Friday, September 5, 2014

E.L.F: Chapter Three

Author's Note: Whoa, had a really long week. Very tiring. Sorry for the delay!

Chapter 3: The Runners 

"And then he realizes, he hadn't grabbed the lubricant but the paint varnish!"

"Oh, that's...hahahowww!" Jimmy looked over his shoulder, trying to look horrified around the laughter. Pix giggled, the light from her eyes dimming slightly as they narrowed. She was using her cute, scrunched up nose expression, he just knew it. Normally that made her look as innocent as clean water- now, since he could only see her eyes, it had only a fraction of its normal effects. "That's really...I mean...ow! That's just wrong!"

"Yes, but it also made you laugh."

Jimmy supposed she was right and conversation trickled off for the moment – Jimmy just smiling and Pix shaking her head. But, unlike a normal conversational silence, this time, the oppressive silence of the darkened corridors returned. It pressed down on their ears, complete and total save for the rasp of the cord through their hands and the soft sounds their shoes made on the floor.

"I feel a bit cold," Pix whispered. Her breath misted in the air, a pinkish fog only barely visible in the light from her eyes.

"Y-You're not the only one." Jimmy rubbed at his cord holding hand with his other. A primordial fear of the dark kept him clinging to the cord. Sure, the rational part of his brain said, he could probably let go for a while and still find it again. It wasn't like the cord was going to make a break for it.

His body's only response was the mute tightening of his knuckles as his fingers wrapped around the cable, tight enough to imprint the feel of it on his flesh.  

Then, Pix stopped. She forgot to mention this to Jimmy, who kept walking a few steps before she hissed at him. He looked back at her, and the two pinpricks of her eyes looked far farther away than he thought they should.


He did so.




Jimmy slipped closer, his free palm itching. He rubbed it against the zipper over his jacket pocket. He put his finger to his lips, and Pix's eyes bobbed in a nod. He heard a rustle of cloth as her hand went to her pocket.

They started forward again and slowly, but surely, the clicking got louder. And with it: Voices. Some louder clunks and a single loud clang that echoed down the corridors. Someone yelling, loud enough for the words to almost be recognizably Rench.

Jimmy paused, then whispered. “Pix, close your eyes!”

The light from her eyes vanished and in the total darkness Jimmy felt certainty. There was a dim light coming from around a corner up ahead. But then Jimmy saw something standing between him and that light. He opened his mouth to speak.

"Stand perfectly still," a voice growled from the darkness. There was another soft click and blinding light slammed into Jimmy's eyes. He yelped, throwing up his hands. A palm pushed into his shoulder, spinning him around and slamming him against the wall, cheek mashing against the alarmingly cold metal. He hissed in pain, but kept his hands up.

"And you, freeze," the voice snapped. Pix must have moved. Please, please, please don't be heroic, Jimmy thought. The thug snapped out a thin bar of metal – illuminated by the harsh light of the flash light, a light that almost obscured the greenish laser-light that flickered out of the bar and swept Jimmy’s body. Once the bar finished its scan, the thug snapped it shut, and that faint light vanished. "Stay right there."

Pix's face pressed against the wall right in front of Jimmy's, illuminated by the harsh white light of the guard's flashlight. He looked at her. Her thug – there were enough to check them both – had foregone the scan for something more intimate. Pix glared at nothing in particular, her lips set in a thin line. The guard behind her grunted, then stepped back and away from her. Pix glared over her shoulder at him.

"Okay, turn around."

They did so. Jimmy looked at his feet, blinking away tears, wanting to rub at the blazing pain in his cheek where the upper layer of skin had been taken off by the wall.

The guard lowered his flashlight, which was taped to the barrel of a stocky and effective looking gun- Jimmy couldn't tell what kind it was, but it had a kind of junky, humanish functionality too it- and looked at Jimmy and Pix. He had a square face, marred by a single scar running diagonally across his forehead, over his nose, and ending in his cheek. A pair of thoroughly ridiculous looking goggles sat on his forehead, glinting in reflected light. Wires ran from the circular bits to power packs that would sit right above his ears.

"Hands behind your heads," The guard said. Then he reached for Pix and Jimmy took half a step forward, wanting to do something. A boot to the shin stopped any of that, helped by the fact that the boot had a smart-metal tip, which added oomph to the impact that normal smart-cloth wouldn’t have. The guard glared at Jimmy, then grabbed Pix by her right antenna, jerking her head around.

"Hey!" She said, but he didn't try and snap it off like some bullies at school had. No, he tried twisting it like a screw driver and she yelped, in pain.

"You're an A-3 model, eh?"

Pix glared at him. Jimmy rubbed at his shin, then looked up. "Yes! Don’t hurt her!"

Pix glared at Jimmy. Jimmy looked at her, desperately, then at the thug, who twisted the antenna again.

She gasped. "Yes! I'm an A-3.! Let me go!”

"Hurm." The guard tapped a small ear bud in his ear. "Strelock here. Found two kids."

He listened to some response in his earbud. "Yeah, you heard me. Kids. One looks like a snotty punk and the other's an E.L.F, an, you can only take them off A-4s and A-5s. Eeeh, if the computers do anything wonky, we'll just shred her, and I don't think her boyfriend would like that."

Jimmy could swear Pix almost opened her mouth to say, 'He's not my boyfriend.'

She refrained, eyes glancing to that gun.

The guard, Strelock, nodded, then brought his gun up. "In front."

Jimmy and Pix did so, hands still on the backs of their head. Jimmy wondered how long it would take till his arms started to cramp up, and if they'd let him put them down. Probably not. He glanced at Pix. She tried for a smile and gave him a thumbs up. An oddly positioned one, but a thumbs up none the less. Jimmy didn’t feel particularly comforted, for some reason.

They came around the corner and into a fully lit room. It was about the size of a blitzball arena, minus the nets, the water, the floating goal posts and the stands for people to watch from. Instead, it was stacked full with crates, most of them opened to show what lurked within: Nasty looking shredder rounds, black tipped and spiny. Softly glowing spheres that might have been batteries or plasma capsules. Black cubes, piled neck high in huge piles – hunks of nano-ammo for multiguns.

Around the ammo sat all the guns that they went into. Guns built by humans were obvious: They appeared in most of the video games Jimmy played. The other ones, less so. He recognized the sleekness of Xorquin weapons, having had a sudden and intimate meeting with at least two of them, though those memories were blurred and filled with bowel-clenching terror. But there were also guns that looked less built than grown; guns without triggers, guns with handles for obviously inhuman appendages...

Jimmy snapped his attention from the guns and crates to the people moving them onto a flotilla of rather odd vehicles. Squat, square and mounted with a small cargo area, their only means of propulsion seemed to be four electric wheels and their only means of guidance were a few thin strips of sensetape. A few were already loaded with crates, one crate per vehicle. Jimmy realized what was going on a moment before one of the armed thugs working to load them tapped at some augmented reality interface only he could see and the cart whirred off, shooting out of the lit area and into the cold, dark corridors beyond.

The pieces clicked together a second later. No one patrolled the outer corridors, and robot driven cargo containers could keep pushing, even when they got right up to the corridors that ran along the very skin of Harbinger itself, where the insulation failed and humans (and most other races) froze to death in seconds.

The thugs themselves were an eclectic affair: Two Xorquin, five Yetel that looked like they were part of the same queen brood, at least fifteen humans. Some were wiry and pale, others were thick and pale, but all were wrapped in synthetic furs. One had a dagget on a leash, the cybernetically enhanced fenine snuffling at the floor. It noticed Jimmy and Pix and started barking, its mini-antennas flashing. Pix flinched and glared at it.

But the oddest of all the people were the two talking the loudest. Jimmy had to bite his lip hard to not smile...but it was really hard to not smile (even in a situation like this) when you see a grown woman having a one sided argument with a cat.

It was harder still, when the side doing all the shouting was the cat.

"Listen, Anna!" the cat said. "I know this is your route, but Jack wants the Yetel guns sold here, not in Tortuga."

Anna shrugged.

The cat hissed, tail curling above its backside. "You're a terrible businesswoman, Anna. Doing this will only tick Jack off. He'll revoke your business contract, and then where will we be?"

Anna shrugged.

"By the Architects." The cat paused as one of its henchmen, a Xorquin that managed to look downright apologetic, picked up the crate it was sitting on and loaded it up onto the second to last cart, which whooshed off through the door. The cat leaped off before the cart started moving and continued to walk along the floor, somehow still managing to look haughty and self-assured. Anna followed the cat, hands in her jacket pockets, her own tail dragging the ground.


The cat reached Jimmy and Pix, craning its head up to look at them.

"At least you've got good security," it said, sounding grudging.

The cat started to walk in circles in front of Jimmy before deciding to climb its way up a crate that was set nearby. Its claws missed the purchase, the crate being quite smooth. Anna stepped over, picked it up and set it down on the crate.

"Don't do that!" the cat said. Then, rounding on Jimmy, it snarled: "What are you laughing at?"

"I'm not laughing," Jimmy said, hastily. He pinched the back of his head with one of his fingers, trying to stop the giggles that kept trying to escape. It was less obvious than biting his lip.

The cat narrowed its eyes, then shrugged. “All right then, who are you, and what are you doing here?"

Jimmy glanced at Pix. Pix shrugged.

"I'm Jimmy," Jimmy said. Being the son of a famous, top-level cryptanalyst and an even more famous, Galaxy Prize winning diplomat might not be the best thing to be at this time. "Jimmy, uh, Serbek."

Pix groaned audibly and Jimmy wanted to kick himself. Serbek!?

"Of course you are. And I'm Tlessia. Tlessia Berdinand.” Her voice – the name made her gender clear enough - dripped with sarcasm. “Next time you try thinking up a fake last name, don't pick one of the most famous actors of the last hundred years.”

"Sorry," Jimmy said. Lying just wasn't his strong suite. "I'm Jimmy Leonite."

Tlessia nodded. Then she did the most adorable double take in the world. "Leonite, as in James Leonite? James Leonite Junior?! That Leonite?"


Tlessia looked at Anna. "Anna, get the 3V!"

Anna shrugged and, with the air of long suffering, she walked to the side of the chamber which had been turned into a makeshift living area. That was where most of the light and heat came from: A string of mini-sunlamps and a set of bed rolls. Nestled between some of those was a portable 3V set, wired to a local mesh transmitter, which itself was hooked to the wire cable that Jimmy and Pix had been following.

Tlessia sat down next to the 3V and pressed parts of it with her paws. It turned on and the cat looked directly into the 3V, some internal augmentation allowing her to change the channels and sweep through the news feeds until she found what she needed. The feed showed a stern looking human (most likely a digital construction) reading directly to the screen.

"Today, the Leonite family remains in shock as their home was destroyed by a sudden, shocking terrorist attack," the newscaster said. “As of yet, no one has taken responsibility for the attack, though we know a Xorquin-" a fuzzy image, 2d, of the Xorquin looking to the side, shredder blazing dramatically away at some police cars. "-is involved. The location of James Leonite Junior, the son of famed diplomat-"

Tlessia turned the 3V off and looked at Jimmy. "Looks like we've got ourselves a rich boy." She beamed, her tail lashing from side to side with excitement. “Purrfect for a hostage.” 

"Don't do hostages," Anna said. It was the first thing she had said in Jimmy's presence, and her voice took him aback. It was a kind of breathy 'pretty' voice that you imagined super models had.

"Oh be quiet you!" Tlessia scowled at her.

Anna shrugged.

Tlessia sighed and laid down on her paws, looking at Jimmy's chest. "Hmmmm."

"Well-" Jimmy started.

"Shut up."

Jimmy did as Anna did, and shrugged.


The last of the crates rattled off. Jimmy and Pix celebrated by continuing what they had done for hours: Sit in the corner with a guard aiming a gun at their heads. The guard himself was a Yetel, so actually, calling him a him might have been wrong. Yetel were four foot three inches of walking bug: Glittering black carapace, with the buzzing wings of a fly, all topped by the elongated head of a wasp. Really, though, Jimmy was a bit more disturbed by the rifle aimed almost perpetually at either his or Pix's head. Pix dealt with it by fiddling with her lighter. Jimmy dealt with it by...actually, he wasn’t sure he was dealing with it.

"Can we talk?" Pix asked, looking at the thug. The Yetel, like anyone who worked with other races, wore a translator of some kind. This one was a cruddy little bracelet model, but it had a wire that ran up to the side of Yetel's head, and from the tilt he put to his head the translator must have worked.

The Yetel nodded.

"Okay." Pix looked at Jimmy. "Is it just me or is this the worst Saturday ever?"

Jimmy shrugged. "It could be worse."


"We could be dead." He smiled.

Pix's laugh didn't even have half a heart behind it. She flipped her lighter open, then closed.

The gunrunners closed the door that the carts had gone through. One of them ambled over and sat down near Jimmy and Pix. He stuck his hands near the sun-lampacks onp to warm them, before reaching into the pile of personal belongings and pulling out a small computer with a creased screen that he slapped onto the wall, angled away from Jimmy and Pix. He set his keyboard input onto his knees and started tapping away. He whistled, glancing at his boss.

Anna trotted over, looked at the screen, and nodded.

The man seemed to take this well. He picked at the corner of the paper screen, peeled it away, folded it till it could fit in his pocket. He and some other gunrunners started to pack everything but the transmitter up, rolling bedrolls up, shoving them into packs, hoisting packs onto their backs.

Soon, they were all ready to go, all of them except for the Yetel who had his gun trained on Jimmy and Pix.

"Hey, K'z'k!" One of the gunrunners shouted. "Get your shit together."

K'z'k stood up, grabbed his stuff, then left Jimmy and Pix behind with nary a glance backwards. Tlessia padded over. "Come on," she said. "We're taking you away."

"Away where?" Pix asked.

"Weren't your hands supposed to be behind your head?" Tlessia asked, pointedly, before turning and padding away.

Jimmy and Pix looked at the ceiling, then put their hands behind their heads, trudging behind the gunrunners, who were filing out of the room through an as of yet unused third door. Great. The vain hope the Xorquin would show up and the two of their enemies would kill each other fizzled in Jimmy's brain.

That might have been for the best, Jimmy thought. After all, a crossfire was never fun in a video game, and those were designed to be fun.

"Hey, Pix, is it bad that most of the survival tips my brain is giving me are coming from video games?"

"Yes Jimmy. Yes it is."

"Well, it's the best brain I have."

"Get a new one then." Pix shrugged.

Someone shushed them, and as most of the people who could shush them were carrying guns and looked grumpy, the two teenagers shushed.

Darkness made the walk infinitely long and infinitely miserable. After a while, Jimmy took his hands from behind his head. He reached out and found Pix's hand. She squeezed. He smiled, and then moved slightly closer to her, the cold settling down around them, despite the surrounding bodies that walked around them. As they walked, he had time to think.

What were these corridors for, anyway? And what had that room been for? Most of the places Jimmy had been on Harbinger – that is, the grand total of two – had some kind of purpose. City-18, where humanity had made its smelly home, was built over a big pumping station where all the garbage and junk got sent, recycled, then sent back out. And the Council Chambers...he didn't remember much of those when Dad had him there.

He'd been six years old, and Dad had been allowed to bring his family up for a visit. It had been all gleaming white and smooth corridors and strange rooms filled with odd things Jimmy only remembered as abstract shapes and smudges. Those impressions, combined with what he had read on the mesh, formed into a ramshackle concept. The Council Chambers were a control room for the entirety of Harbinger.

Then any and all thoughts about anything but the here and now were broken up into tiny pieces. The gunrunners went around a corner and suddenly Jimmy felt as though he were in a bigger room, far bigger. A sunlamp whirred to life, slowly, coils warming to a red blaze. The room was bathed in light, gleaming from every hard surface. The gunrunner holding the sunlamp jumped up and stuck it as high as he could get it before baking away, rubbing his palms.

The left side of the room was stacked to the ceiling with the oddest things Jimmy had seen. They were obviously native to Harbinger as they had that unmistakable alien quality to them. And not just alien as in non-human, but alien as completely and utterly unlike anything anyone would build. At least, anyone Jimmy knew about.

The objects in question looked like slightly tapered cylinders, made of some material that looked like it might have been copper but probably wasn't. The tops were rounded, like a dome, and from each dome thrust an arm with a dark blue lens on the end. There had to be at least fifty of them, all jammed into the left side of the room. Silent. Waiting.

Jimmy shivered, despite the sunlamp warming the room up to the point where his every breath didn't make his lungs feel like pincushions.

"Okay, set up the transmitter!" Tlessia shouted. The gunrunners glanced at one another. Jimmy wondered how often they did this. From the whispers and muttered conversations, he'd say no.

"What's going on?" Pix asked. Tlessia snapped her teeth.

"Both of you, stay quiet, or I'll have to point guns at you again."

Jimmy sighed and crossed his arms over his chest, then raised both eye brows at Pix. She smiled.

"It could be worse," she whispered when Tlessia went over to the transmitter, which had been wheeled behind them by one of those automated carts. "They could have been Reavers."

"Reavers don't exist."

"They might soon," Pix scowled suddenly. "I might have to eat someone."

Jimmy's stomach growled loudly. Tlessia sighed, then jerked her tail at one of her gunrunners. "Get them some food."

And so, Jimmy and Pix watched the gunrunners set up while munching those mealy, cardboard tasting protein bars. Pix tried cooking one with her lighter. It didn't work.

The gunrunners didn't even bother taking the transmitter off the cart. They just hooked the computer up to it, then wheeled it on over to Jimmy and Pix. A webcam glinted like an evil cyclopean eye from the top of the computer, turning it into some kind of vicious ransom device. Tlessia, who sat beside it, sighed. "Okay, this is going to be kinda lowfi, but it'll be enough proof for your parents, right?"

"Right." Jimmy felt his stomach clench. Great, they were being ransomed. Well, at least they weren't-

Two gunrunners aimed their guns at him.

Great, they were being ransomed and aimed guns at. Guns aimed at. Have guns aimed at. Jimmy shook his head, closed his eyes and forced his knees to stop shaking. When he opened them, he hoped to the Architects and to any Gods that may or may not exist that he looked as tough and as capable as his dad did when he was talking.

"Now, don't say anything." Tlessia gestured to Anna, who sighed.

"Don't do hostages," Anna said, arms crossed over her chest.

"Anna, I love you to death, but your sudden attack of conscience is not helping our fiduciary crisis!" Tlessia's tail slapped the side of the transmitter, then the side of the laptop.

Jimmy glanced at Pix. She tapped her foot and looked bored. Jimmy just wished he could look so uncaring about the prospect of being surrounded by a bunch of possibly bloodthirsty gunrunners. Her hands were in her pockets. For once, Jimmy wished he had a talisman like her.

Just like every other time Pix put on a brave, or in this case, bored face. Most of those times had ended with at least one them getting punched. Or at least shoved around.

"Now, get in front of the camera," Tlessia pointed with her paw. "And put on your evil face."

Anna looked at the ceiling, then stepped in front of the laptop. A blue light flicked on next to the webcam. She pulled a pistol from her rumpled jacket and aimed it vaguely at Jimmy and Pix. "I am Anna Hellborn, and I found these two stumbling where they shouldn't."

Hellborn!? Jimmy's strong facade crumbled into sheer shock. These just weren't any criminals, these were-

Anna grabbed the front of his shirt and hauled him in front of the camera.

"This is James Leonite Jr. And if you people in the government want to see him alive, then send us a message on this transmission stream. Broad beam it at coordinates-" Tlessia held up a paw, three claws extended. "Three five five. Er. Fifty five.

The webcam shut off and Anna sighed, holstering her gun.

"Nice one, Anna." Tlessia nosed the laptop off.

Anna shrugged.


After the initial terror of being captured by gunrunners – gunrunners run by Anna Hellborn of all people - and held for ransom subsided, Jimmy found he was just bored. He couldn't talk to Pix without someone glaring at him. He couldn't play video games, he had no books, and they just sat in the sparse room and did nothing.

Well, he and Pix did nothing. The gunrunners amused themselves by talking, playing cards, and patrolling.

Then, what felt like an hour (but was probably more like half an hour) later Anna did something that seemed uncharacteristic. Well, uncharacteristic based off what Jimmy had heard about her. Of course, what he had read directly conflicted with how she acted in person, but still...

Anna said something without being prompted. "I don't like this."

Tlessia, who was busy walking in circles around the laptop, tail lashing and ears twitching at every noise, looked at her. "Hmm?'

Anna didn't say anything, hands thrust into her pockets, her tail twitching by her ankle. It wasn't a fluffy tail. It was more like a rat's tail than anything. Figures.

Anna clenched her teeth, her brow furrowing as she did so. Her mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. This time, words came out. "I don't like this."

Tlessia sighed, loudly and dramatically. Jimmy wondered if that cat had practiced being so over-the-top or if she had been born that way. Had she been born? Was she even an actual cat? He'd have to ask her when they weren't hostages.

"Anna, Anna...come over here." Tlessia used her tail to gesture Anna over to the corner. A conversation followed. Jimmy edged slightly closed and one of the gunrunners glared at him. He edged slightly farther away.

"Nice try," Pix whispered. "Fortunately, I can read lips."

"Can you read catlips?"

Pix opened her mouth, then closed it with a snap. "Oh shit, you're right. Well, at least I can read the rattail-"


"She's a bad guy. I don't care what her name is."

Jimmy cocked his jaw back and forth, popping the joint. Pix's view of the universe was somewhat simplistic at times. He said as much and she scowled at him.

"Does everything have to be all American and complex and stuff?" Pix raised her light pink eyebrows. "Some things are simple. Someone or other's Razor and so on."

"Einstein's Razor." Or was it Kobayashi's?

Pix cocked her head and her antennas sparked. "Oh, it's Occam's Razor."

Jimmy nodded. Then.

"Wait…" His voice dropped to a whisper. Fortunately, the guard wasn't quite looking at him anymore, his attention drawn by the increasingly loud argument between Anna and Tlessia.

"Guns ain't selling anymore!" Tlessia waved her paw in the air.

Anna grumbled something.

Jimmy looked at Pix again, resuming his whisper. "You have mesh connection?"

Pix nodded, a very small, very mischievous grin touching her lips. That kind of grin meant one thing and one thing only...okay, two things. But they were not likely to get their hands on super-soakers right now.


Pix jerked her head towards the transmitter in the back of the room. Jimmy bit his lip.


"Well, it's technically secure, but that's for information coming in, not going out. Going out, it's goes to a hypermetric scrambler that will alert them if anyone unregistered tries to-"

"Okay, okay." Jargon made Jimmy's head ache. "Never mind. Can you do things?"

"Hey, hey!" the guard spoke up. "What are you two little shits talking about?"

"Feminine hygiene products?" Pix said, grinning.

What happened next was so fast Jimmy didn't even believe it had happened till he saw Pix on the ground, blood welling from a split lip.

He tried to jump to his feet, but the guard’s pistol was in his hand.


Tlessia and Anna's voice cut over the sudden silence. "Phil!" Tlessia bounded over, Anna right behind her. Jimmy had never seen her so angry, not that he had seen her very often. "Phil, we're criminals, not savages. KEEP your hands OFF the hostages!"

Jimmy stopped paying attention to them, his rage and fear turning instantly into concern and fear for Pix. He knelt down, but she sat up and pushed him away, hand to her mouth, eyes closed. "Mmkay," she mumbled.

"They were planning something!" Phil pointed at the two of them.

The sound of Anna's gun sliding from its holster was way louder than it should have been. Jimmy looked up, hand unconsciously sliding to Pix's shoulder. A part of him noticed how Pix conformed to his body, pressing up against him.

"Then separate them, you stupid moron." Tlessia snarled. A snarling cat was usually only threatening when it was a big cat, like a lygon. But somehow, Tlessia made it work. Phil scowled, then grabbed Jimmy, hauled him to his feet, and frog marched him to the other side of the room. Phil spun Jimmy around and pressed him against the wall.

Jimmy clenched his fists. He barely noticed the pain of his fingernails digging into his palms. His jaw throbbed as he clenched his teeth so hard he tasted blood, blood from the tiny bit of his cheek caught between his molars. He felt like he was about to snap, snap and...

And what? There was a gun aiming at his chest. A nasty, brutish gun that could drop him dead on the grating beneath his feet.

He forced his hands open. It was the hardest thing he had done. Phil's grin had a cockeyed slant to it, like he wasn't quite…present. Like he wasn’t quite here.

Well of course he wasn't quite here! Jimmy had never seen a crazy person. Well, the Xorquin was crazy (but who could tell with aliens?) But this guy, Phil, was crazy. Human crazy.

"Don't like what I did to your girlfriend, do you?" The smile got wider.

Jimmy touched his tongue to the blood dribbling from the inside of his cheek. Don't talk. Don't respond. You can't help Pix if you are dead.

"Oh by the Architects!" Tlessia shouted. "Anna, get Phil on sentry duty, for crying out..."

Anna walked over. Phil turned his grin on her. She didn't seem amused. Phil left.

Jimmy sighed, slowly. "Why?" he asked. "Why him?"

Anna raised her eyebrows. "Cheap."

For some reason, that made perfect sense to Jimmy. He turned his eyes to Pix. Pix looked at him, hand still on her lip.

Jimmy mouthed two words at her. Pix's cheeks went bright red. Her jaw dropped. Her eyes went wide. She looked like he had just said "I love you" or...

Oh wait...

Jimmy just realized what he had mouthed and started mentally kicking himself.


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