyebrow at her with a grin. "What about you? I'll just bet you've been lying here all morning reading that book."
"Guilty as charged." she laughed.
"What are you reading?" She held up the book and he grimaced in disgust at the title. "Ugh! Advanced Physics!? Should've known you couldn't keep your nose out one of those books for very long. Book worm."
She slapped the sole of her foot to his chest and he grabbed her ankle in surprise. "You take that back, bleach head." she warned, a slight grin working the corners of her lips.
"Ooo, thems fightin' words." he smiled and he tugged at her ankle.
She suddenly sat up slightly, understanding his intent. "Don't you dare!"
"No?" His tone was innocent, but his smile was full of mischief.
"No!" she ordered, her smile becoming apparent.
"No?" he repeated, lightly tracing his finger on her sole. Jessie tried to pull her foot away, but he held on. She struggled wildly, both from his grip and from uncontrolled laughter, as he tickled the sole of her foot. Suddenly the hammock tipped, dumping them both onto the ground. They laughed hysterically at the whole situation. "Not... Not exactly what I had in mind!" he struggled to say.
"Twerp!" she laughed, lunging at him with a handful of grass.
"Nerd!" he countered, falling to his back to absorb her lunge.
"Nitwit!" and she dropped the grass on his face.
"Brainiac!" he replied, spitting out grass from his mouth.
"Thank you, but that won't get me to let you up."
He smirked coyly. "I'm comfortable here."
"Moron!" she laughed and whipped another handful of grass at his face.
"You have a thing with throwing grass at me, don't you." he stated as he sat up, picking the green blades of grass out of his hair.
"Green and blond go so well together."
Unseen, his hand gripped a fistful of grass. "I can think of another color that goes real well with green."
"Red!" and he whipped his handful at her. She shrieked in surprise and did her best to fend off the shower of grass. Soon she began to pummel him with grass. Then, after several minutes, "Okay, okay, stop, Ace!" he stated breathlessly between laughter, grabbing her wrists. "Dad'll get mad at us if we ruin the lawn."
"Right." she giggled and she took a deep breath to calm herself. "Back up?" she hooked her thumb to the large hammock.
"Back up." he confirmed, wiping away his laughter induced tears from his eyes.
They climbed back in, in the same position they had been in before falling out, and just lay there as the wind rocked them gently. The day's heat wrapped itself around them once more. Jonny sighed heavily, closing his eyes as his hand played gentle, lazy patterns against Jessie's thigh. She looked at him and smiled when she saw the peaceful and contented smile on his face. She copied his hand's movements on his leg.
"If you were a cat you'd be purring right now." she commented softly.
"Purr- rr- rr." and she laughed. Another long silence followed. "Every once and a while I really miss days like this." he suddenly voiced.
"Wait a minute. The Great Adventurer longs for quiet days?"
"Sure, and why not. Look at what we go through every day. A little R and R like this never hurts. Especially this quiet summer, after the Complex and India incidents."
"Can't believe we start school again on Monday."
"Four days. Can you believe I actually don't look forward to going back?"
"You? That is bad. Why don't you want to go back?"
She sigh silently. "I don't know." She shifted position carefully, to not tip the hammock, and pressed her cheek to his chest, wrapping her arms around his torso. She could hear his still racing heartbeat and was slightly surprised to see he was still wearing her gift around his neck, just like she was still wearing his. He was surprised at her sudden actions, but recovered enough to enfold her in his own arms. It was oddly comforting to hold her this way. "You know, now that I think back on things that happened, you never did answer my question back in the tunnel."
He frowned, a fog invading his mind of that particular time. "Remind me."
"I asked you, to keep you awake, how you kept the girls at school from asking you out. You said it was because you told them you were already seeing someone. I asked if you gave them a name and you said yes, but you never gave me the name."
He squeezed her body close. "Ah, is that jealousy I hear, dear Lady Caroline?" he quipped, his tone taking on a formal edge.
Oh, he is so predictable. "Curiosity, nothing more, Mr. Leger." she corrected quickly, catching on the fact that he had called her Lady Caroline, and copied his formal tone.
"Sure it is." he grinned.
She sat up to frown down on him. "You going to tell me or not?"
"Maybe, if you're nice to me." he smiled placidly.
Jessie sighed heavily in exasperation. "What's it going to take for you to tell me that name?"
"Oh, I don't know. I think, maybe, something along the lines of that night on the boat or something from the island."
"What?" Then, "You are so horrible!" and she quickly got to her feet, giving the hammock a sharp tug, causing him to fall out.
He quickly leapt to his feet. "Start running, Bannon." he warned. She took off like a shot, forgetting her book and sandals. Jonny was right on her heels, leaving his hat behind.
Doctor Benton Quest stood at the window, watching his Son chase his friend's Daughter around the Quest Compound's large front yard. A smile crept to his face as he saw them take hairpin turns around trees and sharp direction changes. Things had definitely changed between the teenagers, something good, and something Race probably wouldn't like if ever he found out just how far the relationship had gone. Benton had seen the two in the hammock and seen how comfortable they were together. They were drawn together by instinct.
Jonny trapped Jessie by the pool.
He lunged at her, she side-stepped, his arms flayed in an attempt to keep his balance on the pool's edge.
As he fell in he managed to grab Jessie's arm, pulling her in with him. They surfaced, laughing, and wrapped each other in each other's arms, holding close.
* * *
The first four months of school went by quickly, quiet and uneventful. Assignments were given out and taken in, with mixed results, and Remembrance Day came and went. Middle November was greeted with the fall of wet snow, as if Nature hadn't yet decided what kind of weather it should create.
Driving the black Viper GTX carefully on the slush covered roads, Jessie squinted to see through the falling wet snow. As if to aggravate her it clung fiercely to the windshield until the wipers whisked it away. In the passenger seat next to her sat Jonny, nose pressed into his Philosophy textbook.
"Meteorological abnormality." she grumbled, followed by a few colorful curses.
"You wanted to drive." he replied with a smirk, not taking his eyes from the book. "I offered--"
"Knowing full well you still have studying to do. We both know you can't study and drive at the same time. Remember what happened the last time you tried it."
He chuckled softly as he remembered the car crash. No one had been hurt, thankfully, but the car had been totaled. He was still paying off the repairs. Then, he sighed. "Can't believe the finals are here already." he muttered, finally tearing his eyes away from the pages.
"At least this time you're prepared. If I remember right, last year your filing system left much to be desired."
"Didn't stop me from getting a 3.84 average. That osmosis thing was painful," and Jessie laughed as he rubbed the back of his head, "... but it worked. I--" and he stopped suddenly with what sounded like a groan.
Jessie risked a quick glance at him and saw he was grimacing in pain, clutching at his sides. His skin was extremely pale and glistened with slight perspiration. Before she could comment he breathed out heavily in relief and his tight features slackened. "You okay?" she asked, suddenly concerned.
He leaned back in his seat. "Yeah, it just suddenly felt like I was burning up."
The stoplight ahead of them turned red and she stopped the car, turning to her friend. "You sure you're going to be alright?" and she touched his cool cheek with the back of her fingers.
Jonny took her hand and tenderly pressed the back of it to his lips. She smiled inwardly. Over the past few months they had become closer, to the point where physical contact was enjoyed and completely normal between them. "I'll be fine, Jess." and he forced a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "It's probably just stress. Worry more about your finals."
"I can worry about several things at once."
"Well, just make sure all your worries are about your exams or I might end up having a higher GPA. than you." He gave her hand a squeeze. "I'm fine."
She gave him a last lingering look as the light turned green, then turned her attention back to the road ahead. After a few more lights they arrived in the parking lot of Rockport High School. She parked the car and turned to Jonny one more time. "You're absolutely sure you'll be okay?"
"God, Jess, you're worse than Dad and Mrs. Evans combined! I'll be fine."
"I'm that bad, am I?" She chuckled. "Alright then. What's your first class?"
"English Lit. Ms. Kenneli gave us a ten page essay to write on Why Sidney Carton gave his life for another?"
"Ah, Tale of two Cities. Did you finish it?"
"Barely." and they got out of the car, walking into the school. "That was the most boring book we've ever had to read. Found out, though, that next term we're doing Romeo and Juliet again."
She smirked, remembering the beatings she had given him during the play's practices a year ago. "Thought you had enough of it from last time."
"Of that masterpiece, never. The bruises, now there's another story."
And they both laughed, arriving at her locker. "I'll see you in Second Period."
He bowed deeply with a flourish, beginning to walk backwards away from her when he straightened. "Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow." to which she laughed as he disappeared into the crowd of students.
She rid herself of her coat, packed her needed books into her shoulder bag, and headed off for her first class, Chemistry. The day's experiment was of almost no interest to Jessie, determining the radioactivity of an element without a Periodic Table. An easy task for her, this was something she could do in her sleep. Having finished halfway through the class she decided to read ahead in her textbook. No use wasting time. Class ended and she headed off for her next class, History. She walked in to find Jonny already sitting at his desk, his head down on his arms. Depositing her bag at the desk next to his she turned to kneel at his side, gently stroking his head. "You okay, Hot Shot?"
"I will if the room stops spinning." he mumbled through his arms. He lifted his head slightly with a heavy sigh.
Whoa! He looks really out of it. She thought his eyes looked mat, his usual sparkle had vanished. He looked flushed, but she could feel no fever when she placed a hand on his brow then on his nape.
He closed his eyes in slight relief from the feel of her cool hands against his face. "I feel like someone turned up the heater to a thousand degrees and the whole world is spinning without me. I keep getting an occasional flash of... something. It feels like a memory, but I know it isn't. What's happening to me, Jess?" he breathed tiredly, leaning back in his chair.
She pulled a chair closer to his side, keeping a hand on his arm and the other on his shoulder, occasionally lacing her fingers through his hair. "Wish I knew. It's like nothing I've ever seen. Want to go home?" Her voice had suddenly become soft, concerned.
"Can't. There's no make-up exam for Philosophy. If I miss it I fail."
"Is it your only exam today?"
"Tell you what. As soon as you finish writing it come find me in Physics class and we'll go home, okay? I can easily miss out on the rest of my classes. You know where my class is?"
He nodded slowly to both questions. "Thanks, Ace."
"Not a problem." she smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck from his side, placing a soft kiss on his temple. He leaned against her in response. "I always worry about my boyfriends." she smiled.
He caught on the last word and turned his eyes to her. She had referred to him as her boyfriend. She continued to smile, her eyes meeting his. Jonny returned the smile and let her pull him close to press her brow to his. Just then a friend of theirs, and fellow classmate, entered the room, stopping dead in her tracks at the sight. She wore a silver cat suit with high heeled green boots and a matching green jacket. Her dirty blond hair was teased into a large hair cloud around her, tied back with a green scarf. Her brown eyes regarded the duo for a moment before giving them a sly smile.
"Am I to suppose this means you two are more than just friends now?" Crysta Robertson grinned like a Cheshire cat.
"He's not feeling well, Crysta." Jess replied, pulling away slightly.
Her expression immediately softened at the news. Outrageous as she might be, Crysta was a good friend to both of them. Unbeknownst to them she had adopted them into her pseudo-family away from home. "Oh, hey, Blondie, sorry to hear that. But you know you can't miss the Philosophy final."
"I know, Crys. We're leaving when I finish it." He reluctantly allowed Jessie to move away from him to her desk, losing the comforting feel of her warmth with it, as Crysta sat at his other side. "Hope I can keep it together long enough to write it, though."
"I'll keep you awake, Boy Wonder." She turned to Jessie. "Don't worry, Chica, if I have to I'll carry him to class and back." This comment got Jonny to smile weakly. The rest of the students filed in and History began at the bell. The class went by quickly, throughout which Jessie would throw worried glances at Jonny to make sure he was alright. She had to admit, his attempts to hide the fact he wasn't feeling well were valiant to say the least. No one even knew of his condition. Class ended and Crysta slung his arm around her shoulders as she supported most of his weight. "I'll help you get him to your car after the exam." she informed and they took off for their next classes. When Crysta and Jonny got to class, she set him down at a desk and peered into his face. He seemed drowsy. "Hey, Blondie." and she gave his face a gentle slap to wake him. "You gonna make it, amigo?"
He blinked several times. "Yeah, thanks." Much to his surprise the exam was relatively easy, probably due to the studying Jessie had challenged him to do. He could never resist a challenge, especially from her. He finished halfway through the class and headed for the door. Crysta still had her head bowed, writing the final. He walked out, closing the door behind him, and suddenly fell to his knees, clutching at his torso. It felt like a fire had been ignited in his veins and it was steadily winning ground. He struggled to his feet and stumbled down the hall to the one place he knew he could be alone for this, the Auditorium. He wasn't sure why, but he knew he had to be alone.
Seconds after he got up Crysta walked out of the class in time to see him stumble for the Auditorium doors. "Hey, Blondie, where're you going?" she called, running to catch up. He simply walked through the doors, closing them quickly behind him, and locking them. Crysta struggled with the door for a moment before giving up. She ran through the halls towards Jessie's Physics class and knocked rather urgently on the door. A severe looking teacher opened the door. "Uh... Hi! I need to speak to Jessie Bannon real bad. You could say it a family emergency."
Jessie heard and understood her friend. "It's okay, Mr. Leeman. I'm ahead in my work anyway." and she headed out the door, closing it behind her. "Crysta, what's wrong? Where's Jonny?" Down the hall she caught sight of Craig Waller, the school's quarterback who had been constantly trying to woo Jessie since her first day at Rockport High School. He was also the school's richest, if not snobbiest, student. He was watching them with great interest.
"He finished before me and locked himself in the Auditorium."
"C'mon, we'll use one of the stage doors." They ran through the corridors, heading for the nearest stage door. Jessie risked a glance behind her and saw Craig following them. They reached the door in time to hear the most horrific, blood curdling screams of pain possible. Craig started for the door, but then seemed to think better of it.
"What the Hell was that?" he asked.
Jessie had recognized the pained cry. "Oh, God, no! Not again!" and she dashed in.
Crysta followed. "Again? Chica, what's going on?" Craig brought up the rear. The Auditorium was very dark and surreally quiet. "I got a bad feeling about this." She could see her friend's dark silhouette before her.
"Hey! Something just moved past me!" Craig nearly shouted.
"Don't move!" Jessie ordered to the two behind her. "He won't hurt you."
"Won't hurt us? Jessica, what's going on?" he demanded.
Her silent silhouette moved towards the stage and disappeared into a shadow. Despite her order, the others followed. Craig and Crysta were on the stage now, in one of the bright spotlights. Although the light was comforting it blocked out all shapes and movements beyond it. They couldn't see Jessie any more. It was like she had completely vanished. From the shadows the duo could hear a low, feral growl. It unnerved Craig to the point where he grabbed a broom handle that had been left on the stage and held it up menacingly. The tarp they were standing on was suddenly yanked out from under them, sending them sprawling on the ground. They heard something begin to rush towards them, nearly roaring, then Jessie appeared just within the spotlight, her arms outstretched in protection of her friends. "No, stop!" she ordered. The growling form stopped, its blue eyes watching Jessie in confusion. "They're my friends, our friends. You know them."
Seeing his chance, Craig jumped to his feet to charge at this beast. Jessie was one step ahead of him. She turned and kicked him hard in the stomach. Craig collapsed in pain and lack of breath. "... Wh- ... What d'you... do that for?" he struggled over the pain.
"To save your sorry butt. He could snap your neck like a dry twig."
"You know that thing, then?" came Crysta's tentative query.
"He's not a thing!" she shouted angrily, losing patience. "It's Jonny." She turned away from the stunned faces, back to the growling shadow, and smiled placatingly, holding her hands out to it. "It's okay, Hot Shot. It's me, Jessie. You remember me, don't you, Jonny?" Her voice was soft and soothing. Craig tensed when he saw the shadow move, but he remained where he was, mesmerized by Jessie's courage towards this thing. It stepped forwards into the light, taking her hands, and the ignorant duo cringed, expecting the worst. It never happened. "Jonny, you remember me, don't you?"
He blinked. "Jesss? What happened to me?"
She thought she heard his voice crack. "It's going to be okay. You're having a relapse of Dragon's Blood."
He looked at his hands and a look of pure shock came over his face. "No. Thiss can't be happening. Dad found a cure. The otherss... They're sstill normal."
She held his shoulders. "And so are you! We'll find out what went wrong, I promise." She turned to Craig, holding out her hand to the quarterback. "Craig, give me your cell phone." He hesitated, backing away. Her expression hardened. "Dammit, give me the cell phone!"
"What do you hope to do?" he asked as he gave her the phone.
"Get him some help." She dialed frantically with her free hand and waited.
"Doctor Quest? We have a problem."
"What's wrong, Jessie?"
"It's Jonny, he had a relapse. It's the Dragon's Blood."
"Oh, dear. Keep him there, Race and I will be right there. Don't let anyone see him."
"No problem, Doctor Quest, and hurry. Oh, and bring blankets, lots of them." She shut off the cell phone. "Our Dads are coming, Jonny. Everything'll be okay now."
"Sseemss like you're alwayss pulling my butt out of the fire." he grinned a toothy smile.
She shrugged. "Somebody has to." A rumbling chuckle escaped his throat and he gently nuzzled his face against her jaw line, holding her around the waist to keep her close. "Quit that." she giggled. "We have to hide you until they show up." He shivered suddenly. "What is it?"
"Did ssomebody turn down the heat?"
"No-- Oh, that's right. The cold's amplified for you now."
"Then I know the perfect place to hide him." Craig spoke up. They all looked at him expectantly. "The Boiler Room. It should be plenty warm for him there."
"Whoa! First you try to kill him, now you want to help him. Make up you mind, will ya!" Crysta stated.
"Like she said, he could snap our necks like twigs. But he didn't. Can't be all bad. You go wait out by the front entrance for their Dads. I'll help keep watch at the Boiler Room door."
They went to the door, cautiously peering out to make sure the school corridors were empty, then ran from intersection to intersection to their destinations. Jonny stopped running about three quarters of the way there and just shivered against a wall. Jessie came to his side. "C'mon, we have to keep going." she urged softly.
"... Just... sso... cold..."
She slung his arm around her shoulders, keeping him close. "I'll get you there, hang on to me."
He managed a smile. "... I'd hang... on... to... you anyway..."
She snapped her head around to face him, saw his smile, and couldn't resist the laugh that escaped her throat. "C'mon, Romeo." she chuckled. They reached the Boiler Room where Craig stationed himself at the door and Jessie helped Jonny inside. The furnace was working full steam and the heat that reigned in the room was nearly stifling. He moved away from her to stand as close as physically possible to the furnace. She stood against the furthest wall, watching him warm himself. "Glad you're feeling better." she voiced, wiping the sweat from her face. Not able to stand the heat any longer she removed her sweater and stood there in only her jeans and her bra.
"I'm sstill trying to figure out what went wrong." he said, trying not to stare at her too obviously.
She noticed his secret glances and smiled. "Don't worry, I'll make sure Dad doesn't kill you when he arrives. Back on topic, the cure was perfect. I really don't get it. What did you have that was so different than all the others?"
"Compared to them, I wass a fraction of their age. Apart from that there'ss maybe the Quesst Sstrain, but--"
Jessie snapped her fingers. "That's it!"
"The Quest Strain! That's what screwed up the cure! Think about it, it's the only thing in your blood that's extra and that has such an unpredictable nature to be able to do this. That, and the fact that it existed in your blood as well as the cure, my blood."
"Think Dad can reversse it?"
She smiled in assurance. "Like I told Drayca a ways back, if anyone can find a cure for this thing it's Doctor Benton Quest." He smiled and came to lean on the wall near her. They stood there in silence for a moment, staring at the floor, before she looked up at him. Her voice went soft. "You almost went over the edge again back there. What happened?"
He shook his head with a slight sigh. "There wass too much noisse. Couldn't conssentrate."
She grinned. "Oh, so when I showed up you could suddenly concentrate again?" He grinned up at her sheepishly. His feelings were obvious now. "Tell me the truth. Solara's jealousy bit, that was founded, wasn't it?"
He fidgeted, hesitating. "I guesss, now more than ever." he replied softly.
"And the name you gave the girls here? It was my name, wasn't it?"
He nodded a shy smile. She touched his cheek with the back of her fingers and he moved closer to wrap his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her bare shoulder. "Iss it posssible to need ssomeone sso much." he muttered softly, more to himself.
"You need me?" Shock was obvious in her voice.
"You, Dad, Race, Hadji, even Bandit... If it wassn't for all your help I wouldn't be here. You know how I am: Leap before you look."
"Especially when it comes to doing stupid things." He backed away a step, giving her a puzzled frown. "The ravine. Remember? You wanted to jump across it on your hover board and..."
"... ended up in the hosspital, in traction, for two monthss." He chuckled softly and held her close again. "I remember." He looked up at her, his bright blue eyes sparkling in the dim light. "I alsso remember the talk we had when Tim died. You ssee what I mean when I ssay that I need you?"
She looked away, blushing ever so slightly. "Yeah, I guess I do. In the same way, I need you too."
A crooked grin appeared. "Rational Jesssica Bannon needss irrational, horrible me? Now there'ss a sswitch." he jabbed verbally.
"Rational Jessica Bannon needs reckless, incredible Jonathan Quest." He looked away in a reptilian attempt at a blush. "Can I ask you something?"
"When did this conversation turn so mushy?"
He began to laugh. "I think at about the ssame time you took off your ssweater." She looked down at herself, blushed in embarrassment, and shoved him over as they both laughed.
* * *
Craig heard the laughter coming from the Boiler Room and balled his fists in rage. Jessica was an incredible woman. She had hair of fire, eyes of emerald, perfect features, and a undauntable spirit. To top it all off she was the most intelligent person in school. And yet she spent most, if not all, of her time with Quest, someone who courted trouble every chance he got. And now that he had transformed into this monster she refused to leave his side.
"Not fair, is it?" came a voice from the shadows breaking into his thoughts.
He whirled around to find a grey eyed adolescent boy standing against a wall. He was dressed all in black, right down to his shoes, and a black leather bomber jacket. He gave a smile that left Craig cold. "Wha-- Who're you?"
He remained in the shadows and chuckled. "Someone who's interests range alongside your own. We both want Quest out of the way of our plans."
Craig hesitated, unsure. "Wha... What do you propose?"
The voice chuckled. "Why get our hands dirty when we can have the ignorant do the work for us. I will arrange for the media to learn of Mister Quest's predicament. Meanwhile, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show."
* * *
Brenda Lee sat at her desk in the noisy office, drumming her pen absently on a blank pad of paper. She was a reporter on Rockport's community network, but to be a reporter she had to report on something. For the past three months nothing had happened. She sighed heavily, wishing deep down that she had taken the public interest story someone had tried to give (dump on) her.
Mrs. Beasley turning one hundred four. Better than nothing, she mused.
Suddenly, her phone rang and she sprang to life.
"Brenda Lee, Channel Four News. Talk to me."
"Miss Lee, I have a scoop for you." came a chillingly calm, and smug, voice from the receiver. It sent a chill up her spine.
"Bring a camera crew to the High School... now. Your scoop is there in all its monstrous glory."
"But--" She heard a click and then the dial tone. Wasting no time she raced into the nearby lounge area. "I need a camera crew-- Now!!"
* * *
Jonny sat against the wall, trying to remain as focused as possible by using some of Hadji's waking meditation techniques, as he watched his other friend pace the room. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he watched her. Her sweater was in a pile next to him. He wondered briefly what Race would think if her saw her this way. God, she's beautiful. Her fiery hair caught what little light was in the room and seemed to come alive with flames. Her green eyes were on the ground before her in concentration. Her cream skin seemed to glow in the dim light. He could easily feel her sense of overwhelming agitation. It almost permeated the room. The source of her feeling was clear.
"Your clausstrophobia?" he asked gently.
She continued to pace without hesitation. "What was your first clue?"
He shrugged. "The fact that you're trying to wear a hole through the floor." He reached out and grabbed her arm as she paced by. "Ssit down before you drive uss both batty."
"That's too late for me." she obeyed and sat at his side.
"Then why didn't you go out in the hall?"
She looked at him quickly and he caught the sight of slight shock in her eyes before she looked down at her hands. "Do I even have to answer that?" she asked, her voice suddenly soft.
"Guesss not." From through the door they could hear loud voices getting nearer. "Think it'ss our Dadss?"
She got to her feet and moved towards the door, putting her sweater back on. "Who else could it be?"
But before she could open the door it burst open, throwing her back, and a throng of flash bulbs and bright camera lights filled the dim room. "Jesss!" Jonny called before suddenly become the center of attention of the media. The noise of thousands of questions, camera motors, lights flashing and dozens of footsteps filled his ears, driving him ever closer to the edge of madness. He couldn't see Jessie anymore. Lights were blinding him from every angle. It was too much and his eyes began to dart around the room madly. "NOOO!!!" he roared, the beast within taking hold. He lashed out at the nearest cameras and their owners, drawing blood from a few, and charged out of the room, away from the noise.
Some tried to chase after him, the others turned to Jessie who had just picked herself off the ground. A camera light blinded her as a microphone was shoved in her face. "Brenda Lee, Channel Four News, reporting live from Rockport High School where we have received reports of a strange monster roaming the halls. At first glance it appeared remotely human with strong lizard traits. We have here who we believe was its captive for a time. Miss, could you tell about the creature?"
"Did it hurt you in any way?" another demanded.
"Where did it come from? Does it have a name?" still another demanded.
"No, leave me alone!" she shouted and ran into the hall and into the chest of a large man. She looked up into the worried features of her Father, Race Bannon. "Dad! Oh, thank God." she breathed.
"It okay, Ponchita."
"Jessie, where is he?" Doctor Quest asked from behind Race. Crysta stood at his side.
"He snapped. Doctor Quest, there was a leak. Someone told the media." Race muttered a rather colorful curse under his breath, grabbed the nearest camera man, a punched him square in the jaw. Jessie frowned a smirk. "Feel better, Dad?"
"Some." He balled his fists and sighed away some tension. "Where d'he run to?"
"Don't know, but he's still wearing his watch. We can track him using yours, Doctor Quest."
They did so and took off at a run, unfortunately also followed by the throngs from the media. "Did you figure out why he had the relapse?" Doctor Quest inquired as they went.
"I think it has something to do with the Quest Strain! It's the only thing he had different from the Children and the only thing that existed in the cure!" They ran after Doctor Quest as if on a hunt, until they reached a door Jessie had seen before. "Should've known." she muttered. She turned to her Father and friends. "Keep them out of the Auditorium. I can reach him."
"It's okay, Daddy. He won't hurt me. He could never hurt me. Whatever you hear, wait here. I'll bring him out." and she walked in the dark Auditorium.
* * *
Jonny roared, forcing every shred of insanity and violence out of his system, but to no avail. For everything he felt released there would be more ready to take its place. His half reptilian eyes let loose a cascade of tears down his scaled cheeks. His breath now came in ragged gasps. "Jesssie! I need you!" his last shred of humanity gasped desperately.
"She won't help you." came a mocking voice from the shadows.
The voice was vaguely familiar, but his bestial mind couldn't place it. He searched the shadows and saw nothing, even with his heightened eye sight. "Who'ss there?"
"Oh, an old friend. You know she hates you, hates what you've become."
"That'ss not true. Sshe'ss my friend."
"Is she? I wonder, where is she right now that you need her?" Jonny's muddled mind listened intently, absorbing everything the voice said with interest and belief. "I hear she tells you what to do, what to think. Does a friend do that?" Anger began to swell in Jonny. Everything rational was shut out. All he heard were the venomous words of this voice. "She squeals when you do something wrong. Does a friend betray a friend? How did the media find out about you? She hates you. She thinks you're a freak."
"Jonny?" came a new voice from the shadows.
"There she is, my friend. The source of your problems. Kill her and those problems go away." Then the voice chuckled and disappeared.
Jonny growled low in his throat and hid himself in a dark corner as Jessie came into view. He no longer saw her as his friend, but as his antagonist.
"Jonny? Where are you?" She stepped onto the stage and looked around in the dim light. She saw nothing, but she could hear his soft growl. "Jonny, talk to me. I can help you."
"You don't want to help me." he snarled.
She blinked at the hatred in his words. "That's not true. I want to help."
He stepped into the light, facing her with pure rage on his face. "You never wanted to help. You alwayss nagged. I musst have been ssuch a fun toy for you." He lunged at her, lashing out with his claws, and she barely evaded them in time.
"What're you talking about? It's me, Jessie." Her voice began to shake.
"I know who you are! Ssomeone who thinkss I'm a freak to be sstudied under one of your microsscopess! I thought we were friendss!" He began to advance on her.
She backed away fearfully. "I am your friend."
"You lie! You hate me! You've alwayss hated me!" and he lunged again.
She tripped and fell to her back. He was on top of her, pinning her to the floor with a hand at her throat, and raised his other clawed hand to strike a death blow as a low roar escaped his throat.
"I LOVE YOU!" she cried out as she saw his hand begin to descend.
He froze, as did his heart. He blinked. Did she just say what I think she said? He looked deep into her eyes and saw the answer he sought: The truth. He could only stare for a moment before suddenly backing away. She grabbed his wrist to keep him from fleeing. He looked from her hand, to her eyes, and back several times. "Did you...?"
"And did you...?"
"Mean it? With all my heart."
His breath deepened as he realized what he had almost done to her. "And I tried to kill you." He tried to pull away, but she held on, pulling him into her arms to hold him tight. He willingly fell into her arms. "I'm sso ssorry, Jesss." he breathed through tears. She just held him, rocking him gently in an effort to comfort him. They both cried in each other's arms, pressed close to each other. "I never meant--"
"I know." she breathed. Jessie gently smoothed his hair away from his face. "What happened?"
"I... I heard a voisse. Ssomeone wass telling the monsster in me all thesse liess about you. I can't believe I believed him." and he buried his face into her mane of fiery hair.
"I don't blame you, I could never blame you. It wasn't you at the time." she soothed gently. Then, "Wait a minute! What voice?"
"Why, mine, Red." came a voice from the shadows.
A cold chill raced up her spine. "I know that voice." she muttered flatly.
"I should hope you remember me. I'd be so disappointed if you didn't." and he stepped into the light.
Jessie glared coldly, restraining Jonny as best she could. "Merrick." she spat.
"Oh, now why so formal, Red?" Jonny almost got away from Jessie's grip and Kyle pulled out a very deadly looking hand gun in response. "Down, boy. You know I can't miss from this distance."
"You can't sshoot uss both at the ssame time, Merrick." he menaced.
"True, but I can make the other hesitate long enough to finish the other off. Can't beat that logic, eh? I was hoping that if he attacked you that you'd be forced to kill him to protect yourself. So much for that. Now, Red, move away from you lizard-in-glistening-scales and come here."
"No." she stated in defiance.
He sighed, almost exasperated. "I know you don't want your new love-of-your-life killed again, so come here!"
A sudden thought occurred to Jonny and he grabbed his companion's wrist to restrain her. "Jesss, wait." he hissed. "He can't kill me."
She faced him. "What?"
"I'm waiting, Red." came Kyle's impatient remark.
"Jesssie, lissten to me." he urged, recapturing her attention. "'Sso long ass the Dragon with who you have sshared blood livess, you live.' Remember? I can't die."
She looked from him, to the gun in Kyle's hand, and back. "You think...?"
"Only one way to find out." He pulled her around behind him, shielding her with himself.
Kyle frowned. "You have a death wish, Quest."
"Maybe." He grinned wickedly and stepped forward. "Let'ss ssee if you can kill me thiss time. You have, what, ten roundss there? How many will it take? I already died onsse, at your hand no lesss. Try again." and he continued forward.
"It'ss okay, Jesss."
BLAM!! BLAM!! BLAM!!
Jonny fell to one knee, clutching at his chest in utter pain. "Oh, God, that sstingss!" he groaned. He looked down at himself, mainly at the lack of serious wounds, and stood, laughing. "One, two, three, look at me."
Kyle stared in stunned disbelief. Only a minute amount of blood showed from the impact areas. The only proof that he had been shot were the holes in his shirt and the missing bullets in the gun clip. Kyle recovered and leveled his gun again.
Jonny grimaced, but stood his ground. He frowned a smile. "Four, five, sstill alive."
"Ssicss, sseven, still no sstairway to heaven."
"Eight, it'ss getting late."
"Nine, you're almosst out of time."
BLAM!! Click! Click!
Jonny smiled. "Ten. Game over, the end." and he lunged at him. Kyle's face fell in shock as he quickly struggled to load another clip into his gun. In a flash of greenish gold it was knocked away and it skidded across the stage floor. A clawed hand closed over his throat and lifted him off the ground, his feet dangling uselessly. "You're mine now!"
The Auditorium door burst open as Race kicked it open, his side arm in hand. Benton, Craig, and Crysta were right behind him. And behind them, the media.
"Jonny, no!" Doctor Quest called out to his Son.
He looked to his Father, then to Kyle. He grimaced in disgust. "You're not worth it. Count yoursself lucky." he snarled and tossed him off the stage into the Auditorium chairs.
Race went over to Kyle and held him at gun point. "Move and you'll wish you hadn't."
Brenda Lee looked to the lizard creature on the stage to the young man being held at gun point on the ground. "He tried to save the girl and you threaten to shoot him if he moves?"
"Lady, you have no idea who this guy is. He tried to kill my little girl and Doctor Quest's Son." He restrained Kyle, securing him to one of the floor bolted chairs, then proceeded to help Craig and Crysta push the media back.
Benton Quest looked at his Son, his eyes full of compassion and guilt. Jonny smirked. "Don't you dare blame yoursself for thiss one, Dad." he warned playfully.
He couldn't help but laugh. "You win. What say we go home and try to find you a cure and find you a more human look."
"Fine by me. Sscale aren't really my thing."
* * *
Ten days went by since Jonny Quest had been brought back to the Compound. Since then he and his Father had remained locked away in the Lighthouse laboratory working on a cure. Doctor Quest wouldn't allow anyone in on the grounds of the least amount of distractions the better. Unless subdued by her Father, Jessie would pace the floor of the Family Room anxiously. She wanted answers to the feelings she had and she wanted to know if a cure was possible.
"Ponchita, you've hardly slept and you've barely eaten a thing since we came back."
"Can't help it, Dad. I'm too worried."
"He'll find a cure, and you know it. There's nothing the Doc can't do when he sets his mind to it."
"But it's taking so long."
"Rome wasn't built in a day."
"This is a little more important that Rome, Dad."
Race chuckled softly. "Finally happened."
"You and Jonny." Her cheeks flushed a bright red, rivaling the color of her hair, as she kept herself from meeting his eyes. "Don't think your Ol' Man's clueless, Sweetheart. I've seen how you two are together. Regular two peas in a pod."
"I wish I knew what was going on, just listen through the door, but there's so much soundproofing that I wouldn't hear a thing." She hesitated slightly. "I... I just don't want anything happening to him."
"I know, Ponchita, I know. But it's all in Benton's hands now."
* * *
"This one looks extremely promising, Son." Doctor Quest announced as he held a test tube of a translucent red substance to the light. He looked slightly haggard from ten days of no rest. He refused it on the grounds that he had to find a cure for his only Son.
Jonny frowned. "That'ss what you ssaid about the lasst three." he grumbled.
Benton looked at him. "You getting tired?"
"Only of the IV needle in my arm." he answered, raising his forearm to reveal a short tube at the end of a needle. "But I guesss it'ss better than getting sstuck each time we tesst the sstuff."
Doctor Quest filled a syringe and stuck in the end of the IV tube. "Ready?" Jonny nodded, his eyes on the syringe with hope. His Father shot the contents home and looked at his watch, waiting.
After a few minutes, Jonny seemed to stiffen. "Dad?"
"What is it?"
He couldn't reply. He toppled off his stool, doubled over in a fetal position, and screamed in sheer agony as a new fire invaded his body.
* * *
"I can't wait any longer. I'm going to check on them." and Jessie headed for the door.
Race stopped her, grabbing her arms. "Hold it right there, Young Lady. The Doc left orders. He's not to be disturbed until he finds the cure."
"But all this waiting is killing me! I have to know what's going on."
He grinned in amusement. "You've been hanging around Jonny too long. You're starting to sound like him."
"Don't worry, Jessie. I'm sure everything's just fine." There was a slamming of a door at the back of the house. "See, that's probably them right now." They stood their ground and watched the door to the Family Room, waiting for them to show up. Doctor Quest was the first to appear, supporting a weakened and still pained Jonny at his side. An elated smile spread across Jessie's face. Not a trace of a scale or any other lizard like feature remained on him. He was human once again.
"Jonny!" she cried as she ran up to him and threw her arms around his neck.
"I'm okay, Jess." he whispered tiredly in her hair. He felt her shudder in relief and tightened his arms.
She held him tight for a moment before suddenly feeling him sink slightly in her arms. "Oops! I got you." She supported his weight as she guided him to the couch to sit down. His Father had already gotten to his easy chair and had collapsed gratefully. "Think this'll be permanent, Doctor Quest?"
"I really hope so, Jessie, but, as always, time will tell. Oh, thank you, Race." he thanked when Race handed him a mug of hot coffee. "I think, after all this, I'll sleep for a week."
"Longer for me." Jonny muttered.
"If the news hounds leave us alone long enough." the ex-Covert Operations Officer sighed heavily as he peered through the curtains towards the Compound's fence. "They haven't left the Main Gate for ten days now."
"They'll tire out when they see there's no story left to cover. Meanwhile, I'm pulling both of you out of school until then. How're you feeling, Jonny?" and he took a deep drink of his coffee.
His Son was still wrapped in Jessie's arms, leaning on her tiredly. "Like the living acetylene torch that just ran out of fuel. It was worse than the first two changes combined."
"Jessie, why don't you help him to his room so he can rest. He's been through a tough time."
As the two adults continued to talk she slung her friend's arm over her shoulders to support his weight and began the climb to the second floor. He gratefully accepted her help, knowing full well he would never have been able to make the trip on his own power. His room was the third door down the hall. He stumbled more than once on the way. Opening this door she helped him in towards his bed. His blankets had been turned down for the night, probably by Mrs. Evans several days ago. With a tired groan he let himself drop to the mattress and she draped the blankets over him, tucking them up to his neck. She sat next to him, watching him begin to drift into sleep. "Wake me in a month." he mumbled. She chuckled and laced her fingers through his hair. His eyes opened slightly to look up at her. "Can I ask you something, Jess?"
"Everything you told me ten days ago, you meant it all?"
The question was innocent, tentative. She smiled gently and leaned over him, bringing her face close to his. "This should answer your question." Ever so softly she brushed her lips against his before finally pressing them to his in a loving kiss. One arm wrapped around her waist to hold her close as the other hand pressed between her shoulder blades. She held him tight, exploring his mouth at a torturing leisurely speed. He felt himself go half mad from her slow ministration and he loved every second of it. Breathless moments later she pulled away to grin down at him. "Any more questions?" she purred.
He smiled up at her for a moment before he suddenly began to laugh. "I'm just lucky I can remember my name right now." She laughed right along with him and laid her head against his chest, stretching out at his side. He kept his arms around her. "How long have you been wanting to say that you love me?"
She smiled. "Some two years now. I... was afraid, didn't know how you'd react."
"Want to know what my reaction is?" She looked up at him. He paused for a slight moment before he sighed softly. "For the past two years, since our Ghost Quest, I've been fooling myself." He lowered himself so they were now face to face. "All those times I leapt into action without thinking it was to try to protect you. I realize now why I do it. Jess, I love you so much it hurts."
Her smile softened, touching his cheek. He had said the words and she had seen that he meant it from the look of his eyes. "'So daring in love, and so dauntless in war...'" she quoted from the poem Lochinvar. "You were never one to do things halfway." She snuggled close to him, nestling her head beneath his chin as his strong arms held her, pulling his bed spread over her to keep her warm. Soon, they were both asleep, wrapped in the comfort of each other's arms and love.
Later that night Race went to check on his Daughter. Not finding her in her room he calmly went
to Jonny's bedroom. He wasn't worried. He knew if she was anywhere she would be there. Sure
enough, wrapped in the young man's arms, was Jessie. He smiled at them both, a sad smile as he
realized this was the beginning of the end of his little girl. She was taking her first steps to
becoming a woman. At least she would be taking these steps with someone he himself trusted.
Jonny had proven himself a responsible young man with her. Race sighed quietly , closed the
door, and went off to his own room. His last thoughts, as his head hit the pillow, were of the
sleeping duo down the hall and the fact that he would have to call Estella with this news of their
little girl's first steps as an adult. He sighed again and fell asleep.