Crikes, how quickly plans can be changed when things go awry. I do apologize for falling off schedule so quickly, as much as I wish I could say I'm immune to such things, life still has a way of sticking its nose in to your business and snubbing you in different directions.
I've actually got quite a few exciting things going on, perhaps a career change which could result in some more money. I wish I got paid for writing, but that is not the case unfortunately. Some of you know I've complained before about repayment of student loans having me stressed, so I'll say again to any who didn't read the note in one of my other stories, if you're going to go to college, pay for as much of it up front as you can! Sallie Mae is evil and doesn't actually care about you, your education, or your future. It might be difficult, but if you can work your way through school you'll be worlds ahead in life when you're done.
Sorry for the rant again, anyway...
Big thank yous to everyone who has reviewed the story!
On to the story then!
Walking over loose sand always involves treading much grit. The feeling of sand and pebbles in one's shoe would wear on even the most focused of minds given enough time; inevitably resulting in an acute mental breakdown. The mind enters a state of anxiety comprised mostly of irrationality and irritation eventually leading to hallucinations involving talking sesame seeds...
A bored mind will also begin to play tricks on itself. Extreme heat doesn't help either.
Heat and mental breakdowns lead to mirages. Sometimes mirages look like zippy little UFOs. Zippy little UFOs wouldn't be flying around the desert though, that would just be silly.
"Wait... what's that?" Ness looked to the distance and wiped the sweat from his brow as his gaze attempted to pierce the transparent smoke like haze of desert heat "It looks…oh no… shit." The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he recognized the unpleasant structure of object approaching him.
"Couldn't that just be a mirage?" Ness turned his head slightly and noticed Jeff standing by him.
Before the impossibility or the familiarity of the scene could set in, the small UFO approached quickly and fired a beam at Ness. Ness flung himself to the side to dodge, his leg grazed by the beam just slightly. With a twist of his hand Ness began to focus psykinetic energy, "P...K..."
As if suddenly afraid of Ness, the UFO changed direction and charged toward Jeff, tackling the boy down. Ness's eyes widened as Jeff screamed as the heat from UFO's metal surface attempted to brand its alien signature into his skin. The UFO backed up just enough from Jeff for Ness to swing his arm around, "FLASH!"
The massive energy tore through the UFO and nearly disintegrated it instantaneously. Jeff watched the charred remains of the UFO blow away in the wind before falling to his knees as a groan of pain escaped his lips.
Ness took a few tentative steps closer to his friend, "You alright Jeff?"
Jeff put up a strong front and nodded, "Just... let me catch my breath."
Ness frowned sympathetically and kneeled beside Jeff. He reached out and placed his hands on Jeff's shoulders allowing his energy to flow between them. The very air around them began to cool as the reddened skin exposed through the tear on Jeff's shirt became normal again.
A confident smile crossed Ness's features, "Do you feel any better?"
Jeff looked up at Ness nervously for a moment before nodding and standing up. Jeff turned his back to Ness and dusted himself off.
The silence was confusing to Ness so he asked, "Are you sure you're alright? Let me try again..." Jeff held a hand up to stop Ness. It was at that moment Ness noticed the tears on Jeff's face, "Jeff? What's wrong?"
Jeff didn't seem to want to say anything and was taking a long moment to collect himself, "I'm sorry Ness."
Again the response only confused Ness further, "Sorry for what?"
"I'm just so... useless," speechless, Ness held a hard out towards his friend but Jeff had already moved out of his reach.
"That's not..." Ness lowered his hand as Jeff walked off into the hazy mirage and left him in his current state standing in front of the beach near Summers, "... it was never true at all."
Chapter 3: Fruits of Labor
Summers was now long out sight behind Ness. He had been walking along the beach front for several good hours. Doctor Zambrosia's lab should have been close but...
Ness stopped and looked ahead, then around, dirt water and some foliage was all to be seen from where he stood as far out as to the horizon, "What gives?!" Ness grumbled frustratingly. There was a chance it was still just a little ways out, so Ness composed himself and continued his march across the beach.
Beaches were supposed to be fun. Kids love going to the beach to play in the sand and swim in the water. As people get older they tend to look off across the ocean and become mesmerized by its near infinite splendor. Presently Ness found himself simply irritated. The ground was mushy and harder to walk through than typical desert sands, the air was hot which wasn't a big deal, but the humidity made his clothes cling to his skin uncomfortably. The air was so thick with moisture it was difficult to breathe. Cloudy days in these places made a brisk hike feel more like a swim meet.
Nearly on autopilot, Ness walked across the beach with his hands in his pockets and his eyes mostly closed. Another twenty minutes of walking went by slowly. Still nothing in the area was jumping out and screaming "lab this way." There was nothing in the area which could resemble a human dwelling much less an advanced laboratory. With his teeth grit, Ness tightened the straps to his backpack and ran up the shoreline.
Keeping alert, Ness still noticed nothing to his right but water, and nothing to his left except the dense tree line and some mountainous bluffs. After a quick mile run Ness slowed to catch his breath. Past the sound of his own deep breaths Ness almost missed the stir of shifting sand. Slightly startled he turned and scanned the area. Behind him there were no tracks, nothing seemed disturbed and everything remained perfectly in place. A scowl crossed his face as he looked down and noticed that behind him even his own footsteps had disappeared into the sand.
"That's so pathetically obvious..." Ness told himself as he scratched his head. As if ignoring the situation, Ness turned and continued walking up the shoreline. Though he appeared disinterested his senses were now sharply alert to any noise or movement around him. It was only a short walk further before he heard the sand shifting behind him again.
"I don't have time for this," with an annoyed look on his face Ness turned around, "Come on out whoever you are." A few seconds passed without response, "Alright then, PK Flash!" The energy burst collided with the ground throwing a surprisingly minimal amount of sand into the air and instead caused the ground to ripple around the point of impact.
Once the ripples subsided the ground began to rise. What appeared to be eyes and a mouth opened from within the shapeless sand golem. It continued to grow taller and taller above the ground until it loomed more than twice Ness's height over him. "Well this is new..."
Scowling, the sand golem leaned over to better face Ness and in a deep and threatening voice asked, "Excuse me, can you point me in the general direction of Doctor Zambrosia's lab? "
Ness blinked feeling mostly confused by the creature's politeness, "So I'm not the only one looking for it..." Ness shrugged his shoulders and grinned at the intimidating monster, "Sorry, but I don't know."
"Shucks..." The monsters eyes turned downcast and Ness would have sworn it almost looked depressed, "I've been out here for two days looking for it. I was told it was around here somewhere, but I can't find it anywhere!"
Ness put his hands behind his head and swayed a bit, "I'm kind of in the same boat, I was told the lab was around here too but I sure don't see it."
"That sure is a shame," the monster looked to the side as if it were thinking. It was kind of a funny sight because in all honesty he seemed a little stupid. "Hey, I know! Since we're both looking for the same lab, what if we looked for it together?"
Again Ness blinked absently a few times before responding, "Sure, I guess..."
"Great!" The sand golem started sliding along the beach leaving the ground perfectly smooth behind it.
"So..." Ness tried to think of something to say to the giant creature as he walked along side it, "Why is it you're looking for the lab?"
"Oh! I'm looking for the lab because..." The monster stopped sliding and blinked a few times with a confused look on its face, "You know I've been out here in the sun looking for it for so long I think I forgot why..."
Ness couldn't help himself and buried his face in his palms. He looked through his fingers and noticed the golem looking distraught with itself. With a slight sigh, Ness patted some obscure spot on the monster that he hoped was its back, "It's alright, calm down, shh shh, no need to be upset."
"Master is going to be so mad with me! He said this was last chance and everything!" The creature was literally crying tears of dirt now.
Ness frowned for a moment, "Your master sounds like a mean guy then, who is he?"
The monster calmed for a moment, "Master? We call him Alpha. Why?"
After making a mental note Ness shook his head, "Just wondering if maybe I knew him."
Sand flew from the golems face as it shook its head, "It would be funny if you knew Master Alpha, but I don't think you would, he hasn't been around for very long."
"Hasn't been around for very long huh?" Ness's voice trailed off a bit as he thought about this information, "This 'Master Alpha', he wouldn't by chance live in a place far to the east of here on another continent would he?"
The monster nodded, "Yes! That is where I met him."
Ness tried to hide his frown as the two continued walking, "And is he strong?"
"Oh he is very strong!" The golem nodded faster, "Strong and very smart too! He came up with a bunch of plans! Though..." Ness watched the golem expectantly for a moment, hoping for some more information, "Though I can't remember any of them right now!" Ness almost fell into the sand as the golem chuckled sheepishly to itself.
"Well, I suppose there's no helping that," Ness rubbed his forehead as he collected himself. With a shrug he continued walking along side the monstrous sand creature, "Well then Mister... ummm... hey what's your name anyway?"
The golem stopped in its tracks and then looked down at Ness. Ness was taken aback for a moment by the strange glare the monster was giving him. The look in the golem's eyes quickly softened into something that almost resembled a teary state, "You care about my name? You are so nice!"
Ness chuckled and stepped back a bit, "I just don't want to keep saying 'hey you' or something like that… By the way, you can call me Ness."
With a happy beam on its face, the golem gleefully replied, "Great to meet you Ness, I'm Gark!"
Still a little nervous, Ness patted Gark again, "Likewise, Gark."
"Now let's find this lab together!" Gark cheerily lead the charge and continued on.
With a slight shrug Ness kicked off to keep up with his unusual traveling companion, "Sure, let's go."
The pair kept hiking across the sandy beach being sure to double check around any suspicious spots or large trees that might be hiding a lab behind it. "Man, I don't believe this," Ness grumbled then looked over to Gark, "I don't suppose you might have seen anything a little suspicious even if it didn't look like a lab around here?"
Gark thought it over for a moment, "Suspicious... suspicious... suspicious? Suspicious... suspicious!" Each time Gark repeated the word in a slightly different pitch until finally reaching a crescendo as if a realization or breakthrough had been made. Ness watched him excitedly hoping for some new bit of information, "Suspicious means something out of the ordinary!"
Ness plopped on to the dirt, "Oh man." As frustrating as it was dealing with Gark, it was also difficult not to laugh at the situation. "Yes, something that might have seemed a little weird?"
Gark thought for another moment and then nodded vigorously, "There's a place over by the cliffs that seemed a little weird!"
Looking up, Ness noticed the cliffs weren't too far off anyway, "Can you show me where?"
"Yup!" Ness climbed to his feet and let Gark lead the way to the base of the cliffs.
It was a short trek compared to how much they'd already been walking. As they approached Ness was able to tell something really was odd about the cliff. There was a sort of discolored stripe going up along the cliff face. Towards the base it became more apparent that the discoloration was caused by a crack in the surface of the rock.
As Ness ran over toward the cliff he almost fell down a steep slope. At the base of the mountain at this spot the ground formed a decline which went almost unnoticed due to an optical illusion formed by the angle of the ground and mountain. Looking down the slope Ness noticed a large cave entrance below ground level.
"This might be it!" Ness shouted excitedly.
"Hurray!" Gark cried in shared sentiment.
The cave was easily passable, the ceiling was tall enough for Gark, and only a few scattered rats and bugs populated the dark place. After several meters of stumbling about, a light became visible on the other side. Ness was easily able to continue his forward march with the light growing larger and brighter as he approached. The cave must have been about fifty meters across when they emerged from the exit.
In the sun again it took just a moment for Ness's eyes to readjust and start looking around. In front of him was a large domed building, "That definitely looks like a lab!" The mountains extended all the way around the area surrounding the lab like a small valley, "Like a crater," Ness hummed as he admired the site.
Gark wasn't looking so thrilled. He kept looking forward, then back, then about, and then down. Ness caught the distraught look and waited as patiently as he could for the poor golem. "It's good to finally be here," Gark spoke up, "but now I don't know what to do!"
Ness wasn't sure how to handle the situation himself, "Maybe you should just do what feels right to you?"
Gark nodded, "You're so smart, at least now I know where the lab is, I better go back to the boss and find out what I was supposed to do here and then come back! Maybe I'll see you if you're still here."
Ness sort of waved at the leaving sand golem, "Umm yeah... later."
"Good bye friend Ness!" Gark sang cheerily as he disappeared back into the tunnel.
With a slight shrug Ness turned and started walking down the path toward the lab's front door. Along the way he noticed posts and bars and platforms laid about the yard. It almost looked like a jungle gym, but Ness ignored it and remained focused on the lab in front of him.
The front door was very tall. Ness imagined it had to be that way to accommodate large pieces of equipment to enter and exit the lab. There was also a button on the side of the door that looked like it could be a doorbell, but a sign under it read "Deliveries accepted between 9AM and to 3PM".
Ness firmly pressed the button in and could hear a buzzer ringing on the inside close to the door. A few seconds later a speaker went off above the door and an older voice said, "Sorry, but it is now after our scheduled delivery hours, please come back tomorrow."
Pulling out his SatTab Ness saw that it was ten minutes after three, "Well that's strict..." Ness put the tablet away and looked up to the speaker, "I'm not here with a delivery, I need to speak with Doctor Zambrosia."
It was quiet for a moment and Ness was worried there was no microphone on this end of the door. The speaker did finally chirp again, "What is your business here today?"
"My name is Ness, and I have a favor to ask of the doctor," everything remained quiet for another moment and Ness shuffled a little nervously, "Could I maybe come in and speak with you?"
"Give me just a moment and I'll open the door for you," There was an odd tinge in the man's voice; it almost sounded like nervousness Ness thought.
About two minutes passed but then the door opened. Standing on the other side of the door was an older fellow wearing a long open lab coat with a red shirt and khaki pants underneath. His full head of gray hair was a little frizzled, but it was apparent that it had been neatly combed when the day had started. "Doctor Zambrosia?"
The old man nodded rather quietly, "So Ness is it? How can I help you?" The Doctor asked as the door closed behind them.
"I'm in a bit of a bind," Ness started, "I'm not sure how much sense this is going to make, but..."
The Doctor seemed to detect the stress lurking in Ness's voice, "Why don't we move to a room where we can sit down, it sounds like you have quite a story."
Ness nodded and followed the doctor to a room off the side of the entry way that kind of resembled a living room. The Doctor took a seat on one of the couches and motioned for Ness to sit across from him, "Alright now, let's hear about this bind our planet's hero has found himself in."
Ness looked up quickly, "You know about me?"
With a bit of a cough the Doctor looked to the side nervously, "Well, I uhh... let's just say I've been around enough to hear a few of the stories from some of my colleagues."
"I guess that makes sense..." Ness nodded, "It makes this a lot simpler anyway. A lot has been going on over the past few days. My friends who were my companions during our quest against Giygas are in danger. Poo... Poo was already killed by... I don't know what... I have no idea what could be going on with Jeff right now, and Paula has been kidnapped." The Doctor leaned back in the couch and listened intently as Ness spoke, "I can't sense Paula too well, and she hasn't been able to call to me either... but I'm almost positive that she's being held somewhere in Chevia, a country far to the east of here. I just need help to get there fast and save her! Is there anything you have or anyway you can help me reach Chevia quickly Doctor Zambrosia?"
The Doctor appraised Ness carefully for a long moment, apparently lost in thought. The man's eyes closed before he spoke, "Your sincerity is touching my boy; there might be something I can do to help you... as a matter of fact..." The Doctor's voice trailed off without completing his statement.
"What is it?" Ness pressed on.
The Doctor's eyes slowly opened as he looked over at Ness again, "We've actually been working on a device to meet just that need. A sort of sky transport that would be able to cross the ocean to Chevia relatively quickly. The Sky Runner."
A look of excitement crossed Ness's face making him look as though he were about to jump out of his seat, "Then will you let me use it?"
A raised hand suppressed any further reaction from Ness, "There are two things I would need to make you aware of. First it's not quite ready. It is still in the process of final adjustments and should be done soon, but it can't leave yet. And second, the controls are quite complicated; it would take a good amount of time to teach you how to operate the machine safely."
Looking slightly dejected, Ness leaned back into the couch, "Alright, do you have any suggestions?"
The Doctor nodded, "The way I see it you have two options available to you. Should you decide the wait for the Sky Runner too long you may of course seek other means of transporting yourself to Chevia. There are of course cargo ships which regularly cross the ocean, and trucks which regularly haul said cargo from country to country there. I understand you wanting to bypass that method as it would mean nearly a week before you'd make it to Chevia from here. If the Sky Runner could be made ready within two days, then I'm sure one of us could pilot the Sky Runner and get you there in less than one day after that."
A grateful expression returned to Ness's face, "That would be fantastic Doctor Zambrosia! That will be a lot faster than going by foot, if you're sure the Sky Runner will be ready that soon then I'll definitely wait."
The Doctor smiled warmly, "Please allow me to speak with my... ummm... assistants and I'm sure we can come to a suitable arrangement. Will you be requiring quarters for the time being?"
"Quarters? Oh, well... I don't have a place to stay nearby, but I don't want to intrude," Ness scratched his head sheepishly.
"Not at all," The doctor stood from the couch, "we have plenty of guest rooms here; the lab was built large enough to accommodate guests comfortably."
"Thanks, ummm..." Ness tried to think of something sophisticated to say, "I really appreciate the hospitality."
Motioning for Ness to follow him, the doctor led him out toward the laboratory floor. With his hands cupping his mouth the man shouted, "Peach Kid, are you around here?"
From around a corner, a skinny brown haired boy wearing another lab coat and carrying several boxes came running up, "I'm right here Professor Queee!" the boy cried as he fell forward onto the boxes he was carrying.
"For heaven's sake, what I have told you about running through the lab when you're off balance?" The doctor leaned down and helped Peach Kid to his feet and then stacked the boxes back up.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't really thinking about the boxes I was carrying I guess," the boy grinned sheepishly.
"As long as you're not hurt," the doctor brushed himself off, "Anyway, this young man here is Ness, he's going to be staying with us for a few days until the Sky Runner is complete. Do you think you could prepare a room for him?"
Peach Kid took Ness's hand and shook it excitedly, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you Ness! I'll get a room ready right away!" Without further hesitation the kid bounded down the hallway.
"He's a little excitable," the doctor laughed.
Ness nodded and continued following the man across the lab. Through what appeared to be a large hanger door Ness caught a glimpse of what he could only guess was the Sky Runner. It was suspended at least ten feet off the floor. It wasn't as round as Ness had thought it would be; it was actually rather long with a wide bottom and narrower upper compartment, "Is this the Sky Runner?"
"It is indeed," The doctor chuckled. With his head angled upward the doctor called, "We have a guest!"
The echo of something metal being dropped resounded across the room. A few seconds later someone was climbing down a ladder that was placed along the side of the Sky Runner. The guy who came down looked just slightly older than Ness with short messy blond hair and was obviously lean and muscular the way he held a giant wrench over his shoulder.
Ness watched as the young mechanic approached and felt a little confused. The boy looked over at the doctor but an expectant look back at him was all he received. There was a long moment of awkward silence before the boy sighed and put the wrench down. He didn't really look straight at Ness but held out his hand as he cleared his throat, "Hey, you can call me Apricot Kid."
"Ah…" Ness was slow to move, his mouth hung slightly open and an incredulous look washed over his features. Finally he accepted the proffered hand, "Sure... and uh… you can call me Ness."
The doctor looked over Apricot Kid carefully, almost disapprovingly, "Ness is in need of help. He needs to get across the ocean to Chevia to help his friends. I think we should help him, how about you?"
Apricot Kid turned and looked up at the Sky Runner, "Well, I guess so."
"Excellent," The doctor smiled though seemed a bit sad for some reason, "Then once the Sky Runner is ready it will be you two going to Chevia."
Apricot Kid nodded, still not looking back at either of them, "Alright, then I should probably get back to work."
"Good lad!" Apricot Kid started walking back over to the ladder and pulled out an apple to bite into before heading back up. The doctor put a hand on Ness's shoulder and led him out of the hanger. He spoke softly as to not be overheard, "I do apologize, Apricot Kid hasn't been very social lately; he has quite a lot on his mind."
Ness nodded quietly and kept pace with the doctor. He couldn't help but frown a bit while looking over his shoulder as they walked away.
Peach Kid came running back down the hall soon thereafter, "Hey Doc, I got the guest room all set up!"
"Very good, then if you would be so kind as to show Ness to his room," the doctor turned and started walking back to the hanger. "I should be helping Apricot Kid with the Sky Runner," The man seemed to be speaking just a little excessively loud.
Peach Kid's expression went blank for a moment, but with a slight nod he simply let out an, "Ohhhh," then he smiled at Ness again, "Come on then, it's this way."
As the two walked down the hallways Ness kept looking around randomly. His mind was obviously preoccupied with something as his eyes lacked any real focus. Peach Kid cocked his head to the side as he looked Ness over, "You look like you're thinking pretty hard about something."
Ness laughed, "About a lot of things actually."
Again with a cheerful smile Peach Kid asked, "What kind of things?"
Ness shook his head, "First, can I ask you a question?"
"Yeah, anything!" Peach Kid answered sincerely enough.
"Well first, how long have you been working here?" The boy seemed rather young to Ness to be working as a scientist's assistant.
"Only for about six or seven months…" Peach Kid closed his eyes to think about it for a moment. His face was almost hidden by his tall coat collar as he looked down remembering, "People think I look younger, but I'm actually thirteen, almost fourteen. I grew up in a wrecking yard that my dad owned. People would dump all kinds of stuff like motors with a lot of good parts still; so I used to go through some of the junk and build new things. The Doc happened to be going through one day looking for spare bits himself and saw my collection of gadgets and offered me a job here! I've helped out ever since."
"That's cool," Ness admired, "I'm definitely no good at putting stuff together. Does anyone live or work here besides you three?"
Peach Kid shook his head, "Not right now, but the doc doesn't really go recruiting people. From what I know he just kind of hand picked us because he saw we mostly knew what we were doing."
"You and Apricot Kid you mean?" Ness asked.
"Well, yeah!" Peach Kid giggled a bit as he scratched his head.
"This place also seems really clean and new," Ness had been looking around at the building as they'd been walking through, "I mean, no offense, but three guys living here and everything really is clean, how long has Doctor Zambrosia been working here."
"None taken!" Peach Kid laughed again as he thought, "I actually end up with most of the cleaning duties, but the doc and I made some robots that help out too! But actually most of the lab and compound is less than a year old. When I started here it wasn't even finished yet. In fact the way the doc talks sometimes about adding another hanger or wing makes me think it's still not."
Ness hummed to himself as they finished their walk down the hallway.
"This is it," Peach Kid stopped in front of a rather ordinary looking door. He turned a knob and showed Ness inside. The décor was rather impersonal, similar to a hotel room, but as with the rest of the building it was very neat and clean.
"Wow, this is really nice," Ness looked impressed by the accommodations, "Thank you very much."
"No problem," Peach Kid turned to leave, "We normally eat dinner around six. Make yourself at home and if you need anything just press the green button on one of the intercoms built into the walls around the building and I'll help you out!"
Ness shook his head and suppressed a chuckle, "Thanks." Peach Kid closed the door behind him and left Ness to his own devices.
It was no lie that Ness had a lot on his mind. There was a lot he'd seen here at the lab which troubled him and he couldn't decide how to best deal with it all.
The Professor and Peach Kid seemed nice enough, and it was great that they were willing to help. He'd be in a world of hurt if they had turned him away. The overtones to a lot of the conversation though still left him feeling that something just wasn't right here. He spent most of the time before dinner simply staring at the ceiling of the guest room lost in thought.
Before Ness realized how much time had passed he heard the buzzer going off on his room's intercom, "Hey Ness, dinner will be ready soon, think you can find your way back to the front?" Peach Kid's voice teased.
A grin finally crossed Ness's face as he accepted the challenge and walked back down the straight hallway. Off the living area was a very modern dining room. The decor wasn't anything fancy, most of the appliances and even the table and chairs looked to be stainless steel, the chairs just had padded cushions over the frame. It suited the atmosphere of a laboratory Ness thought.
Peach Kid was setting the food down on a serving table when he noticed Ness in the doorway, "Go ahead and grab a plate and pile on as much food as you like!" Peach Kid didn't hesitate to follow his own advice and filled up his plate with bits from all the prepared courses.
Ness took a look at was available and saw rotisserie chicken, steamed vegetables, chopped fruit, celery with a spinach dip, and a chef salad with ham. After staring at the food for a long moment Ness finally muttered, "Wow, it looks so... healthy."
The doctor walked into the room behind Peach Kid as the brown haired boy tried to explain, "Yeah, the eeaaeerrr... umm..." Ness noticed the doctor poke Peach Kid on the shoulder, "The Doc, I mean, doesn't like junk food. He does keep the menu pretty healthy."
Plate in hand, Ness sat down across from Peach Kid and politely waited for everyone to have their food before he started eating his own. The doctor sat down at the end of the table and motioned with his hand toward the other two, "Please go ahead and eat."
"What about Apricot Kid?" Ness couldn't help but ask noticing it was only the three of them in the dining room.
A rather disheartened chuckled escaped the doctor's lips, "He will not be joining us, he says he's on a roll with the tuning of the Sky Runner and can't stop just yet."
Ness couldn't help himself as he let out a sigh. The others simply frowned in understanding and ate mostly in silence.
Ness finished up the food on his plate and stood, "Thank you very much for the food, do you need any help washing the dishes or anything?"
The doctor shook his head, "We have a very good industrial dish washing machine, no need to worry."
"Then I'm probably going to walk around for a bit," Ness turned to leave the room.
"Check out the field outside!" Peach Kid suggested excitedly, "It's a good place to stretch."
"Thanks, I will," Ness smiled appreciatively before leaving.
The sky was still aglow with the red and purple colors of dusk as Ness stepped outside. He started to walk across the crater valley and began to take in a real appreciation for the location. The valley was secluded so no one who didn't very well mean to be here would find it; there was also plenty of real estate, the whole place was at least as large as a football stadium. There was even a track like ring that ran along the outskirts of the compound, and the bars and platforms were definitely set up to be some kind of training ground.
Ness jumped toward the balancing equipment and used his power to push himself up to one of the taller platforms. From there he looked around briefly before taking a deep breath. He crouched down and jumped off the platform with a strong kick and floated himself across three of the stands to try and land on one further away. When he landed he almost skidded off, "Whoa, these are actually slippery. You've gotta be really good to land just precisely on these, huh..."
After a moment of looking out at all the platforms and judging their distance Ness grinned and took another leap. He had to focus his power not only on getting him across the long space, but also on stopping quickly without sliding off his landing spot. He landed on bent knee rather gracefully on the next platform. Within a few jumps he had the concentration figured out on how to land properly. From there he tried raising his speed, jumping from one landing to another while taking very little time between each one. Adding a few flips and rolls into his jumps, Ness had managed to work up a good sweat.
Stopping to catch his breath, Ness stood atop the tallest platform and allowed his thoughts to catch up to him as well.
"…Ness… Ness… Ness… Ness, Ness!"
That pestering nag at the back of his head that he wasn't strong enough and needed to keep pushing was still there. He grit his teeth as his psikinetic energy built up in his right hand with visible bright sparks.
The energy built up immensely as Ness felt ready to unleash his Rockin, "P…K…" Ness spun around on the platform in search of a target for his ability. His eyes softened and the power left his hand as he noticed Peach Kid standing nearby who gave him a sheepish wave. Ness suddenly realized he had gathered enough energy to do some damage or hurt someone. He was normally more careful than that.
Ness hopped off the platform and floated closer to Peach Kid, "Hey."
"Wow Ness! I've never seen psikinetic powers up close before! That was really something cool!" Peach kid started spatting out excitedly.
"They can be dangerous too…" Ness sighed. He was feeling more agitated with himself than with Peach Kid for coming around but it was hard to tell by his demeanor.
Peach Kid quieted down and took a step back, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you."
Realizing now how he said his words, Ness tried to make amends, "No, no, don't be sorry, I'm the one who should be more observant when doing stuff like that. Anyway, you said you've never seen psikinetic powers up close before, so what kind of things would you like to see?"
Peach Kid thought for a moment, "I've heard that a lot of psikinetic people can control the elements, like lightning and fire and water. Can you do that?"
"I can now," Ness pointed a hand toward the sky and a lightning bolt flew from his hand lighting the surroundings for a fraction of a second and leaving behind a slight crack of thunder.
"That was so amazing!" Peach Kid cheered, "It was so fast though, is there anyway you could slow it down so it's possible to watch the energy form?"
Ness thought for a second, "Hmmm, I haven't done that before, but I'm pretty sure I can do that, it would probably just take a little more focus than normal."
"I'd love to be able to watch how the particles form your abilities," Peach Kid nearly begged, "This is going to sound nerdy but I'm really curious as to whether it forms the same or different from natural phenomena."
Ness laughed, "You definitely belong at a place like this. Alright then, let's work on some control..." Ness held his right hand out in front of him and concentrated. A spark began to glow above his hand and slowly formed a thunder ball. Without launching it, Ness kept his focus on it while slowly moving his hand from side to side, being careful not to release the ball as moved with him. The lightning power gave off a brilliant light that was reflected brightly in both boys' eyes as they watched it move carefully.
"That is nothing like natural occurring events actually…" Peach Kid whispered just above the crackling of the lightning.
"I've got an idea…" Without dissipating the first power, Ness held out his left hand and carefully ignited a fireball. With fire in one hand and lightning in the other he continued his delicate balancing act, moving them around gently and watching the light they gave off.
Peach Kid ran his hand above the flames, "The heat is very direct, it's as if it's not consuming oxygen from the air at all. It's feeding completely on psi energy."
Looking up from his hands, Ness asked, "So psi energy isn't natural?"
"At least it doesn't behave like natural elements," A strange thought crossed Peach Kid's mind, "Since they're not behaving like natural elements and are complete constructs of psi energy in different forms, what would happen if you combined them?"
With a shrug Ness replied, "Should we find out?" Peach Kid nodded and without really knowing what would happen they watched as Ness brought both hands together.
The two powers sparked against each other as they made contact, but Ness intensified his concentration to remain in control of his abilities and not allow them explode. Ness continued to push on them until the powers began to overlap each other.
"Cool," Ness whispered to himself as he watched the lightning dance across licking flames.
"There's a whole new meaning to electrical fire!" Peach Kid grinned.
Ness chuckled and held the power up close to his face. He blew into his hands while directing them away from him. The power released in a dazzling streak of spark and ember into the sky.
Once the light from the energy faded Ness realized he'd been outside for a good while. The sky now was left illuminated solely by the multitude of stars, which clearly dotted the heavens being this far out from any major city, "We should probably get back inside."
"Okay," Peach Kid led the way back through the front door.
As the two of them walked inside Ness noticed the lab looked much different at night. The lights had all been shut off or dimmed in the main lab and living areas. The only source of real light in the main lab was coming from the hanger. As they took a few steps into the lab though, those too were turned out. There were footsteps leaving the hanger as well
Peach Kid looked up at the hanger, "That must be, umm… Apricot Kid… finishing up for the night. He stays in the loft room above the hanger."
"I see…" Deciding that he needed to get things settled now rather than later, Ness started making his way toward the hanger, "It was cool hanging out with you Peach Kid, see you in the morning."
Peach Kid sighed as Ness entered the lab, "Well this is going to be interesting…"
The lab was really dark; Ness had to squint his eyes to peer through the darkness, but was able to make out a ladder that led up to what looked like the loft off the side of the hanger. The sound of a door being shut combined with the outside lights being turned off only confirmed for Ness that Apricot Kid's room must have been up there.
Wasting no time, Ness began climbing his way up to the loft floor. The landing at the top of the ladder was cluttered with a bunch of boxes and pieces of equipment that made the place look as though it was used for little more than storage. The table, television, and recliner that were obscured behind the boxes told a tale of the space being intended originally for something different though.
The door to the next room was nearby. As Ness closed in on the door though he became aware of a sound coming from the other side of it; a clang followed by metal rubbing against metal. Wondering how to approach the situation, Ness waited outside the door for a moment. Finally he decided on the simple approach, he knocked on the door.
The sound from inside the room stopped, "Come in."
Ness pushed the door open and walked inside. The room was very neat. There was a lot in the room, but it was as tidy as the rest of the lab. It was difficult to take in the sites of the room however as Ness's attention was immediately drawn to the source of the previous noise. To the side of the room was a hanging bar suspended from the ceiling and Apricot Kid was dangling upside down on it by his knees.
"Oh," It was an acknowledgement rather than a greeting Ness received as Apricot Kid leaned up, grabbed onto the bar, and flipped himself off. He immediately grabbed a towel and a bottle of water from an end table nearby. After a few sips of the water he finally asked, "So… what can I help you with… Ness?"
Arms crossed, Ness observed Apricot Kid rather intensely. The room remained silent for a long moment before Ness finally just blurted out, "So what's with this whole 'Apricot Kid' act, Jeff?"
A dry laugh came from across the room and his voice eased up, "So you did recognize me huh?"
Ness almost looked offended, "Of course I did! You can't just throw off the glasses and pull a Clark Kent on me, come on!"
"It worked on plenty of other people who knew me," Jeff wiped some sweat from his brow before taking a seat at a small table and motioning for Ness to sit across from him.
After taking a seat at Jeff's table the room remained awkwardly silent, "So what's the deal Jeff? Why were you hoping so bad that I wouldn't recognize you?"
"It's not a big deal..." Jeff started.
"Of course it is!" Ness slammed his fist down on the table, "You were hiding and hoping your friends wouldn't find you, why? There's no reason for you to cut off contact with everyone and ditch your past!"
"Like you're one to talk!" Jeff snapped back immediately, "Cut off contact? Ditch your past? Well where the hell did you go a year ago? No one knew where you wondered off to; you didn't tell anyone where you were going, you didn't even leave a note! And now you're asking me why I cut off contact with people from my past? Seriously you can quit it with the hypocrisy."
Feeling defensive, Ness responded in kind to Jeff's tone, "I wasn't hiding!"
"Oh of course, you made yourself easily accessible by some means that we were never made aware of, and that makes all the difference between you and me," Jeff spoke with a strong sarcastic bite.
Ness's fist was shaking, partly because the way Jeff was taunting him was having a strong effect, and partly because he knew what Jeff said was true, even if he wasn't about to admit it, "We need to stop, what's going on right now is more important than us arguing…"
Jeff leaned back in his seat, "I'm listening."
Making serious eye contact with Jeff, Ness tried to appeal, "Poo has been murdered."
Jeff broke the eye contact and moved his eyes downcast. It wasn't a strong reaction, but Ness could tell he had at least made it through the first barrier, "Why do you think that?"
"Paula told me. I had a dream while I was in New Morel that Poo was dead. I called up Paula and she told me that it really happened," Ness was visibly shaken from his emotions switching so rapidly from anger to grief. I teleported this morning to Twoson, but when I got there Polestar Preschool had been ransacked and Paula was gone! I can sense her but she's so far away. I think she's in a country called Chevia."
Jeff leaned his chin on his arm and thought in silence for a moment. Neither of them broke the silence as Ness's words settled. Finally Jeff sighed, "I already knew that something strange was happening in Chevia. One of the reasons I'm working on the Sky Runner was to go see it for myself and put a stop to things if I have to."
"Then it works out perfect," Ness spoke confidently, "We can both go and take care of this like old times!"
The silence returned for a bit as Jeff crossed his arms in continued thought. It seemed like a simple decision to Ness and he was beginning to wonder why Jeff was taking so long to respond. Jeff finally moved and got Ness's attention, "There is a lot going on right now Ness, more than I think you understand."
"What are you talking about?" Ness asked with an incredulous and offended tinge to his voice.
Jeff shook his head, "The world's at odds with itself right now. Over the last year there have been more and more people discovering that they have gifts. Gifts like yours."
"I've heard about that," Ness admitted quickly, "There have been a lot of run-ins between normal people and psikinetics over the last year."
"Well…" Jeff quieted as he thought for another moment, "I think whatever is happening in Chevia might have something to do with other conflicts arising between the people in the world. Are you sure that's something you want to become involved in?"
Ness stood quickly from the table, "How could you even ask me that?! I'm already involved! I've got to save Paula! And if someone or something is causing trouble around the world then I'm going to stop it."
"It might not be as easy as that…" Jeff's words were almost cryptic, but Ness was beyond caring.
"Look, it doesn't matter," Ness took in a breath to help collect himself, "I already decided I'm going. I could really use the help to get there faster, but even if you weren't able to help me I'd find another way!"
"Alright then," Jeff rubbed his temples to work some of the stress out, "Just keep in mind you may not like what you find."
Unfazed by the comment, Ness added, "Don't worry, that won't stop me."
Jeff looked up at Ness as though he was about to say something but quickly looked away, "It's amazing how little you've changed over this last year."
Feeling calmer Ness reasonably asked, "Were you expecting something so different?"
Jeff shook his head, "It's just been a long year, and people change."
"People don't have to change," Ness tried to gauge Jeff's demeanor, "I don't think you've changed that much."
"I'm nothing like the person I was a year ago Ness," Jeff's tone wasn't argumentative, but it had a grave sense of finality to it.
Ness looked away for a moment to steel himself before saying, "Also, I'm sorry."
"Huh?" Jeff was confused as to what Ness was referring to.
"Like you said, this has been a long year for everyone, and I wasn't there for you guys, I'm so sorry…" Ness tried to elaborate what he was feeling, "I thought I was doing what was best for everyone by training to keep everyone safe… No… Maybe something else was going on… But I should have stayed by friends' sides and helped with whatever happened. I wasn't there for you guys and that makes me feel ashamed."
Jeff didn't seem to have a response for Ness. He looked away to try and keep Ness from reading his expression. After a few minutes he got up from the table and started walking further into his room, "It's late, you should go to bed."
Though he had been hoping for a response, Ness tried to accept the abrupt end of their conversation. Ness got up and reached for the door handle, "Umm…"
When Jeff noticed Ness was still by the door he added, "Do you need help finding your room or anything?"
"No, I know where it's at," Ness mumbled over his shoulder, "…Good night."
"Mph," Jeff grumbled in response.
Had there been more light in the room the twitch of Ness's eyebrow and the disappointed expression would have been more apparent. Ness let the door shut a harder than he intended and the world went silent again.
Once Ness was gone Jeff let out a long sigh he hadn't realized he'd been holding in, "And once again matters become even more complicated."
Down the hallway Ness marched with his hands in his pockets and grumbling to himself. He didn't know what caused Jeff to change into someone who seemed to care so little for things, but he didn't like it. The Jeff he remembered had bad days sure, but Jeff always used to go out of his way to help others sort through their issues and solve problems together.
Ness opened the door to his room. It was pitch black inside, but he didn't bother turning on a light. He walked in and plopped hard on the bed. After just one year it seemed that nothing was as he left it. More angry and frustrated thoughts followed.
Jeff seemed to know something he didn't though. He had mentioned trouble the trouble between people and psikinetics. Ness had seen firsthand that most people are scared of what psikinetics are capable of. After running into Masys it seemed that psikinetics weren't exactly fond of normal people either.
Ness's eyes widened as a thought landed on his mind like a brick, "Could Jeff… be against psikinetics?" Jeff was a normal person after all. But they had spent so much time together; Jeff should have had a much closer understanding of psi powers than most other humans.
Ness sank into his bed out of worry. Jeff had a lot going on that he didn't want to talk about, "If he thinks I abandoned him a year ago and now feels psykinetics are his enemy… he might hate me…" Ness covered his ears and rolled over.
"It's not right…"
They would be travelling together to Chevia once the Sky Runner was ready, "This could suck…" Ness closed his eyes to try and sleep. Somehow he'd just have to find out more and know for sure before they left.
Wow, this is the longest chapter I've written for any story in a long time. A lot of it was kind of descriptive filler, but I try to point things out for a reason normally. I'm probably being a little ambitious with how I want this story to turn out, but I'm hoping those interested will bear with me so we can find out why things have turned out the way they have.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I will be doing my best to get the next chapter out soon!
'Till next time!