Introducing Bixel

Excerpt from the second Sunshine Line book, several pages into the first chapter:

He was remarkably ugly, and I’m not really one to care what another person – being – looks like. But in his case it was so marked that if I just looked away and looked right back I was startled again by how ugly he was.

Once I managed to see past the surprising ugliness, I got the impression of a fussy little man. He was small compared to human scale, perhaps about four feet tall. He appeared to be dressed in an exquisitely tailored business suit, but with fairies you never know; it could be a glamor. If it was, it was very firmly in place. It didn’t give me a headache like the glamor clothing of the elves I had met sometimes did. He seemed fastidious, and somehow gave off the impression of a tax accountant who took his work with a worrying seriousness.

As soon as we were all gathered in front of the portal, he stood up. He approached the edge where it dropped into the room over the couch and gave us all a look that plainly said we were in his way and had little time to correct our error. Indeed, he stepped down almost at once, but all of us had gotten the message and were backing off.

You may sit,” he said imperiously, but remained standing.

I didn’t see any reason to play dominance games with this creature I hadn’t even been introduced to yet, so I just accepted the invitation, such as it was, and pulled Kristy onto a couch next to me. Tom gave me an amused look, but followed my lead, down to holding hands with Molly. Ally timidly took a chair near the door, looking as if she was having second thoughts about being there. Amaleen remained standing, which made me smile.

I am Bixel,” the gnome introduced himself brusquely. “You should have been told that as the source of the Portal Project’s funding, we have been granted the choice of location for the first two Portal Team goals.” His phrasing implied that he doubted it had been done right.

Bixel looked straight at me, then spared a glance for Kristy before going on. “The locations are Weak Spots that aren’t currently protected by a portal. They both also are in strategic locations as far as travel through –” he stopped and went to Amaleen and whispered up into her ear. She whispered back to him, and he continued, “Through Daganu. There are areas where it is much easier to travel on your side of the portal, easier to go through and use your side.”

I drew in a breath to ask why that would be true, but Bixel spoke before I could, “Your tutor will explain these things, I can’t be bothered to teach you everything. You just do as you’re told.”

My eyebrows shot up. Amaleen was whispering in Bixel’s ear again, so I decided to hold my tongue and give him a chance to rephrase. Bixel’s expression was sour as he listened to Amaleen. Finally he spoke. “I’m,” he paused, swallowing and looking through narrowed eyes at Amaleen, then back at me. “Sorry. That was ill done to you.” He seemed to be struggling with himself and finally he added, “Of course, we could not do this without you.”

It probably took me a heartbeat longer than it should have to realize I had better acknowledge the apology. “I’m sure this is a learning experience for all of us,” I said. “No harm done,” I added, somewhat generously, I thought. After all, his words had been very offensive. On the other hand, I had been so wrapped up in watching the dynamic between Bixel and Amaleen that I hadn’t bothered to actually be offended. The hesitation and somewhat lukewarm nature of my response didn’t seem to sit well with Bixel. We were off to a bad start. I hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with him personally too often.

Bixel opened the jacket of his suit and took a folded map out of an inner pocket. Somewhat to my confusion, it was a AAA map. He unfolded it and laid it out on the coffee table, gesturing for Kristy and I to come closer.

We do not map — Daganu. But we can look at your maps and know how they relate to our terrain. You will have to travel through Daganu to get to the Weak Spots, but I can show you on the maps where they are.”

He pointed to a spot near Greenbrae, north of the Golden Gate bridge, and another on the west side of Lake Folsom. “Here and here,” he said. “More or less. The lake isn’t there on our side, of course.”

Of course? It was hard to bite my tongue on all the questions. Also, if the gnomes were concerned about traveling in our world to avoid theirs, why were these portals so far apart from each other? Wouldn’t they want them closer together? And why do we have to travel through this territory? I looked at the map. “You want to use our bridges.” I said, almost without intending to speak.

Yes, of course,” said Bixel. “Bridging deep water is an even larger undertaking for us than it is for you. And crossing our bridges takes longer too.”

I blinked at that. Was there some sort of hitchhiking fairy conspiracy that I didn’t know about? I remembered that the pixie Becky had ridden across the Golden Gate bridge on the mudflap of a big rig truck, rather than fly, but I had assumed that was because of her tiny size.

I furrowed my brow, trying to understand, even though I’d been told to be patient and wait for my education. “Did it ever occur to you guys to just learn our technology and cut out the middle man?”

Bixel looked completely blank at this. Amaleen said, “We have exactly the amount of technology we want and need. We can’t operate freely on your side of things, that’s all.” There was something very final – not menacing, but inarguable – about the way she said it.

Bixel said then, “You may keep this map. I have nothing more to say at this time. I hope your training goes quickly; we are eager to see you in action.”

With that, he climbed up on the couch and up into and through the portal. With an imperious lift of one ugly eyebrow, he managed to convey that the portal should be shut now. Kristy obediently shut it. 

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