Friday, January 23, 2015

E.L.F: Chapter 12

Author's note: While editing this chapter, I found no less than FIVE continuity errors. And they weren't subtle, easy to miss ones. They were massive, massive, obvious ones. Just goes to show how much four years of practice can improve your writing!

Chapter 12: Foundry

Jimmy, for the longest time, thought that being a boyfriend to a girl (or a boy, though, he was fairly sure he didn't swing that way) would involve equal amounts of good times and bad. Times spent cuddling and kissing and talking and playing video games, and times spent arguing over who cleaned the kitchen and who made the most money, and all the other examples he had seen in fiction. But then, he actually got a girlfriend, and all the bad times had involved scary people with guns trying to kill them.

On the whole, he was grateful for that.

Then he woke up with Pix splayed across his chest and body like a uneven comforter – one with some soft pillowy bits, but also weird, suprising bony bits that he hadn't expected – and realized that he had just run into one of the bad times. Specifically, the: Do I dare move and wake my girlfriend while she is laying ontop of me, or do I remain perfectly still and just let my arm hurt more and more as it is slowly blood starved into gangrene and death?

After a minute of agonized thinking, Jimmy decided that he would move...if his fingers started to turn green and smell like death.

Until then? He waited and tried to convince himself he was comfortable.

It almost worked, too!

After what felt like a few billion years – enough for Harbinger to complete its slow route through the galaxy, digest several planets, and then return back to where it had found the bedraggled remains of the human race and their children – Pix opened her eyes and nuzzled her nose against Jimmy's chest, before looking up.

"Hi," she said.

"Hi," Jimmy said, reaching up to brush through her hair with his hand.

"Are you comfy?"

"Um, I-"

"Good." She snuggled against his chest once more, pressing even tighter against him. After a moment, she spoke – her voice only slightly muffled by his shirt. "Wanna do it again?"

Jimmy started to splutter – he wasn't honestly sure if he was about to say yes, no, or yes yes yes yes. Pix interrupted him by pushing herself up – freeing his arm – and kissing him. Jimmy's eyes widened.

And not just because his arm was suddenly burning with a rush of blood and circulation.

It was also because they hadn't used any mouth wash since last night.

"You, bleck, you were right the first time," Pix said, waving her hand under her nose. "Morning breath."

"How could I be right? You didn't let me say anything before you kissed me!" Jimmy said, rummaging around in his pack for the wash. He pulled out the small dispenser, sprayed the smart liquid into his mouth, and shivered as he felt the faint tingle around his gums and teeth as the wash got to work.

"I can read your mind,” Pix said, shrugging slightly. Jimmy spat out a hardened pill of collected plaque.

You cannot!” Jimmy said as Pix swished her mouth, then spat out her plaque as well.

Can too!” She grinned, then started to tick things off. “You think my butt is sexy, you spent five minutes agonizing over whether to move your arm and wake me up or suffer – and you chose to suffer, very nice of you – and you are not looking forward to another round of walking through endless corridors!”

Jimmy frowned.

Okay, fine,” Pix said, crossing her arms over her chest. “You were thinking my boobs are sexy. You never were a butt guy...”


The two of them eyed the doorway that led out of their campsite

"Who wants to bet the Xorquin is on the other side of this door?" Pix felt around her pockets for her gun. "He has been ambushing us ever since we started...except for that one time where we could have ambushed him, but, I mean..." She trailed off, looking cross.

Jimmy, seeing a chance to change the subject ahead of time before an argument, grabbed it and said: "I'll see you that bet."

"What should we bet?" Pix looked at him.
Jimmy rubbed his chin. “Not sure...”

“Oh!” She jumped up slightly, her antennas sparking. “I know! Favors.”

"Okay," Jimmy said. A moment later, he looked at her side long, his eyes narrowed. "What favors? It's not like I have a lawn you can mow or any thing."

Pix just grinned.

"Um, when you make that face, it's normally before you-"

Pix leaned over and whispered in his ear.

"Oooh...then...I really hope I win this bet," Jimmy whispered. She giggled.

"So do I! Mostly cause I hate getting shot at. Well, that and also cause I love-"

Jimmy opened the door before she could finish that sentence. The moment between the door starting to open and the door actually being open had an eternity of tension. Despite their joking, Pix's face was set and ready for action, her hands clasping her pistol. Then the door finished open and revealed another stretch of Harbinger's corridors. Pix holstered her weapon, shaking her head.

"Yeah. That's what I love. The lack of light, bullets, walking long distances, the lack of ice cream, the lack of beds, and the fact we haven't had sex for an hour.”

Jimmy laughed. “Well, hey, I won the bet, at least.” He started forward into the corridor, Pix following him once she had checked to make sure her gun was safe in its holster. They walked down the corridor, Jimmy's finger brushing along the wall, his other hand in his pocket, resting right on the handle of his gun. There was a long time of simple silence between them – and Jimmy felt rather proud of that. Some of their conversations felt more like they were to ward off the massive size of Harbinger. Far from other humans and E.L.F.s and even other aliens, the sheer scale of the galaxy's largest starship started to feel like a heavy weight crushing on his shoulders.

The next door they came to was rusted shut. Pix and Jimmy looked at one another. Silently, Pix held up a fist. Jimmy held up a fist as well. They shook. Pix threw her hand flat, but Jimmy kept his hand clenched in a fist.

Tire skids on oil,” she said, grinning.

Jimmy swore. “Knew I should have done pipe...”

Get to work, slave boy,” Pix said, leaning on the wall, assuming a stance that was too casually relaxing to be actually relaxing.

Jimmy snorted and then got out the laser cutter. The searing brightness of the laser's contact point was actually filtered down by the night vision's computers – which, he noted, might make them useful later in non-pitch black areas of the ship, to help with bright lights as much as with dim lights. As he carefully cut through the rust that had clouded around the doorway – and tried to figure out why this door had rusted, while most of Harbinger's construction was immune to the ravages of time – he heard Edna's voice speaking through the coms.

Hey, kids,” she said. “You're near the Slor's terretory.”

Pix shuddered overdramatically. "Ugh. Slor."

"Hey, hey, don't be racist,” Jimmy said, not taking his eyes from the cutter.

"I'm not racist. I've just seen them talk." Pix paused. “Okay, you can't see, but I'm making HUGE finger quotes.”

Jimmy grunted as the laser cutter worked its way through the part of the door he had been aiming it at. He tested the door and it shifted ever so slightly – if he had to characterize the door, he'd say it was grumpy that he was making it do anything it didn't want to do and was fighting him tooth and nail. He gritted his teeth. "It's like...tolerance, Pix, you gotta have it!"

Pix scowled. "We don't have tolerance for people who spray mucus over us at home. Why is it suddenly okay for aliens to do it?"

"Cause when a human does that, they're sick. When a Sor does it..." Jimmy braced one foot against the door, then pushed his back against the wall. He started to push with his leg, gritting his teeth. "They're...rrrrgh!" He shoved again. "Talking!"

"Yeah, but..." Pix said, sounding plaintive. "It's gross!"

Jimmy frowned. “You know. You're an engineered life form. Aren't your muscles twice as efficient as human ones? Couldn't you HELP me with this?”

Actually, after the Eugenic's Wars-”

Just get over here!” Jimmy snarled. Pix rolled her eyes and hurried forward to the door. She put her shoulder to the door beside Jimmy's hands and together, they shoved hard. The door shifted and swung outward to reveal a long corridor, curving slightly to the side. But what was more important was illuminated. Sure, the illumination was Slor-style, but their luminators were splattered all over the wall.

Jimmy laughed.

And then the Xorquin leaned around the corner and fired a burst from his rifle. Bullets bounced off the metal of the door and floor. Jimmy dove to the side, slamming Pix against the wall. She oofed, her antennas clacking against the wall. Then Pix saved Jimmy by pushing against the wall and shoving them behind the door frame just as another burst ripped out. This time, the bullets stitched along the ground where they had both laid.

Jimmy scrambled to get his legs behind cover and drew his pistol.

Pix did the same.

"How'd he find us?" Pix whispered. Well. She whispered the only way one could during a gun battle – which was by shouting slightly lower than the top of her lungs.

"No clue." Jimmy fired his gun at the open part of the door, not aiming at anything or even sticking his gun around the corner. He just wanted to rattle the Xorquin before he actually fired the gun around the corner. Pix did the same, kneeling down so she could shoot the ground too. They kept shooting for a few seconds before Jimmy's gun clicked. He hit the eject button and the empty container for the caseless ammo brick slotted down.

Pix fired two more shots, then her gun clicked. She reached into her pocket, but when she pulled out her caseless brick, it fell from her fingers and hit the ground with a thud. Jimmy snapped his gun back to ready, peeking out around the corner, his forehead itching like it was on fire. But nothing blew his brains out from the back of his head. The Xorquin was staying put. Or getting ready to do something evil.

"Jimmy? What is going on over there, I'm not getting any video,” Edna said.

"Xorquin has us pinned down, might be trying to jam us, figure us a way outta here!" Jimmy shouted. Something moved down at that corner – a tiny subliminal thing, a shift of shadows, the faint edge of scales peeking around the corner. Jimmy jerked back behind cover. That turned out to be the right decision: Another shower of bullets came down the corridor at them. Pix yelped, standing up with the ammo brick in her hand.

"I felt it ruffle my hair," she whispered, eyes wide. Jimmy grunted, then had a brainwave.


Pix got it in an instant. She grabbed the door's wheel beside Jimmy and started to pull as hard as she could. Jimmy's arms strained and his legs strained and he gritted his teeth, hard, and together, they pulled. The door creaked shut.

"Laser cutter! Laser cutter!" Jimmy hissed, grabbing it from his pocket. He put it to the joints of the door. Pix looked at him like he was crazy. Maybe he was!

"What are you doing?" Pix and Edna asked at the same time. Jimmy could have sworn he heard Edna whisper 'jinx'.

"Trying something," he whispered. Clunk. A dull sound reverberated through the door's solid structure and it jerked outwards before Pix hauled back, her arms trembling as she shut it once more. Jimmy could hear claws scrabbling on the door, then heard silence. The Xorquin was getting a better grip on the door, to try and pull it open. The cutter finishing sheering through the joints. Jimmy put a foot up on the door and shoved.

Slowly, it inched forward. Then, gaining momentum with every degree that it tilted, the door slammed down onto a living, fleshy shape with a sound between a clang and a splat.


"Jimmy...did..." Pix whispered. A single, green clawed arm stuck out from under the door, a thin spread of pink blood spreading out from the metal. The blood pooled around scaled knuckles. Pix put her hand over her mouth.

"Oh shit," Jimmy whispered.

"Nice job,” Edna said. “Got video again.”

"Edna, I just...killed him."

"Good. I'd suggest heading out. Now."

"I killed him." Jimmy whispered again. Pix's hand was still over her mouth, her eyes wide. The Xorquin's fingers twitched...then clenched into a fist. Pix yelped as the Xorquin's arm jerked up and grabbing the door's side, finger claws scrabbling against the metal, leaving thin little furrows.

"Run! Run!" Jimmy shouted, grabbing Pix and then jumping forward, running over the door. It clanked and clunked, with an unpleasant squishiness underneath.

They ran around the corner. Pix jerked Jimmy to a stop, almost dislocating his shoulder. "What are you doing!?" he asked, rubbing at his shoulder.

"He's still alive!" She looked around the corner. "That door was weighed a ton! He should be dead!"

"Xorquin are tough, though. They evolved as apex predators, and not just really excitable monkeys. If he gets out from under that door, he might still have his gun. He might be able to riddle us all up with bullets, even if we've broken half the bones in his body. We? We need to run!" Jimmy said. "Babe, we gotta go!"

Pix nodded, distractedly, and they hustled off.

Also, never call me babe again,” she said, panting slightly.

Yeah, that just sounded weird, snugglebutt.”

Pix nodded as they ran down the corridor. “That's better!”

Jimmy laughed...but as he laughed, he kept running and kept trying to estimate weights and forces and Xorquin tolerances to blunt impact. In the end, he had no answers, just a lot of questions. They ran till they couldn't run anymore. Even Pix was sweating fops. Jimmy gulped, gasping, his hands on his knees.

Okay,” Pix said, panting. “I think we can stop running.”

Jimmy laughed around his gasping. "Cool. Think we can stop worrying about the Xorquin?"

"Maybe. If he can catch up with us with that many broken bones and internal injuries, then I don't think keeping on running will save us..." Pix leaned back against the wall. Then she paused, putting her hands on her comlink and lifting it up off her head. "Jimmy, we've got light."

Now you notice!?” Jimmy asked, laughing.


After they caught their breath, Jimmy and Pix took a moment to check out their first up close look at a proper Slor lamp. Or at least, they hoped it was a lamp. It looked kind of like a slug that had been hardened to the wall with a epoxy. The slug had three light sources within its back, which were covered with a thin white membrane that softened the harsh white light. There was another slug a couple of feet down the corridor, stuck on the ceiling emitting a greenish color.

"Huh," Pix muttered. "I wonder how they keep them glowing? They need food, right?"

"I'd think so," Jimmy said.

"Does someone come around and feed them?" Pix asked, turning away from the slug.

"We've got battery men, don't we? The Slor probably have feeders or something." Jimmy shrugged.

"Hurm...” Pix shrugged. “Well, let's go then.”

Jimmy grinned, tapping his comlink. “Edna, got directions?”


"Edna, come in."

"Edna?" Pix asked, tapping her comlink as well.

They both looked at the ceiling. "Nothing on your end?" Jimmy asked.

"Not a thing," Pix said. "What oh what are we going to do while we wait for directions?"

"We could sit. Talk. Gaze longingly into each other's eyes, in a completely chaste and...uh..." Jimmy blinked as Pix grinned, put her finger on his lip, then got on her knees.

Edna came back online as Pix wiped her mouth on her sleeve.

"Sorry, the connection is getting spottier-" Edna's next sentence was obscured by a sudden upswing of static. "-I say again, closer to the Foundry?"

"Uh, Edna, we think the Xorquin might still be alive, but we are not sure."

"Say again?" Edna sounded like she was shouting, but her voice was mostly consumed by the crackling, hissing static.

"I said, the Xorquin might still be alive!" Jimmy shouted.

"Say again?” Edna's voice sounded more distant.

"The Xorquin MIGHT still be ALIVE!" Jimmy blushed – he realized he was practically bawling into the com.

"Ooooh! How did you-" Static. When Edna's voice returned, Jimmy was almost convinced that she had just said: "-whistled for a babboon?"

"Just give us directions." Jimmy sighed.

After shouting at one another through the increasingly hazy connection, Jimmy got the directions. Pix, who had been listening in, chimed in. "Okay, we go left, then right, then left, then left, then right again."

"L, R, L, L-" Jimmy started to bob his head in the indicated directions, trying to keep them straight. He grinned. “Wait, if I know a damn thing about my geography, that'll take us around Slor territory!”

"I know!” Pix laughed. “Let's make a song out of it, for celebration's sake! L, R, L, L, and an R! It's a hippity hoppity, bippity boppity-"

"You're just making up words now."

"And you frungy know it!"


Jimmy had heard stories about the Foundry's and its light. But he had never thought he'd come to the Foundry. He had also known it was near Slor territory, but he also had had no idea that Edna's directions would take them to it. If he had known, well, he wouldn't nearly have been so happy to avoid the slugs.

Then meant he got to see one of the wonders of Harbinger...

The Foundry's light bled the color from everything it touched, drenching it in such thick whiteness that everything under it was turned into a watery wash. It was a pure, stark, brilliant whiteness that washed away everything, leaving more and more brilliance. There was no place for color or detail or even shapes under that blazing light. And the door that lead to the Foundry...only seemed to make the brightness more intense by contrast: It was an utterly normal human style door, with a square plate of treated glass that let filtered light spill into the corridor that looped around the Foundry.

"Wow," Jimmy put his hand under the light. It looked almost white, with a tiny core of his normal color, watered down to a coffee stain. "That is very bright and white..."

"I like you normal." Pix dragged his hand out of the white. "Like chocolate!"

Jimmy bit his lip. "I was always more of a vanilla man."

Pix arched an eyebrow. "And bubblegum?"

"Vanilla and bubblegum," Jimmy said, hurriedly. “AND bubblegum!”

Good, you get to live,” Pix said, winking at him.

"Okay," Edna's voice crackled over the comlink. "If you two are done being horny..."

Jimmy opened his mouth to complain about being characterized as 'horny', but before he could say anything, Edna interrupted him by continuing her sentence.

"This door leads to one of the most inhospitable area of Harbinger, other than the Planet Maw and the engines. Raw material cut out of planets is dumped down here from the Planet Maw. It goes through that big old beam of blinding light at the top of the Foundry."

Jimmy and Pix bent over, peeking through the window. They looked away, blinking. "Ow. Ow. Ow. OW!" Pix rubbed at her eyes. "Let's not look at that."

"What is it?" Jimmy whispered.

"If we knew, we'd build some of them ourselves." Edna sighed. "Raw material falls into it and completed things come out the other end. Robots, machine parts, and other things that Harbinger needs....”

Jimmy nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I remember, my Dad told me about it! He called it the Converter Beam. My question is, why build a room so big, and then put the Converter Beam at the top of it?”

Well,” Edna said. “The video footage I've seen shows the items falling from the beam, getting about five meters from the ground, then...vanishing. Some of the material shows up where we need it – to fix broken doors. But most of it just vanishes. No one is sure where they go."

"Uhuh. And why don't we know for sure?" Pix asked. "The Tette<click><click> have been on Harbinger for two thousand years and other races have been here almost as long! Why hasn't anyone figured it out?"

"You two didn't pay any attention to Studies of Harbinger class, didn't you?"

"That's a college course! We're just out of high school!"

There was a pause. "Really? Damn. Well, uh, okay, let me try to dumb this down for you two. Firstly, you-" Pause. "Um, wait just a moment."

Pix sighed. "Can we tell her we don't care once she comes back?"

"I dunno, I thought it was kinda interesting." Jimmy leaned against the door, looking at the white light spilling onto the ground. “My question is, where we do go from here? ...we're not going across the Foundry, are we?”

Oh, no!” Pix said. “I'm betting we're going to go from here to one of the Slor black market trade towns that are nestled near the Foundry!”

How in the hell would you know about black market Slor towns?” Jimmy asked.

Pix beamed. “By deduction, my dear Leonite. The Foundry? Too dangerous. Slor territory? Too settled for two human children to get across it without being detained. And the Slor aren't exactly friendly to humans, partially thanks to your Dad getting involved in peace talks. That leaves the Slor that Edna would have a pull with – criminals. Thus, there must be Slor criminal towns nearby!”

Jimmy blinked, then nodded. “That...that makes sense. Good job, Pix.”

Okay, now I'm offended that you sound so shocked!”

Before Jimmy could respond, their com-links clicked on.

"Okay, uh, bad news guys." Ed sounded kinda grim. "My contacts in the local Slor black market burbs have gone to ground or are dead – and I'm talking recently dead...” As she said that, Pix mouthed 'told you' to Jimmy. “Now, we could try the Dark, but the rumors are that the Dark near Slor territory has some monster in it...”

Jimmy nodded, then glanced at the window to the Foundry. He blinked. “Uh...wait just a second, Edna...”


Something's coming,” he said, while Pix stuck her head over by the window as well.

Down the corridor?” Edna asked.

No,” Jimmy said. “From the Foundry!”

It was a person, or at least a humanoid. Their clothes were reflective, so it hurt to look at them for too long, but Jimmy got the impression of a suited individual, lugging one of those backpacks with wheels behind them. The figure got closer and closer, till it arrived at the door. Jimmy and Pix stepped back in a hurry as the door opened. There was a moment of searing, painful light that burnt skin and crisped eyes...and then the door closed again, the silvery figure standing inside the hallway.

The figure wore a helmet that had long sides that drooped about over his shoulders. There was a black faceplate, which reflected Jimmy and Pix's shocked expressions. Large, clumsy gloves, reached up and grabbed at the helmet, then pulled it up and off, revealing the last thing that Jimmy or Pix had been expecting.

A human being.

He was pale, with a lantern jaw, and dull brown hair sheered almost bald. His nose bent violently about halfway down, while his eyes were an odd mix of gentleness and a glinting fierceness that made Jimmy feel a little uneasy. The human looked intently at Jimmy, then intently at Pix, and that fierceness didn't waver one jot.

"Oh, hi," he said. "Didn't expect to meet anyone on this side."

"Uh...neither did I, actually,” Jimmy said. “James. James Leonite. Pleasure to meet you.” He held his hand out, not sure if he'd regret this or not.
"Collins. Collins M. Korban." The man blinked a few times, then took the offered hand. "Are you two kids aware that this is a dangerous place?"

"Uh, yeah, we just came from the Armory?"

"Really?" Korban clapped his gloved hands. "Well, I have to keep going-"

"Wait, uh, what were you doing in there?"

"Me? I was doing research." Korban tapped his nose with a gloved finger. "Keep it mum, children, it's technically illegal."

"He's right," Edna came back online. "There are treaties that prevent all but a joint operation to study the place, but anyone who tries finds out the hard way how the Humans and the Xorquin, the Yetel and the Slor and so on all can't get themselves to work together. Hell, we have a hard time getting humans to work with humans."

Jimmy winced. "Yeah, that does sound bad."

"What sounds bad?" Korban asked, turning back from his backpack which he had opened. Inside, Jimmy saw some complex machines and small computers and other science stuff.

"Oh, right." Jimmy tapped his comlink. "Comlink."

"Ah! You know, when I was a youngster, everyone just wanted esophagus implants."

"Ew." Pix furrowed her brow.

"Ew is right. Fifteen people strangled themselves to death before they decided to remove them from the market." He shook his head. "Insane. Still, don't let an old man ramble!"

He turned back to his backpack. He had worked his way past the science stuff to some data crystals. Jimmy and Pix glanced at one another. Neither of them said anything.

"Aaah, I noticed," Korbin said into the silence, grunting as he tried to lug his main computer out of the backpack. "That your young lady friend is an Engineered Life Form. Does she have data processing capabilities?"

"Well, uh," Pix said. "I can speak for myself.'

"What?" Korban blinked. "Oh! Sorry, E.L.F."

"I have a name too,” Pix said, sliding her hand around Jimmy's hand – almost calculatingly. She narrowed her eyes, watching Korban as she squeezed Jimmy's hand.

Korban blinked, opened his mouth, closed it, then brushed his hands through his hair as he looked at the two of them. A slow flush started to rise up his cheeks. "Well, um, what is your name young...lady?"

"Pixel," she said, sticking her chin out. By now, Jimmy was starting to feel like he was standing near something very awkward. But he had no idea what it was.

"Right!" Korban nodded. "Now, Pixel, do you have the capabilities to process data?"

"I've got a class four data processor." Pix preened and Jimmy kissed her cheek. Korban gaped. He hastily closed his mouth and nodded, handing her a data crystal. Pix looked at it, then at him, arching an eyebrow. “Okay, I have to know...” She said, shifting slightly so that Jimmy hid her data-port. Jimmy didn't look down, but he knew that Pix was taking out the Xorquin crystal. “What was your plan, if you didn't meet an E.L.F outside of the door?”

Korban blinked, coughed, and said: “Well, my original plan was to walk to one of the nearby towns, and rent computer time...”

Pix shrugged. “Well, how about you give me half of those credits? Since, you know, I am saving you the trouble.”

Jimmy did look at her this time, his eyes wide. Pix winked at him, grinning slightly.

I...suppose...” Korban sounded faintly disgusted. He tossed a credit chit at them, and Pix caught it, then took the data crystal from his hands.

"This data should take me about an hour." Pix smiled.

"That is fine, thank you." Korban said, though it sounded far less than fine to him.

"Are you sure you should be wasting your time with this?" Edna whispered.

"Well, my feet hurt, we need a break, and it's lunch time." Jimmy shrugged. "Also this guy might know how to get across quicker than your 'walk in a big circle' method."

Edna sighed. "Fine. Whatever."

Jimmy tapped his comlink and looked at Korban. Korban was looking at a small device that looked like a metal tennis ball with a radar dish attached. "Um, young..."


"James!" Kroban stood up. "Would you care to help me set this up?"

"Don't see why not." Jimmy shrugged. "Could you tell me more about your work?"

"Sure!" Korban stood up. Jimmy glanced at Pix, then leaned in and kissed her. She started and opened her eyes.

"Hey," She grinned. "You made me miss a byte."

"It's just a byte," he whispered. "Keep one eye open, we don't know if we're safe or not."

"Don't worry about it. I've got the eyes of a dagget and the ears of a fennec!"

Jimmy grinned, kissed her a few more times, then headed back to Korban.

"So I see you are, ah," Korban groped for words as he carried the tennis ball/radar dish dohicky- he and Jimmy were making a good pace, even if every footstep made Jimmy's feet ache more. "...involved with that E.L.F."

Jimmy looked at him funny. "Um, yeah, I'm in love with Pix."

Korban harrumphed. "You do know she is just a cyborg right? It's not like she is really real."

And suddenly, the pieces all fell, click click cluuunk, right into place. Then Jimmy's brain went through several stages. First, denial. No, no way. Korban was so polite and cultured! Second, shock. Before now, the only person who'd ever said something like that had been the gutter-trash that surrounded Pix's foster home. The people who were poor and needed someone to rail at. Not this...this...cultured, polite, odd scientist out in the middle of nowhere.

And then, the third and final stage: I will not punch this man in the face. I will not punch the man in the face.

Jimmy, instead, just focused on getting his job done with as fast as he could, so that he and Pix could leave.

They came to another door into the foundry and there, Korban started to multitask amazingly well: First, he started setting up his device. And secondly, he made Jimmy's job much much harder. "I know she may look pretty, my boy, but she is still a construct. I know popular opinion is against people like me, but we're more common than the liberalized media will have you believe."

Jimmy clenched his jaw.

"And I know you are angry now, while she has you whiled with her fake charms, but when you know her for longer, she'll be a lot less real..."

Jimmy crossed his arms over his chest. Out of sheerest desperation to change the subject before he belted the guy, he asked: "Sir, can I ask you some questions about the Foundry."

Korban turned around, finished fiddling with his widget. "You may."

"Can we get across it with suits like you were wearing?"

"Presumably, but I only have one spare."

Jimmy gritted his teeth. "What if we paid you?"

"Those suits are hand made. I wouldn't trade them for the world, that would end my experiments!"

Jimmy closed his eyes. "What if we used the suits to get from this side to the other, then hid them on that side and let you take the long way around. Then, when you finished coming around, you can pick the suits up!"

Anything to get out of this place faster, and get away from this jackass...

Korban pursed his lips. “Interesting. Would you mind carrying some supplies with you? If you set up three more transponders and cameras, I could then process the data while I walk, and...hmm, yes! This could be most adventitious to both of us. It could give me more data, and you the short cut you so desire."

Jimmy nodded. “Okay. Okay. Sounds good.”

And, well, your cyborg would be useful in setting up those transponders,” Korban said as he stood up.

Jimmy smiled, coldly, his desire to be better than Korban suddenly vanishing in a puff of smoke. "Korban, if you call her a cyborg again, I'm going to break your kneecaps."

He stalked off, leaving Korban to stare after him.

Yes, saying that might not have been the wisest thing to say. But it had felt good.


Jimmy tugged on his right glove with his left hand, working the fingers into the surprisingly small holes. The fingers looked so big, but most of that was insulation or whatever kept the killing light of the Foundry off your skin. As he dressed, he ranted.

"A thousand years ago, they'd be bugging out cause my skin is dark and yours is white!"

Pix paused in getting her gloves on and licked his cheek.

Jimmy scowled playfully at her. "Pix, please! I'm trying to stay angry here! You licking me isn't-"

She licked him again.

"Stop that!"

She giggled. "Oh, come on. Don't let haters fill you with hate. If you hate someone, they'll hate you right back. You gotta hug to get them to change their minds."

Jimmy blinked, pausing in struggling into the left glove. "That's actually kind of profound, despite the whole insufferable cuteness factor. Also, wait, didn't you want me to ambush and shoot the Xorquin in the head? Just, like, two days ago?"

Pix smiled. "Profound and cute and hypocritical! What more could you want?"

"Again, you ask these questions, and answers I can't seem to find." Jimmy sighed and then leaned in to kiss her quickly before plomping his helmet on. Everything became tight and hot and instantly, his face started to sweat and itch.

Pix turned to him, her face turned into blank blackness by her helmet. "Besides," she said, her voice muffled. "There's a difference between trying to kill someone who has a different opinion from you, and killing someone who is trying to kill you and wipe out the human race. Edna, can you hear me?”

"Sure can! And Jimmy..." Edna's voice sounded only slightly muffled.

"Yeah?" Jimmy asked.

"You should have broken that asshole's knees."


Enjoying the story? Well, support me on Patreon, so I can continue to write. LINK HERE!