|Summary:||In which an agent recovers a lost mini, pet, or child in his care.|
|Published:||December 16, 2019.|
|Rating:||PG/K+ - Some moderately strong language, but by the Laws of Narrative Comedy, neither small children nor grumpy adults unwillingly looking after them are ever in any real peril.|
|Betas:||Phobos and Zingenmir.|
Nume stared down at the strange creature before him. It was ostensibly human. It had all the requisite limbs tucked into a green-striped shirt and blue jeans; all the right sense organs in the right places; a distinctive head of fine, uncontrollable black hair on top. However, this creature also had strange appetites, a completely incomprehensible thought process, and half the vocabulary with none of the filters.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” said Henry Robinson.
“I’m not,” Nume said reflexively.
The six-year-old looked up at him with deep skepticism in his bottle-green eyes, one wet finger hooked into his mouth. “Yes you are,” he lisped. “Everyone says it’s not nice to stare.”
Everyone can bite me, Nume thought, but he did have filters. What he said was: “Take your finger out of your mouth. Isn’t six too old for that sort of thing?”
“I thought ’Raen was watching me tonight,” Henry said, ignoring the question, though he did drop his hand to his side. “Why’d he have to leave? Why are you watching me?”
Because my partner is an idiot. “Because Ilraen got called away for a mission and I owe your mother several favors. For the record, this ought to count for nearly all of them.” Nume rubbed the back of his neck.
“Oh.” Henry considered this and shrugged. “Okay, I guess. Are we still going camping in the Courtyard? ’Raen promised we’d roast marshmallows and I’d teach him camping songs. I’m ready to go.” He turned sidelong, showing off a pint-sized red backpack stuffed, no doubt, with overnight gear.
“No,” said Nume. “I’m not feeding you sugar and I don’t sing. We’re going to sit here quietly and watch movies until bed.”
Henry screwed up his face in an angry pout that threatened tears. “But ’Raen promised!”
“Well, I don’t care. Blame the Flowers, that’s a good life skill. Anyway, you like movies, don’t you?”
Nume crossed his arms. “Yes I am. That’s why you’re going to do exactly what I tell you without arguing, or I’ll lock you in the closet. I have to keep you alive for the next twelve hours; happy is optional. Got it?”
Henry stared at him resentfully, but finally nodded. He didn’t know Nume well enough to take the chance that he was bluffing (and even Nume wasn’t sure if he was). Henry dropped his backpack, stomped into the response center, and sat down heavily in Ilraen’s scoop. “The Dursleys locked Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs. They were mean, too.”
“That’s right. Think of me as your own personal Uncle Vernon and be glad I’m feeding you.” Nume went to the small replicator unit next to the disguise generator. “Speaking of which, what do six-year-olds eat these days?”
“Ice cream?” Henry didn’t miss a beat.
“Don’t kid yourself.” Nume’s mouth pulled down to one side. “How about meatloaf and Brussels sprouts?”
“Well, make me a counter-offer that isn’t silly.”
Henry thought carefully. “What about . . . chicken fingers? And french fries?”
“Done.” Nume started to speak the commands to the mini replicator’s computer. “Four chicken tenders, white meat, breaded—”
Henry suddenly recognized the machine and jumped to his feet with delight. “Oh! I didn’t know you had one of those, too. Can I do it?” He stepped toward the mini replicator, one hand outstretched.
Alarmed, Nume turned on his heel and side-stepped to block him. “Absolutely not.”
“It’s a sophisticated piece of technology, not a toy.”
“But I know how,” Henry insisted. “We have one at home.”
Nume recalled that the nurses’ lounge in FicPsych did indeed have a replicator. It was a larger, mess-hall model, though, with more buttons and no voice-activation. “Mine’s different,” he explained. “You have to talk to it out loud, and whoever programmed it was an ass—uh, a jerk who made the syntax really specific. You’d think it was something from Young Wizards.” Nume shook his head at his unknown predecessor, whom he admired as much as he grumbled about them.
Thinking to leave the matter at that, he started to turn back to the machine, but Henry was even more intrigued by the unfortunate off-hand comment. The boy’s eyes went wide.
“You mean, it’s magic?”
Nume grimaced. Henry was a young wizard, and knew it. Of course he’d be interested in anything magical. Nume would really have to watch his words more carefully.
“No,” he said firmly, “it’s not magic. It’s science, and you wouldn’t understand it unless you know what molecules are, so—”
Henry grinned. “I do know that!” And to Nume’s surprise, the boy burst into song:
Molecules are made of atoms.
Each one has a special shape.
Molecules are small particles
of all things; they are great!
Fish and rocks and trees
The mountains and the seas
Tables, cars, and cheese
All have mol-u-cleese!
Nume was momentarily at a loss for words. He hadn’t known about atoms and molecules at six. “Did your mother teach you that?”
Henry shook his head. “I learned it in school. We sing lots of songs in school. And Mom sings with me, too,” he added, perhaps wishing not to be seen as disloyal.
“Huh,” said Nume. “The education system sure ain’t what it used to be.”
“We don’t say ain’t; that’s bad grammar,” the child scolded.
“Oh, hush.” With a sneer, Nume turned away and hurriedly stated his request for Henry’s food. “And a cup of milk, two percent—”
“Fine. Chocolate milk, two percent, forty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Oh, and put it all on plastic dishes.”
With a silvery sci-fi noise, the meal and a tray with which to carry it shimmered into being. Nume picked it up.
“Now sit down and have your dinner before it gets cold,” he told Henry. “And don’t make a mess, or Ilraen will be mad at you for ruining his scoop.”
“Nuh-uh, ’Raen never gets mad at me.” Henry sat back down on the grass with smug surety.
“He should if you give him as much lip as you’re giving me. Knock it off. The closet is still an option.”
Henry stuck his tongue out, but didn’t say anything. Nume was forced to let it go at that. He set the tray of replicated food in front of the boy and turned back to the machine to order his own meal: roast chicken and red potatoes with rosemary, buttered peas, and a tall glass of two percent. In the where and when he came from, you always drank your milk.
“What movie are we gonna watch?” Henry asked around a mouthful of fries.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full; that’s disgusting.” Nume stared the kid down until he swallowed the bite. He nodded. “Okay. Since you’re such a smarty-pants, we’re watching Star Trek: The Animated Series.” This had been his plan all along, but he didn’t have to tell Henry that. “You’ll like it. It has bright colors, funny noises, the works.” He pulled the DVD box off the shelf above the console.
“I want to watch Land Before Time.”
Nume gritted his teeth. There was a note of contrariness to the boy’s tone; he was clearly just arguing to be a pain in the neck. “I don’t have that,” Nume said, “and it’s not a choice.”
“But I don’t like Star Trek.”
“You’ve never even seen it. Have you?” In a world where little kids sang about molecules, anything was possible, especially if it concerned a major canon.
The note of uncertainty in Nume’s voice must have emboldened the boy, because he answered “Yes!” But he overplayed his hand: “Lots of times.”
Nume smirked at him. “Oh, really? Who’s the captain of the Enterprise?”
“Captain Kirk. Everyone knows that.”
“Fair enough. Who’s the other captain of the Enterprise?”
Henry froze, watching him warily. “I don’t want to tell you.”
“Uh-huh. That’s what I thought. For the record, acceptable answers include Picard or Pike—but not Archer, because he’s stupid. Got it?”
“I knew that,” Henry insisted, glaring at him.
“Sure you did. Now, we’re watching The Animated Series, and maybe next time you won’t try to argue with a PPC agent about his favorite fandom.”
Henry bit off the end of a chicken tender and chewed aggressively.
“Knock it off.”
Henry grinned and stuck out his tongue, coated in beige chunks and meat-goo. “Nyah!”
“That’s e—” Nume cut himself off. This was stupid. “Forget it. Go nuts.” He turned away and popped the first TAS disk into the console’s DVD slot. He pressed Play and settled down on his chair, off to one side, with his dinner. He didn’t have much appetite left, but he made himself eat anyway.
For several minutes, Henry made a determined play to get Nume’s goat again with open-mouth chewing, milk bubbles, and other obnoxious noises, but as revolting as it was, Nume refused to rise to a child’s bait. If Henry dribbled on Ilraen’s grass, it was the Andalite’s problem, and well deserved for abandoning Nume to this torment. Even if Henry choked, god forbid, Nume could handle that—he’d learned basic first aid at his mother’s knee. He stared at the animation lighting up the console’s monitor, ignoring Henry as hard as he could, and finally, the kid gave up.
They managed to get through the next several minutes with a blessed absence of extraneous sound, until Henry had eaten enough to get bored. Drawn to the show in spite of himself, and with nothing else to occupy his mouth, he started asking questions.
“The alien ship. If you’d been listening, you’d know that.”
“Oh.” . . . “Why are they glowing?”
“They’re not glowing. Those are force fields created by their life support belts. It’s not canon, mind you, but the idea is at least a logical extension of the ship’s force field.”
“Oh.” . . . “Why does it sound like a Dalek?”
“It’s not a Dalek, it’s a sapient electromagnetic field.”
“But it sounds like one. We play Doctors and Daleks at school. EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE!” Henry got up and stalked around the scoop, stiffly waving his arms in imitation of a Dalek’s laser and plunger.
“Stop that. Finish eating and be quiet, or you won’t know what’s happening.”
Henry sighed and flopped over on the grass, but quickly sat up again when he found he couldn’t see the screen at all from the floor. He had a few more bites of chicken, then took to fidgeting with his empty plastic cup, walking it around in mimicry of the characters on-screen. As the climax of the episode approached and Kirk turned the ship to crash into the hyper-gravity planet below, Henry joined in the action.
“I’m Captain Kirk, and this is the Enterprise! Neeeer!” He flew the cup around his head. “Oh no, we’re crashing! Zheeeew!”
Nume glared at him. “Would you stop? They’re not going to crash—look, see? They just tricked the alien into leaving the ship. It’s trapped by the planet’s gravity now, and the Enterprise used a slingshot maneuver to escape, like they planned all along. John Crichton, eat your heart out.”
Henry watched silently as the alien’s pleas of loneliness warbled out of the console’s speakers. “Maybe they should have been nice to him.”
Nume scoffed. “Yeah, right. That thing would have multiplied and taken over every ship in the galaxy if it had a chance. Kind of like Mary Sues. Are we nice to Mary Sues?”
“Unless they’re actually original characters,” Henry added. “Mom says to remember that not every bad character is a Sue. Some just need concrit, and they can get better.”
Nume again found himself struggling for words. “Well, she’s right,” he said grudgingly. “She usually is—that’s why she’s so annoying, because she won’t listen when she’s dead wrong. You’ll understand when you hit puberty.”
Henry wrinkled his nose. “Puberty is gross. Agent Decima says we all get hairy and stinky.” He eyed Nume. “Is that true? You don’t look hairy and stinky.”
Nume couldn’t help it: a pleased smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “That’s because I am a civilized man who knows that impeccable grooming is an art to be mastered. Unlike certain friends of your mother I could name, who may or may not have conspired to land me in this situation.”
“Flawless. Perfect. Beyond reproach in every detail.” He brushed an imaginary wrinkle out of his pale peach shirt. Nobody ironed anymore, but as for him, the soft hiss and smell of steam was one of the rare things that brought him peace. Not that a six-year-old could be expected to understand.
“Nobody’s actually perfect,” Henry said. “Everyone has flaws, and flaws are beautiful,” he recited. “Unless you’re a meanie.”
Nume was silent for a moment. “I honestly never thought about how screwy a PPC education must be. I mean, it can’t be worse than a Catholic education, but—”
“See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. How the h—hezmana can you be expected to understand half the continua we protect without a foundation in World One’s dominant cultures and their history?”
Henry gave him a withering look. “I’m six years old. That’s super boring.”
Nume shook his head. He was an idiot. “Sorry, after all that atoms and molecules stuff, I thought I was talking to some big-shot academic. Tell you what, let’s just get back to Star Trek, okay? You’ll like the tribble episode, it’s absurd.” He got up to start it, returning Henry’s dishes and his own to the mini replicator on the way, but Henry again protested.
“I don’t want to watch Star Trek. I want to play.”
“I don’t play, kid.” For a moment Nume despaired of finding a way to divert this disturbingly clever adversary, but as his eyes darted around the RC, inspiration struck. “Unless . . . Do you like video games?”
Henry immediately brightened up. “Yeah! I like Mario, and Minecraft, and—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. This is eight-bit country, kid. You gotta know the classics to appreciate all that fancy modern stuff. Pong, Tetris, Pac-Man, Asteroids if you want to shoot stuff . . . ”
“Mom doesn’t let me play shooting games.” There was a distinct note of envy in Henry’s voice.
Nume smirked. Forbidden fruit. Bingo. “I won’t tell if you don’t.” He launched the emulator on the console, dragged his chair over, and plonked Henry down in front of the screen. “Here you go. It works like this . . . ” He ran through the first level, showing Henry how to work the keyboard controls, then started it over. “Now you do it.”
The sluggish response time of the emulator, kludged hard by some techie with too much time on their hands so it would work on a console’s esoteric operating system, made the game challenging to master. Henry whined a bit and made Nume show him a few more times, but the bright wizard kid got the hang of it soon enough.
Nume nodded. Finally. “Good. Just keep blowing up all the rocks before they get you. Very cathartic. I’ll be in my bunk, reading. Don’t bug me.”
For a while, Henry squealed happily over each near miss and devastating hit. He complained when it got harder, but he was a determined little bastard and didn’t need much pushing to keep at it. Nume also made sure to remind him he was having the kind of fun that his mother didn’t want him having, which was the best kind, and that he wouldn’t get another chance after tonight.
Eventually, though, even the thrill of (perfectly harmless) transgression wore off. Frustration and boredom grew in its place. Henry sighed and craned his head around to look up at where Nume lay on his side, propped up on one elbow.
“Uncle Nume, I’m done. I want to play something else.”
Nume groaned quietly and massaged the spot between his eyebrows. “First of all, I’m not your uncle. Sec—”
Henry frowned, an expression that fit his long face too well. “You said to think of you like my own personal Uncle Vernon.”
“Yeah, because I’ll lock you in a closet if you make me mad. Not, not, whatever you’re thinking.” Nume gestured vaguely with his book. “Second . . . ” He noticed Henry’s expression was looking more and more like a pout. “What?”
“But ’Raen’s like my big brother, and you’re his partner, but old like Mom, so . . . ”
Nume snorted. “That is not how that works, kid. I am nobody’s uncle, all right? I’m an only child. And trust me, you don’t want me. Now . . . ”
Henry’s face turned red.
By the time Nume realized what was coming, it was too late. “Oh, jeez, don’t—!”
Henry vaulted from the chair and yelled up at him: “I don’t want you! You’re mean and boring and stupid, and I won’t stay with you anymore!” He stomped toward the door and grabbed up his backpack.
“Don’t you dare!” Nume swung himself onto the ladder of his bunk.
Henry shot him a look of pure defiance that did both his fathers proud and reached—dammit, the kid was tall for his age—reached easily for the door controls.
As Nume got his feet on the floor, the door swished open, and Henry bolted.
“God dammit, get back here!”
Nume dashed after him. He was fast, but Henry was already well away down the matte black corridor. Nume just caught the flash of the red backpack rounding a corner.
“Frelling knarls,” he cursed to himself. He only had socks on his feet—one did not wear shoes in one’s bed—and to continue the chase without shoes on had Bad Plan all over it, but on the other hand, if he delayed and something happened to the kid, he would be worse than dead. Jenni would flay him.
He ran. He ran hard.
“Henry!” At the corner, he skidded and nearly went down, but he’d anticipated this and kept going in the hope of putting a quick end to the chase.
But even though he had only hesitated for a fraction of a second, that was enough for Headquarters to take advantage. The gray corridor he’d entered turned out to be one of the more populous ones, possibly somewhere near the Cafeteria. The skinny boy had slipped into the crowd with ease and was nowhere in sight. Tall, ungraceful Nume faced greater difficulty.
Some people looked around to see what the kid might be running from. Instead of clearing the way for Nume, they paused to stare at him. Though quick to verge on recognizing the decennial agent, they were slow to realize that he was not stopping.
“Move, dammit!” he shouted. “Pissed-off veteran, coming through!”
He ducked and wove into the throng and used his sharp elbows and lack of coordination to his advantage. A chorus of “Ow!” and “Hey!” rose up in his wake as he hit people he’d meant to miss and whiffed past ones he’d particularly wanted to slap in their stupid faces. A few of the more homicidal types tried to hit him back and, in the manner of such things, mostly succeeded in hitting each other. Gradually, a brawl gathered behind him, and the corridor opened up ahead.
He saw Henry again, his bright red backpack yards off now.
The kid glanced over his shoulder and scurried around a corner.
Nume ran on, full steam ahead. He had to slide into the dead end of the corridor and rebound to bleed off enough speed to make the turn and keep after Henry. It worked: he was gaining.
But he knew he had the undivided attention of the Powers That Be by this time. As he began to close the gap between himself and the boy, he got anxious. What would their next trick be?
Fruit cart, he thought. Give me a fruit cart. Please be a fruit cart. Decima had muscled through the last one; Henry never would.
But Legal abhorred a repetitive gag (unless, of course, in service to the Holy Rule of Threes), so Nume didn’t get a fruit cart.
Instead, an Enderman wearing the Cafeteria’s orange-pore fungus flash patch stepped out of a doorway. He was carrying a cubic meter of lime jello with tomatoes, purple onions, and all the other ingredients of a basic salad suspended within it. It was ironic. It was punny.
It was all over Nume about three seconds later.
Henry easily darted around Jof (for that was the Enderman’s name) with a quick “’Scuse me!”
Jof saw Nume bearing down on him. He bleated a started exclamation, tossed the jello salad, and vanished in a puff of purple sparks.
At the top of its arc, the terribly hilarious jello hung in mid-air, momentarily forgotten by gravity.
Nume tried to stop. His socks skidded. He tried to evade. He could not.
Nume kept running, now dripping green goo and bits of lettuce, tomato, and carrot, and—just to round out the color palette—cursing a blue streak under his breath.
He had a moment of hope when he saw that Henry had paused to look back and see what had happened to him. The kid was laughing it up, of course. Unfortunately, it didn’t distract him from turning tail again when Nume gained a little too much ground. It was a game now.
The halls went by in a gray blur of doors and connecting corridors until they came upon a major intersection. A member of Building Maintenance walked backward out of the right-hand hallway, holding up one end of an absurdly large pane of glass.
Nume had just enough time to wonder where the hell they were even taking it before chaos descended.
Henry shouted, “Look out!”
The custodian startled and hoisted up her end of the pane.
Henry ducked under it.
The pane began to wobble.
Nume was wearing socks.
“No,” he panted, “no, no, no . . . !”
The custodian saw him coming. “Back!” she cried.
Her partner shoved the pane toward her.
“Ack, no, your back! Eep!”
The custodian tried to correct her partner’s mistake, and the pane finally tilted past the point of recovery. It was coming down, right on top of Nume.
“No!” He threw himself into a slide, just as though he were heading for home plate in the bottom of the seventh.
Except he’d never played baseball, he had no idea how to actually pull it off, and the jello on his clothes had dried into a tacky green glue. He came to a stop right between the two custodians and flung up an arm to protect his face as the glass pane crashed onto the floor.
Glass bits skittered everywhere.
Both custodians started shouting—at each other, at Nume, at the metacosmic forces responsible for all comedic disasters.
Nume blinked, checked himself for damage, and sighed in relief at finding his skin intact. He looked behind him. The floor was a field of sparkling, green-blue cubic bits. It was safety glass.
Nume had to laugh. He might have been a bit giddy due to hyperventilation, but there was something ticklishly funny about the whole concept of safety glass when it had nearly concussed him and was now scattered all over the floor like a caltrop trap. He picked himself up, ignoring the custodians staring at him in perfectly understandable fear, and limped onward with no worse injury than a bruised hip. Hilarious.
Henry had stopped to watch what happened again. He had the decency to look a little concerned, but he smiled, turned, and fled once more.
He led Nume through a plain gray door with no label.
On the other side, Nume gasped, windmilled his arms, and stopped so hard he collapsed backward onto his ass, fighting a sudden, nauseous vertigo.
It was an Escher room. He had nearly walked right off the landing of a set of stairs that led downward at first, then twisted impossibly to go up and to the right instead, terminating at a door turned ninety degrees from the one Nume had come through.
Nume shoved himself back against his door, which had closed behind him. His glasses had become dislodged and slid down his nose, and he forced them back on straight with a shaking hand. He kept his hand over his eyes and panted open-mouthed, fighting hard not to vomit.
He hated Escher rooms. His farsighted vision was bad enough without his brain’s ability to process it being screwed up, too. Even worse, in a misguided attempt by his limbic system to help preserve his life, he was reminded of the previous times he’d wandered into one of these hellholes by accident, and the memories were strong enough to overlap with reality to the point that he wasn’t sure which was which. Damn it. He’d have thought those were bad enough to be drowned with Bleepka, but clearly his physiology thought survival trumped comfort. Nume wasn’t so sure.
He made himself recite The Lay of Leithian until the before-images faded and he dared to open his eyes again.
Okay . . . he’d done this before. He could do this now. The trick was picking a point of orientation and disregarding anything that didn’t agree with it. There . . . down and to his left, a door that was the same way up as his. That would do.
Now, where was Henry? The little monster had to be watching him suffer from somewhere.
Sure enough, in mere moments of searching, his eyes picked out the bright red of Henry’s backpack on a staircase overhead. The kid was looking down at him . . . or, from Henry’s inverted perspective, up at him. That cheeky frogspawn waved.
Nume scrambled to his feet. “You are in so much trouble when I catch up to you!” he shouted. “I will lock you in the closet, and if Jenni doesn’t like it, she can eat my shorts!”
Henry laughed and jogged farther into the room along his upside-down stairs without a care in the world. Nume wasn’t sure if it was a wizard thing or just a kid thing, not to be bothered by the impossible. Either way, he seethed with resentment and picked his way forward. Down. Ish. Whatever.
In an Escher room, pursuing a kid he hadn’t wanted to babysit, now desperate to get him back . . . he shouldn’t have been surprised to see that Uruk-hai agent from DOGA appear around a twist of the stairs and blink at him. He was called Jareth. Of course he’d turn up.
At least he wasn’t juggling any crystal balls or wearing obscenely tight tights.
Nume saluted him. Jareth shrugged. They each continued on their way.
Nume probably spent less than fifteen minutes navigating the crazy stairs, but it felt like forever. Finally, he managed to flop and roll onto the same plane of gravity as Henry and scramble out the same door after him.
The chase was on again, but Henry was at last getting tired. He only managed to keep ahead of Nume by dint of the fact that Nume was fairly banged up by this point and running on the fumes of terror and fury. Henry compensated for his own flagging energy by stopping periodically, daring Nume to come and get him, and then sprinting away again before he was quite within arm’s reach.
“You can’t catch me!” the brat taunted him, grinning. “I’m the gingerbread man!”
“We’ll see,” Nume growled. He stalked steadily onward. The kid would make a mistake sooner or later, and then it would be over. He just had to wait it out.
“Run, run, run, as fast as you can!” Henry laughed and ran again.
But, just like in the fairy tale, he didn’t see the fox coming.
A blonde woman stepped out of the next doorway. She was wearing a short, black skirt and a black, collared shirt mostly unbuttoned above her cleavage, with the tails tied in a knot beneath it. Her hair was in a ponytail held up with, apparently, nothing.
Nume stopped short in dread well before Henry ran smack into her.
“Eep!” she yelped.
“Ahh!” Henry bounced off her hip and staggered back a few steps before dropping onto his bottom.
Agent Luxury, Department of Bad Slash, shook her head and blinked at the boy. Her face broke into a smile. “Aw, Henry! Hi, sweetie. You okay?” She pulled him to his feet.
Henry nodded. “Hi, Lux. Um, sorry I ran into you . . . ”
Luxury ruffled his hair. “It’s okay! What are you doing here? Is your mommy around?” She looked eagerly up and down the hall. She did not find Jenni, but she did spot Nume.
“Oh!” she said. “Hello, Numish!” She waved cheerfully.
A small whimper escaped Nume’s throat.
He knew Luxury, of course, as she knew him. They were both part of an ever-shrinking circle of agents who had joined about the time of the Lord of the Rings fanfic explosion. It wasn’t like they all got together for cocktails and nattered on about the good ol’ days, but there was a sort of sightline camaraderie between Those Who Had Been There that even Nume acknowledged, and that included Lux. He had no idea how the giggly, airheaded vixen had lasted more than ten years in the job when Upstairs hadn’t even wanted to hire her in the first place, but she had.
As much as Nume feared Lux, he also respected her, in the way that matter respects anti-matter. She was his anathema: a being of pure, vibrant physicality and emotion in opposition to his cold reserve and intellect; an unknowable entity that both repelled and fascinated him. Since the day he’d first met her, he had avoided her at all costs, lest the universe annihilate itself on contact.
Now, though, she might be his best shot at surviving the rest of this night.
Nume had lime jello in his hair, and he needed a shower, and he needed to keep Henry under control so Jenni didn’t murder him in the morning. Jenni liked Luxury (shudder). Luxury liked kids—it was the one quality of hers that didn’t set Nume’s teeth on edge. She couldn’t be relied upon to watch a kid all night without getting distracted and losing track of them, but she liked them. Maybe, just maybe, she could be induced to help Nume out with Jenni’s kid and keep her hands to herself, too, just for a little while. She had to have mellowed out when she hit her thirties, right?
He was pretty sure she must be at least thirty. He himself would be forty in a few years. He was getting gray hairs, for chrissake.
He started to reply, but his throat had constricted in fear. He gave a dry cough and started over. “Hello, Luxury.” He forced himself to approach.
Lux giggled. “You’re blushing! Are you happy to see me?”
Nume stopped. “You know damn well you scare the shit out of me.”
Henry gasped and grinned at the bad word, and Lux went “Ohhh” like a grade-schooler.
“Don’t mess around,” Nume snapped. “I just need to get the kid back to my response center, all right? I’m watching him for Jenni. And . . . ” The words he was trying to say made his gorge rise in protest.
Luxury raised her eyebrows, grinning. “And . . . ? Spit it out!”
Henry looked back and forth between them in plain fascination.
“And . . . Icouldreallyuseyourhelppleasedon’ttakethatthewrongway.”
The blonde blinked at him, tilted her head, and let her eyes unfocus, like someone reading the Words. “Oh!” She snapped back to reality. She was still smiling, but she narrowed her eyes and pretended to study her very short nails. “Maaaybe I could give you a hand. What’s in it for me if it’s not your long, lean self?”
“Oh, god. Um . . . ” Feeling sweat beginning to run down the back of his neck, Nume racked his brain for anything he owned that a girly-girl like Luxury might want. “Color-changing pen? Sometimes does Sue colors at random?” He still had most of the set he’d been given at his tenth anniversary party two years ago.
“Done!” She spit on her right hand and skipped toward Nume.
He stepped back. “Hell no, not happening.”
“But how do we have a deal if you don’t shaaake?”
“You will take my word for it, like an adult.”
She regarded him for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay!” She wiped her spitty hand on her skirt and offered the other one to Henry. “Come on, kiddo! Let’s go with Numish. Even if he is silly and unfun. Is that why you were running away from him?”
“Yeah,” Henry said, walking along beside Lux. “He’s a big meanie-head, and he won’t be my uncle.”
Nume rolled his eyes and turned to lead the way back to his response center. He kept Luxury visible from the corner of his eye at all times. With her around, he’d be preoccupied enough to get home very, very quickly.
“Awww, poor kiddo!” said the blonde. “Well, don’t worry, Auntie Lux will play with you, and give you ice cream, and lots of snuggles, and we can draw pictures, and we’ll have lots of fun!”
“I told him no sugar,” Nume grumbled.
Lux gasped. “No sugar at a sleepover? So mean!”
“See?” said Henry. “And he wouldn’t take me camping, either. I really wanted to go. ’Raen was going to take me, but then he got a mission.”
The corridor turned black, and the door to Response Center 999 appeared. Nume heaved a sigh of relief as the door whooshed open and he stepped inside. He went straight to his desk and picked up the flask he’d left there in anticipation of a night in. It was half-full, and he chugged it all down.
The other two followed him inside.
Lux looked avidly around the room. “You have a bunk bed? That’s so cute! Ooh!” She turned to the kid. “Henry! What if we go camping right here? We can make a tent under the bunk bed, and we’ll sit on the funny blue grass, and sing songs, and eat marshmallows, and tell scary stories, and everything!”
Nume’s jaw dropped. It was sort of genius; the kind of looney-tunes improvisation that only someone who understood children could dream up. He briefly wondered what the inside of Luxury’s head must be like, and then decided he really, really didn’t want to know.
“Well . . . maybe . . . ” Henry seemed like he wanted to be talked into it, but was still holding out on principle.
“We just need a blanket to make the tent!” Luxury started poking around without waiting for an invitation.
Nume intervened. “Here!” He reached up to the foot of his bunk and pulled down a folded flannel blanket. “Use Flanor.”
Luxury shook out the blanket and took in the noble yet fuzzy image of the Noldorin High King Fëanor. “Oooooh. Numish, I changed my mind. I want this for my favor. Please? Pretty please?”
“Sure, sure.” Nume would have agreed to trade her almost anything at that point, and he was certain he’d never again be able to use a blanket that had been touched by Lux. “Hell, you can still have the pen, too, as long as nothing happens to the kid for the next fifteen minutes while I take a shower. Think you can handle that?”
Luxury smirked, and Nume was afraid of what might come out of her mouth next, but maybe she really had started to mellow after ten years. She winked, then blinked, then said, “Did you know you have jello and salad bits in your hair?”
Nume gritted his teeth. “No, Luxury. I had no idea. Thank you so much for pointing that out.”
Lux shook her finger at him. “That’s what you get for not giving this sweet little guy something sweet!”
She crouched, gave Henry a squeeze, and ruffled his hair. He giggled some more.
“Yeah, I’m a jerk. This is not news.” Nume turned away and pulled together a clean towel and a change of clothes—he was not wearing anything less than full attire as long as Luxury was around, lest she be tempted. Speaking of which . . . He turned back to face her and pointed his finger sternly. “No. Peeking. Is that clear?”
Lux and Henry looked at each other. “So mean!” they chorused, and fell about giggling together.
Nume sighed heavily and retreated into the bathroom.
Did he trust Luxury? No. But she had the kid to distract her, and if Nume were being honest, he had to admit that even amid all her suggestive leers and lewd comments, she had never actually tried anything with him since the very first time they’d met, and that was ages ago. Maybe some part of her sex-addled brain sensed the threat of universal destruction, too. Who could tell?
As he stood there, psyching himself up to get on with it, the sound of singing arose on the other side of the door.
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.
Lux could carry a tune, and she did so the same way she did everything: with great enthusiasm. Henry, who had a rather good grasp of pitch and rhythm for a six-year-old, managed to hold his own in a round. It might have been cute, if Nume were afflicted with a sense for such things.
A thought occurred to him. He opened the door and leaned out. “Hey, keep that up, will you? I want to know where you are at all times.”
Luxury, currently in the act of tucking Flanor’s edges under the mattress of Nume’s bunk and unnecessarily stretching out almost to the point of exposing herself, paused long enough to wink and give him a thumbs-up. “Okay. Oops!” The bit of blanket she’d let go of dropped, and she hurried to pick it up again. “Row, row, row your boat,” she warbled.
“He says he doesn’t even sing,” Henry complained.
Nume rolled his eyes for the umpteenth time that evening and toggled the bathroom door shut again. Luxury got Henry back into the music, and Nume finally felt safe enough to proceed with his shower.
He grudgingly approved the choice of song. It made him think of Spock, Kirk, and Bones around the campfire in The Final Frontier. It was arguably one of the sillier scenes in the original movies, and it followed on the heels of one of the most offensive to the laws of physics, but there was something about it that just worked, somehow.
He hadn’t lied to Henry: as a general rule, he didn’t sing. But he wasn’t completely soulless. If he was sure no one could hear him—and he knew nobody could hear him in the shower, because Ilraen’s hearing was excellent and he would certainly have commented if he’d picked up anything—Nume did hum.
They went through several rounds of “Row, Row, Row,” then several more of “Frère Jacques.” Nume didn’t speak French, but he was pretty sure the lyrics Lux was using were not about anybody’s brother. At least the kid wouldn’t get it. They moved on through “My Bonnie,” including the gross-out version about seasickness, which Henry apparently knew; then “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” which was now ruined forever; then all the popular variations of “On Top of Old Smokey.” When Nume emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of Irish Spring-scented steam, Lux had just begun what had to be her own take on the melody:
“On top of my boooyfrieeend—!”
“Okay, that’s enough singing!” Nume declared. Given that Henry was Jenni’s son, he was probably not at risk of hearing anything he didn’t already know about, but Nume still had standards. “Thank you, Luxury. You can go now.”
The blonde peered at him through the rungs of his bunk’s ladder. She had successfully hung up Flanor across Ilraen’s scoop, and the Elven-king’s gray, flannel eyes gazed sternly over the room. Lux and Henry had made themselves nice and cozy behind him, with a flashlight propped up on its handle in lieu of a campfire.
“Go?” said Lux, eyes wide. “But we haven’t even had S’mores yet!”
“Yeah!” said Henry. “Lux has to stay for S’mores!”
Nume raised an eyebrow to a “Kirk, you did not just say that” level two. “You can’t have S’mores, because you can’t roast marshmallows without a fire, and you are not starting a fire in my response center.”
“But I brought marshmallows,” said Henry. With a rustle of plastic, he crawled over to the ladder and leaned through the gap below Lux’s, holding out a bag of the fluffy, white, corn syrup pellets.
“That doesn’t change the facts, kid.”
“Neeeemiiiish,” Luxury wheedled.
“Don’t call me that—the idiots in the Lounge called me that. Are you an idiot?” He knew the answer, but couldn’t resist daring her to deny it.
Lux pursed her lips. “I’m not . . . in the Lounge!” She smirked.
Nume facepalmed. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line—and never go in against a complete nincompoop ever. “Never mind. Luxury, you need to leave. Now.”
“No!” Henry spun around, dropping his marshmallows, and wrapped his arms around the horrible woman. “I want her to stay!”
“Well, she can’t!”
“Because I said so.” Nume crossed his arms.
Henry was winding up to shout when Lux jumped in.
“Hey!” she said sharply.
Nume and Henry both blinked. She’d snapped into one of her rare serious moods.
Lux petted the kid’s hair reassuringly. “What if I just stay until Henry’s bedtime? That way, you won’t have to get him into PJs, or brush his teeth, or tuck him in—because I will. Won’t that be nice?”
Henry squirmed in her arms. He didn’t seem too sure about this talk of bedtime from his heretofore fun ally.
Nume wasn’t too sure, either, but she had a point. Given the choice between putting up with more of Lux or having to wrangle a kid into bed when the kid really didn’t like him and could kick up a hell of a fuss, Nume picked Lux. Even if part of him would not stop screaming internally that this was a terrible idea.
He glanced at the console’s time display. “If you ask me, it’s almost bedtime now.” Maybe he could still get this night over with quickly.
“Nooo,” Henry moaned, clutching Lux harder. He definitely wasn’t tired at all after racing across half of Headquarters.
“What if . . . ” Lux started again. Her face broke into its typical goofy smile. “You make us hot cocoa and tell us a story first!”
Nume held in a frustrated groan. If he argued now, there would be a full-blown tantrum, he just knew it.
Henry spun around to put in his two cents. “Yeah! Use the magic molecule machine to make hot chocolate! With marshmallows!” He pounced on the bag he’d dropped and held it out to Nume again.
“Fine.” Nume grabbed the marshmallows. “One cup of cocoa, and one story. Then teeth and bed.”
“It’s a deal!” chirped Lux. “We’ll be good. Right, Henry?” She poked his sides and made him wiggle and giggle. “Riiight?”
“Okay, okay!” he cried. “I’ll be good! Stoppit!”
Luxury let up, and Henry fell over with an exaggerated sigh.
Meanwhile, Nume put in his request for three mugs of hot cocoa, full milk to encourage sleepiness and a mere 120℉ to encourage quick consumption, and the mini replicator obliged. He tore open the marshmallows and dropped two into each cup. “Are you lot settled down in there? I don’t want to find out what happens to Andalites if they accidentally take spilled cocoa with their grass.” Probably nothing, but it sounded ominous.
“Come sit with me!” Lux said to Henry. She leaned against the RC wall and patted the grass beside her.
Henry crawled over and snuggled against her side. He had a fleece blanket, no doubt from his backpack, and he and Luxury pulled it over themselves.
“Ready!” Henry called.
Nume passed their mugs around Flanor one at a time. He took his own seat in his desk chair, positioned so he could see them through the ladder and vice versa. An experimental sip of his cocoa proved it was decent for replicated stuff. Not the full richness of the real thing, but suitably sweet and warming. Not a bad idea, really.
“This is really good,” said Luxury. “Thanks!”
“Thank you,” echoed Henry.
Nume grunted something affirmative.
“Well,” he said when they’d all had a minute. “What kind of story should I tell? Not a scary one, Luxury.”
“But scary stories are traditional!”
“Yeah, well, I don’t want to deal with any nightmares, so too bad.”
“Foo,” said Lux.
Nume smirked at a thought. “Maybe I should fill that gap in your education, kid.” He began to recite:
And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth:
And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters . . .
By this time, both Henry and Luxury were complaining loudly.
“Not this part,” Lux groaned.
“What?” Nume grinned. “Luxury doesn’t like the begats?”
“There’s all that begetting, but no one’s having any fun. It’s the worst!”
“I want a real story,” said Henry.
“Oh, it’s real,” Nume said. “But, fine.” He hadn’t seriously planned to go through with it. The truth was, that knowledge was associated with enough unpleasant memories that he’d had to work hard to recall as much as he had. Bleepka was a many-splendored thing.
“A real story,” he mused. Something he knew, something his audience wouldn’t object to, something good . . .
Oh, but of course. The classics. You could never go wrong with the classics.
“Here’s one: A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Heard it before?”
Henry shook his head. Luxury shrugged with a smile that said, if she had, she didn’t remember.
Nume nodded. “Good. It’s a chapter book, so I’ll give you one chapter now and—if there’s no whining about teeth and all that—one after.”
He thought about retrieving his copy of the book from the shelves, but decided against it. Why pretend to read from the pages when he had the whole text laying itself open in his mind? Other impressions came with it: the outlines of his old room at home, the sound of the box fan ticking in the window, the smells of summer and his mother’s shampoo. That was the first time he’d heard the story. Later, he’d read it for himself—school recess, tucked away in a hidden corner, focusing on a book to keep from reliving whatever horrible thing the other kids had done to him lately—and in recent years, he always heard some of the lines in the voices of John de Lancie and Leonard Nimoy thanks to their audio adaptation.
Some good, some bad, some bittersweet. It was all there, but none of it insisted upon itself so much as to be distracting. Yes, this would do.
He took a sip of cocoa to wet his throat and drew a breath. “On the 24th of May, 1863,” he began, “my uncle, Professor Lidenbrock, rushed into his little house, No. 19 Konigstrasse, one of the oldest streets in the oldest portion of the city of Hamburg—”
Henry giggled. “Hamburger?”
“Hamburg.” Nume stressed the German pronunciation. “It’s a major city in Germany. If you don’t know what that is, get someone to show you an atlas sometime.”
“Ooh!” Lux piped up. “That’s where the dungeon porn comes from.”
“Luxury! Small child!” Never mind Nume’s own burning cheeks.
Lux giggled, completely unapologetic.
Henry looked confused, but, for a mercy, did not ask what was so funny.
Nume massaged the bridge of his nose and took a moment to sip his cocoa and shore up his patience. Nothing could ever be easy, could it? “If we might continue without further unseemly asides . . . ?”
He resumed his recital and managed to get through the next several paragraphs without interruption. He was no voice actor, but he did his best with Martha the housekeeper, and he was a shoo-in for the irascible, intemperate Professor Lidenbrock—maybe even better than Mr. Nimoy, may he rest in peace.
But the first interruption was far from the last. Lux laughed at idiotic things. Henry asked endless questions, some of which Nume wouldn’t have minded under other circumstances, but most of which were simply salvoes in a losing battle against sleepiness. Nume steadfastly ignored the pervert, and he made his responses to the stubborn brat so unsatisfying that he gave up.
Nume was so pleased to finally have some goddamn peace and quiet that he kept on reciting through chapter two. He immersed himself in the childhood memory of the words on the page, the softness of his bed, the taste of warm milk with a little honey on his tongue, the song of crickets outside in the grass . . .
He jolted awake and almost fell off his chair. What the hell?
A quick glance around confirmed that he was still in his response center, and that he had, in fact, put himself to sleep. Moron.
And where were those other two idiots? It was quiet. Something was definitely going wrong this very moment. The kid had run off again, or Lux had abducted him, or maybe they’d both died on him. No possibility was too horrible for the Irony Gods to contemplate.
In the midst of thinking these things, he stood up and lifted one corner of the flannel blanket, just on principle. He was shocked to find Lux and Henry right where he’d left them, curled up under a blanket on Ilraen’s grass, sound asleep.
Nume’s jaw worked soundlessly for a moment. He had to wake them up, had to get Henry properly put to bed and Lux gone . . . but then he’d have to get Henry to go back to sleep again. He could leave them alone . . . but Luxury. Luxury, in his response center, overnight—cue internal screaming. But she was asleep. He would be in his bunk overhead, not exactly in range for quote-accidental quote-cuddles. And waking her up would mean touching her, unless he wanted to scare the bejeezus out of her and the kid by shouting, which he did not.
“Oh, hell,” he muttered under his breath.
Forced to choose between a potentially harmful action and potentially harmful inaction, people almost always chose inaction. Nume was no exception.
Carefully, he ducked under Flanor long enough to pick up their half-full cups of cocoa, sticky with a rim of marshmallow melt around the insides. He backed out again with a velvet tread and left the cups on his desk to be reclaimed by the mini replicator in the morning.
He waffled a bit more about changing into pajamas and attending to his own dental hygiene, but he couldn’t risk making any noise. He just turned out the overhead light and climbed very slowly into his bed, where he lay awake in a cold sweat for some time before sleep snuck up on him again.
When he woke up this time, it was in response to the sound of his door chime. He ignored it, but it happened a second time, then a third, followed by a knock, and he could hear Luxury and Henry waking up below him. With a groan, he scowled and slid stiffly to the floor. His hip, shoulder, and both feet hurt. The console said it was about five in the morning. What kind of hare-brained idiot came around bothering people at five in the goddamn morning?
He was all set to snap off a challenge to whoever it was, but when the door slid open, everything fell into place.
“Oh, good, you are here. Good morning!” said Jenni Robinson.
Who bothered people at five in the goddamn morning? Someone who typically started her shift at six in the goddamn morning and had to get a small child off to school first. Right.
“Hey,” Nume grumped. He was sure he looked like hell in his slept-in clothes and his uncombed, ungelled (jello-free) hair. He didn’t even have his glasses on. He recognized Jenni more by voice and silhouette than the arrangement of her features. “Guess you’re here for your kid.”
He got out of her way and went for his glasses and a cup of hot coffee.
“That would be the general idea,” she said hesitantly. Nume could feel her giving him and the room a good look-over. “I was going to meet Henry and Ilraen in the Courtyard, but Alice said they never showed. I figured they just changed their minds, but . . . Am I going to like the story you’re about to tell me about why Ilraen’s not here and why you slept in your clothes and why there’s a very handsome blanket hanging from your bed?”
“MY blanket!” Luxury popped up from under it and hugged Flanor to her bosom, hissing like a lynx, but when she saw Jenni she relented. “Oh! It’s you!” She let the blanket go and instead flung herself at the nurse. “Good moooorning, you!”
Jenni laughed and hugged her back far too fondly, ending with a kiss. “Hi, Lux! What are you—” She stopped short, blinked, and looked around again. “Wait, what are you doing here? I mean, what are you doing here?”
“It’s a long story,” said Nume, glaring at his coffee.
“I spent the night at Nume’s place!” Lux bragged, draping herself comfortably over Jenni’s shoulders.
“Not what it sounds like!” snapped Nume. “And if you tell anyone that you were here, Luxury, I will hunt you down and kill you, so help me god.”
Jenni’s mouth was pressed shut in a wobbly line that suggested she was working very hard not to say whatever she was thinking. She’d made good on her word about not teasing him about sex stuff anymore, even though you’d think it cost actual seconds of her life. When her face started to turn red, she cleared her throat, took a deep breath, and said loudly, “Okay, so! Where is Henry?”
“I’m here, Mom!” Henry called from under the bed. “I’m just putting my new shirt on.”
“Silly kiddo fell asleep in yesterday’s clothes,” said Lux. “Numish put us all to sleep with a looong bedtime story!”
“Oh yeah?” said Jenni, tilting her head at Nume. “I very much need to hear how this all happened. And where is Ilraen? Is he okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, he got called to go hold some newbies’ hands in the field,” Nume said. “So I got stuck with this, and . . . and Lux helped.”
Jenni’s eyes narrowed. “I heard that ellipsis. You better tell me what happened before Henry does.”
On cue, the kid crawled out from under the blanket and ran to hug his mother. She disentangled herself from Luxury to scoop him up, even though he was really getting too tall for her to carry.
Henry wasted no time launching into his account of the evening. “He was mean to me, so I ran away.”
“Really?” Jenni gave Nume a pointed look that promised pointier torture if that were true.
“Very mean,” said Lux, who wrapped herself around Jenni and Henry from behind.
“Oh, sure, if by ‘mean’ you mean not giving in to a six-year-old’s every whim,” Nume grumbled. “Almost got me killed in several exciting ways, chasing him, too.” It was too frelling early for this. He took a gulp of nearly scalding coffee.
“But we found Lux,” Henry went on, “and we all came back here. Nume wouldn’t take me camping, but Lux made a tent under the bed. We sang songs, and we had hot chocolate, and it was okay, I guess. He won’t be my uncle, but he has an uncle called Leader-book who lives in Hamburger, and he collects rocks because he’s a geologist, but also, um, runes! Ice runes!”
Nume snorted, amused in spite of himself. “Icelandic runes, kid.”
Jenni tilted her head. “What were you reading? Actually—” she shook her head “—put a pin in that. We have to go. Henry, are you ready? Do you have everything?” She put him back on his feet, where he’d nearly slid anyway.
“Almost!” He darted back under the bed to get his stuff.
Nume decided to be helpful. He pulled the flannel blanket down from his bunk and folded it. “Luxury, don’t forget this. I’ll get your pen, too.”
“Yay!” She released Jenni and skipped up to him to claim her prize. “Mmm, fuzzy elf.”
Nume went to the supply closet to dig out one of the color-changing pens (which was orange at the moment, worst color ever), and when he came back, Henry was standing next to his mother with his backpack on. They were almost gone. So close.
Nume tossed the pen at Lux. His aim was as terrible as ever, but for a wonder, she got up on one foot, stretched out her free hand, and caught it.
“Ooooh. I like. Thanks, Neemish!” She stuck it in her cleavage.
Nume turned away. “Don’t mention it. Seriously. I will make you deader than a very dead thing.” He noted the open bag of marshmallows still sitting on the console. “Hey, kid, you want the rest of those?” He jutted his chin at it.
Henry thought about it, then shook his head. “No, you can keep them.”
“That’s nice.” Jenni petted his hair. “I thought he was mean to you.”
“Well,” Henry said magnanimously, “I don’t want them to make my backpack all sticky, so it’s okay!”
“Gee, thanks.” Nume slugged back more of his coffee. “Now that we’re all hunky-dory—shut up, Lux—can I please go back to bed? It has been a long night.”
Jenni nodded. “Yes. Nume, I’m coming back after my shift and you are telling me everything. But, for now, thanks.” She gave him a half-smile. “Get some rest.”
He nodded back and waved.
Jenni gathered up her little gang, and finally, they were gone. Nume had his RC to himself again.
He stood there for a moment, swaying slightly on his feet, letting the blessed silence soak in. Then he sighed, polished off his coffee, and set his foot on the first rung of his bunk ladder.
- Excerpt from “Molecules” by Ron Brown.
- They might be about Jacques Bonnefoy, and he might have been in on it. ^_^
- “My breakfast lies over the ocean . . . ” (Warning: other parodies included on that page are NSFW or NSFB.)
- “On Top of Spaghetti” and so forth.
I originally conceived this story in response to complaints about the random Permission prompts, to the tune of “but what if it’s something my character would never do in a million years?” Being evil, as many authors are, I thought to myself: which prompt would my characters never choose to do in a million years, and how can I make them do it anyway? Getting Nume stuck caring for Henry so he could then lose him and have to get him back was a ready choice. ^_^
This story also happens to fit the prompt “the agent(s) have to pass an unusual obstacle in HQ,” but the real bonus is that I remembered Lux likes kids according to her appearances with Nin Brandt in That Series, and Nume spending any amount of time around Lux is something he would also never choose to do in a million years . . . unless it was somehow better than the alternative.
The thing is, Lux isn’t that bad! Despite the running joke about her glomping everything that moves, her characterization in the Original Series is more nuanced. Blink and you’ll miss it, but she never tries to proposition Jay or Acacia, for instance; she just teases them about living together and hugs them each once. Sean tries to grope Jay at one point, but most of Lux’s attentions are given to Sean and later that diagrammer in Medical: people who actually want them. So, I couldn’t resist the chance to put her in a scene with Nume and not play it in the obvious jokey way. ^_^
Particular thanks to Phobos for being an inspiration and sounding board for quality mayhem in HQ, and to Zingenmir for screening (and approving of!) my portrayal of Lux. Additional thanks to Huinesoron, Iximaz, and my six-year-old niece for their experiences (relayed or lived) of child behavior. I incorporated several of them!