Friday, August 29, 2014

E.L.F: Chapter Two

Author's Note: This week has been rather exciting! I've gotten notes on another novel I am working on (hint, it has something similar to but legally distinct from lightsabers in it!) and have been crunching away on it while also working on E.L.F. I have also installed and played a bit of Balder's Gate 2. It is a fine, fine, FINE game, and one must really experience it to understand why it is so very good! So, that's my recommendation for any of you RPG players out there. And so, without further adieu, the continuation of our story...

Chapter 2: The Xorquin

"I told you!" Pix hissed. Their shared breakfast sizzled on the frying pan between them. The two had woken from a not so restful sleep to find that Mom had left in the morning, leaving behind the key for the fabber and a note, scribbled on a piece of paper: Kids, fab whatever you want, so long as it is already in the menu – no hacking in chocolates for breakfast. I’m going to be busy all day doing                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 .  

Mom, being an odd duck, had actually blanked out what she had written with a black marker. Jimmy frowned, thinking for a moment that he still didn’t exactly know what she did do for a living. Something with the diplomatic corps.

"I told you!” Pix broke into his thoughts, having launched into full lecture mode, pacing back and forth in the kitchen, waving her hand in the air. “Don't put the strange data crystal into your computer! And what did you do the instant I turn my back?"

Jimmy flipped his synthmeat over with his spatula, then pressed it into the skillet. Grease popped and cracked and he glared at Pix. "At least I got more information out of it than you did."

"Yes. We've stumbled on an intergalactic snuff film ring! Big whop."

"No, no." Jimmy shook his head. "If it was a snuff film, where was the sex. And it can’t be intergalactic, the Xorquin live on Harbinger too.”

“They have other colony worlds! They didn’t blow their own planet up, unlike SOME species I can name,” Pix muttered, leaning on the counter.

“Hey, that was…” Jimmy blinked, shook his head, and managed to get back on track. “It wasn’t just a snuff film. It had information, diagrams, plans. That kind of stuff.”

Pix made a face, lapsing into silence as she thought, her antennas sparking softly. “Well, was it a male Xorquin or a female one? Don’t their castes segregate on gender or something weird?”

Jimmy sighed, looking down to the synthmeat. “Male, and they did a century ago. Not so much now.”

The meat looked like it had been cooked through. To check, he swept his spatula over it. The sensors flashed green. Jimmy nodded, then transferred the meat to the plate. Jimmy flicked his thumb against the skillet’s handle and the grease magnet whirred, then dropped a hardened pellet of grease into his hand, contained in a hardened shell to keep it from spreading.

“How can you tell? They’re walking lizards,” Pix said, kicking the trash can so that it was closer to Jimmy.
 Jimmy smiled at her, then dropped the pill into the trash. "A male Xorquin has a vocal organ the same color as his scales, females have orange coloration and ridges above their third eye." He made a vague waving motion where said sack would be.

Pix made a 'hmm' noise. "I bet that could be used as extra credit on some test somehow."

Jimmy shrugged and started breaking tri-colored eggs, dropping the purple yokes into the skillet, where they sizzled up with a ferocious smell of fruit. He started to stir those up with a spatula and looked up at Pix, raising his eyebrows. "Well, at least we have a whole Saturday to frantically search for a new computer to replace my old one, which is now sticking to the floor. Then we might be able to examine the record again!"

"Sticking?" A single pink eyebrow cocked. Pix cheated – her facial movements were programmed, meaning that she got to download most of her best looks off the mesh. It didn’t make them any less effective, though. Jimmy sighed again.

'Yeah. Melted plastic...we might need to replace the carpet too."

Pix's head made a plastic clonking noise as she dropped her forehead to the counter top. "Is this whole weekend going to suck?"

Jimmy shrugged as he slid the forlorn and rubbery remains of the eggs onto the plate. "I think I burnt them..."

Pix walked around the counter and looked down at the burnt eggs. She put her hand on Jimmy's back. "You tried, Jimmy. You tried."

The knob to the front door clicked. Turned. The door opened.

Jimmy’s brow furrowed as he looked up – something in the back of his mind was already convinced something was…

In walked something he didn’t expect to see.


The first thing he noticed wasn’t the three eyes, or the vocalization pouch, or the scales. It was the trench coat, wrapped around the Xorquin’s shoulders, thick and rather human looking. The coat flipped back with a single shift of one of the Xorquin’s shoulders, revealing the…

The sub-machine guns.

The sub-machine guns that were strapped to his sides. The sub-machine guns that were in his hands now. 
Aiming at the two of them.

Jimmy’s knees gave out. The only thing he could do was grab for Pix as-

The two sub-machine guns, snub nosed and compact and black, opened fire with a roar like the end of the universe.

Actual guns, as opposed to video game ones, made really loud noise as they were fired. They weren't just small firecracker pops, but a deep throated roar, complete with a huge flash of smoke and bright orange flames that lit each puff from inside out. The kitchen wall above Jimmy and Pix was completely shredded, bullets punching through thin metal cabinets. Plates shattered, glasses exploded, and the shelves collapsed. A fine spray of plastic and plaster, shards of metal, and hunks of plastic flew through the air and, needless to say, their breakfast was ruined.


The Xorquin lowered the smoking guns, leaving a trail of black fog in the air. His clawed feet crunched over the dust left behind by the caseless rounds.

Jimmy always knew video games would come in handy. He just didn't know it would be like this. He had always expected the hand eye coordination and quick thinking would be most helpful, like at a real job, but right now, he felt barely coordinated enough to crawl. His entire body shook and it was all he could do to not cry out. But he knew one thing, one thing pounded into his head by twelve years of playing games.

When someone is shooting at you...

Stay down!

The Xorquin walked into the back rooms, to Mom's office.

Jimmy realized he had been squeezing Pix's hand in a vice grip. He realized this because she hissed at him loud enough to cut through the ringing in his ears. "Jimmy!"

He let go. That opened up the floodgates and he almost curled up into a quivering mess of fear. They were being shot at! With real guns! In his own house!

Pix shook him. "Jimmy," she whispered. "We. Need. To. Get. Out-"

The Xorquin came back from the office. He had some files, hard-files scanned right into plastic pads Jimmy had never seen before. Well, he supposed they were what Mom kept in her desk or something. The Xorquin put the pads on the table down and went upstairs, still in no hurry. He walked down the stairs a short while later, holding the data crystal in his right hand, the sub-machine gun in his left.

Jimmy hoped that, by the Codes or any of the many many Gods he didn't believe in, the Xorquin would just walk out. Now!

If something or someone had listened to Jimmy's frantic thoughts, they must have had a sick sense of humor. The Xorquin started to walk out after placing a smallish gray cylinder on the kitchen table. The cylinder sat there, ominous. A moment later, it bleeped. A small display opened on the front, metal sheeting smoothly melting back. It started to count down a numeral system that Jimmy recognized as the Xorquin numerals. He screwed up his forehead, thinking hard.

Uh how did they go? The squiggly one was a one, then those three dot things were He blinked, working it out.

1000. 999. 998. 997-

Oh no. No no no no. No.

The Xorquin walked out of the house, plastic crunching under foot.

Jimmy lurched to his feet, his knocking knees suddenly rusting solid, panic giving him strength. He opened his mouth, somewhat like a sewer adapted fish trying to live in pure water. Except he didn't have gills to flap or a mercifully small brain to not comprehend what he was seeing. A word rang in his head, echoing again and again.

Pix grabbed his shoulder, her other hand in her pocket. "Bomb."

"Bomb," Jimmy whispered, still frozen.

"BOMB!" Pix shook him. "RUN!"

Jimmy blinked, then started to move.

The sound of blaring sirens broke in, louder than the bleeping of the bomb. Several things happened at once.

The Xorquin backed into the house, gun banging off again, dropping a police officer and sending the others diving for cover.

Pix tackled Jimmy to the ground.

The police grabbed their sidearms and propped them up on their cars.

“LET 'EM HAVE IT!” one shouted.

As one, every gun in the galaxy (or so it seemed to Jimmy) began to pour bullets into Jimmy's house.
The Xorquin ducked down behind a cabinet, reloading his guns with a quick snap, his coat swishing about the floor. Jimmy couldn’t have been more than a few inches from the Xorquin, unnoticed, eyes glued to the lump in the Xorquin's pocket. The data crystal!

The Xorquin stood and opened fire, his guns hammering even louder than the police outside. A bullet whizzed through the lizard's arm, bright pink blood splashing out with it. It was only a flesh wound, but it forced the Xorquin to relocate, dropping spent magazines from his guns and the data crystal, which slipped from his pocket, like a Ring of Power deciding to leave its keeper behind.

"Let's get out of here!" Pix shouted over the sound of gunfire.

"I, Uh, but-" Jimmy stammered, brain still locked entirely on panicking.

Pix whacked him on the back of the head. "Disengage your panic circuits and GO!" Jimmy bit back the 'I don't have panic circuits, you stupid E.L.F’ that almost popped out of his mouth. He ran forward, Pix behind him. They made a bee line for the back door, even as the Xorquin and the Police fired at one another through the walls of the living room, giving the run a frenetic energy, a crackling, popping adrenalin rush.
Jimmy only half realized he had grabbed the data crystal on the way to the back door.

"This is insane!" Pix shouted, even as they resorted to crawling, bullets snarling overhead as they whipped through the thin walls. The Xorquin was firing full back tilt, more brave than sensible. Blood was starting to stain his jacket.

Then bullets started to come from the back and the front, the police encircling the house. Jimmy and Pix put their hands over their heads, burying their faces in the carpet of the living room.


"Where to now?" Jimmy shouted back.

"Well, if you hadn't lead me here, I could have gotten us out safe!" Pix snapped.

"I-" Jimmy bit his lip. No time to get mad at Pix.

The Xorquin waited for a slight lull in the bullets. Then the bullets trailed off, the bleeping of the bomb the only thing. What number was it at? 300? 400? 200?

Pix grinned, suddenly. "I know! We pull a Verloren Hoop!"

Jimmy wasn't sure whether to groan, panic or to call Pix a genius. When Jimmy had been younger, he and Pix had played mock battles with one of those take home laser tag games, complete with harnesses, side arms and laser-grenades. Because they were both good guys, by a strict twelve year old's agreement, they fought against an invisible but also laser gun wielding enemy they called Those Guys.

In those battles, they had come up with many fake plans and names. And a Verloren Hoop was...

Pix slapped the ground, the signal to go. Jimmy and her braced themselves, then and spun around to run in the complete opposite direction they had just come. The Xorquin ran to the back door, bursting through, firing as he did so. Someone screamed. Bullets started flying again. One whizzed over Jimmy's head. His heart rate was through the roof.

Then they were round the bend of the kitchen's corner, in the hallway that went to the back room. The bomb blipped, loud enough to hear as they passed by. The back room was there. Mom and Dad's bed, the most comfortable bed in the house. Mom and Dad's bathroom, where Jimmy had learned to shave.
Pix grabbed the nightstand next to the bed, a small metal table. The lamp, books, and other detritus that Mom took to bed fell down.

CRASH! The window burst open, most of the shards flying out.

"Just as much fun as it was at my house," she said, a wee bit of hysteria creeping into her giggle, using the legs of the night stand to shove out the shards, leaving a mostly non-slice n' dice window sill to climb out.
"You know," Jimmy said as he put his hand on the window sill, his mind settling at surreal detachment. "You could have opened the window."

"You're right!" Pix slapped her forehead. "I think my panic circuits are engaging. Yes. Definitely!"

Jimmy had planned to help her out the window, but she got herself out before he could even open his mouth.
A single forlorn holographic tree sat in the Leonite's excuse for a backyard. Arranged around the base of the projector was the curved depression that had once been a false pond. Stretched around the whole rather sad arrangement was a thick chain link fence that separated it from the other pitiful backyards in the neighborhood. Jimmy had only a few seconds to appreciate the metaphorical resonance of the pathetic back yard, when contrasted with the manicured front.

The police in the backyard were all dead. Their bodies lay, stretched out on the ground, blood pooling around them, all of them so terribly still.

Jimmy froze, eyes wide.

This was nothing like…anything. Nothing like a movie, nothing like a video game, nothing like a book, nothing like-

The gunfire from the front trailed off with a few final, loud pops. Smoke poured from the windows that looked into the living room, and the Xorquin sprinted full tilt out of the living room, leaping over the fake pond. He jumped before he hit the fence, vaulting himself over the fence with his wounded arm, face impassive (even for what amounted to a giant space lizard with three eyes).

He thumped, rolled, and came up, toeclaws clacking on the metal ground. He turned back, his three eyes 
sweeping along the house that he had so completely destroyed.

His eyes swept over Jimmy and Pix and stopped. His gun came out in a flash. Jimmy put his hands up and Pix did the same a half second later. The Xorquin aimed through the fence, his leftmost eye narrowing in focus. A resounding crash came from the front door – a squeal of tortured metal that could only be the police making their gentle entrance.

The Xorquin pulled the trigger on the gun. Jimmy jerked, as if already shot.


The Xorquin looked at the gun, then looked like he was about to reload when a police hovercar flew overhead, the officer’s voice piped through the car speakers.

“Put your hands up!”

The Xorquin turned and ran.

Jimmy remembered to breathe as he realized...the Xorquin was leaving! Now, he thought, just don't notice the crystal was missing. Oh please, please, please don't notice the crystal was missing. The Xorquin vaulted the next chain link fence, a full back yard between him and Jimmy and Pix. The search light that stabbed down from the hover car swung around as the hover car swept out to keep pace, the officer cussing up a blue streak as he tried to keep the light fixed on the Xorquin.

Jimmy dropped his hands. Pix did the same. Pix grabbed Jimmy's hand and started to hurry away from the house – away from the bomb.

The Xorquin kicked in the back door of a neighbor’s house…and stopped.

He pulled something from his pocket, taking his time sweeping it about. It aimed at Jimmy. He looked up, then at Jimmy. Jimmy blinked, then looked down at his pocket.

The Xorquin started to run.

"Oh shit," Pix grabbed Jimmy and dragged him across the yard even faster. The Xorquin slapped in a new magazine as he ran.

The hovercar started to open fire, the officer in the passenger car using his side arm. The Xorquin didn’t even break stride: A quick bust let loose and the hovercar started to smoke, turning away and zipping off before it was hit again. The Xorquin swung his gun down, sweeping it about to aim at Jimmy and Pix.

Pix’s shoulder hit the entrance to the side yard, and they were out, onto the sidewalk in front of the house.

The police spilled into the backyard.


Jimmy and Pix kept running.

Jimmy didn't remember anything till they were three blocks away. His head was snapped out of his daze by the ear shattering roar of an explosion that caused the ground under his feet to rock upwards. He and Pix went flying, crashing to the ground a moment later.

That was one long ass fuse! Jimmy’s first cogent thought for who knows how many minutes. One long ass fuse.

Jimmy took a moment to reflect. He really needed to think of better things to think of.

He shook his head and started to get to his feet, his elbows scraped and bleeding. Pix stood, groaning as she rubbed her shoulder. They both turned, just to see what they already knew.

The plume of fire and smoke came from Jimmy’s house.

"What is going on?" Pix asked, not even having the consideration to sound out of breath. “I mean what the hell is going on?"

Jimmy’s hand went to his data crystal…and, with a sinking feeling, he realized the Xorquin would be after them. He looked around, expecting to see the lizard at any second.

Instead, he saw salvation. Salvation, in the most unlikely form, arrived in the driver's seat of a shoddy old gasburning landcar.


Richy, the shit. Richy, the foster brother of Pix and actual brother of Edward. Richy, who was glaring at them both.

"You tried to light my brother on FIRE, you b-" Richy got that far before Pix wrenched the door open, leaned in on one knee and grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him bodily from the car.

"Listen you horrible little person. You and your little scum sucker of a brother can both burn for all I care," Pix hissed in the most threatening manner Jimmy had ever seen. He had to stop himself from edging away from her. "We need a car. NOW!"

Richy gaped, terrified. "Y-you crazy-”

“Oh screw this!” Pix shoved him back against the car door, then hauled off and punched him right in the face. He did a neat one eighty spin, hovered there for a moment on his tiptoe and then collapsed.
Jimmy gaped. Pix stood, fist still clenched, panting.

“You just-”

“Yup.” Pix rubbed her knuckles.

“Remind me to never piss you off.”

Pix smiled slightly at Jimmy. “You'd never do that.”

Jimmy tried to understand the weird twisty feeling that crunched on his heart, beyond all the obvious reasons that he couldn't get straight right then.

The window shattered before the crack of the bullet reached their ears. Jimmy and Pix both ducked and Jimmy spun to face the street and there, down the road, was a distant, greenish figure.

“Get in!”

Pix got the driver's seat and Jimmy kicked Richy out of the way, before diving into the back seat. Pix slammed her foot to the pedal, pressing it right up against the metal. The wheels of the car spun, squealed, caught, and the car shot off like a rocket.

Jimmy grabbed onto the seat in front of him, trying to keep himself from flying every which way as Pix took a corner so hard that he thought they would flip over.

“You can drive!?”


“Kind of!?” The car swerved to avoid smashing into a light pole and Jimmy slammed his seat belt home with frantic haste. “You can slow down! We got away!”

“Uh-huh. Right. Of course we did.” Pix didn't slow down.

Which turned out to be a really good idea because another car roared around the corner behind them. A police car, with the Xorquin at the wheel, driving one handed. His free hand propped a shredder pistol out the open window . He pulled the trigger and smoke followed the car. A series of red hot spikes slammed into the side and back of Richy's car, denting and burning the paint. One ripped through the tire. The car swerved and Pix gritted her teeth. Jimmy watched as, in slow motion, their car zoomed towards the Xorquin's car.


Pix bared her teeth and jerked on the wheel, viciously.

WHAM! Jimmy clenched his fingers on the arm rests, his face completely white. Every lurch, every movement of the car made his stomach do a backflip. The car's slammed together again. When they separated, the police car started to back away – peeling off. Jimmy whooped, elated.

That whoop turned to a scream.


They were running out of road.

The edges of City 18 overlooked a massive nest of pipes, tubes and the constant flow of sewage that leaked out from around the joints of all those tubes. It was a lot more sewage than non-humans imagined, but there were more than eleven billion creatures of all races living on Harbinger, and they all tapped into Harbinger's waste recycling systems somehow.

At the end of most roads were walls, but at eighteen points, there were foot bridges that crossed over to the far walls, where doorways lead into the sprawling maze that was the sewage systems of Harbinger. Those, Jimmy knew from history class, were built by the Architects so that the systems would be continually maintained. That factoid floated through his brain as he tried to find some way of explaining to Pix in the five seconds they had left to life why this was a bad idea.

“HOLD ON!” Pix shouted, the bridge racing towards them. 

Jimmy's eloquent speech got off to a roaring start. “D-”

The car whipped past a sign reading “Now Leaving City 18.”

The wheels hit the foot bridge – by now, the self-repairing tires had inflated.

The wheels caught.

The wheels held.

"WhooooooHOOO!" Pix whooped, triumphant. Her whole body was a picture of intent focus: Her knuckles white, her antennas sparking, her eyes glowing a bright pink as she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. The tires were strong – for now, and kept their grip with all the intelligence programmed into them.  
Jimmy saw the Xorquin receding in the rear view camera. Light glinted off the Xorquin's barrel.

Jimmy practically ripped the armrests off as fear tightened his grip.

A line of shredder bolts impacted in the back, two striking the tires. The self-repair systems started to whine, and traction-

The car shuddered, slipped, and Jimmy gritted his teeth at the screeching noises that came from the bottom of the car hitting the corner of the footpath.

Pix grunted and threw her weight to the side as she strained, hard, to keep the car going.

The car stayed on the footpath, somehow, tilting to the side, loud clanging noises coming as it smashed through the guide rail.

The car wrenched to the side, pivoting a full ninety degrees. WHAM! The trunk smashed into the doorway at the end of the bridge, crumpling up. The doors popped open and Jimmy almost fell out of the car. He pushed himself out fully when the car started to slide forward, tilting up and off the edge of the walkway. Jimmy spun, reaching for Pix's hand.

Pix stayed, frozen in time and space for a moment. Then, as the car began its inexorable slide down and off the side of the bridge, she leaped forward at the last seconds and grabbed onto Jimmy's hand. He grabbed her wrist and held on, bracing his foot against the surviving guide rails. Pix hung there. Slowly, he hauled her up and together, they collapsed onto the bridge.

She lay beside him, panting as the car went down...down...down...

Jimmy stuck his head over the side of the walkway, which had been flexing sickeningly under the weight of the car. There it was, tumbling end over end. It hit a tube and flipped, the front crumpled in, compacting the engine almost completely.

The car flipped again, then impacted with the side of a waste processor.

A moment later, something inside the car exploded. A massive green-white explosion ripped through the air. A cloud of smoke lifted up, smelling strongly of ozone.


“Do I, or do I not rock the house?” Pix grinned, rolling onto her back.

“I will give you that,” Jimmy said. He rolled onto his back as well, just wanting to rest for the moment.

“Now, time to run!” Pix jerked herself to her feet, and Jimmy groaned. She dragged him to his feet.

The Xorquin ran down the bridge. The bridge was fairly long, but the Xorquin got larger at a pace that didn’t exactly fill Jimmy with any sense of confidence.

Jimmy and Pix ran, Jimmy’s heart in his throat. Any second, he thought, a bullet is going to hit me. And it's going to hurt. And then I am going to die.

He reached the doorway at the end of the bridge. Then, he was in a hallway lined with doors. Grating rang under his feet and some of the doors opened up, revealing very confused trash crawlers looking at the two kids running for their lives.

Trash Crawlers had always struck Jimmy as the saddest humans out there. They were a bizarre mix of lower class citizens who couldn't get a job in the actual city and people who refused to cooperate with the local governance, who preferred to live off what they could scavenge out in the boonies. The faces that rushed past were that mix: Every shade and hue of humanity, some wan, some concerned, some confused.

Those faces all vanished back into the trash compactors they scrounged from when the first bullet cracked by. It bounced off the wall next to Pix and they both started running faster. Jimmy's lungs burned and his legs ached. He was reminded, insanely, of gym class.

Of course, he had better motivation here.

They hit a corner and Jimmy banked hard around it. Pix skidded slightly, but she kept up. The hallway, now that it had turned away from the trash compactors, went past even more trash compactors. These were actually in use, the sounds of their crushing and crunching filling the air. The door at the end of the hallway was marked ‘Intersection, look both ways.’

Jimmy got to the door first and yanked it open for Pix. Jimmy followed and they stood in the intersection for a moment, thinking. The intersection lead, if you went right, to more trash compactors. To the left, even more trash compactors...

As for forward, they ran into, well, more trash compactors. These all had their doors open and, to Jimmy's astonishment, Pix ducked into one. She splashed into the muddy water that filled most compactors. Trash swirled around her feet, bigger hunks just sitting there as smaller hunks clinked off of them. At least this was part of the inorganic processing systems. 

"Pix, what...are...we..." Jimmy gasped for air.

Pix shushed him and then grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him to the side of the door. Then she stood completely still.

All Jimmy could hear was the pounding of his heartbeat, then a loud series of clanks as the Xorquin ran past.
Silence. His heart beat faded. Jimmy nodded at Pix, giving her a big mental thumbs up. She grinned and her antennas sparked with a soft zzit and a smell of ozone. Jimmy stuck his head cautiously out the door.

The Xorquin was running down the hall, where there was yet another bend. It wouldn't take him long after that bend to realize they had given him the slip.

By that time, Jimmy and Pix were long gone.


The hallways of Harbinger got dark the farther you moved off beaten paths. Lights were either forced into operation by the Council's shaky understanding of Harbinger's lighting systems or put in by jacking into easily accessed power sources and setting up a few lamps. But when you went away from the places where people lived, the light faded...dimmed...died.

And Jimmy and Pix were left standing there, hands on hallway walls so they didn't get lost in the endless darkness that had snuck up on them.

"He'll never find us in here."

"I'll never find us in here, actually." Pix's eyes glowed, but not enough to illuminate anything beyond her cheekbones. Jimmy was about to suggest that they head back, to find a flash light at least, when there was a soft click of metal on metal. He froze…and then Pix’s lighter came on, casting a flickering, ancient feeling sphere of light around them. Her face was set, confident, her eyes gazing at the fire in her hand. Jimmy's wondered if she always looked this pretty or if he was just too scared to not be scared of admitting all the things he really liked about her, if that made a lick of sense. "Okay, I think we're safe."

“You really must tell me this new theoretical definition of safe you're using,” Jimmy said.

“Hey!” She held her hands out in a 'come on' gesture. “We're safe-er than we'd be with guns banging and bullets whizzing every which-a-way!”

“I'll grant you that, but I'm not going to say we're 'safe' safe till we have something between us and that maniac!” Jimmy rubbed his shoulders. “Preferably the 'him being in jail or dead' something.”

“Word.” Pix ducked her head and her antennas sparked. “Shit.”


"No mesh here, Jimmy do you have a map?"

Jimmy sighed started rummaging around his pockets, but he had forgotten to grab his handheld or wallet in the mad dash from house to streets. A sick lurch of his stomach hit him, causing him to stagger against the wall slightly. They weren't just at home. They were atomized plastic now. Or at least melted plastic. He groaned, the mental image of waiting in line to get his ID and credit cards re-done stabbing into him. 

"No luck, Pix." Wait, why worry about lines? He'd probably be dead by then! And then he realized that Mom would have to think he was dead too...

"Okay, well, I guess we're all going to have to try and get back to the city without getting caught by the Xorquin, without being shot by the Xorquin…”

“And without losing this,” Jimmy said as he held up the data crystal. It glittered oddly in the firelight.
“ picked that up!?”

“Well, yeah, he kinda wanted to kill for it, I thought that we'd want to keep it from him.”

Pix smacked her hand against her forehead. “Jimmy, if the crazy psychopath wants something, its generally considered polite to let him have it so he stops trying to kill us! Doubly so when he can track it!”

Jimmy scowled. “If having the data crystal would prevent him from killing us, I'd give it to him, but he tried to shoot us anyway, even when he thought he had the crystal. And that was a point to point scanner. So there.”

Pix 'hmmed'. “How could you tell?”

Jimmy snorted, slapping the wall they stood beside with his palm. 

"Oh, right!" Pix shook her head. The mesh was jerry rigged over the centuries to broadcast with Harbinger's ancient systems. But anything not directly hooked to it - like a scanner - had to work around the fact that the material of Harbinger's walls blocked pretty much every emission known to the galaxy. So, any scanner was - by necessity - point to point. "We just need to keep a wall between him and we're safe!"

Jimmy nodded.

“So, how are we going to get out of here and to somewhere safe without dying horribly?”

Jimmy thought, looking down at the blackness where he thought his feet would be. They could try doubling back through the darkened corridors, getting colder and colder as they wormed their way closer and closer to the freezing hull of Harbinger, until they dropped dead from the sheer cold and exposure, all in the futile attempt to find a path back to City-18 and safety.

Or they could turn around and get definitely shot by a tall, gun-happy, three-eyed space lizard.

"I think we should...uh...hmmm..." Jimmy had never felt this kind of complete and utter indecision in his life. When bullets had been flying, the answer was obvious: move or die. Now, though, there were more options. And the fact that any of them ended with 'and then you die' struck Jimmy as being just a bit beyond his normal ken. He looked at Pix and saw she was caught in the same mental finger trap as he was. Looking directly into her eyes was too awkward, so he settled for her nose. "I think we should keep going forward. If I were the Xorquin, I'd be waiting for us to come back out of this labyrinth."

Pix nodded, glumly. "Too bad we're not like Jesus and have a ball of string or something."

"Yu. It was Yu the Engineer with the ball of String."

"Whatever." Pix jerked her hand and the light guttered out. She swore and started to work the lighter again.  “Anyone got string?”

A mutual rummaging through pockets followed.

"I've got five feet of wire in my pocket."

"Nice try, Jimmy"

Sparks caught and light flared.

"Hey! At least it's something." Jimmy paused in his rummaging, the flickering light catching on something in the gunmetal gray corridor. He looked down. "Hey, Pix...look down."

She did so.

"Ooooh, what is this?"

Pix and he knelt down, the firelight catching and glinting on a small wire that ran along the edge of the corridor. It stretched forward and backwards quite a ways. It took only a second of peering at it in the dim firelight to see it was a power cable.

Jimmy grinned, wide. "Hey, Pix, I bet you fifteen credits this cable leads somewhere with lights and heat and possibly a mesh connection."

Pix looked at him, then grinned. "Sounds like a plan to me."

Jimmy grabbed the cable and standing. He looked at his hands, then up at Pix. “So, I didn't get to tell you this at the time, but, damn you've got a nice right hook.”

“Why thank you, Jimmy!”

“He deserved it, if you ask me.”

"I've been telling people that for months. Then he put my homework through the recycler and I gave up trying." Pix sighed. "Well, at least it's a better excuse than my dagget ate my homework."

Jimmy snorted.

Pix snapped her lighter closed, pocketed it, then grabbed the cable behind Jimmy and they started to walk forward into the darkness.


Did you enjoy the fiction? If so, think about becoming a Patron at Patreon! I offer awesome rewards - like free back rubs! ...and by that, I mean, a chance at a guest appearance in one of my novels. ALSO BACKRUBS!!!!!! (Warning: Backrubs are only available if you live within 40 miles of my house.)  

Friday, August 22, 2014

E.L.F: Chapter One

After a hiatus on blog posting, I am returning...with a serialized novel and everything! This is the first chapter of my novel, E.L.F, a young adult sci-fi adventure novel that will hopefully appeal to all my readers.

And so, without further adieu...E.L.F.


By David Colby


Chapter 1: The Crystal

Anyone who says hovering is an elegant mode of transport must never have ridden on a school bus. The engines, like most things associated with the public school system, desperately needed a massive overhaul and total upgrade to move from completely wrecked to barely functional. Every time the bus glided over one of the many potholes in City-18, the shock dampening fields failed to catch and Jimmy got to introduce the side of his head to the window. Again.

Despite many such introductions, the side of his head and the window hadn’t formed a lasting relationship and the constant breakups were really starting to wear on him.

"Unng."  He closed his eyes. "Tell me Pix-"

"Cause life hates you."

"Good answer." Jimmy sighed, putting his hand over his face. The bus hit another pothole and Jimmy got to introduce his head to the window once more. “Shit!”

"Language!" Pix waggled her finger at him, her antennas sparking. "What would your father say if he heard you saying that?"

"Um, applaud?"

She snorted. "Now, enough of this jibber jabber.  Let's get some work done." She snapped her fingers once and formed an AR bubble in the air over her wrist. The bubble was – like most really good and interesting things – fictional: A tickling of the optic nerves by some polite nanobots – short term augments that hadn’t yet been sneezed out after the end of the school day. Pix’s normal outline – pink and polka dots with the occasional hunk of rusted barbed wire – surrounded a haze of text that became filled in as the local networks crawled their way through the bus’ awful, low-fi mesh network.

As the mesh chugged along, the bus shuddered to a stop – the braking field catching desperately at the ground, squealing and whining at the exact right tone to send shooting pain through Jimmy’s head. While the bus skidded and squealed to a halt, Jimmy looked at the formerly gray bus station: Someone with too much time and too little respect for public property had sprayed it down with day glow, multicolored paint. Some of the art was kinda eye catching, if you didn't mind searing pink neon. Beyond the stop were row after row of identical houses, each with their small oxy-plants puttering away, and each with their own vain attempt to appear different from their neighbors, ranging from the bland (one of those spinning plastic flowers) to the heroic (a supped up spinning plastic flower with flamethrowers attached at the ends).

Suburbia in City-18.

"Now, section B of the Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test, question thirty four," Pix read, putting far more energy and aplomb into the reading than was appropriate for a high school exit exam. "Which major event changed the course of human history in the late twenty-fourth century. Was it A!" She held her finger up. "The Eugenics Wars? B-" Another finger. "-The arrival of the Tette<click><click> in Neh...Now... Jerk...Yer..." She scowled, reaching out with her finger to highlight the word which started to shift phonetics – upscaling from the ancient languages to more modern ones in an attempt to become readable. "Yark?"

"York," Jimmy said, slowly. "New. York."

"Stupid dead language," Pix muttered. "Where was I? Oh right! C-" Another finger. "The Scourge, or D, the discovery of Harbinger."

"Oh, oh, oh, don't help me."  Jimmy closed his eyes and put his forefingers against his temples. "Uuuh...could it be D?"

"Drum roll please." Pix snapped her fingers. Jimmy provided one against the back of the chair in front of them, his index fingers tapping out a long rrrttttt.

"James Leonite Junior, you're absolutely correct! You have won the chance to go on to the next question!"

"Is it as mind numbingly easy and insultingly simple as the last thirty?"

"Ding, ding, ding, ding! You are correct!" The bus hit a pothole and Jimmy narrowly avoided cracking his head against the window. Pix’s backpack – which was sitting on her lap – leaped free and made a break for it, skittering under the seat in front of them. Pix rubbed her face with her hands, banished the AR bubble with a wave of her wrist, and bent forward to grab at the backpack.  

"Hey Pixie," someone drawled out as Pix sat back up.

"Oh great," she whispered, as Jimmy glared over her shoulder.

Edward, Pix's younger foster brother, gave his trademark smirk. To parents, teachers and a disturbingly large percentage of the female population at school, that smirk made them, in Pix's words, 'go all dribbly'. But to people who were, you know, sane, it looked just as it actually was: Evil. Or if not evil, at least a good imitation, off brand, fifty percent off on sale kind of evil.

"Soo, Pixie." The bus stopped again, door hissing open. "I hear that you don't have a date for the Prom."

"I don't believe in the chauvinistic idea of a man being the one to ask a woman out on the date." Pix turned around, seat squeaking at her movement. "Also, I really hate it when you call me Pixie. It makes me angry."

Edward chuckled. "You're cute when you're angry, Pixie.” 

She shook her head. "You won't like me when I'm angry..."

"Pix-" Jimmy started, reaching out for her shoulder. Too slow.

Edward jumped. "AH!"

Smoke puffed from Edward's shirt. Jimmy saw Pix's hand sneak back into her pocket, the shiny flash of metal.

"You bitch!" Edward shouted, beating against his shirt, long after the smallish fire had gone out. Pix laughed.

"What? Me? I didn't do anything."

"Pyro!" Edward grabbed her shirt, but by now the bus driver had noticed there was a scuffle breaking out. She stood up and lumbered down the central aisle of the bus, grabbing Edward and jerking him off Pix.

"You two," the bus driver growled. "Stop it."

"She started it!" Edward shouted. "Cyborg!"

Pix's lips went white and her eyes whirred loudly as the irises contracted to small dots, surrounded by pink. Jimmy recognized that look. He reached for her shoulder, grabbing and jerking her back before she could do something more easily connected to her than mysterious shirt fires.

"I don't like hearing cussin durin my bussin," the bus driver growled. "And I es-peci-ally don't like hearin racial ep-if-ets."

Edward looked at his feet, the picture of contriteness and apology. "I'm sorry, ma'am," he said. The bus driver let him go, then looked at Pix, who was still straining at Jimmy's hand, fists clenched, knuckles white.

"And you, miss don't do nothing stupid either." She frowned. "It's just words is all."
She lumbered back to the driver's seat.

Jimmy sighed. "Pix-"

"Shut up." She snapped. A moment later, she shook her head. "No, I...just a word." She made a face, her antenna sparking.

Jimmy gently patted her shoulder, wishing he could do more, like, say, punching Edward in his stupid, handsome face. Pix slumped her forehead against the seat in front of them. The bus lurched into motion.

Jimmy bit his lip. "Pix, where did you get the lighter?"

She was silent.


"Shut up!"

Jimmy looked out the window, watching the uniform gray and brown and silver of City-18 zip past, even as Pix's hand moved in her pocket. Jimmy could practically hear her hand closing around it, her thumb snapping it open and closed. Open and closed. 

Edward's stop came up: Right slap bang in the really bad part of town, the part of the town that had grown up around the Processors: Monolithic, mile high machines built into Harbinger's superstructure itself. A lifetime of driving past them in hovercars and seeing them out the window had robbed Jimmy of almost all his awe. They were just parts of the landscape. But sometimes, when he remembered what he learned in school and remembered the words of his professor...he felt a shiver of vertigo.

The Processors were old. Older than the human race – and the human race wasn’t exactly what one might call sprightly. They had spent the time it took the human race to flower and burn itself to a cinder doing the same thing, day in, day out. Whoever the Architects had been, they had known what they were doing. But, time took its toll, even here, even with all that power, all that intense brainpower. The Architects might be able to build Harbinger, but they couldn’t make it last forever.

Just practically forever.

That ‘practically’ was why humanity was here. If one didn't think about what the Processors did, one might even be proud that humans were allowed to maintain them. Jimmy shook his head while Edward – still glaring at Pix and rubbing the burn on his jacket, trying to sooth the self-healing fabric back into its spotless condition – stepped off the bus. That glare dragged Jimmy’s mind from the ancient and relatively unimportant past to...well, the right now.

The bus lurched into motion. Jimmy knew that glare meant only one thing: Edward was going make Pix's life a living hell next week, after her two day reprieve at Jimmy's house.

"I stole it." Pix spoke up.

Jimmy closed his eyes. "You made a new cycle's resolution!"

"It helps me calm down, okay!" She slid her hands out of her pockets, playing with the lighter in the open.  "Also, it's a great way to ward off dumb, semi-incestuous foster brothers."

"Yeah, Richy and Edward are screwed up." Jimmy bit his lip. "That doesn’t mean you should keep it."

"No, I'm fine." Pix looked away. "Say, want to study more?"

"Suddenly, it seems rather unimportant, Pix I ca...I don't want you to get in any more trouble. I mean, who else will I play Cogs of Conflict with?" He smiled, weakly.

She didn't look back. The bus rounded the bend, shooting past the Processors and towards the Heights. The houses got bigger, the oxy-plants were hidden better, and the people started to dress with flashier colors. As the bus waited at a red light that seemed to last forever, Jimmy watched a girl walking her rollerbug, wearing a skirt so high that it reached hypothetical territory.

“Are you going to ask Shira Xao out for the prom?" Pix launched back into the conversation with the verbal equivalent of throwing a hunk of junk in a turbo vent.

Jimmy put his hand behind his head, laughing and choking at the same time, jerking his eyes away from the distracting girl. "Uh, well, uh-"

Jimmy tried to count the number of times he had laid up at night, thinking out the words to say in these situations. It was really easy to think of words when you were in bed, in the dark, with only the thrumming of the oxy-plant to keep you company. In real life...

In real life, Pix barrels over your thoughts.

"She's pretty!" Pix grinned. “Though, you will never get her to wear that.” She eyed the girl with the hypothetical skirt.

"Well, I-"

“Well, maybe after you get her drunk.”


"What?" She shoved his shoulder playfully.

The bus came to a stop at Jimmy's station and the door hissed open.

“All off for the Heights,” the bus driver called.

 Pix got up and grabbed Jimmy's hand and jerked him out of his seat.

"Come on," She grinned. "Let's blow off some steam! This is Friday. The week can't possibly get any worse. That'd be against the law."


Jimmy and Pix walked...well, no that's a lie: Pix dragged and Jimmy followed meekly, grinning all the way. They walked past the first few houses on the street, then stopped at the last house on the left. In a neighborhood of fancy houses, this one stood out not only because it was a full story taller than the others, but also because it was almost always empty. Jimmy sometimes looked at the other houses, where wives and husbands and partners would live at home and their families would head out to do their jobs or go to school, but someone was always home. Someone was always there to enjoy the benefits of credit. Not the Leonite house. He looked at the empty windows and the closed and locked doors.

“Home sweet home.” Jimmy glanced at Pix. She grinned at him. Shadows surrounded them and the only thing visible were her eyes, glowing a bright pink. As one, they both looked up. .

An airship floated overhead. A tripod dangled from the balloon, the tip of each foot projecting into the center area between them, creating a fairly good hologram.

“Did you ever want to visit the Upper Levels, but could never handle long trips?” The spokesperson asked, his voice pitched to carry. “Did you always want to visit all of Harbinger, but now you're over the hill? Well, come on down to Quark's Matrix Game Central and experience them in the safety of your own living room!”

Jimmy snorted. “Didn't they get sued for lobotomizing someone?”

“Yeah. Guess they won.” Pix walked with him to the front door. Jimmy put his thumb to the scanner and the door opened. As expected, no one shouted to say 'good afternoon’.

Jimmy shook his head. Here he was, feeling sorry for himself when there were kids that didn’t have enough credit to eat anything but the free gruel dispensed at the local fabbers.

Still, the expected lack of human response made walking into the house a decidedly bittersweet experience. Once Jimmy and Pix were inside, the door closed with a clunk, cutting off the stench from outside.

 "Welcome home, Master Leonite," the house A.I. said, turning the lights up till the entire first floor gleamed. The cleaners had polished every surface to a mirror shine, and as Mom and Dad were never home often enough to make a mess, Jimmy found the cleanliness...cloying.

"Did you know Carl-" Pix never would and possibly never could call her foster father 'Dad' "-had his house A.I programmed to a sexy female voice yesterday?"

"I'm surprised he hadn't done it earlier." Jimmy sighed, slowly. Pix shucked her jacket off her shoulders, her hand plucking her lighter from the jacket pocket and moving it to her pants pocket. Jimmy tried his best to not notice.

"All right!" Pix grinned, turning to him. "I challenge you to a duel!" She pointed her finger at him, antennas sparking. "In a game of your choice."

"I accept, madam." Jimmy spun on his heel to face his friend. "I choose Cogs of Conflict!"

"To the-"

Clunk, thump, clunk. Pix started and spun around, looking at the door. The pneumatic tube that delivered the taxes and the occasional letter from Dad had just spat a small, rectangular box into the mail cage.

Pix plodded over to the mail cage and picked up the box. She sniffed at it. Jimmy put on his best action hero voice and play shouted: "IT'S A BOMB!"

"It is not a bomb." Pix grinned, putting her ear to it. "It's got something hard inside. Something hard...and long."

Jimmy nodded, solemnly, his lips pursed. Then quivered, his eyes closing, fingers digging into his arms as he tried to hold back.

"Don't you dare say anything!" Pix wiggled a finger at him.

"I wasn't planning to!"

"It doesn't have a name on it." Pix frowned. "Think it's from your Dad?"

"One way to find out!"

They plopped down at chairs around the kitchen table, plastic scraping against metal. Pix set the box down right in the middle of the table. Jimmy leaned forward and Pix started to slowly open it up, as if the package might explode, joke or no joke.

Jimmy scooted backwards slightly. What if it was a bomb? Pix shot him a 'seriously?' look. The cardboard fell open, revealing...

A data crystal. Green, thin, and about the size of a man's hand. Its triangular nose rested in a metallic cup that rested on the table, keeping the crystal upright.

"Um, yay?" Jimmy frowned, prodding the crystal. "Why didn't Dad just E-mail us? I mean, if it is from Dad..." 

"Well, it IS a fifty terabyte crystal, Jimmy. Maybe he wanted to send fifty terabytes worth of porn? Like, the really good stuff you have to pay money for, not the stuff you can trawl the mesh for?"

"Possibly! And by that, I mean, I wish. Hmm..." Jimmy snapped his fingers. "Maybe it's a late birthday present?"

"Maybe!" Pix stood up and grinned. "It all depends on what's inside. Now, stay tuned gentle viewers!" She grabbed her shirt and lifted it up, exposing her belly button and her data port. That, along with the bubblegum pink hair and antennas, marked her as being an E.L.F and not just a normal human with hair paint. The crystal clinked in and she started. "EE! Tickles!"

"What's in it?"

Pix closed her eyes. Then she yelped and grabbed at her data port. The port opened up and ejected the crystal. Pix reached for it, but it slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground, point first.

It sunk half an inch into the metal of the floor, the tip cutting metal like butter.

Jimmy gaped. Pix knelt down next to the table, glaring at the crystal.

“Shit,” Jimmy whispered, reaching down and grabbing the crystal. He jerked it out, leaving a circular hole in the floor. “Double shit! Why is this so sharp!?”

“U-Uh, military level data crystals have those things,” Pix said, tapping her chin. “It makes the data exchange faster...ow.” She rubbed her temples.

"Are you okay?"

"I'll be fine!" Pix sighed. "It's just its got defense programs that are a bit stronger than most sane people would use for porn." She bit her lip. "So, it's either from your Dad, who is paranoid, or someone sent it to the wrong place."

Jimmy nodded, using his foot to slide the small carpet under the table to cover the hole. That would work. Hopefully. "Should I get an ice pack?"

Pix gave him a 'look', with one of those eyebrow cocks that went almost up above her bangs.

"Or the virtual equivalent of an ice pack?"

Pix sat down, sighing. "Nah, I'll be fine. It was just some nasty code."

Jimmy bit his lip, all those fancy words scattering to the winds again. "Can I get"

Pix laughed. "I'm not going to collapse or faint or swoon or anything." She looked up at him, smiling, slightly. "So, up for video games?"

"What about the crystal?"

"It's not a bomb, and your mom won't get home till later." Pix shrugged. "I'm not going to spend my whole afternoon worrying about it when nothing is going to happen."

Jimmy considered that. "I like how you think, Pix." He grinned. "Cogs of Conflict?"

"Sounds like a plan to me!"


The brrrpt brrrpt of rapid fire machine guns rocked the foundation of the Leonite household and rattled the windows in their panes.

Jimmy mashed the fire button on his controller, his thumb whamming down like a jackhammer. He leaned over to the right, trying to get his character to go faster.

It didn't work.

His character, projected in the center of the room by the Leonite's almost embarrassingly high-quality holosystem, smashed into cover, but not before some of Pix's bullets took big bites out of his Health-O-Meter.

Jimmy grinned and slammed down fire button and Parlus Menix propped his ram-bow up and shot an exploding arrow into a bugeyed monster's face.

The bug eyed monster grabbed at the arrow a moment after Pix shouted, "You son of a-"

The monster exploded into a million little giblets, eyeballs and intestines flying every which-a-way, turning the walls around it scarlet.

"HA!" Jimmy stuck his tongue out at Pix. "Gotcha, Bugger!"

"I hate playing as Buggers." Pix grumbled. But her character respawned and she started running him around the close quarter’s combat zone. Jimmy stood up to get a better angle on the projection, biting his lip as his character pulled a grenade from his pocket.

"I see what you are doing there." Pix said, moving to her side of the room, her antennas sparking.
Jimmy scowled. She could see his character, and he couldn't see hers. Then her character popped up holding the Orbsatgun.

"Oh goddamn it!" Jimmy tapped frantically at his controller, but the Orbsatgun had targeted his character. A moment later, a really big hunk of tungsten dropped through the ceiling and turned his character into a smear of red paste and giblets. Two holographic eyeballs rolled along the ground, nerves flopping.

"Ew." Pix looked a bit grossed out. Jimmy felt more annoyed than anything else.

A car drove up to the front of the house, hover engines squealing ever so softly as the car settled on the driveway. Mom!

"Shit! Uh, quick, get Mako Cart!"

Pix started to rummage around for the Mako Cart game, while Jimmy opened up the projector, gingerly removed the Cogs of Conflict data crystal. He hid it behind the dresser, Pix slid the Mako Cart crystal in, and by the time Mom opened the front door. Jimmy and Pix sat down and looked like they were playing the goreless games Mom preferred them to play.


Jimmy stood up and turned around. "Guess who's home early." A hand stuck out around the small wall that made it impossible to see the front door from the game room. It held a baggy of chickoon nuggets, fresh and greasy from Orkz and Crake's. Mom stuck her head around the corner a moment later and smiled.

 "Hey mom!" Jimmy grinned and she spread her arms. Jimmy hugged her and the smell of chickoon nuggets wafted Pix over.

"Hey Pix." Jimmy's Mom smiled as Jimmy stepped back. Pix glanced at the package, which still sat on the table.

"Heya Miz Leonite." Pix sat on the table and kicked her legs, the package and data crystal hidden behind her.

Mom smiled then walked past Jimmy and put down the chickoon nuggets. "There's some fries in there too." She sighed. "I need to get out of these shoes."

Her shoes were pointy and had high heels, with retro-rings around the middle of the heels. The rings glowed slightly and served no real purpose other than making them look, well, retro. Mom walked back to her room.

"So, how were your days?" Mom called from the back of the room.

"Fine," Jimmy and Pix said simultaneously.

"Where did the box come from?"

 Mom walked back around the corner. She still wore her working blouse, and she still looked really tired, but her feet were bare and she smiled. The light of her smile made her eyes glitter slightly and she stopped looking like she was fifty. "So, you two made the bus?"

Jimmy nodded. Mom smiled, then looked at the box suggestively after it became clear they weren’t going to speak up.

"Oh yeah." Pix nodded. "That arrived earlier today"

"Yup. Don't know who it's from though," Jimmy said, hands behind his back.

Mom picked up the box. She opened it. Her eyes narrowed. "Hmm..." Then she closed it, and, without a word, she walked into the office. The door closed and locked.

Pix and Jimmy looked at one another. "What was that?" Pix muttered.

Jimmy shrugged. "Maybe it's work related."

Pix grinned. "I know one way to find out!"

"Oh, no-" But Pix was already dragging him to the door. Jimmy didn't resist too much cause, well, he was curious too. His ear went against the door and he closed his eyes, trying to get a good listen.

"...I think it's definitely from Kellengaurd..."


"It's serious, if it's that Howl thing..."

Long pause, muffled sounds.

"I'm worried that...yeah, we should..."


"...the kids...well, dinner's getting cold...tell James to..." Muffled.

Pix's brow furrowed. Jimmy felt a sudden alarm, as if he was moments away from-

The door opened and Mom gaped.

"Well," she said, her eyes narrowed. "I never knew I had two Peeping Toms in my house."

"Actually, we were just Listening Larry's-" Pix started.

"Shh!" She hissed, glaring at Pix. "Your parents would be ashamed."

Pix looked away, her hands behind her back. Jimmy bit his lip. Yeah, Mom was mad, but she had to know that cut deep. Real deep.

"And you, Jimmy, you're supposed to know better. Both of you go to the dinner table."

Jimmy practically ran away, Pix doing likewise.

Behind them, Mom looked, for one moment, afraid. Then she sighed and, serendipitously, opened a secret compartment in the office. She pulled out a compact, gleaming pistol, checked the ammo, cocked it, then slipped it into her back pocket.


Dinner felt colder than the outer darkness. Jimmy pushed his chickoons around with his fork. He looked up at Pix, then at his Mom.

“How was work?”

"It's still classified, dear." Mom didn't look up.

Pix mechanically jammed her chickoons into her mouth, her pink eyes burning a hole through the middle of the table. Metaphorically, she didn't actually have eyelasers, those were illegal. Jimmy just wanted this Friday to be over so he could Saturday with a fresh, clean slate.

Mom finished eating and walked over to the kitchen to clean her plate off. She then hurried from the kitchen to the office, focused on her work as usual. Once she was gone, Jimmy slid his hand across the table and squeezed Pix's. She looked at him, her eyes widening and Jimmy scrambled for the words that had been bouncing through his brain for the whole dinner.

"Uh, you know, it's not your fault. What happened. Parents thing. I mean." Jimmy mentally kicked himself. But...Pix turned her hand over and squeezed back.

"It's okay." She smiled.


Ten years ago, a friendless ten year old had met an equally friendless ten year old and decided they should be friends – despite one being a girl (and thus icky) and the other being a boy (and thus, icky.) When Jimmy had brought Pix over to his parents’ house, his parents had been happy to see him with someone his own age, and let them hang out. In fact, his parents had immediately started talking about playing in the park, running around and playing tag, and maybe even taking the two children to an amusement park.

Before his parents had finished with the grandiose plans, Jimmy and Pix had already started lounging around playing video games instead. And thus, a eight year tradition had been born: Jimmy at the computer, playing video games, with Pix sprawled on his bed – also playing video games. He leaned back and sighed slowly. "Jeeze, this weekend has gotten off to a killer start."

"Tell me about it."

Pix kicked her shoes off. Her hand went into her pocket. Jimmy ignored it.

"Sometimes, I wish...." Jimmy trailed off.

“Hmm?” Pix rolled her head back, to look at Jimmy upside down.

“I guess I just wish that life was better. Which just feels selfish, sitting next to my awesome computer.” He grinned and flipped the on switch. The screen flickered into existence, the projectors fixed to Jimmy's desk and walls whirred into slow, clunky life. The image had scan lines and flickered every once and a while, but Jimmy's parents had put it bluntly: Better screen or college.

Well, that might have been an exaggeration. Still, he made do with the hopes of a future position in PSAU, assuming said university didn't shoot his application down.

Pix herself was planning to head off to PSAU too, but she took a strangely cavalier position on the whole 'studying' thing. Glad to help Jimmy, not so glad to be helped by Jimmy. Well, Pix was good at three things. Being a good friend, surfing the mesh with her brain and being stubborn like an Urtish.

"I'm thinking." Pix kicked her feet as she talked. "That I'm going to move out."

Jimmy blinked. “Out of here?”

"No, out of Ted's house. You know, get my own place."

Jimmy furrowed his brow, starting up the mesh.

"It'll be cheap." Pix mused, half to herself. "Maybe near one of the big methane tubes. Those really drive the rent down."

"Yeah, because they smell like farts." Jimmy looked over his shoulder. "Listen, Pix, it's just one more semester. You can handle one more half of a cycle. After all, you've got me."

She grinned, but it was a weak one.

Jimmy, continuing tradition, started tabbing his way through several screens of mesh faff till he got to his favorite political discussion forum. "Hey, look, Dad's made the headlines again."

"Nasty habit he's got there." Pix scooted up to the edge of the bed and leaned on Jimmy's shoulder, her chin pressing against him. He glanced down at her and she grinned, tilting her head to poke his cheek with her antenna.


She stuck her tongue out at him, but relented as Jimmy started to read the article aloud, using his own version of summarization.

"New Talks At Council, bla, bla, bla...oh it's about the War."

"Oh boy!" Pix bounced on the bed, her enthusiasm dripping with classic brand sarcasm. "The war, the war! We're not all tired about that stupid thing, not a bit!"

"Whoa, Pix, sarcasm. Original." Jimmy shook his head. Pix stopped bouncing and stuck her tongue out again, for bouncing while sticking your tongue out is a recipe for disaster. "Now, it seems the Yetel and the Slor are, wouldn't you know it, shooting at each other. Again."

Pix nodded.

"Aaand Dad is one of the five people willing to actually call attention to it at the council. Human news says yay." A few clicks and a quick translation program later. "And Yetel news says boo. Humans told to butt out."

"They do keep telling us that."

"That they do." Jimmy spun his chair around and sighed. "Well, I guess, with all these talks he's too busy and stuff. Again."

"Yeah. Definitely." Pix nodded. "You know, we could always trade Dads."

Jimmy drew his head back, slowly. "Nah, cause then I'd be related to Richy and Edward."


"Pix, don't get into telemarketing."

"Well, I do have one advantage." Pix raised her finger in the air. "I can call people, with my miiind!"

The phone rang.

"Not me!"

Jimmy shot Pix a look and picked up the phone. "Who is it?"

"This is Jimmy."

Dad! His voice sounded gruff, deep, and more like what Jimmy wished he sounded like –less like what he actually sounded like.

Jimmy sat up and grinned. "No, this is Jimmy."

Dad laughed loud enough to make Jimmy pull his ear away from the phone. He hastily put it back when the laughing died down and a muffled voice came through again. "-ws it going?"

"Oh, good." Jimmy nodded and smiled, leaning back in his chair. He half noticed Pix looking at him with that look. That look that meant she was thinking about her Dad, her real one. He turned the chair slightly, suddenly embarrassed.

"Who is it?" Mom shouted from downstairs.

"Dad!" Jimmy shouted back at her, before putting the phone to his hear. "Yeah, it's been going great. Amazing. Well, actually, no. Terrible."


"Yeah, standard issues. Bullies. Jerks. Boring teachers. Mrs. Finch is still trying to get me to babysit her larvae."

Dad laughed, to which Jimmy could only roll his eyes again. The connection crackled and Mom cluttered into the conversation. "James?"

"Monica." Dad sounded like he was beaming. "Listen, I was sorry I couldn't call last week. Or the week before that, things have been a bit hectic up here. The..." He paused. "Say, Jimmy, is Pixel there?"

Jimmy blinked, surprised by the sudden change of topic. He could practically hear the gears shift in Dad's brain. "Yeah, why?"

"Why don't you two finally listen to me and do something physically active. Throw balls. Kick rocks. That sort of thing." Dad had that ever so slight harsh undertone that Jimmy recognized as: Do what I say. Now.

Jimmy blinked again, hurt welling up. Well, okay, he thought, Dad just wants to talk to Mom about something...

"Yeah, sure." He hung up.

"Happy reunion?" Pix asked.

"I don't know." Jimmy leaned back in his chair. "Dad was weird."

"Jimmy, your dad is the most applauded, famous and well respected diplomat humanity has had since Derek Stratton arranged peace between us and the Arachnids." Pix leaned forward. "Of course he's weird."
Jimmy shrugged, then turned to her. "I guess. Still, up for some Pazanga?" 


Pix slept in the spare room, sprawled face first against a pile of pillows and blankets. As she said, mattresses are for sissies. Jimmy watched her for a moment, sighing softly as she snored like a jackhammer.

He shook himself when he realized his eyes had lingered on her bottom longer than he should be. "She's your best friend," he muttered, closing the door and staggering to his room, not quite as sleepy as Pix, but still feeling the call of his bed. "Not your girlfriend."

Oh, but what if. He smiled. There were enough 'what if' books to fill the half of Harbinger...all of it, if you counted movies too. And Harbinger was pretty big.

He sighed and rolled his head to the side. His eyes fell on the data crystal, scattering the what ifs out of his fore-brain and back into his subconscious. The data crystal had been sitting on his desk ever since Pix went to bed – keeping things in her data port for too long made her ‘itchy’ apparently.

Jimmy glanced over his shoulder, then closed the door behind him. He then plopped down at his chair, sighed again and looked at the crystal. His brain started to toss around ideas, more to distract himself from all those what ifs than anything else.

Maybe it wasn't a human crystal, maybe it was an alien crystal, maybe it wasn't designed to be read by an E.L.F. Cause, humans invented E.L.Fs, and thusly, humans had the most E.L.Fs. There were, like, two Urtish E.L.Fs, but there were millions of human ones, enough to have their own politicians.

So maybe, maybe it would work in his computer, which had a standard data drive, rather than an E.L.F one.
He picked it up, then opened his computer's data drive. The crystal slid smoothly in, clicking into place. The drive didn't whirr, but it did made a soft humming noise and a green light blipped on.

Jimmy bit his lip.

The computer bleeped, a harsh sound. The projection went out of focus, as if he were looking at it through a fish eye, and for a single microsecond, something flashed across his screen. It vanished, gone so fast Jimmy couldn't tell what it was. But it was a jolt, one that sent his chair back and into the bed with a clunk. He slowed his breathing through sheer force of will, looking at his screen, half expecting something horrible to crawl out of it and rip his face off or something.

But nothing horrible crawled. Rather; a small box opened up on the screen, filled with Xorquin style text that scrolled past. Once the text vanished, some indecipherable diagrams that looked like Harbinger's engines and a dotted line connecting said engines to a shuttle port on the side of Harbinger blipped past. Then, finally, a video popped up. The video was, unsurprisingly, of a Xorquin, who looked right at the camera, all three eyes intent on what he was saying.

The video wasn't translated, so it just sounded like a souped up rattler, like the kind babies used, and a snare drum going in unison, the fleshy sack that hung under the Xorquin's angular, lizardish face twitching as it rattled. He blinked in a left to right pattern. Jimmy vaguely remembered his dad saying that was like a Xorquin shrug.

Then the Xorquin's head exploded.

Jimmy jumped out of his chair as the film ended with a bust of static. His heart jackhammered in his chest. He stared at the screen. No, no, no, that had to be fake. Had to be. But, he thought, there was something horrifically real about the whole thing. The Xorquin's forehead had crumpled and his brains had busted out like he was a fruit being stepped on.

Jimmy gulped, his gorge rising at the back of his throat, adding the burning taste of vomit to the situation. He turned around. Did he smell something?

Yes he did. He turned back around and saw smoke rise from his computer. Now fear and disgust had a new companion: Anger.

"Ohh no no no no!" He yanked open the data drive and saw the smoke was coming from that. He looked around, grabbed a discarded shirt- and, by the Codes, he hoped it was non-conducting- and used it as a glove as he yanked the power cable out of the wall. The computer went dead and the data crystal plopped out of the drive, annoyingly unharmed.

Jimmy stood there, tasting vomit, smelling ozone and burnt plastic. He closed his eyes and groaned. This Friday really couldn't end too soon. His clock made a soft clicking noise. He looked at it.

It was midnight, and the end of the weirdest Friday of his life.


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