AN: Wow am I an inconsistent motherf #$er or what, thanks again for all the reviews I've received while I was dicking around with my job and college. Special thanks to Mitsuki Shigamatsu and spida-dawg for their reviews, which partially helped me get back to this beast. Any criticism is appreciated!
Location: Krasnoyarsk Krai, approx. 50km north of Krasnoyarsk
The farmlands of central Siberia were quite beautiful this time of year, if a bit sweltering at times. Everything was in full green, the crops were beginning to be harvested, and for most residents, all was peaceful as the sun began to set.
Along a skinny road running through the fields, a large blue van containing seven individuals swerved to the left, nearly flipping over into the roadside ditch.
Marcel released the breath he had been holding in as the vehicle came to a stop, then looked behind him, "Everyone ok back there?" He asked shakily.
Otto groaned as he picked himself up off the van floor, "I think I hit my head on something."
Sprx rubbed his helmet, "Yeah, me!"
Nova sighed as she helped her red teammate up, "That's a yes."
Chiro slowly released his death grip on the passenger seat, "I thought you said you knew how to drive!" He yelled at Marcel.
"I do! It was the asshole in the truck who didn't! I barely avoided them!" He ran a hand through his hair, "I always thought those stories about Russian drivers were just people being racist."
"Apparently not." Responded Gibson as he climbed up to the front, till he sat on top of the passenger headrest "Is the van alright?"
Marcel stared at him, "I don't think I'm gonna get used to you doing that anytime soon."
"What?" asked Gibson
"Being… a monkey I guess, it's still really weird."
Gibson smirked, "So that's a yes then?"
Marcel revved the engine. "Sounds fine," He put the van into drive "besides there was a sign a little bit back that said there's a town coming up in a few kilometers."
"I thought you said you couldn't read or speak this language?" Chiro asked.
Marcel rolled his eyes, "Yeah, but I know what a sign with a name and a number of kilometers means." He replied sardonically.
"Oh…" Chiro shrunk into his chair, somewhat embarrassed.
Nova interjected, "Wait, are you saying that we're stopping at this town?"
"Uh, yeah. We need somewhere to sleep."
Nova was obviously annoyed, "No we don't, what we need to do is get to the robot as fast as possible."
Marcel looked back at her, "Well what do you suggest, I'm the only one here who can drive, and I need sleep, I didn't get any on the flight."
Otto answered, "Well… I sorta knew how to drive when I was human, maybe I could steer with someone else working the pedals!"
The van was silent for a few seconds, "Does anyone have an idea that isn't retarded?" Asked Marcel
Gibson slapped his head, "Don't be rude." He reprimanded.
"Well, maybe you could teach me to drive? How hard could it be?" Chiro smiled nervously
Marcel looked over at the teen, "Um, you did see what just happened a couple minutes ago right? How all we nearly died? I barely trust myself to drive us if that's what we'll be experiencing; it'd take at least a few weeks before I'd trust you behind the wheel."
Antauri looked over at Nova, "We can afford to stop for a night, Nova."
Nova glared back at the silver monkey, "What if Mandarin catches up to us again, he's somehow managed it twice now! I'm not letting him take us by surprise again."
Sprx tried his best to calm her down, in his own way "Relax, we can take turns on watch, okay? Besides, now that we're all back to our normal selves, we can kick his ass no problem."
"So, we stop for the night, we rent a room, sleep with watches in rotation, buy a bunch of food in the morning, and head out. Plan?"
Chiro shrugged, "Good a plan as any."
Otto nodded, "Sounds good to me."
"It should be fine." Antauri agreed
"I get to help choose the food." Said Sprx
"We'll also need to get gas." added Gibson
Nova sighed, knowing there was no point arguing anymore. "Fine."
The 747 flew over the southern Atlantic; the sun glaring coldly in the middle of the winter.
Hyun Jae sat gazing out the plane's window at the blue expanse below.
"How are you two doing?"
Hyun Jae looked behind her, in the aisle seat was Saada, who had just returned from the restroom, looking far more relaxed now that she was out of her stewardess uniform and in casual clothing.
"Oh, we are doing fine, thank you."
Ally looked up from her book, "Actually, I'm getting thirsty; do you know if they'll be serving drinks soon?"
Saada shrugged. "This is a different airline, I don't know their practices."
Hyun Jae was both grateful and somewhat puzzled about Saada; the girl seemed fine enough, she was definitely a better companion than Ally so far, and there was no question that finding her was a stroke of luck like no other but… that was it, it was too lucky, something was going on here and she didn't like it; truth was she didn't like anything going on. She could tell Jinmay hadn't been telling them the whole truth back in New Zealand, and she hadn't really had a chance to press her since then.
She had a very bad feeling that they were all in for a very rude awakening, but she couldn't back out, not when Antauri's life could be at stake.
"So… not to be rude Hyun Jae, but how are you affording all of this?"
Hyun Jae looked over at Saada, who was currently looking at her with a mix of what seemed to be curiosity and fear.
Hyun Jae smiled politely, "My family has… a large amount of wealth in it, and my parents left me with a rather large stipend."
If Hyun Jae was being honest, she would have answered 'barely', but it would be best not to reveal such a fact. After all, Jin Sang had already given her enough of a headache when he revealed what adding a third person to the trip would do to her finances, she didn't need this girl she just met worrying about it or lecturing her.
Saada seemed puzzled, "That seems awfully generous of them, to let you do this. You are very lucky to have such kind parents."
Ally snorted as she flipped to the next page of her book, "No, Hyun Jae's parents are dead, she's using her inheritance."
Saada's eyes widened, and Hyun Jae made a mental note to strangle Ally if the chance ever presented itself.
"Oh, I am… very sorry, I thought you meant-"
"No, its okay, it was many years ago." She brushed her hair back, trying to appear casual, and did her best to change the subject; she rather talk about nearly anything other than the subject that had presented itself.
Fortunately Saada was aware enough to catch on to such, "So your friend, Jin Sang you said, what is he like?"
Hyun Jae snorted, "Friend is… not the word I would use, although I am happy he is helping me." Although what made her happier is that her classmate had offered to drop a portion of his fee, claiming that the amount Hyun Jae was already spending made it feel unfair. Although Hyun Jae also suspected that Jin Sang was starting to become just as curious as her about the whole affair; especially after she had told him about Jinmay. "He and I did not talk much when we were in school, so I can't say much about him."
"Well I'm very glad you have someone helping you, from what you've told me you never would have made it this far otherwise."
Hyun Jae agreed, although she still had a grudge against the boy, she would have to thank Jin Sang when this was all over; assuming she was still alive at the end of all this.
That bitter thought made her stomach turn; and she took to staring out the window, leaving Saada and Ally to discuss amongst themselves. Although she had known that there was a chance of danger when she began this trip, it wasn't until the news of the dead police officer and the hospitalized girl in Denver that Hyun Jae really began to consider that there might be something very sinister going on. As she looked back over at her companions, she could only hope she hadn't dragged two innocent people along a doomed journey.
The hotel the group had stopped at was a small one, barely more than a dozen rooms, although in such a small town, it was probably more than was needed.
After Marcel and Chiro had stopped into town to buy some food and camping supplies (something Marcel had been suspicious of at first, until Gibson had shown him that the coordinates of the robot were several dozen kilometers from the nearest road), the group had settled in quickly, hoping to get a full night's sleep and set out early in the morning.
It was Nova and Otto who had decided to take the first shift, 11PM to 1:30AM; although she had insisted she could take a longer one, the rest of the group insisted that it would only be fair if they took equal shifts.
Nova sat on the roof, towards the rear of the building, in case Mandarin tried to approach from behind. She scanned the forest that lay behind the hotel intently, but had so far only caught the occasional glimpse of a nocturnal creature, not a demonic monkey.
"Psst, Nova!" The yellow simian turned around to find Otto waving back at her from his post at the front of the building.
"Get back to watch Otto." She said, turning back around to watch the trees.
"Aww c'mon, just because we're on watch doesn't mean we can't talk."
"Yes it does Otto, we'll only distract each other," she looked back momentarily to glare at the green monkey, "or do you want Mandarin to sneak up on us?"
Otto hung his head in shame, "No…"
"Then get back to your watch."
About a minute of silence passed, there were few sounds aside from those of the forest, the entire town appeared to be asleep by this time.
"What happened?" Otto asked sadly.
"Something happened Nova, why won't you tell us? You told Sprx."
She shook her head, not wanting to look back and face him, "Nothing happened Otto."
"Yes there is, you haven't been the same since we got you back."
Nova remained silent.
"At first I just thought you were mad because you were leaving friends behind… I was too." There was a moment of silence before Otto continued, "But this is different, you're not just mad Nova, I can tell; did Mandarin… did he hurt you again Nova?"
"It doesn't matter Otto."
"Yes it does!" He exclaimed, a hitch in his voice. "We're a team Nova… you're like my sister and it hurts seeing you like this! Why do you trust Sprx but not me!? I just want to help you. Please let me help you."
Nova slowly looked back at Otto; there were tears in his eyes. "Otto…" She looked away, cursing herself for doing this to him.
She slowly collected herself and began to speak, "Mandarin did hurt me, but… he decided to do it in a different way this time. He… he killed one of my friends Otto."
Otto was very quiet, "What?"
"Why would he…?"
Nova shook her head, "Because he's evil Otto, he isn't the same monkey who was part of our team, he isn't even the same monkey who tried to convince us to take over Shuggazoom, he's just… evil."
There were several seconds of silence, "Otto, I know-" She was cut off by a hug from behind.
"I'm sorry Nova." Otto whispered.
Nova was still for a moment, before smiling sadly and returning the hug.