Better Than Boring
Author: Platinum Takahashi
Character: Jenny Sparks (of The Authority)
Better Than Boring
Author: Platinum Takahashi
Character: Jenny Sparks (of The Authority)
“Why are there always snakes?”
Jenny Sparks snorted as she caught up to her unhappy companion, one Doctor Jones—he’d introduced himself as “Indiana”, but she had her doubts about that particular name. Then again, he was American.
“We’re in a jungle,” she replied, stopping to wipe the sweat from her brow. “Of course there are snakes.”
While she didn’t care about the snakes, Jenny was far from happy about trekking through the jungle with Indiana. This was supposed to be her holiday, which should have meant a nice break from aliens and other dimensions and all the other strange things that were part of her everyday life.
Unfortunately, Jenny had a tendency to attract trouble. It was one of those things that came with being the Spirit of the 20th Century. For about a week, she had thought she’d finally succeeded at having a normal holiday; the most exciting thing she’d done was get lost on her way back from the pub.
Then the intrepid Dr. Jones had entered her life, quickly followed by a troop of Nazis. She’d told herself she was taking a break from the action hero life and had even managed to stay out of the ensuing fight, right up until they managed to blow up her hotel room and, with it, her last pack of good cigarettes.
That had made it personal.
Not long after that, the Nazis that had escaped her wrath were scrambling off to inform their superiors that an unforeseen complication had arisen in the form of a blond Englishwoman capable of electrocuting half their men in a matter of minutes and Indiana had been introducing himself. He had been remarkably calm considering what had just occurred.
Much to her dismay, Jenny had found herself liking the American adventurer. He was smart, funny and good in a scrap and he hadn’t even blinked an eye when she’d corrected him for addressing her as “young miss”.
“You see a lot of strange things in my profession,” he’d said.
“And what would that be?” Jenny had asked.
“Archaeologist and occasionally a professor.”
She’d raised an eyebrow then, but quickly learned that he was telling the truth, albeit selling himself a bit short. They’d given up the hotel as a lost cause and headed into town in search of a watering hole, where Jenny promptly demanded an explanation for the situation.
“Most of the archaeologists I’ve met have been the glasses-and-tweed types, Dr. Jones. Care to explain what you’re doing fighting off Nazis with a whip?”
It wasn’t entirely the truth—some of the archaeologists she’d met had been the blue skin-and-alien artifacts type, but they still gave off an air of tweedishness. Dr. Jones, on the other hand, gave off the air of someone who was just as comfortable in a jungle as he was in a university.
She’d been mostly right.
So now she was trekking through the jungle, following Nazis and avoiding snakes. In response to her flippant comment, Indiana gave her a look intended to be withering. Jenny answered it with a grin, well aware that she was being rather a jerk.
“What I’d like to know is why the Nazis are so intent on finding this damn thing,” she said, in part to change the subject. “It’s not like the Veil of Veronica is supposed to have any mystical properties or anything.”
Indiana shrugged. “They seem to be trying to get their hands on anything they think might be useful.”
“Remind me why we’re trying to save this thing again?”
“Because it’s a priceless artifact.”
“And if it does have mystical powers, it would really be better if it didn’t fall into the hands of the Nazis.”
“And because they blew up your cigarettes, and this will really annoy them.”
“That’s more like it.”
They lapsed back into silence as they hit a hill and stayed that way for another half-hour, aside from the occasional grumble about bugs. Jenny was starting to wonder if she could create some sort of electric shield around herself; she was getting tired of having exotic bug guts splattered all over herself.
“Bloody bugs,” she said, having just annihilated a particularly large one.
“It could be worse,” Indiana said in the tone of someone who’s been there.
Jenny looked at him.
“My father could be here.”
Having heard more than a few cynical remarks about Professor Jones, Senior, Jenny was inclined to agree.
They found the Nazi camp just before sunset and made their own camp in a small dale conveniently covered over with bushes. Indiana promptly crawled up to spy on the Germans while Jenny took a few moments to relax in the insect-free tent.
Evidently, she’d been more relaxed than intended, as the next thing she knew, she was being awoken by Indiana re-entering the tent.
“Well?” she asked, stretching and sitting up.
“They haven’t found it yet—the commander wasn’t very happy about that. It looks like they’re working on a tight schedule, which means they’re probably being a bit sloppy. There’s supposed to be an old temple hidden around here somewhere, or maybe an old church. If we can find it before they do, we should be in the clear.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go find this supposed temple.”
He stared at her.
“Are you suggesting we go run around in unmapped jungle in the dark in hopes that we stumble across this place and not, say, Nazis or poisonous snakes or spiders or any of the other deadly possibilities?”
She grinned. “Of course. What else is there to do?”
“Oh, I can think of a few things,” he replied, grinning right back.
“Why, Dr. Jones, are you propositioning me?” she said, feigning shock.
He was. She took him up on the offer.
The next day started just before dawn when Indiana disappeared for a short while and came back with a grid-covered map of the area.
“It looks to me like they’ve searched these areas,” he said, pointing to the six areas marked with giant Xs. “Which leaves these four, unless they missed it.”
“Let’s assume they didn’t,” Jenny said, slipping into military mode. “It’s likely to be somewhere near the river—easier to cart water to and from the temple that way. We should check around here first.” She circled a wide area with her finger. “It’s got a clear path to the river, but it’s also reasonably well-hidden by the forest and protected on one side by that strange rock formation.”
Indiana gave her a surprised look.
“What?” she asked.
“You know what you’re doing,” he said.
“Don’t be a git, of course I do. Just for that, Dr. Jones, you’re entering the temple first when we find it.”
“Oh, so it’s a ‘when’ now, Sparks?” he said. “What happened to ‘supposed temple’?”
“That was before I started working on it,” Jenny replied.
Once they entered the jungle, however, they both fell into silence—the Nazis weren’t likely to be searching this area yet, but it always paid to be careful. The jungle was filled with sounds around them—birds calling, leaves shifting in the wind, the rush of the river in the distance.
“I don’t suppose they have electricity in this godforsaken place?” Jenny asked after several hours of fruitless searching. “I’d love to just zap in, grab the thing and zap right out again.”
Indiana laughed. “The last time anyone actually lived here was over two centuries ago. I doubt they have a radio.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Jenny said, thinking of a girl made of metal who saved her life.
Stopping to sit on a rock, Jenny pulled out the map and studied it briefly.
“If we didn’t get too turned around, the forest should break just up ahead,” she said.
As she predicted, they came to the end of the forest within a few minutes and suddenly found themselves on a swampy beach inhabited by a few swarms of insects and a large turtle. Unfortunately, there was no temple in sight.
“Let’s just take a break,” Indiana suggested. He gestured to the weird rocks that rose up on the other side of the small clearing like a giant’s drippy sandcastle. “There’s shade over there.”
Jenny followed him wordlessly, already reaching for her water bottle. She was a city girl when it came down to it, at home in places brimming with people and electricity. This place was only brimming with poisonous things and Nazis; she wasn’t sure which was worse.
Before she had a chance to sit and rest, however, Indiana turned to her with a look of triumph.
“The rocks!” he said, as if that explained everything.
Jenny stared at him. “You noticed,” she said dryly.
“No, look—this place has been around for centuries, right?” he said. “Back then, they built temples in whatever they could. Only cities really got the proper buildings. So if you’re a group of monks who are hiding out in the jungle, you’ll make do with what you have, and in this case you’d have…”
“Rocks. Rocks that probably hold a cave of some sort,” Jenny said, quickly catching on. She grinned. “Lead on, Indy.”
It didn’t take them very long to find the cave, which was half-covered by a rockslide. The monks had abandoned it in a rush for some reason—“hopefully not snakes”, said Indiana—and therefore hadn’t done much to conceal it.
“I hope the bloody thing’s still in one piece,” Jenny grumbled as they peered in the cave entrance. There was evidence of earlier inhabitation: human hands had obviously carved out the entrance to make it taller, for one.
Indiana grabbed a couple of sticks and Jenny lived up to her name by contributing a couple of sparks to turn them into torches. True to her word, she made Indiana go in first, although it looked remarkably free of traps.
“Maybe they didn’t expect to be fighting off enemies out here,” Jenny said after they’d come a good fifty feet without anything trying to kill them. “Or the traps could have just rotted away in the jungle heat.”
Indiana shook his head. “There’s something. There’s always something. Usually I find it by activating it,” he said.
“I’m not sure whether you’re a blithering idiot for getting into these situations or damn brilliant for getting out of them,” Jenny commented, rolling her eyes.
True to his word, Indiana found the first trap by stepping on it, but Jenny had been right about the traps falling prey to the passage of time: the blade that could have taken off Indiana’s head was rusted in place by a small trickle of water that had worn its way through the stone.
The second trap, however, was in excellent condition. It was only Jenny’s quick reflexes that saved her from a shower of darts from the ceiling. She swore up a blue streak when she hit the ground, but came out mostly unharmed.
“Poison-tipped,” Indiana said, carefully examining one of the darts.
“Of course they’re bloody well poison-tipped!” Jenny growled from the floor. She spent the next few minutes grumbling to herself about “sodding monks” and “damn jungles”, much to Indiana’s amusement.
The cave was unremarkable aside from two things: the traps and the surprising depth. Although the rocks only appeared to cover a short distance, the cave had taken a sharp turn downwards early on, digging into the rock under the jungle floor. Like everything else in the area, the cave was damp and filled with insects, although these tended to be more along the lines of crawlers than fliers. There appeared to be no snakes, which came as a great relief to Indiana.
The cave came to an abrupt end shortly after the third trap (wooden stakes, so old that they’d turned into dust when they emerged).
“Bollocks,” said Jenny, staring at what was apparently a blank wall in front of them. It didn’t even appear to be a hidden door of any sort—there was no echo when Indiana knocked at it, and neither of them could find any sort of crack on it.
“There is no way those monks made a door that good,” she said.
Indiana made a noise of agreement and took a step backwards.
The floor opened up under Jenny with a loud crack and a sudden lurch, and she screamed as she went tumbling into the darkness. Almost automatically, she lashed out with her electricity, sending a flare of light through the new hole in the floor.
She landed with a thud and a “shite!” about six feet down. Indiana ran over to the hole and held his torch out over it; Jenny’s had gone out during the fall.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“The only thing that hurts is my arse,” she replied, standing up and shaking it off. She grabbed her torch and relit it a bit more forcefully than she meant to; a piece of flaming wood went flying off and landed against something that looked remarkably like a chest.
“I think I found it.”
Indiana jumped down, landing much more gracefully than Jenny, noting with distaste the electrocuted spiders beneath his feet. Fried arachnid was not a pleasant smell.
The chest was small and hewn from an unfamiliar stone. It also looked older than the cave temple was supposed to be, leading Indiana to suspect that the Veil had been brought here pre-packaged.
“It had better be the bloody Veil,” Jenny said, “or I’m going to scream.”
Indiana opened the chest with something close to reverence, not for the Veil’s religious aspect so much as its historical significance, but reverence nonetheless. Even Jenny found herself holding her breath in anticipation.
Inside the chest was another chest, obviously newer and made of wood rather than stone. Jenny released her breath in a sigh.
“This had better not be like that toy with dolls inside of other dolls,” she said as Indiana worked on picking the lock.
The lock gave way and he carefully opened the lid. Jenny moved her torch closer to the box.
Lying there, neatly folded, was what appeared to be the legendary Veil of Veronica, the face of Jesus imprinted on it. The cloth was old—if the tales had any truth to them, it was nearing 2000 years in age—but remarkably well-preserved.
Indiana stared at it for a minute, but was startled from his thoughts by the sound of footsteps echoing down the length of the cave.
“Damn,” he said, dropping the lid back and place and standing up, his whip at the ready. Jenny joined him, easily falling into a fighting stance.
“Just so you know,” he said as they waited for the Nazis, “this isn’t how I like my first dates to go.”
“Well, Dr. Jones,” Jenny replied with a mischievous smile. “At least I won’t be able to claim it was boring.”