Friday, September 26, 2014

E.L.F: Chapter Five

Author's Note: I am so sorry for the week-long delay. I was really tired and unenthused last week, and for my lateness, I have been punished. And by that, I mean I played video games and ate candy. Oh, also, this chapter has a lot more making out than I remember it having when I first wrote it in 2009. Oh, also, this book actually isn't new. It's an edit of an old book of mine. Have I mentioned that already? If I had, this is me reminding you!

Chapter 5: Young Love

As they walked, they talked. It felt normal, like walking home from school. If school involved being chased by a big, angry, three-eyed space lizard.

"So, how did you get away from him?"

"Remember when Richy tried to twist my antennas off two years ago? It was like that, except with more kicking..."

"Oooouch...I didn't know Xorquin had external gen-"

"Shh!" That was from Anna, who had stopped at the corner of one of the interminable hallways they were wandering through. This corner, though, was different. Mostly because the corridor it led down ended at a door, not another branch of Architect damned corridors!

Jimmy wondered how sick he'd get of the generic corridors Harbinger's creators jammed everywhere by the time they were done with this little 'adventure'.

Adventure. Yeah. Some adventure. At least he had kissed Pix.

No, wait. Pix had kissed him. Big difference.

Pix. Had. Kissed. Him.

Oh my. Pix had kissed him! Pix had kissed him! Pix had-


Jimmy snapped to attention as Pix snapped her fingers under his nose. "Geesh, you're zoning out a lot today."

"Comes from having, stuff, I mean..." Jimmy shook his head. "I mean, like, I, uh, I..."

He kissed her. Quick peck on the lips. Then it became a long kiss. Then she was touching him. And he was touching her.

And then nothing else was there. Just them. His hand slid along her belly, under her breast, then slid up. Her nipple was hard. Oh my. Oh my. Oh my. She was touching him too. He squeezed and she made a soft gasping noise at the back of her throat. No, more like a mewl.

Now. That. Was. Something.

"By the Architects, can I leave you two alone for five seconds?" Anna asked, sounding annoyed. "Or should I just duct tape you together."

Jimmy and Pix leaped apart, flushing bright red. Jimmy looked at his feet, kicking one against the ground, while Pix put her hand on her pocket and scowled when she remembered her lighter was gone. The two of them looked back at Anna, who frowned at them for a time, then shook her head. She turned back to the door to continue whatever it was she had been doing.

Now that Jimmy wasn't touching Pix, he realized the door had been welded shut.

"Why is that door welded shut?" he asked.

Anna gave him a "Seriously" look, then went back to fiddling at the door. She pulled a small lighter and fiddled with it till it became a...a...

No way.

"No way," Pix said, proving her telepathic abilities were in full swing once more.

Anna ignored them and started using her mini-laser projector to slowly, very slowly, as it was, cut her way through the welding.

Very. Slowly.

Pix and Jimmy sat down and Anna whistled to herself, softly. Jimmy looked at Pix. Her head was resting against the wall and her eyes were locked on that lighter, reflecting some of the glow that came from cutting through metal. Some hair had fallen down over her chin. He brushed it away. It had seemed like a natural move. She turned her head to him and grinned, eyes closed.

"For some reason," she said, her voice soft. Very soft. "This all doesn't seem so bad anymore."

Jimmy's stomach growled, loudly. He started at the sound and tried to remember when he had last eaten – let alone when he had gotten a drink of water. But then, Pix opened her eyes and he forgot about silly things like drinking and eating.

"Not so bad," he murmured back.

She grinned. "You look sappy."

"I like sap. I think." He pursed his lips. "What is sap again?"

"Uh, tree stuff."

"Why is it sappy, then?" Jimmy looked up at the ceiling. Pix snorted and leaned over. Lips touched neck. Jimmy's back stiffened as her tongue touched that place you put your fingers when you want to check your pulse. His toes curled.

Anna sighed loudly and dramatically.

Pix ignored her, lips traveling up to Jimmy's cheek bone. He didn't want to move. Moving would be bad. Moving meant lips would stop touching skin.


Jimmy ignored Anna as Pix's lips moved to his ear. Oh did tongues go in there? Apparently! He giggled. Tickles.

"Door open!"

Oh the door was open! He jerked away from Pix, who stuck her tongue out at him. The door was open and Anna tapped her foot. "Come on."

Jimmy stood up...just as a bullet ricocheted off the door and hit him in the shin. He slammed right back down on the ground. He looked at the hole in his pants and the blood that welled from it. Wasn't a wound supposed to not hurt for a bit THEN start hurting? Because someone obviously hadn't told his leg that fact. It started hurting like a motherf-

Pix started dragging him, her eyes wide and wild. Anna started shooting – again, Jimmy was shocked by how loud guns were, even with silencers and baffling devices. The door closed and Anna spun the lock, then started to weld the lock shut. Jimmy took this as an opportunity to experience what being shot feels like. He enjoyed it only slightly less than he enjoyed taking a final exam.

Anna zapped the lock and it stuck together. No time to weld the whole door, Jimmy guessed.

"Can you walk?" The wheel that opened the door groaned against the newly welded lock – the Xorquin kept trying, making the groaning noise get louder.

"Don't know," Jimmy hissed. Anna rolled her eyes, pulled out a small injector thingy, and jammed it into Jimmy's neck.

The pain floated away on pink elephants. Whee. Jimmy got up and got a fit of the giggles. His head flopped back. Everything had this awesome color hue to it, like someone had painted the world in that soapy stuff they blow bubbles with.

"Now we run!" Pix shouted.

Anna nodded.

They ran.

Once they got around the corner, Jimmy heard the door exploding as if the noise was coming to him through a long plastic tube.

Jimmy's leg didn't quite work right. He supposed it should have hurt, but the happy juice was making everything fuzzy. Fuzzyish. The lights all had halos around them. Bubbles!

Pix was at his right. Anna behind. Anna kept dropping things. A green baggie that burst and expanded to cover the floor with steaming moss. A mechanical drone that stuck into the ground and bleeped. A bunch of spikes that turned invisible once they hit the ground.

After that, Anna stopped throwing things. Maybe she was out of things to drop.

"How much farther!" Pix shouted as she ran. She didn't need to breathe as much. Lucky her. Jimmy started wondering if she would let him touch her breast again. That had be awesome.

"Far," Anna said.

Okay, the hurt was starting to come back. An edge to the running. He could live with it. By the fifth intersection and the second set muffled explosion and series of Xorquin cursing- guess the toys Anna dropped worked, sorta- the pain was back in full force. Each step made his teeth clench. Er. Jaw clench. Would be the jaw wouldn't it? Teeth don't have muscles.


He said as much. Well, more, sobbed as much. Pix cooed at him.

They got to the end of the corridor. Jimmy was shoved against a wall behind some cover and Anna started fishing around in her pockets like a madwoman. Things started to come out of those pockets, and sadly, most of them were useless. Cell phone, ammo (well, kinda useful), watches, a weird dongle, a grenade.


Anna pulled the pin, but held down on the thingy that had to pop open before the timer would start. Normally, Jimmy would try and think up the name of said thingy. Now, he was too busy grabbing his shin and hissing loudly as he felt blood stream through his fingers.

Anna licked her lips, eyes peering down the corridor, waiting for the Xorquin to come around his corner.

A grenade landed at her feet.

She kicked it. It hit the wall, bounced, then exploded in midair. Anna flew backwards, slamming into the wall right next to Jimmy. She dropped her grenade...and kicked it as well. It bounced and then phoomphed, rather than banged.

The phoomph slammed into Jimmy a moment before a wall of smoke bloomed out to fill the corridor.

"You two, go that way," Anna hissed, pressing a dongle into Pix's hand. "Get away, kay?"

"Kay." Pix nodded. She looked at Jimmy and coughed. Jimmy coughed back. Not quite a kiss, but for now, it would do. They blundered into the smoke and Anna started firing her gun wildly into the air.

Five heart stopping minutes later, they were out of the gas cloud, leaving the gunfire behind.

"That...was...a big...gas...bomb," Jimmy gasped.

"Anna has way more toys than she should."

And, with nowhere else to go, they kept going forward.


Jimmy tried to visualize where he and Pix actually were. The sewage system sat in a big nest of pipes and hallways that held the pipes. Those made sense, because you'd need hallways so you could get to a broken pipe and fix it. Right. Then there were the Urtish, who were around the big old freight elevator. That also made sense, so you could move stuff up and down between the lower levels and the middle levels.

So what were all these pointless, endless, winding maze corridors doing here! They served literally no purpose as far as he or anyone else could tell – and he would have heard if someone had figured the corridors out. At least, he was pretty sure he would have. And to add endless insult to a very persistent injury, Jimmy had to walk down each and every single one. That made it personal.

"Let's take a break,” Pix said, suddenly. He glanced at her and saw she was looking at his leg.

"This strikes me as an excellent idea!" Jimmy held one finger up to demonstrate just how excellent he thought it was.

They both plopped down. The corridors to the right of them got darker and darker, while the corridors to the left were brighter and nicer. Too bad brighter and nicer meant guns and bullets now-a-days.

"I'm sick of this." Pix stuck her hand in her pocket. "I'm...really sick of his." She took her hand out and flexed the empty fingers, as if she could get her lighter to appear out of thin air.

Time passed.

Really. Really. Slowly.

"Okay, enough of this." Pix pulled out the dongle Anna had given her. It had a small glass cover over a red button. She popped the glass open with her thumb and then hovered over the button, looking at it. "I wonder what would happen..."

"Don't." Jimmy put his hand on her wrist. She looked at him, pink eyebrows raised. “It might explode, or something.”

"Well, it's not like we have an instruction booklet or anything."

They both looked at the device. Jimmy frowned. "Well, she gave it to us for a reason."

"And now that you mention it." Pix's thumb moved up and popped the glass down once more. She sighed. "Anything Anna and her bunch want us to do, can't be good for our safety."

A distant bang sounded, bouncing off walls and down corridors.

"What are we doing?" Pix moaned, putting her face in her hands. "We're kids! We don't have guns, or kung-fu or computer hacking abilities. We're not super smart or have telekinetic powers or anything and-"

She blinked. "I'm getting a text, one second."

"Who is it from?'

"Someone named...Ed."

"Okay, say what you say and say what he says." Jimmy watched her. She nodded, eyes closed.

"Right. Who is this?"

She switched to a deeper, more masculine voice. It was actually pretty funny. "This is Ed."

Back to her voice. "Okay, who is Ed?" Her antennas sparked.

"I'm Anna's-" Pix started, blinking. "Daughter." She looked at Jimmy. "Daughter?"

Jimmy shrugged and held his hands up in a 'confused' gesture.

"Okay," Pix said. "Uh, Ed?"

She blinked and switched to a falsetto, equally as amusing as her masculine voice. "Yes. Ed. For Edna. Now, mom said to get you guys out!"

Jimmy perked up. "Okay, tell her to give us directions. Tell her everything."

"Right." Pix nodded. Then her face fell. "Oh, shit, we can send out a signal with this doobobber." She held up the thingy Anna had given her, thumb over the button. "But that will give our position away to anyone who is looking."

"Aka giant space lizard." Jimmy put his face in his hands. "Great!"

Pix sighed, closed her eyes, then looked at him. "How is your leg?"

The bleeding had stopped, but it still throbbed like crazy. The injections had been stim/painkiller combos, which meant faster healing. Not faster enough! Jimmy took off his shirt and Pix grinned, wide.

"Someone's been working out."

Jimmy blanched. Oh right. Secret work out sessions had seemed like a great idea a year ago, but Pix had never noticed. Oh wait, Jimmy had never taken his shirt off in front of her. Durr.

He tied the shirt around his shin and sighed. "Probably too late for this to do any good, but damn, actually..." He grinned. "That makes me feel better."

Pix smirked. Then she put her hand on his chest. He looked down at her wrist, then up the arm to her shoulder, then finally to her. She stroked her fingers over him and he felt goosebumps raise up.

"Okay, I'm not complaining," he whispered. "But, uh, why?"

"Mm, you got to touch me here..." her fingers closed around one of his nipples. Now that was interesting. "I get to in return." Pinch.

He jumped slightly and Pix laughed.


They started to walk along and Pix pressed the red button on the gadget. The device didn't make a loud pinging noise and there were no fancy graphics to show a dramatic red blip appearing on some distant computer screen. Reality was a whole lot more boring.

Pix just started to say when they should go left, right, or straight.

Then, about a half hour later, they got to another welded shut door.

"Great, what now?" Jimmy looked at Pix, who was probably saying the same thing to the girl on the other end of the line.

"Okay, she says her Mom is in trouble and can't catch up with us." Pix scowled. "And the Xorquin is in trouble too. So, we can either try our luck in the dark or wait till Anna catches up with us in a day or so, and cuts through the door."

Jimmy bit his lip. The Dark. The last trip through the dark had been far from pleasant.

But staying still, especially with Mr. Give Our Position Away turned on, sounded like the best way to get dead quick that Jimmy had heard all weekend.

For some reason, Jimmy thought this was not going to be the last death or high chance of death choice he was going to make in the near future...

He squared his shoulders and his shin throbbed. His skin prickled with goosebumps and his back got that maddening itch you get when you don't wear a shirt. None of that stopped him from making a decision.

"Okay," he said. "Let's go into the dark."

"But, we don't-"

'I know." Jimmy sighed. "I guess, blood stained shirt goes on." He took his shirt off and put it on his back. It was a bit blood stained and his shin started to throb more. He slid his arm around Pix's shoulder and squeezed him tight. She slipped her arm behind him, hand on his hip. Squeezed.

"Let's go."

They waked into the dark, Jimmy's free hand on the wall, the sound of his fingers trailing along the wall as they walked.


"So, you've been working out for a year? In secret?"

"Well, it wasn't that hard. Just, every day, after school, when you went home, I pop off to the gym."

"Really?" Pix made a concentrated effort to feel him up. Not that Jimmy minded.

Not in the slightest.

"Yeah. It's not that hard to hide, I just wear baggy shirts."

Pix giggled. Her hand kept feeling him up. Still no complaints. Nope. None at all.

Jimmy wanted her. Badly. That hand on his chest, those fingers tracing the lines of his modest muscles, the breath on his cheek...she was so close. And it was so dark now. He slid around, hands went to her hips and he kissed her.

Things got quiet. Nothing but the soft smack of lips. Rustling fabric. His hand slid up her belly and then to her side. He felt the hardness of her data port. His finger slipped around it.

"Oh James."

Softly, hot against his ear. Her fingers went around the back of his head.

Jimmy gulped. "Pix," he whispered. "Wait…this...this isn't the best time."

Pix groaned, sounding really annoyed. Jimmy sighed – but having said it, he couldn’t unsay it. And here, he thought that he’d never ever turn down the chance to get laid. Well, then again, he also thought that he’d never be kidnapped. Or shot at. Jimmy let go of Pix and he saw one of her eyes close in a wink.

"Don't worry,” she said. “When we get a bed, and some free time."

“Pix, I-“ He started, but she shushed him. Her antennas sparked softly in the darkness, making Jimmy blink and rub at his eyes to try and get the spots out of them.

"Okay, Ed is coming through with more directions,” Pix said. She sounded just a little annoyed about that.

They started walking again, slowly, as Pix read what Ed was sending out loud. "Left...forward…right, right, left…"

"Where are we going?"

"I dunno." Pix paused, stopping in her walking. "Let me ask." Jimmy squeezed her shoulder, comfortingly.

"Oh cool!" Pix turned to him, her eyes glimmering in the darkness. "We're heading to one of those safe houses in something called the Underground."

"Great." Jimmy sighed. "Hopeful it has lights and a heater."

"It might. Left."

A while later - Pix said a half hour, and Jimmy was willing to trust her on that - they got there. To Jimmy, the only thing that changed was the wall that his finger suddenly sheered away, with the only clue that it was about to open being the lip of a doorframe they had walked through.

"Okay, we're here." Pix forced herself to sound chirpy and upbeat.


The air didn't reply to Jimmy's question.

Pix sighed. "Okay, I'll go left, you go right. Feel around till you have the wall and keep talking, or else we'll lose each other."

"Got it." Jimmy felt his stomach turn over. This was something he didn't want to do at all. He started groping out, trying to imagine the room. Okay, if it was anything like any other rooms he's been in, there'd have to be-

Aha. The wall. He followed the wall till he slammed face first into something. He swore at it for a few moments before Pix found the light switch.

He blinked away tears and gave Pix thumbs up. The room started to warm up, thankfully, and he got a look at what he had run into.

It looked like a perfect copy of one of the rooms he had seen way back when on the other side of Urtish territory, complete with its own wall of weird trash-can artifacts, left behind by the Architects. Jimmy's stomach verbally reminded him for the fifth time in as many hours that it had been a long couple of however long they had been running. He wiped more tears from his eyes and looked at Pix.

"Pix, how long has it been since we ate last?" Jimmy rubbed his belly. She looked up at the ceiling and muttered to herself.

"Uh, about...a while." She groaned, putting her hand over her eyes. "About five, maybe six hours. I don't know, my chronometer is a bit screwy right now."

"Same here."

They both giggled. Then they laughed.

Then they both had a near enough simulation of a heart attack because one of the trashcan shaped thingies with tubes sticking out of their tops came to life. The end of the tube flashed blue and it hovered at Jimmy.

Jimmy yelped, jumped backwards, tripped over his own feet and crashed to the ground. The thingy juddered forward, then crashed down and fell to the side. Whatever had brought it to life was gone.

Silence reigned.

Pix ran over and knelt down next to Jimmy, putting her hands on his shoulder.

"Okay." Jimmy closed his eyes. "Screw this! I refuse to be injured anymore, by the Architects. If my bullet hole doesn’t close itself right NOW-"

"It's okay." Pix hugged him, tight around the neck. Jimmy made a gack noise, as that sorta cut off some of his air.

Once she was done hugging/strangling him, Jimmy had gotten over his urge to rant at his own body and they started to set up shop. Tucked into the corner of the room, Pix found a bag of hardened plastic. Within the bag was a generator, a wireless bouncer – one of the many that filled the vastness of Harbinger with wireless communication – and another, smaller baggy, which itself was strapped to the side of a heater. Pix turned on the heater, and the two of them pressed themselves against one another, and sat near the heater as the air around it started to grow warmer and warmer.

            “All right!” Pix said, her voice deliberately cheery. “Let’s see what we got in the goodie bag.”

            She opened it and started rummaging through it.

She tossed a protein bar to Jimmy, who grabbed it and started to munch. Pix took her own and stuck it in her mouth and started to chew while rustling around through the bag. She took out a few oversized jackets, grinning at Jimmy as she did so. Another munch and she pulled out some medical supplies.

Then she pulled out the gun.

She dropped it and it hit the ground with a clatter that was far louder than it should have been. The gun skidded aside and ended up near Jimmy's foot. He reached down, gulped, and picked it up. It was heavier than he had thought it would be. Heavy and clunky. The barrel was black, the handle had a brown swell that made it easier to grasp. The trigger was thin, and when Jimmy put his finger on it, the gun whirred and clicked to life, an indicator glowing on the side. It buzzed in his hand, feeling almost alive.

He set it down in a hurry. The gun stopped quivering and he looked at Pix.

She held up two small magazines, green tipped bullets in each of them. Jimmy closed his eyes. "Okay, okay, okay," he said, softly. "Okay. Okay."

"Okay?" Pix set the magazines down. "At least we can shoot back this time."

"Shoot back!?" Jimmy opened his eyes and watched her as she pulled out a flashlight, a pair of binoculars and a small multitool.

"Yes, shoot back," Pix said, glaring at him. Not at him, Jimmy realized, but rather, though him. Glaring at the world and all the shit it had decided to dump on them. "Next time, I'm going to shoot back."
Jimmy looked at her. For a moment, he thought of her lighter. Memories…he shook his head.

"No, Pix, I'm going to shoot back." Jimmy picked the gun up again, making sure to keep his finger off the trigger. He had heard that from at least four different people on the 3V: Keep your finger off the trigger unless you want to make something dead. He grabbed one of the magazines and, after some fumbling, he got it to slide into the handle of the gun. The gun clicked and cocked itself, then dinged cheerily.


Pix a moment later grinned, antennas sparking. "Well, I guess that makes sense. After all, you played the most video games."

Jimmy pursed his lips. "Maybe we could fire the gun democratically."

Pix cocked an eyebrow. Very Spockian.

"Or...." Jimmy grinned, trying to lighten the mood. "We could do it via representative democracy."

"I elect James Leonite."

"Any objections?" Jimmy was finding it really hard to not dissolve into hysterical laughter. No one spoke, not even the weird things in the side of the room. He'd have to think of a name for them eventually. Hovering-Trashcan sounded like a good name. "The motion is passed."

Pix golf clapped.


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Friday, September 12, 2014

E.L.F: Chapter Four

Author's Note: Updating my webzone here, pizza rolls, pizza rolls. Also, this week has been extremely exciting. I've gotten to hang out with some friends, and write a bunch of words, and help caretake for my Grandma (who is very glad to have me around the house, for some reason.) Also, I have recently heard about Pillars of Eternity, a new Infinity Engine style CRPG made by Obsidian. I have a warning for friends, family, loved ones, and internet people: Once this game comes out, I may vanish for a few weeks.


Chapter 4: Tinsel





Jimmy gave up talking after that. It was a bit self-defeating to try and say anything around a sock jammed in his mouth} and did nothing to ease the ache of his wrists, bound as they were by tight plastic. His eyes were covered by a scratchy fabric that smelled like it was out of some pre-historical adventure story, not modern self-cleaning stuff. With nothing to talk about and no way to talk and nothing to see, Jimmy had nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other.

The walk continued. It got cold. Then warmer. Then colder again. Then really cold. Jimmy shivered, his teeth trying to chatter around his gag. The person marching them along at gunpoint laughed at their misery. It was a kind of laugh Jimmy had heard a lot growing up, he could recognize it.

Suddenly, Pix made an indignant sound around her gag and Jimmy immediately strained against his cuffs. That did nothing but made his wrists sting and made the sock jammed in his mouth even more uncomfortable.

Eventually, Jimmy came to the conclusion that the walk would never end. His had jaw moved from cramping to painful to sheer agony. Then, finally, the blindfold was ripped off his head and the gag yanked from his mouth. He spluttered and worked his jaw, blinking his eyes. When his eyes adjusted to seeing again, he saw three gunrunners – no, four, he noticed Tlessia sitting on Anna’s shoulder. The only other one he recognized was Phil, with his trademark skeevy smile plastered on. Jimmy knew if his wrists weren't bound, he'd have tried to punch that grin right out of existence.

And then Phil would shoot him dead.

It scared him how certain he was of that.

Jimmy looked around for Pix, then saw she was behind him. The gag and blindfold came away from her and she spat on the ground.

"Bleck, ugh, your sock tastes like your face," she said, glaring at the sock, then at Phil.

Phil just sneered. He put his hand on Pix's butt. Pix strained at her handcuffs and Jimmy growled. Phil's hand came away, holding Pix's lighter.

"Nice lighter...cyborg." Phil smirked, taking out a c-stick and slipping it between his lips. He lit it and walked towards Anna, who edged slowly away from him. And now that Jimmy was done looking at the people he wanted to see in jail, he started looking at the room. Or, well, hallway.

There wasn't much to it. Two long walls, two doors, a ceiling and some lights that had been welded to the walls. The door behind Jimmy was unlocked. As he watched, Phil slammed the lock back closed with an audible clang.

"You okay?" Jimmy whispered to Pix. She shook her head, her face pale, her eyes tired. Jimmy had never seen Pix look so downhearted before. Even when Richy and Edward had been at their worst, tormenting her and Jimmy with a gleeful abandon, Pix still had that spark in the back of her eyes, the core of her personality that made her so fun to be around.

That spark looked dim, now. Dim and angry, smoldering like a coal. Uncomfortable memories...

Jimmy tried to smile. "Come on. We're almost-"

"Shh," Tlessia hissed. "Okay, you two, get over here."

Jimmy glared at the cat. The cat glared right back, then patted Anna's calf with her paw. "Come closer. Do it, or I'll have Phil manhandle you."

Pix stepped forward first. Jimmy followed, biting his lip. Tlessia looked from one to the other. Jimmy tried to read what she was thinking but...she was a cat. It was really hard to see anything other than adorable in her glittering eyes. Maybe that's why she exaggerated her anger and frustration, to break through that illusion via extremes.

Or maybe she was just annoying.

"Now, we're at a city called Tinsel, it's-"

"We know what Tinsel is." Jimmy frowned. "We've been to school, and I'm the son of a diplomat. "

"Well, fine, Mr. Son of Diplomat." Tlessia pointed her paw at him. "Tell me, what is Tinsel's main export?"

Jimmy shrugged. “Elevator use.”

Tlessia drew her head back. Jimmy hastened to explain. "That is, it's the only city actually built near one of the functional grav-shafts. So, it's like a trading port."

Tlessia stretched her neck up so that she was as close to his face as possible (which wasn't very close at all). Then she grinned, showing her fangs in a surprisingly expressive motion. "Exactly. So, that means you will know to not make any fuss at the terminal. Cause if you do, we will kill you."

Jimmy glanced at Pix, then at Tlessia. "But, wait-"

"If you make a fuss, you could bring the law down on our heads, and if you do that, you'll cost so much that killing you will actually make us a profit. And it'll make me feel better!" Tlessia's glare locked onto Jimmy's eyes. "And, so you know we're serious, I'm giving Phil the sniper rifle that will be aimed right at the back of your heads."

Jimmy kicked himself, mentally.

He had thought, a while ago, that this Sunday couldn't get any worse.

He needed to stop thinking that kind of thing.


The Urtish had evolved in the outdoors, lived in the outdoors, developed technology in the outdoors. They liked the outdoors, they liked nature. And Harbinger, fortunately, had rooms big enough for them to feel 'outdoors', even if they lacked the trees and forests of their homeworld. The grav-shafts of Tinsel happened to be one of these rooms. The ceiling sloped upwards and outwards, stopping about half a mile above the ground. Ten tubes, all about the width of a house, ran from the ceiling to the ground floor. Between those tubes sprawled Tinsel.

It had been well named. The buildings were a glittering pastel of paper thin metal that the Urtish spun and hung between intelligent poles of hardened plastics, which folded and interconnected in complex patterns. The structures did not differentiate themselves as much as the buildings Jimmy was used to – instead, tunnels and tubes connected spires of rippling fabric, distended and shifted by the weather patterns of the room and the hefty weight of the Urtish moving along them – shadows cast against the papery metal.

The center of Tinsel was dominated by a broad thoroughfare that led directly to a security terminal of hard, black metal that sat, spiderlike, at the center of the five grav-chutes. A throng of humans, Urtish, and other races in lesser degrees all headed towards that terminal, ready and eager to reach the upper levels of Harbinger.

And in the middle of that throng, Jimmy and Pix sat next to each other, trying to look completely unconcerned.

It was harder than it looked.

"At least we can talk," Pix said, keeping her face directly forward. The back of Jimmy's neck prickled as he imagined that psycho aiming a gun at him. By now, that sensation wasn’t entirely unfamiliar, and that was just a little bit depressing.

"Yeah," Jimmy said, reaching back to rub his neck. "Sorry about your lighter-"

"It’s okay," Pix said, her voice tight. After a long, long pause, watching the line around them mill about, and listening to the voices and the rippling of paper-metal buildings in the wind, Pix looked at him out of the corner of her pink eyes.
"Soooo, did you mean it?"

Oh great. Jimmy gulped, his dry throat suddenly seeming even dryer, somehow. After a bit of a struggle, he managed to speak. "Well...yeah."

The line shuffled forward as yet another person got through the interminable security check. Jimmy had never seen a group of people so thorough in their searching. And he'd been into the Council Chambers. Sure, he'd been a little kid, but he could still remember an Anachros checking him over...


That thought, though, lead to the serious problem of getting to somewhere where the security services might actually help. Tinsel wasn’t the Council Chambers, the Urtish weren’t the Anachros, and he was fairly sure that the gunrunners had their ways through this security. But what if there was a way they could trigger things?

No, wait, then Phil would…would…

Jimmy suddenly realized that Pix was saying things, the words going in one ear and out the other.

"Uh, yeah," Jimmy said, trying to catch up. She looked right at him.

"Then why did you wait till now!" She sounded annoyed. "I mean, leading me on and on like that."

"Listen, I'm sorry," Jimmy whispered. "But is now the time to talk about this?"

"Apparently! Apparently it takes me getting smacked by a crazy person to get you to..."

What had he missed when he'd been thinking of other things? His look of panic must have been way too obvious because Pix's eyes narrowed. "Wait, did you even listen to me earlier?"


"By the Architects!" Pix threw her hands up, her antennas sparking. "Jimmy, the...I...thought you weren't...god I hate you sometimes!"

"I-" Jimmy's words clogged. Come on, say something! Something funny, something witty, charming, something to make her love you back. Just like every single other time he tried to think of something, his brain failed. But unlike the other times, he was already falling.

"Just drop it, okay?" She looked away from him, back tight.

What was she thinking? Was she as terrified as he was of losing what they had?

"So." She forced herself to sound normal. Normalish. "How long's the line?"

"Uh, long." Jimmy glanced back over his shoulder. Did he see the glint of a scope in the buildings around and above and behind him? Unlikely, as the whole rippling paper-metal effect created a wild profusion of sparkles and glints. "Listen, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't wait for a better time, I'm sorry I was so cowardly that I didn't say this sooner...I'm sorry I wasn't listening..." He bit his lip. "Um, w-what was the question."

"It wasn't a question," Pix said. "It was..." She trailed off.

Jimmy was just about to prompt her before her expression registered in his brain: Wide eyes, jaw dropping in shock. Jimmy turned around, to see what she was looking at.

The Xorquin was in the line right next to theirs, wearing his rumpled brown hat. Tall as ever, one of his arms had a dull white bandage wrapped around his bicep. All three eyes glared right into Jimmy, like laser beams.

Jimmy's mouth dried up like a Slor shoved into a fusion reactor. He half expected the Xorquin to whip out a few machine guns and blow him and Pix away, right there in line.

The Xorquin slid his hand toward his pocket. He froze, the motion incomplete. Jimmy blinked, then followed the Xorquin's eyes, to the red dot glowing on the back of the Xorquin’s hand. The dot whipped around, then settled on Jimmy's heart. Modern, civilian firearms had loads of smart systems designed to make them safer, while military firearms used a bunch of advanced optics and targeting systems that made laser dot sights a primitive affectation…which did nothing to make the little red dot – ingrained over millennium of social history – any less intimidating. 

The red dot swept back to the Xorquin’s hand, then to his chest. The meaning seemed pretty clear to Jimmy. He could almost hear Phil’s voice in his ear: I can shoot anyone I want here, so why don’t we all keep moving?

"Okay," Jimmy said. “Maybe starting anything here is a bad idea, Mr. Xorquin.”

Pix’s hand closed tight around his, squeezing hard enough he felt his knuckles pop slightly. Jimmy didn’t really care.

The Xorquin took the advice as passively as he took anything from being shot at to being shot. What thoughts were going on behind that thing's forehead? His line started to shuffle forward faster than Jimmy's line, and soon the Xorquin was gone. For now.

"Okay," Jimmy turned to Pix, then shuffled sideways with their line, having to abandon their seats in the motion. "Um, he's gone. That’s good! We’re safer!"

"Jimmy, Phil is aiming at the back of your head."

Jimmy nodded. "Just ignore it."

"How can I!?"

"Think of it like Richy!" he suggested. Pix giggled, just this side of hysteric. Jimmy felt a tickle at the back of his neck. The dot. He tried to distract himself by looking at Pix. First he looked at her cheek. He noticed how cheek became ear and how her ear had a swirling pattern of cartilage and this cute little earlobe...

The tickle faded and Jimmy realized that he really could ignore a gun aimed at his head sometimes.

"We need to..." Jimmy whispered. Pix looked at him, a flash of annoyance on her face.

Jimmy choked slightly.

"Need to?"

"Get back to the whole talk thing later," Jimmy said, feeling a lump in his throat. He had seen Pix annoyed, and he had seen Pix annoyed at him before. So why did it feel worse now? Well, firstly, this went beyond 'annoyance', and, well, because he, with his big mouth, had changed their relationship. It was like yanking the rug out from under the world.

"Yeah. Later. When we don't have guns aimed at us." Pix said. She looked down. "Jimmy, I..."

The line shuffled forward. Jimmy's hands slipped into his pockets, where they clenched into fists. "Yeah?"

"I want to go home." Pix's voice was soft.

Jimmy looked up. A tear slid down Pix's cheek and she looked so lovely, backlit by the slightly too white sunlamp that Urtish used, surrounded by bored looking aliens. Jimmy's heart stopped.

Who hugged first? Jimmy didn't know. First, they were standing apart. Then they were together. Pix rubbed her face against his cheek and Jimmy whetted her pink hair with his own tears. All the awkwardness, all the questions, all the unknowns. Forgotten for now.

"Me too."


The line eventually shuffled Jimmy and Pix into the spotlight, so to speak. An Urtish customs worker, looking deceptively large and menacing even though he barely came up to Jimmy's chin, walked up to the two of them. The Urtish’s look – bulging shoulder muscles, broad arms, fingers the size of sausages, and tusks that thrust out and curved up under their forelip, all of it worked to make the shorter race seem taller and more intimidating. The customs officer grunted, looking them over, then shoved a blunt metal probe at Jimmy's nose. Jimmy flinched and the Urtish growled something.

A moment later, a translator built into a bracelet stretched tight around the Urtish's huge wrist bleeped out, "Hold still, human."

Jimmy held still. The probe went back to his face and, faster than Jimmy could think, two wires slammed up his nose. He jerked, feeling them worm their way down his throat, then back up. He coughed and gagged as the probe was jerked away.

"You could have just used my mouth!" He gasped/coughed. From the amount of attention the Urtish paid him, he might as well saved his breath.

The Urtish then ran a blipping doobober over Jimmy's body. It never flashed red or anything, nor did it bleep REALLY loud. Just soft bleeping. The Urtish didn't say anything, but from half remembered courses on alien cultures, Jimmy didn't think the Urtish looked that angry or annoyed. Hopefully. Another scanner, this time looking alarmingly like a sex toy, waved over Jimmy's hair.

And then they were through. Jimmy looked at Pix, who was still rubbing her nose. They walked forward towards the waiting area set up around one of the many elevators. There was the Xorquin, standing there, staring right at them.

And there, sitting a bit to the left of the Xorquin, reading a newspaper, was Anna. Her tail twitched under her chair, slipping through the obnoxious hole most public chairs had between the backrest and the seat.

She stood up, folded her paper up, and walked over to Jimmy and Pix. She looked from one to the other. After deciding that everything was fine, she jerked her head towards the chairs. Pix pointed at the Xorquin. Anna glanced over.
Her eyes narrowed. The Xorquin stared at her, with that odd, unblinking look he had.

"Jimmy," Pix's voice quivered, like something in her was stirring. Jimmy looked at her, heart jerking up a bit. She motioned with her head towards...towards a security station! It may have been surrounded by metal-paper and crafted in the shape of a polyhedron, but it had the universal symbols for police and safety splayed over it.

"Phil?" Jimmy looked back, to see if he could see that glint – but the glittering of the Urtish city obscured his view.

Pix shrugged. "Think he can shoot us through the crowds and stuff?" she whispered.

"Good point." Jimmy glanced at Anna and the Xorquin, who were sizing one another up. Anna held her hand up.

"Don't move," Anna said. Jimmy nodded.

Then he ran. His hand grabbed Pix's elbow, but she was already running too. He grinned, on the inside, then started panicking, because when he glanced over his shoulder, he saw Anna and the Xorquin unanimously decide they could both stop sizing each other up, just so long as their quarry didn't get away.

Out of the corner of Jimmy’s eye, he saw people looking right at them. Did anyone else think it was weird that two teenagers were running through a security terminal.

Yes, someone did.

"Now, hold on-" someone shouted, someone human, stepping out of the line as if to stop them.

Pix got to the security terminal. She ducked inside, then slammed her fist onto a bright blue button marked with the alarm symbol. A green light flashed above the button and Pix grinned at Jimmy before the Xorquin grabbed her. Anna grabbed Jimmy.

"Great," Anna muttered. "That way!" She pointed with one hand, her other arm looping around Jimmy's neck. He couldn't breathe.

The Xorquin saw whatever Anna was pointing at and they both moved off. Jimmy tried to drag his feet, but Anna hoisted him up and over her shoulder. It was rather undignified. And almost impossible to breathe. Her shoulder dug into Jimmy's chest and he saw a strange, disjointed view of the Urtish security running up, looking as confused as anyone would.

Then he was in a hallway – a Harbinger corridor, not an Urtish construction. The Xorquin kicked the door closed. Where was Pix? There she was, held under one arm like a notebook or something. "Put me down!" she shouted. "Put me down you scaly-"

The corridor, details indistinct, split off. Jimmy saw the Xorquin split off, heading down a different corridor.

"Pix!" he shouted. "PIX!"

Anna kept running.


Anna set Jimmy down. Jimmy shouted inarticulately and took a swing at her. She batted the swing aside, used the momentum to flip Jimmy around, and slammed her fist into the small of his back. Jimmy hit the metal floor chin first. He looked at the floor, cross-eyed, and then he stood up, shaking himself and turned around. Anna glared at him, arms crossed over her chest.

Jimmy didn't swing at her, his jaw still aching, his back screaming bloody murder. "Okay, listen, you want to make money off of me, right."

Anna shrugged.

"You don't want to make money off me."

Anna sighed, slowly. "No."

"Okay. Then let me go."


Jimmy looked at the ceiling. Where were they, anyway? He knew they had taken at least two lefts, but a lot of the run had been one big blur. He looked back down. Where was Pix?

"Okay, we're going to have to talk. So drop your goddamn monosyllabic routine and-"

Anna glared at him. Jimmy glared right back, pointedly forgetting she was taller, stronger, armed and better trained than he was.

"Okay," Jimmy said, softly. "You've already said you don't like taking hostages."

Anna shrugged. Jimmy thought he saw something in her eyes. He wasn't sure what, but it was something. Okay, what would Dad do? He'd keep pushing, shoving, arguing and bullying till he got his way. Go Dad.

"So, do you want me as a hostage, or as a willing partner?" Jimmy stood up straight, shocked at how clear his brain was working. Aim a gun at him, he panics. Threaten Pix...everything became clear, but so much scarier. "See, if you let Pix get carried off by that Xorquin, I will fight you every inch of the way. Get her back, and I'll help you ransom me off."

Anna narrowed her eyes.

"Listen, Anna...Pix...I love her. Okay!" A big lump rose in his throat. He looked at Anna's impassive face, his heart stopping.

"Oh damn it," Anna muttered, putting her hand on her forehead. "Do you have any idea where the Xorquin might have been taking her? Or why?"

Jimmy's heart beat again. Who knew life and death circumstances could stop and start breathing, heart rate, blinking, saliva and so on.

"Well," Jimmy said, trying to not look relived. He tried and failed, but Anna didn't call him on it. "It all started when we found this Data crystal..."

Anna nodded once he was done. "He'll be heading out, to the Far Dark."

"That's bad, right?"

She nodded again. "Yeah. If you don't want to be found, then you head to the Dark."

Jimmy closed his eyes. He could see a million issues with his plan. Maybe he should just give up...

No, never give up. If he gave up, then he'd have to think Pix was gone forever. Gone and...

No. No. No.

"Okay, we have to head for the Dark, then."

Anna brought her eyebrows up and looked at him. Jimmy's forced optimism crumpled like tissue paper. He looked down. "Okay, what can we do then?"

Anna sighed, slowly. "Nothing."

Jimmy stopped. He looked at his feet. And then, like a spark popping between his eyes, a thought exploded in his mind. He jerked his head back up, grinning like an idiot. " have a phone?"

Anna looked confused. Pix didn’t have time for that. Jimmy stepped forward, holding his hand out. "Do you!?"

"Uh-" Anna pulled out a small black phone. Jimmy grabbed it, flipped it open and closed his eyes. Memories floated around his head.

"Pix, stay out of telemarketing."

"Yes, but I have one advantage…”

"I can dial phones with my mind," Jimmy finished out loud. Anna looked at the ceiling, crossing her arms over her chest. Jimmy could practically read her mind. It went something along the lines of 'why do all rich hostages have to be insane?'

Jimmy licked his lips, drew in a deep breath, then pressed eight numbers on the phone. He selected the texting option. Then, slowly, carefully, his thumbs typed out:

A.Sinclare: Hello?

Pixie: Who is this?

A.Sinclare: Jimmy! Pix, are you okay?

Pixie: Jimmy! <3!!!

A.Sinclare: Listen, Pix, we're coming for you

Pixie: Okay, how?

Jimmy closed his eyes and looked at the ceiling. Shit, that was the question.

A.Sinclare: Are you blindfolded?

Pixie: Yup. And handcuffed. MFer.

A.Sinclare: Are you cold?

Pixie: Well, it's a bit chilly.

Jimmy sighed. "She might be going to the Dark, I can't tell."

He squawked when Anna plucked the phone from his hands. "Hey!"

She turned the phone around, shot a 'look' at him, then rummaged around in her jacket pockets. She had a lot of those, and after a few moments rummaging, she pulled out a doobobber. Well, it looked like a small holographic projector with two batteries duct taped to the side. A mini-computer was welded under the projector and a dangling cable strung out from under the casing of the mini-computer.

It looked like something McGuffin would build.

Anna plugged the cable into the phone, tapped a button on the mini-computer, and a fuzzy, three dimensional maze. In the center of the glittering greenish maze was a glowing blue-white dot, and a few corridors away from that dot was a red dot – which flashed and winked invitingly. It didn't move for a few moments, then started – tracking through corridors in quick, jagged motions. Anna handed the phone to Jimmy.

Pixie: moving, J. typing hard.

A.Sinclare: Don't focus on typing. We'll find you.

Pixie: actually idea I

The red dot vanished and a image showed up on the phone. It said: Pixie has disconnected.

The plastic click of the phone closing sounded painfully final to Jimmy's ears.

Anna sighed. "Let's go."

She started jogging down the corridor, heading for the nearest right turn, shoving the apparatus back into one of her infinitely deep jacket pockets.

Jimmy hurried after her. "Okay, what do-"

"Shh!" She hissed, pausing at the corner and glancing around it. She cocked her head...and Jimmy heard the faint sound of motion.

Anna glanced at him, then jerked her head in the direction of that sound.

They were two corridors closer when the sound of a SNAP and a "ARGH!" came. That snap had been metallic and the argh came from Pix!

There she was, running down the corridor, her arms still tied behind her back. Something was strange about her head, but Jimmy didn't have time to notice that. He shouted, hand waving: "This way!"

Anna drew a cheapo revolver and started to pop off shots. The shots made weird sploch noises rather than the normal bang Jimmy was used to hearing from guns. Six green globs slapped against the walls, marking off a circle around the middle of the corridor. One after the other, the globs stared to grow, till most of the corridor was covered with the greenish guck, dribbling and dripping from the ceiling. Like a giant's tissue after a bad cold. The distinct smell of acid wafted through the corridor. Jimmy realized, quite suddenly, that he didn’t want to see anything that wasn’t build out of Harbinger metal touch that green goop.

"Now run," Anna said.

The Xorquin, stuck on the other end of all the green, glared at them as they rushed away.


"By the...oh...I'm going to kill that son of a bitch!"

"It doesn't hurt as much as it looks," Pix said, her voice brave. Jimmy carefully ran his fingers along her hairline, face set with worry. He felt the smooth base of her left antenna, then a jagged edge-

"I'm going to kill him!" He growled, softly, wincing as his finger caught on a jagged bit of metal. "He just sapped them off!?"

Pix nodded. Jimmy slid his hand down to her cheek...put her face up. She looked into his eyes. She blurred, suddenly and Jimmy blinked away the tears, sniffling. "I was so worried." Talking around the boulder that sat on his chest was hard. It was worth it. Pix put her hand on his wrist, stroking his skin. Jimmy slid his palm down...shivered.

Her skin was so smooth.

Pix slid forward and Jimmy noticed a line of red on her cheek. Blood from his pointer finger, sliced open on the jagged end of her broken antenna. His fingers brushed over her ear, then slid into the back of her hair. She moved forward, pushing forward with her back foot. Breath hot.

Her nose bumped into his nose. Pix flinched back and Jimmy's arm dropped.

She turned a bright red. "Uh, what..." She looked and saw his bleeding finger. "Ah! Your finger."

"S'nothing," Jimmy muttered.

But the moment was broken. A bumped nose, the electric feeling of her skin, and that look in her eyes...all jumbled up...

Jimmy had no idea how he managed to stand still with all these thoughts tumbling through his head. Say you love her. Tell her how the thought of her being kidnapped or worse, how it had made his heart stop working, made it hard to breathe. Say SOMETHING!


Pix, being Pix, didn't move an inch. She just turned her head and glared at Anna. "Ahem yourself, we're talking here."

Anna sighed and pointed at her own wrist. She didn't actually have a watch, but the meaning was clear. Time.

Pix sighed. Anna turned back around and started walking slowly.

"I guess we'd bet-"

Pix grabbed the front of his shirt, turned her head this time, and slammed her lips into his. Jimmy's teeth bumped against his lips and her tongue slid into his mouth. His eyes went very wide, even as hers went very closed.

Five seconds and ten eternities later, she let him go and stepped back. She was panting, face flushed. Her left eye opened. Jimmy stared at her.

"Okay," she said. "Iwasdumbforbeingmadandumlet'sneverdothatagain."

Jimmy nodded, unable to speak. Pix nodded back at him, her two front teeth hooked over her bottom lip.

" that again slower?" Jimmy asked. Pix opened her mouth.


"Right." Pix took Jimmy's hand and dragged him after her.


Enjoying the story? If you are, feel free to support it on Paetron and win amazing prizes! 

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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