Become a Fan
By J. O. Quantaman
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Rated "G" by the Author.
Jen climbs the Eiffel Tower. She becomes a renowned acrobat and mountain climber.
Excerpt from "Brewing Storm" which will be published as eBook in December 2013
Jen was the smallest kid in her class and was known as "Monkey Girl" among her friends. She much preferred Monkey Girl to Flores Pygmy, a nickname that regnant gals whispered behind her back. Jen was nowhere near a pygmy. She had sensual lips, periwinkle chin, high cheekbones and clear brown eyes atop a fine physique. "Monkey Girl" fit her to a tee when she scrambled across gabled roofs, scaled vertical cliffs or rescued skittish kittens from tree-branch redoubts.
She drove her parents to fits of worry and anguish, for they couldn't fathom how careful and cautious she was. Jen weighed all possible slipups before jumping from one rooftop to another. She flirted with peril and gloated over close calls like skateboarders vaunting scabs on their knees. Yet she knew when to scram before emergency-response teams arrived and cited her for public mischief.
Jen kept her climbing feats in low profile. She refused to hobnob with adults, especially teachers who seemed forever stuck in authority-figure mode. Few adults understood her need to push the envelope. Nor did they credit her unerring instincts for gauging risks. Nor did they allow for her unparalleled muscular control.
During phys-ed classes, Jen held back from showing her best stuff. The last thing she wanted was to get singled out. "Special" kids were often hustled to secluded camps that trained young hopefuls for Olympic-style competition. After school hours was another matter. The class superjock once challenged her to a contest of chin-ups. He was broad-shouldered and muscle-bound, yet his arms gave out after 160 lifts, whereas Jen continued without pause as if performing aerobic dance.
Ever since that showdown, the guys welcomed her to cross-gender games of ice-pond hockey or pickup basketball. Her buddy status among athletic hunks angered the clique of regnant gals, even though Jen never bothered with flirtatious come-ons. Rather than cause a ruckus, she hung out with outsiders like herself. An eclectic bunch of gamers, hackers, shoplifters and wannabe cat burglars. They idolized Jen as the ultimate daredevil.
Despite overtures from gang leaders, she refused to loan her skills for criminal pursuits. Still, the warning signs were there. If the cookie had been sweeter, she might've wandered down the crooked path that led to prison cells. She was saved from that fate when her parents won an expense-paid vacation to Paris.
The contest rules stipulated two hours per day to record the lucky family using the sponsor's products. After the arrival in Paris, the vidcam sessions lengthened to four then six hours. The vid crew was apologetic but firm, citing the need for facial expressions that were natural and candid. What they really wanted, so far as Jen could see, was consumer-happy smiles. Mama and Ottets accepted the meddling with stoic goodwill, but Jen snickered when the vid crew caught her chatting on the loaner vidcom. She bristled as everyone piled in & out of the sponsor's hybrid sedan for the umpteenth time. She rolled her eyes when the handlers interrupted museum tours for canned poses in front of antediluvian artworks. Ivan, her kid brother, strutted around like a pop celeb or prize ham. He played his role so well the crew gave him a brand new prompter.
The day they toured the Eiffel Tower, Jen almost jumped with glee. She fell in love with its firsthand splendor, its awesome height, its ancient elegance and grace. Some buildings in her hometown of Yakutsk held more challenges for climbers, but they had nowhere near the phat. The tower's diagonal spars promised serious workarounds for her short limbs. Not that it mattered. It was a climb she couldn't refuse. One way or another, she vowed to reach the pinnacle.
After dark she climbed a tree near the tower and watched with opera glasses that Ivan had scrounged from a curio shop. She learned the perimeter grounds were inspected every two hours. A watchman would sweep his searchlight across the four arched legs that upheld the tower's 1st-floor. If she approached the tower after an inspection, there would be ample time to climb above the search beams.
While Jen maintained her vigil, Ivan went on-line with his hacker buddies. They managed to swipe the sobriquet of a watchman who was ogling a porno site. With ID in hand, they extracted the Eiffel Tower's security codes and then loaded them in a mobile transponder that would fool the grounds sensors into believing she was valid personnel.
Jen stalked her prize through an island of shadows, thanks to a burnt out streetlight that Ivan had managed to snuff with a pellet gun. She glided across flat ground like a silent ghost. Then came the ritual 1st-touch, her fingers greeting cold iron like a lover's caress. She sprang into motion, 3-point, 4-point, 3-point, the free limb reaching for another purchase. Higher went the spry monkey. 3-point, 4-point, 3-point.
The balustrade of the 1st-floor gave pause to a 15-year-old who was short for her age. A sturdy rope and grappling hook might've come in handy, but the extra weight would've bogged her down. Mountaineers who deployed safety lines were worthless cheaters in Jen's universe. Her method was to rely on wrists and fingers, both of which had grown strong from squeezing a solid rubber ball twenty minutes a day, ten minutes for each hand. Once she got a good grip on the top lip, she raised her leg, planted a foot and brought thigh muscles to bear. With a grunt and thrust from her abs, she was up and over the flatiron porch.
Her packsack held a large orange brassiere, which would be affixed to the pinnacle. Jen didn't like this chore at all, but it was the price she paid to get the services of Ivan and his buddies. She knew how they'd laugh when they saw the orange flag on WHV. Her own breasts looked flatter than roadkill, which only magnified her tomboy image and gave the creeps another reason to rhubarb her questionable gender.
Jen scrambled gracefully up the 2nd-stage and mounted the 2nd-balustrade with equal aplomb. She paused and sipped from her water bottle, letting the summer breeze cool her down. At 120 meters above ground, the view was spectacular. The city boasted a broad array of building blocks and crisscrossed avenues. Cleaning beetles trundled across near-deserted ruex where they gobbled food wrappers, paper cups and dog do. The Parisian streetwalkers were nowhere around.
No doubt at home and getting
their dress rehearsals to bed.
She had always gotten along with boys, their physical strengths, their dogged drives to compete. Guys were such bogus liars it was easy to gauge their intentions which were seldom romantic or laced with sexual innuendos. No surprise, for Jen squashed those come-ons in the bud. She was Monkey Girl, a self-reliant no-nonsense virgin. Popular media drove other gals to splurge over fads and frills, to fuss over makeovers and boyfriends, to hock their dreams for a Trekkie vidcom or a closetful of superfly clothes. None of that suited Jen.
+ + +
At 250 meters, she yawned and realized she lacked proper sleep. The catnap on the tour-bus had worn thin. Her overeagerness was losing ground to the demons of fatigue.
She looked up and surveyed the 3rd-floor observation bubble, the last obstacle before gaining the pinnacle spire. Wrought-iron spars crisscrossed the bubble. The cagelike framework was there to keep the tourists safe and sound, to discourage suicidal swans and reckless stunt girls like herself. The underside grid-work offered possible handholds but few supportive footholds for the three-meter traverse. Jen studied the layout carefully.
No need to rush or force
a dumb move that could
send me crashing far below.
Fingers and palms were tendered raw inside her gloves. She'd paused too often to drink from the water bottle, and now the time window had closed. She could no longer plant the orange brassiere and climb down before sunrise, which meant admitting failure and descending at once. But ignoble defeat was nowhere on her agenda. She gritted her teeth and resolved to reach the pinnacle, no matter what.
Jen tightened the wristbands of her mountaineer gloves. As comfy as the liners were, they didn't prevent blistered calluses. She vowed to find or make better gloves as she tightened the laces of her soft-soled boots.
Mental fog defused her resolve. Pulses from 1,001 synapses ricocheted like broiled popcorn. Her heart thundered inside its cage. She brought a glove in close and saw palsied fingers shake.
My alter ego is asserting itself.
Heck with my curse of vertigo.
I'm the best climber there is.
Minutes passed before her heartbeats slowed and the calm returned. She reached for the 1st-handhold and then the second. Two arms bore the bulk of her weight while footholds kept her torso from pendulous swings. Triceps, biceps and rhomboids strained at each advance. At times her anchoring hand glistened with sweat and threatened to slip as she jockeyed for the next handhold.
She grunted with pleasure as she gained the outer facing. It was vertical and ladderlike with sharply canted rungs. Now her leg muscles could share the load.
Jen surmounted bubble's slanted roof, then paused and surveyed the pinnacle. The spire had plenty of indents for wedging hands and feet. It was scalable until it narrowed to the lightening rod. Better, she thought, to get this done and over with. The wind was picking up and causing more vibrations in the structure. The longer she waited, the more risk of getting caught up in a gale.
She climbed to the lightening rod and attached the brassiere. Fatigue overwhelmed her brief flush of triumph. The descent was bogged down with frequent pauses and involuntary yawns. By the time her boots reclaimed the slanted roof, she was dead on her feet. There was no choice but anchor down and fall asleep.
+ + +
Daylight arrived with loud thumping sounds. Jen glanced up and spotted a chopper with bright decals and vidcams arrayed on outstretched booms. "Trafic Surveiller" appeared on the chopper's side. Ivan's buddies must've spilled the beans. She pictured them gawking at the orange brassiere and laughing like hyenas.
Shadows moved across her legs. Jen craned her neck and eyed two security dudes whose faces looked neither friendly nor kind.
"You're trespassing, young lady," said one of them in cryptic Français. "Get inside now. Better hope you have answers for our questions."
Jen caught the gist as she was ushered through the maintenance hatch and then surrounded by more uniforms. One of them seized her water bottle. He scanned it with a sensor wand, unscrewed the cap and sniffed. "It's water," he announced.
The dude with leadership insignia on his tunic cleared his throat. "Nice girls don't make fun of their mother's clothing. No one here is laughing, young lady. Tell me how you managed to elude the sensors."
The remote had been stashed inside a nook in the 2nd-floor balustrade. The plan was to have Ivan retrieve it during a lull in the schedule. Jen stared the inspecteur in the eye. "Dunno. Maybe I'm a small target with a soft step."
The inspecteur scowled and turned to the uniform on his right. "Take her downtown."
Ten hours later, Jen was released from custody with a reprimand. Afterall she'd caused no serious harm, and foreign tourists were seldom charged for littering. The sponsoring corporation jumped at the publicity angle. The vid crew draped Jen in designer clothes until she resembled a splendid knight in branded armor. They walked her through the press conference and fifteen minutes of fame.
+ + +
Baileg Barnov came to Yakutsk two weeks after the family returned from Paris. He had charisma, a wolfish smile and 10,000 reasons why Jen should join the Imperial Circus, which he described as one happy family that toured cities on six continents. Barnov praised Jen's chutzpah and cunning. He claimed she had the right stuff to perform spectacular aerial feats.
He spent the mornings discussing buckwheat recipes with Mama until he charmed her cheeks pink. In the afternoons Barnov worked on Jen, spinning tall tales and homey anecdotes. He described dozens of high-wire challenges that wet her appetite. He promised good pay for doing something she loved. In the evenings he sat with Ottets and extolled the advantages of circus life, especially the educational benefits, for the circus brought tutors along wherever it traveled.
Ottets worried about money sharks who'd sink teeth in his daughter's newfound wealth. Barnov agreed to set up a trust fund that paid weekly allowances but kept the bulk of her earnings in reserve till her 18th-birthday. Furthermore, Jen would have psychological counseling if needed and topnotch supplements amended by a qualified immunologist.
Baileg Barnov proved a man of his word. The circus was indeed one happy family. Even the headliners pitched in when the carnies folded the "bigtop" and moved on. Jen got along with the children of headliners and carnies, and later she formed more tentative bonds among the headliners and carnies themselves.
At times her old nemesis, vertigo would resurface, usually before she launched somersaults from the high trapeze or when she walked the tightrope while trailing ribbons of colorful silks. Her remedy was to focus on immediate tasks, such as fingers clasping the trapeze bar or soft soles caressing the tightrope. She blotted the ground below from consciousness until her fears withdrew like vampires inside coffins at sunrise.
She grew stronger and wiser, learned to work the crowd and make her stunts appear more dangerous than they were. She found pleasant ways to brush off guys who tried every sort of lusty come-on. Only once did the lion tamer step out of line. Drunk as a skunk, he tried to exploit Jen's petite size, but he got a sprained wrist, a wrenched shoulder and bruised testicles for his trouble.
On her 16th-birthday she earned top billing. Jenna Marov, Aerial Acrobat. Two years later, she transferred her trust fund to a Swiss bank account that grew rapidly from interest and surplus wages. Jen was frugal with her earnings. She bought clothes from the bargain bins and took care of the gaudy costumes she wore for her marquee stunts. She steered clear of the parties and other shenanigans, for drugs and alcohol didn't mesh with her daily exercise routine.
At 22 years old, Jen was growing bored with circus life. Her spectacular feats had become routine entertainments. There were no challenges on the horizon, unless she volunteered to get shot out of a cannon or sawed in three pieces by Merlin the Magnificent. She rationed her spare moments on-line, visiting travel destinations. The circus had given her firsthand views of the world's largest cities, but she longed to explore the rural hideaways and quaint villages at the foothills of mountain ranges, and then to climb the snow-capped summits.
The Andes intrigued her most of all. Its majestic peaks offered another way to challenge her vertiginous nemesis. The Andes stretched from the equator to the southern latitudes, so there would be worthy climbs all the year round. She began to assemble the equipment needed for solo assaults. On-line she took a Spanish immersion course and so added her 4th-language. All that remained was a face-to-face with the boss.
Baileg sat at his traveler's desk, which was a makeshift card table strewn with vidcoms and prompters. He looked up from his prompter. "Our ads feature Jenna Marov for the next six months," he growled, his brows converging like storm clouds.
"No prob. I'll go on, same as always till the Beijing stopover."
He glanced at the performance schedule. "Till July," he murmured and sighed. "You're breaking my heart, y'know."
"Hafta recharge my batteries. I'll come back before winter sets in," she fibbed.
He stood up, reached out and grasped her hands. "If you must, you must. Remember, Jen, the circus is truly your home."
Jen smiled graciously. She felt like a rat jumping ship. But she wouldn't miss the glamorous posturing, the headliner pettiness, the annoying jitters of celebrity.
+ + +
15 years later in Kuala Lumpur.
Thursday, 7 May 2076, 12:15 a.m.
Brakes squeal. The undercarriage groans as the van clamors to a halt.
Jen cheers the stillness. For the past half-hour she has gotten jerked around like a medicine ball under bundles of fresh linens, whose pungent odors are twitching her nostrils. The long pause means the van has arrived at the subbasement of Petronas Tower 2.
She prays there are no guards around. If they find her under the laundry, she'll have to thwart their alarms and cut the mission short. Then she hears casual footfalls and a whistled tune. Hinges screak as the rear doors open.
"Kawan, must go now," says the driver's familiar voice.
Jen breathes a sigh of relief and pops her head above the bundles. "Is the lift open?"
She crawls out of the van and marches to the elevator where she glances back. "Thanks, Yen."
"No problem." He matches her smile and waves farewell.
+ + +
Jen reaches up and fits gloved fingers inside a horizontal crease. She wedges toes between another crease and hoists herself off the footstall until she's astride the slab, a dogged spider on the wall.
As the elevator doors close, she's blinded in pitch-blackness. Moments pass before her night vision adapts. Faint glows from the status LEDs cast vague shadows on inlaid ribs, her foot- & handholds, outlining smooth slabs of ferroconcrete. She climbs to the next floor, to the third and fourth, her matte-gray attire blending with the darkness.
She uses grip-fast gloves secured at her elbows to prevent slippage. Simple tabi boots cover her feet. The boots have concentric rubber vees on the soles and laces wrapped in helix fashion along her calves and then joined to a band that fits snugly in the narrow below her knees. Gloves and boots respond to her delicate sense of touch, while other senses are tensed at a fevered pitch. Jen can't afford stray thoughts. The bane of careless climbers.
If events go as planned, the elevator car will stay at the 41st- & 42nd-floors where Po Ling is doing the biannual overhaul and fumigation. Even so, Jen doesn't relish the thought of several tonnes descending like an avalanche. She has keened her senses to vibrations and sounds from above. If the car descends, she'll scramble to the nearest floor and squeeze inside the maintenance nook. She has some leeway if she presses flat against the nook. Her backpack, which holds the tools of her trade, fits snugly in the small of her back. Since it won't inflate her girth, she reckons to avoid contact by a hair's breadth.
Jen is aware of how vulnerable she would be if discovered by security guards who can use overrides to open the elevator doors. She ascends the wall that hosts the doors, a strategy that may foil the guards who'll act as if checking out a false alarm. They'll lean inside and make a cursory check of the shaft, above and below. Chances are they won't crimp their necks to spot a lone climber on the fringes of peripheral vision.
As she reaches the 20th-floor, a sudden downdraft stops her cold. Chills run down her spine. She glances up, her muscles tensed to dodge a plunging elevator car. The black square remains unchanged, neither growing nor moving against the dim collage of LEDs. A temp-control gauge must've triggered the draft. There are no infrared sensors in the #3 shaft, unless her recon data is out of date. If body heat has triggered the airflow, the security monitors could be flashing alerts.
Nothing I can do about that.
Just climb and hope for the best.
Although the shaft ascent is the easiest portion of the climb, she weighs each handhold and foothold as if it's her last. She takes deeper breaths to maintain aerobic balance. Pro athletes would envy her fitness level. Very few could match her pace without wilting or cramping. She gains another handhold and shifts her center of mass like a virtuoso cellist strumming bold arpeggios.
When she gains the 40th-floor rendezvous, she forces a plastic strip between the doors. The thin wafer is colored bright red, a signal for Po Ling to let her out. Moments pass like glacial epochs. If she pushes the strip too far, a roving security dude will spot it instead.
What's keeping Po Ling?
There's no time to spare.
Jen bristles and readjusts her 4-point. She has climbed mountains and performed for the Imperial Circus, but she's still plagued by sporadic bouts of vertigo. The fear of falling is lodged like radium ore in the flesh of her soul.
Stay calm, girl.
Breathe deep; hang tough.
Keep muscles from cramping.
+ + +
After 15 minutes that seem to last hours, the doors rumble open. The red strip tumbles down the shaft before Jen can corral it. She curses herself for daydreaming. Good thing the strip lacks her fingerprints or DNA.
"Sorry for coming late." Po Ling looks shaken. "Special guards ask questions. I joke, say nothing. They go away."
Roosters aren't supposed to be checking this far down. She prays Po Ling hasn't let the cat out of the bag.
She draws a deep breath. "Do they know?"
Relieved, she drains her lungs. "Is the portal open?"
"You come. I open."
She follows him down the hall to a storage room. Bolts and wall panels are strewn across the floor. Metal lats of the window frame have already been removed. Only a plastic cowl holds the glass in place. "Has anyone seen this?"
"No. I was alerted." He grins and pulls out a palmslate. "This tells me when guards coming down stairway. They see me buffing floor."
"Smart move, Po Ling. Once your shift is over, take the train to Singapore. Ask for Aseem at the southeast pier. He'll find you work at the spaceport."
"Can we remove the cowl without leaving marks?"
"Should be," says Po Ling. "Tools in tin-box. We pry out."
Jen opens the lid and spots two long-handled chisels. Together they dislodge the cowl without visible scratches or dents. Po Ling sets window and cowl on the floor while Jen rummages through her backpack. She pulls out two armguards. On one end they're split into five slender strips, each bearing loops to hold her digits snug.
"Very brave climbing KLCC with no ropes," remarks Po Ling.
"I'm not the first. Alain Robert did it way back in '09."
Jen snugs fingers inside the loops and then tightens the straps around her forearms. The armguards extend to her elbow where they bulge like pillows.
After donning special footgear, she hangs legs out in open space, 200-plus meters above ground. Then she twists and wriggles her torso until boot soles touch the rounded ledge.
"Go ahead and replace the window, Po Ling. And thanks again. When your shift ends, head straight for Singapore. See you on the other side."
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