Aang bounded over to the passenger side, happily. "I got shotgun!"
"No you don't," Ms. Connor said, putting on her sunglasses, "In the back. I'm riding shotgun."
The minivan, sleek, black, and shaped like almost like a bullet, reminded The Bard of the ships Anakin had seen on the screen of the shuttle. By now, The Bard had become somewhat accustomed to the marvels of these worlds, and they held no more wonder for him--when you had ridden on one impossible magical vehicle, you knew them all.
Anakin telekinesed the sliding door open and held it for Aang. The Bard squoze into the back, happy to be forgotten for once. Aang and Anakin squoze in next to him, with Arcadian practically having to fold himself in half to sit on the floor next to the middle row.
Paul glared at Ms. Connor. "Why do you get shotgun?"
Mrs. Jameson handed Ms. Connor a long, black, menacing firearm. Ms. Connor pumped it once, CLACK-CLACK!, and turned to face Paul, looking him in the eye.
"Oh." Paul nodded once, and got in the side door, stepping over Arcadian. He seated himself next to Link and Harry.
Link snapped his seatbelt into place. Harry, seeing it, followed suit. "Good idea, mate."
Aang gave his a tug, looking at it as if he were trying to figure out which way was the right way around. "Hey, could one of you help me? We don't really have cars in Ba Sing Se."
Whhhhhh pahhhhh... "Here. I got it." Click.
Ms. Jameson slammed the driver side door and turned the engine over. "So let me get this straight." She pealed out of the driveway with an angry revving engine and squeal of tires. The Bard, along with Paul, Aang, and Harry, all cried out in surprise at the sudden application of force. The Bard slid hard in his seat, but Anakin pushed him back upright and buckled him in.
Whhhhhh pahhhhh "Really, Bard, you need to be more careful."
The Bard glared at him.
Mrs. Jameson went on. "While you three were talking to me, you sent that one in to find my son," She pointed back over her shoulder to Link, "and he found him missing."
Harry took the lead. "Yes, Ma'am. That's er...that's rather the gist of it, I'm afraid."
She shook her head, and pounded the steering wheel furiously with the palms of her hands. "Jesus Christ! Don't any of you play by rules?!"
Link cocked his head to one side. "What rules?"
Ms. Connor turned to Mrs. Jameson. "Right now, we're trying to save your son's life, and his future. We'll apologize later."
"And I thought you said you weren't with him!" She pointed to Arcadian.
"We're not," Harry said, firmly. "We're here to mitigate the damage his side doesn't realize it will do."
Arcadian grumbled, "We do realize."
The Bard rolled his eyes. "Well that makes you worse!"
Arcadian turned and craned his neck over Anakin's knees to see the Bard. "Don't any of you stop to think that this is your world, too? Don't you have a stake?"
Paul narrowed his blue eyes at Arcadian. "Equal stake with everyone else."
Arcadian regarded him firmly. "Really. The Kwisatz Hadderach feels he only has equal stake."
The van went silent. All eyes turned to Paul. The Bard could not help but hope, almost pray that he had an answer.
But he didn't. Paul glared daggers at Arcadian, then looked forward.
Arcadian looked to Aang. "What about you, Avatar? Do you feel your burden is disproportionate to your say in the world?"
Aang shook his head honestly. "No."
Arcadian turned to Anakin. "Lord Vader?"
Anakin slowly swiveled his black-helmed head to Arcadian, and said slowly, seriously, "That name no longer has any meaning for me."
"And your answer?"
Whhhhhh pahhhhhh... "No."
Arcadian craned his neck over Paul's lap. "Hero of Time? Boy Who Lived?"
Link shrugged. "I get along."
Harry kept his deadpan gaze forward. "What happened happened. I've moved on." He nodded to Ms. Connor. "Now ask the mother of Humanity's Last Hope."
Ms. Connor's predatory eyes scanned the road as they drove. "I'm not getting into this. It's unproductive." She glanced at Mrs. Jameson. "We need to focus on what's at hand."
The Bard nodded in silence, remembering how he voiced that very sentiment to the villagers of Stromness, over-run by Draugr, undead Vikings. Not that there was much of any of them left to hear. In his experience, that was a sentiment expressed too late in a losing battle.
Still, he hated to see the conversation conceded so easily. The Bard had expected Paul to protest, to demand that Ms. Connor tell her tale and put Arcadian in his place, but he was beaten to the punch. To The Bard's surprise, Link cleared his throat. "Even so, I think Harry and the others agree it might be therapeutic for you to have your say. Like it or not, you are one of us."
The Bard thought he saw Harry turn and smile at Link.
"No." She kept her eyes forward, scanning, sweeping. "The Chosen Ones' support group is not in session. This is a mission, and we focus on the mission."
Link looked down. "You...remind me of my mother."
A few eyes, the Bard's included, turned to look at him in sad curiousity.
Mrs. Connor grimaced and said dryly, almost sarcastically, "Well we'll all go out for pizza later. Until then, keep your eyes open. An attack could come from--"
POP! ROAAAAR! The van lurched hard to starboard.
"Whaaaah!" Aang ducked and covered. Paul drew his crysknife and his wrist-module, ready for action. Harry had his wand out, and down at his side. Link pulled an unlit bomb and a dagger from his pack, looking left and right. Even Anakin telekinesed his lightsaber out to his hand, but did not activate it.
"Ohhh great." Mrs. Jameson pulled the van off the road. "Of all the times for a flat tire."
Paul sighed angrily. "We don't have time for this!"
Harry said, "Everyone focus, we'll get through this. Everyone out."
Ms. Connor set Mrs. Jameson's shotgun in the floorboard as she disembarked. "It won't take all of us to change a tire."
Harry smirked. "Chosen Ones, raise your hand if you've ever changed a tire before!"
The Bard snickered as, predictably, only Ms. Connor raised her hand.
Harry turned to her, smiling. "How many of us do you need?"
Ms. Connor sighed. "Alright. This is a '97 Ford Windstar! The spare is under the carriage, tools in a compartment in the back! Someone find the tools, someone find the nut holding the spare! It'll be under the carpet in back!"
The Bard followed Paul to the back end, where he lifted a handle and raised the rear door. It took a few seconds of fiddling, but the Bard did indeed find a hidden compartment in the plastic covering.
Aang's face appeared over the top of the rear seat. "I found the nut!"
The Bard grumbled, "I know where 7 more are..." He reached into the space, but came up with notably nothing. He leaned back around the side of the van. "Ay! No tools!"
Link stepped up. "What do you need?"
Ms. Connor climbed in with Aang, feeling along the floor where he indicated. "A tire-iron and a jack."
Link reached into his pack and furnished forth a tire-iron. "Here you go."
Paul squinted. "You had a tire-iron?!"
Link shrugged. "Yeah."
Paul gestured wildly in utter disbelief. "Why the hell--where did you even get that?!"
"Darunia Fortress tool-crib. The Goron engineers loaned it to me."
Paul narrowed his blue eyes, pointing at Link. "Okay, now I know you're fucking with us! The Gorons don't even have cars!"
Ms. Connor leaned up across the rear seat and grabbed the tire-iron impatiently. "Give me that. You two do something useful."
The Bard squinted at Link. "Okay, I'll bite. You got a jack in there?"
Link looked sad. "I have to bring the tire-iron back to exchange for it."
"Oh." The Bard nodded, pretending that made any amount of sense to him whatsoever. "Okay. I can see that. Sort of."
Aang said, "What's a jack?"
Mrs. Jameson leaned over to him. "A device for lifting the car so we can change the tire."
"Oh." He squinted. "Then...how are we gonna change the tire without it?"
Anakin put one finger up to the faceplate of his helmet. Whhhhhh pahhhhh "If only we knew someone who could lift it with his mind..."
Aang thought for a moment, then his face brightened. "Hey! You could--oh." His face fell in embarrassment.
The Bard laughed, and gave the top of his head a playful rub.
WHUMP. Ms. Connor leaned out the door again. "Tire is down! Someone unhook it from the cable and pull it out!"
All eyes went to Anakin.
He made a sound like a swamp gas pocket clearing its throat. "Right then." He gestured. They heard a dusty dragging sound, and then a metalic clunk.
"Uh..." He gave the tire a telekinetic jiggle. It clunked some more. "It's stuck."
Ms. Connor stepped out, and sighed in exasperation. "You have to unhook it first!"
Paul sighed. "Harry, would you mind?"
Harry indicated a couple of pedestrians who had stopped to watch curiously. "I'm not allowed to work magic in front of muggles."
Paul threw up his hands. "Oh, well don't let our emergency influence your decision in any way!"
"Oh for pity's sake!" The Bard got down and crawled under the vehicle. He could feel gravel and dust scraping against his leather vest, and he thought he heard a twang of a guitar string as his Shadow-axe scraped against the undercarriage of the van. He reached into the center of the wheel, feeling for the cable and how it was hooked. "We should already be at the mall!"
He heard several pairs of knees bend behind him as people crouched to see under. Ms. Connor said, "At the end of the cable, there should be a flat steel bar. Just turn it on end and--"
It felt like something bit him. "Ow!" He jerked his hand out and stuck his fingers in his mouth. They tasted oily and dirty.
Aang's voice. "You alright?!"
"I've almost got it!" He reached in again. He felt the iron bar, but it slipped from his hand again. "Gah!"
Paul sighed. "Anakin, just rip the cable out!"
Ms. Jameson's voice. "Uh, no!"
Finally, he found the bar again, and with a scraping of knuckles on steel, pulled it free. "Got it!" He wriggled out, pulling the tire with him. Four pairs of hands hauled him up.
Ms. Connor pointed behind her at Anakin. "Now, we need about eight inches of clearance!"
"Alright." Anakin stepped back about eight inches.
Ms. Connor sighed. "The van! Raise the van about eight inches!"
Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh "Oh. Sorry." He gestured with his hand, and the van lifted up, hovering on nothing. Ms. Connor hooked the tire-iron onto one of the nuts and leaned against it, but the tire turned under her force.
"Gah! It's free-wheeling."
"Here." Aang unscrewed the top of his water bottle, and with a gesture, it neatly projected out and onto the axle, where it froze solid. The Bard could see vapors waft off the ice.
"Thanks." Ms. Connor went right back to work.
The Bard stepped back, nodding appreciatively at the display of teamwork.
And backed right into someone. "Oh, sorry--" he turned to look.
The two spectators from before had become quite a crowd, watching the farce with morbid curiousity and more than a little wonder. A few had their cell-phones out, and had no doubt filmed Aang and his display of water-bending--to say nothing of the van hovering by telekinetic will.
Harry raised one hand, watching Ms. Connor intently. "We're almost done."
A little girl in the crowd snickered.
Ms. Connor got the last of the nuts off. Paul set the spare upright and rolled it over, just as she got the shredded flat off.
The Bard just shrugged and tried to ignore the growing tide of attention behind him. It was a really creepy feeling.
Ms. Connor got the nuts back on, despite Paul's best efforts to help. "Look, if you just--" "Just let me do this--" "Would you back off?!" She slapped his hand.
"Ow!" Paul jerked back. "Alright! Jeez!"
Finally, with one last torque, Ms. Connor stepped back. "Clear!"
Anakin sighed in relief as he dropped the van. He rubbed the small of his back. "The force is not strong with me today."
"Mount up!" Ms. Connor turned back around. "Let's--"
She froze when she saw the gathered spectators. One by one, the other Chosen Ones turned to look.
It started with one slow clap. Then, others joined in. Soon, there was cheering and applause.
The Bard smiled, and took a flamboyant bow. "Thank you! Thank you!" He blew a kiss to the crowd.
Aang smiled, and started forward, but Link and Paul both grabbed him and hauled him to the van. Ms. Connor kept her head down as she ducked into the passenger side again. Anakin stared, non-plussed. Harry looked to the Bard.
The Bard smiled, and said quietly, "Just play cool. Get in the van." He waved to the crowd. "Thank you!" He pointed. "And remember, the 7:30 show is completely different from the 10:30 show!"
The crowd cheered.
He laughed, and got in, slamming the sliding door shut. Mrs. Jameson pulled them back out onto the road rather abruptly.
The Bard sighed. "That was close."
Aang's eyes went wide. "I forgot to get the water back!"
Paul handed him one of his bottles. "Don't spend it all in one place."
Link's eyes scanned rapidly back and forth as he thought. "I just hope the ice on the axle doesn't--"
CRUNCH! The van jolted hard and leered to starboard again.
"Oh for fuck's sake!" "Not again!" "What is it with us and vehicles!"
It was going to be a long trip to the mall.