J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 4 ☆ 2016 September 1


Just make it seem as if you’re simply taking out the trash, Autumn told herself as she walked down the streets o’ Boskeopolis with a black trash bag in her hand, held up & ’way from her as if ’twere actually filled with gross garbage.

’Course, ’twas filled with garbage, but not the gross kind: this kind was full o’ delectable cords, cannibalized hard drives, VCRs, coffee makers, & electronic devices she couldn’t e’en interpret that lazy Boskeoleons had breezily thrown ’way.

Luckily, the streets were mainly empty, save a few early worms standing @ a bus stop, shivering in jackets far nicer & mo’ professional than Autumn had e’er worn, & a few passing cars. She had made sure to go out early, when the sky was still dim blue with no sun in sight: early ’nough to avoid the notice o’ many, but not in the dangerous deep o’ the night.

Not as if that e’er stopped me before.

She detoured from the dumpster she pretended to nose for & ’stead went up the wooden steps to Dawn’s room in quiet slow steps so as not to wake anyone & cast mo’ attention on her than necessary—which in this instance was none @ all.

She put the key Dawn gave her into the lock, eager to go inside herself, shivering in the frosty morn that would doubtless transform into a much warmer afternoon. This was 1 o’ the many drawbacks o’ surrendering to Dawn’s bewildering insistence that she stay here & waste Dawn’s funds: she was becoming soft.

After all, I used to spend every morn without any ventilation; ¿why need it now?

O well, let’s just hope Dawn’s still asleep…

She cringed as the door squeaked, only to see Dawn sitting up in her couch bed, wrapped in her blankets.

Dawn looked up from her Game Boy & said, “Good morn, Autumn. Though I suspect this isn’t a natural morn for you, having stayed up all night, ¿right?”

“Sorry. I’d hoped going outside would’ve minimized the disturbance.”

Autumn stopped by her & Edgar’s sleeping bag, where Edgar continued to snooze, & set her bag down by the edge o’ the table next to them. Then she went into the kitchen.

An advantage to Dawn already being awake is that I’ll feel slightly less guilty ’bout running that obnoxious coffee pot. Just have to hope it doesn’t wake Edgar.

“O, I wasn’t disturbed @ all,” she heard Dawn’s voice say ’hind her. “Edgar told me you had trouble sleeping @ night.”

This comment didn’t ask for a response, so she neglected to give 1. ’Stead, she mutely prepared the coffee machine for production.

“Ooo, ¿is that bag stuff you pilfered in the owl o’ night, Lupin IV?”

Autumn dumped the dirty filter in the trash & reached for a fresh 1. “If by ‘pilfered in the owl o’ night,’ you mean ‘pilfered from various dumpsters,’ then yes.”

“¿You’re still doing that?”

Autumn stifled the urge to question Dawn’s redundant query & merely nodded, only to realize Dawn probably wasn’t looking @ her closely ’nough to see.


“I told you you don’t have to worry ’bout that right now.”

“Yes. Numerous times.”

“¿Then why?”

Autumn’s brows tilted as if she were asked why people needed to eat to live. She continued to stare @ the coffee pot on its way to the sink for water, trying to think o’ an explanation that didn’t sound like saying “the sky is blue,” but then came to the conclusion that if Dawn didn’t know, then maybe it wasn’t so obvious. After all, ’twas a cliché for people to finally wonder to themselves, “Maybe I’m the crazy 1.”

But she was different: she knew she was the crazy 1; a fact, she noticed, e’en Edgar & Dawn ne’er disputed, only dressing it up in less alarming language.

She simply waved a hand ’hind her & said, “Leave me ’lone to my mental illnesses, ¿all right? I don’t judge you for investing your time in imaginary computer worlds.”

She saw that Dawn had already returned her attention to said computer world & kept it there while she replied, “Sorry, it’s hard to tell the differences ’tween the habits o’ yours that are a cry for help or authentically for pleasure.”

“Yes, & I’ve told you that there’s no difference,” Autumn said as she shut the lid & flicked the on switch.

With that settled, she returned to the living room, sat next to Edgar, & set her laptop on the table. She opened it & heard its stomach suddenly buzz to life, followed by its face flashing on its password screen. She typed it in & was immediately greeted by the browser window she left open. She glanced down to confirm that Edgar was still asleep & round to ensure Dawn couldn’t see her screen, & checked her history to confirm that ’twas clean o’ incriminating evidence.

Then she slid her bag o’er to her & slowly began pulling item after item out, examining them for anything unfamiliar.

“¿You putting them on Kootslist or something?” asked Dawn.


Though Autumn was eager to continue their riveting conversation, she heard her coffee pot slow its grinding sputter & rose to pour herself a mug full.

She finished her inspection a couple minutes after returning. ’Mong all o’ them, only 1 was unknown: some cellphone-like device called a “Script Genie.” She guessed ’twas probably some programming device, but decided to investigate it for a second on her laptop.

Dawn, whose attention-span problems caused her to glance ’way from her game every so oft, happened to notice Autumn staring @ her monitor with gaping mouth.

“¿Is something wrong?” she asked.


Autumn reached her hand down & grasped @ empty carpet for a few seconds ’fore finally finding the device. She picked it up & stared @ it for a minute.

“Don’t tell me you found the King o’ Switzerland’s smartphone…” said Dawn.

“No: according to this, I found a priceless device that can manipulate reality to grant anyone’s wish so long as they punch in the right code.”

Dawn couldn’t keep herself from rising from her seat.

“¡That sounds amazing!”

“Sounds as if it could get us unlimited riches, as well as anything else.”

Despite this fortuitous event in what seemed to Autumn to be a life full o’ rolled 1s & stolen stars, Autumn felt mo’ depressed than excited.

Something’s going to come in & swipe this success right before my face, just as always.

“¡You have to let me study it!” exclaimed Dawn.

& here we go…

Autumn squirmed.

I can’t just say no. For the sun’s sake, she’s been feeding & sheltering me for months now.

“You… you’ll be careful with it, ¿right?” said Autumn.

“’Course I will,” Dawn said as she put her foot up on the tea table. “I’ll have you know that I am always—¡Whoops!”

The weight o’ her foot pushing into the table caused the table to shake so much that her cup toppled o’er, spilling her juice all o’er the carpet. Autumn cringed as she stared @ it, visualizing a much larger cup o’ juice spilling o’er her pile o’ money, melting it all to slush.

“It’ll be safe. Don’t worry.” Dawn smiled as she lifted a thumbs-up while crouched on the floor, mopping up the spill with a nearby towel.

“I s’pose I’ll need you to research the codes, anyway,” mumbled Autumn, mo’ to convince herself than for Dawn’s sake.

She tried researching the device mo’, but found scant info, other than every site saying that ’twas 1-o’-a-kind & that numerous rich people—including Lance, she noticed—were offering hefty sums for it.

She looked back @ it, rubbing her thumb gently gainst its squarish gray buttons laid out in a 16-by-16 grid, ranging from 0 to 9 & A to F, as well as the thinner green buttons with abbreviations she couldn’t comprehend, like “LDA” & “STA.”

Curious, she pressed the bigger pink “ON” button, expecting it to do nothing. ’Stead, she saw its gray screen blink black text that said, “Please input the address you want to change or press any o’ the green buttons for other options.”

¿Address? ¿What’s it mean by that?

That’s surely not home address.

If it’s able to reconfigure reality, than it must mean the world’s RAM address…

Autumn scratched her chin.

Shit… this thing’ll be dangerous. I don’t e’en know what any o’ these codes are.

¡Wait! ¡That’s it!

She changed her search query to “World RAM Address Project” & soon found a huge list o’ them all. She scrolled down the list, eyes catching phrases like “weather” & “which character the current scene holds as the primary perspective,” as well as mo’ generic values, such as “character position.”

Autumn rubbed the back o’ her neck as she stared @ the words on-screen.

¿Should I try it out?

It might cause irreversible damage.

She noticed that the weather entry specified the values o’ various conditions. Just to be sure, she opened a new tab & cross-referenced a few other websites to see that they all gave the same address & values.

Autumn hesitated ’fore getting up & looking out the window—which Dawn always left open, 24-7, for reasons Autumn couldn’t fathom. The mushy blue-gray had been broken by an enormous yellow sun, casting its yellow tint on the city. For once the ground appeared powdery dry.

If I make it rainy, no one would notice. Hell, the fact that it’s sunny would probably trigger people’s suspicions mo’.

“¿You waiting for the mail, or did you see some other sexy skeleton undress through his window?”

“Neither,” said Autumn, her mind scrambling for a credible lie. Think casual; think casual. “I was just looking outside to see if I could fit some o’ these in your mailbox, but I doubt I’ll do it, anyway. It’ll probably be stolen.”

“You could always stop @ a post office,” said Dawn.

“Yeah. I’ll probably do that.”

Autumn returned to her laptop & checked all o’ her pages 1 mo’ time to be extra sure that they all said the same thing.

If this goes wrong, it could be deadly…

Still, I have to know. ’Sides, Dawn’ll probably be doing much riskier work when she’s testing it; & I can’t stop her, since she runs this apartment, so it’s inevitable.

She knew this was a rationalization. She also knew that ’twas a sufficient 1.

She turned the Script Genie on ’gain & typed “7E0D9F,” 1 @ a time, looking up @ her monitor after each to ensure that ’twas correct. After waiting a second, she slowly pressed “OK.”

“¿Please enter the new value for this address?” it asked next.

She looked back @ her monitor & surveyed the long list o’ detailed weather conditions. “Rainy” by itself must’ve had a’least a dozen o’ varying strength & mixed with other conditions.

Hmm… ¿should I go with a subtler condition so as to minimize people’s suspicions, or go with a rarer condition to better confirm it works?

The latter would probably be better. E’en the worst weather wouldn’t make anyone suspect one o’ having this—autumn’s 1 o’ those ‘anything goes’ seasons. As for Dawn, she’s bound to figure it out, regardless.

Flipwise, the details are scant on how these weather effects truly operate; the rarer conditions are also liable to be mo’ dangerous. ¿How do I know that the stronger rains aren’t so strong that they cause flooding?

& I can always try it ’gain if I’m not sure.

So she typed in “06,” the code for light drizzle.

She stood & went o’er to the window. While still staring out @ the rosy-blue sky, she held her breath & pressed “OK.”

Her pupils dilated as she saw clouds suddenly slide into view, followed by thin gray lines o’ rain. Though the sun still cast yellow light on the city, said light diminished, the sun partly covered by a cloud.

“¿What’s wrong?”

¿Should I tell her?

I’d honestly rather not remind her ’bout it. I’m hoping she’d forgotten ’bout it since she asked me.

Plus, she might scold me for using it so recklessly.

Or worse: she could be excited ’bout this find & want us to do mo’.

“You didn’t use that Script Genie thing, ¿did you?” Autumn noticed urgency in her voice.

There’s no point in hiding it now.

She turned to Dawn & said, “Just testing it. All I did was make it lightly drizzle. I can change it back.”

“¿So you figured out how to use it already?” asked Dawn, eyes becoming e’en rounder than usual, voice full o’ mo’ breath.

“No. I found a list o’ addresses & some values, but it seems to be a grab-bag o’ options, some—like the weather—simple, some much mo’ complicated,” Autumn said as she returned to her laptop. “For instance, a few were based on characters, but rather than mentioning names, only gave #s. I’m not e’en touching those till I do much mo’ research.”

“¿D’you mind if I watch?”

“Um… no. I’m not doing anything interesting, though. Just looking up info.” Autumn’s volume fell as she spoke, her words becoming mo’ mushed together.

Dawn got up, rounded the table, & sat next to Autumn, grasping her upraised knees as she oft did, Autumn noted, when she was eager. She sat so close that her ankle was touching Autumn’s knee, which was many centimeters closer than Autumn was used to any human other than Edgar being.

I’m such an asschasm. This person has done nothing but benefit me to no advantage o’ her own, & still I react as if she will begin choking me any second.

“This reminds me a lot o’ rom hacking,” said Dawn.

“I don’t know what that is,” Autumn replied.

“¿So what d’you plan on doing next?”

“I’m not sure,” Autumn said as she absentmindedly scrolled through the page, not truly paying attention to what she was passing. “I s’pose I’d try to figure out how to maximize my funds.”

“That sounds frigid,” said Dawn. “I bet you’ll feel much safer when that happens.”

If it does. Knowing my luck, I’m sure something will arrive & slap it right out o’ my hands.”

Dawn smiled. “Always looking on the bright side.”

“Shit,” Autumn mumbled as she hastily scrolled back up.

“¿What? O,”—Dawn laughed—“you still hadn’t fixed the weather, ¿have you?”


She put in the address ’gain & then put in “00”: “clear.”

Should be close ’nough.

She stood & walked back o’er to the window, followed by Dawn. There she could see the sprinkling already beginning to abate & the yellow light growing to its former formidability.

We’re already getting the hang o’ this. Soon using this will be as 2nd-hand as scaling a tower. Then we’ll just gradually grow from these simple, safe procedures to mo’ complex & dangerous 1s till I’m able to enrich myself.

She spent the next few hours researching the details surrounding the mysterious “character” addresses &, specifically, the revenue address for each character, filling a plain text document with notes. After 5 minutes o’ watching Autumn straight searching, reading, scrolling, & typing, Dawn stood, said, “Well, tell me before you do anything else with that thing: I wanna see it this time,” & went to her lab.

As the hours fell, the room’s blue brightened to a grayish white. Edgar began to stir mo’ & mo’ till he finally sat up. Through the sides o’ her eyes, she could see that his eyeholes were filled with dust & his nightshirt was crooked o’er his shoulders so that 1 side o’ his collar hole revealed a wide area o’ his collarbone. He smelled like dusty articles o’ one’s nostalgic childhood, found after years buried in one’s attic. These effects were a habit o’ Edgar ’pon awaking, she noted.

It, ’long with other effects, oft left her in a chicken-&-egg conundrum: ¿was it ’cause they reminded her o’ Edgar or was it some intrinsic characteristic o’ them each that stirred her usually-dormant dopamine in a way that neither coffee nor Dawn’s psycho juice could?

Shit. That reminds me: I still have to take my medicine.

Though her recent gains left her with relative levity—albeit, a nervous version due to risk—she remembered Dawn insisting that she take it every day, regardless, & she wasn’t ’bout to risk the consequences for the negligible gain o’ not taking it.

“Good morn,” said Edgar, voice saturated with high-pitched softness.

¿How’s he on e’en after just waking? When I just wake, I can hardly grunt.

Speaking o’ which, she grunted a reply, kissed him, & dug under the table for the potion in her backpack while Edgar got up & made for the bathroom.

After taking her 2 mandatory drinks, she yawned, eyes burning under the glare o’ the light all round her. She could imagine the fogginess o’ exhaustion that slowed her cognition.

On 1 glove, I truly don’t feel comfortable going to sleep without a’least gleaning some benefit from this; on the other, I’m still not sure how to change my funds without possibly wrecking 1 o’ the world’s other million variables—& my exhaustion will only increase the risk o’ causing a dire error.

She felt as if her body were trying to answer for her: independent o’ her conscious decision, her head began to sag to her knees.

Dawn wouldn’t do anything reckless with it: as childlike a patina she gives off, she’s responsible—mo’ responsible than I am, truly. & with them both up & ’bout, it won’t be stolen. I’m only stalling the only logical solution based on immensely flimsy fears.

She did, however, ensure that she put all o’ her goods back in their black plastic bag. But as she was ’bout to put the Genie in, buried near the middle, she remembered something. She dug out a plastic case, pulled it apart, & stuck 1 o’ its stickers onto the Genie.

Always be as careful as possible. I’m only glad I already set the rest o’ the shit up.

When she finished that, she slid the pack under the table, & then slid herself into her—or rather, Dawn’s, she’d always reiterate—sleeping bag, closed her eyes, & turned on her side, letting the fresh warm tides o’ her blanket push her out o’ the cold burden o’ consciousness.


He could feel their mushy mouth sounds & scraping slipper soles grate gainst his veins till he finally swung round & snapped, “O, quit whining. It’s such a nice day.”

“No it’s not; it’s raining,” Agent Razzmatazz said as he lifted his palms to a few drips.

Lance Chamsby saw them followed by greater & greater #s o’ drops & shivered as he pulled his cloak closer o’er himself. He panicked as he felt a tinge o’ ache emerge from the corner o’ his throat.

Great. Now I’ll probably get pneumonia, die, & have to go through that whole tedious process o’ bribing that stingy ObjectFactory to create ’nother instance o’ me.

Nobody e’er appreciates the sacrifices one must make as mayor o’ Boskeopolis.

His mood improved, however, once he was snug inside his private helicopter, leaving the rain powerless to do anything gainst him but ineffectually splay their ruddy chests o’er the windows. While his henchmen argued o’er who got to sit next to the windows in the back, Lance sat back with his arms tied ’hind his head in his velvet chair as soft as cream cheese in front, before the wide face window, every need o’ his served by the copter’s various computers, whether it be navigation, movement adjustment to ensure the trip was bumpy ’nough to be exciting, but not bumpy ’nough to cause discomfort, & temperature control.

“Hey, it stopped raining already.”

“You can’t feel the rain from inside.”

“Yeah, but look @ that sun.”

“It’s rude to stare, Mellow Yellow. The sun’ll burn your eyes out in retribution. I read that somewhere.”

Lance sat up & saw, indeed, that the windshield-wipers’ wiping was gaining on the rain splats till they were gone completely without replacement. The sky was e’en brighter than before, not a drop in sight.

Lance gripped the arms o’ his chair. “That’s beefily suspicious.”

“¿What? ¿That the sun would just happen to have eye-burning powers? ’Cause I heard a theory that the government—”

“No,” Lance snapped. “That the weather just changes like that so quickly.”

“The weather changes all o’ the time here,” said Agent Razzmatazz.

“Not that quickly,” Lance insisted.

“W-well, ¿w-what could it be then?” said Agent Granny Smith Apple, voice the sound o’ unoiled hinges.

There was a close-up o’ Lance’s eyes as they winced, revealing all o’ their gross wrinkles.

“I wouldn’t put it past that obsessed thief to steal the weather & exploit it to her own antisocial purposes.”

“Sir, that doesn’t e’en make any sense,” said Agent Razzmatazz.

Lance turned his head back to them & said, “¡You don’t make any sense!”

“That doesn’t make any sense, either.”

Their genial conversation was interrupted by a mechanized voice saying, “DESTINATION REACHED.”

“This isn’t our destination,” said Agent Razzmatazz; “we didn’t ask to go to the middle o’ the ¡a-aaaaaaaaiiiii!”

They could feel the blood & everything inside them slam gainst their heads as the rest o’ their body plummeted ’long with the copter till they felt a thick thud under them a moment later.

“¡Ow! ¡I bit mah uvula!” said Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty, spitting on the last word.

Lance rose from his seat, his blond bangs splayed o’er his forehead in a haphazard manner for which they were so unaccustomed.

“¡We must be there!” he exclaimed with an index raised in a manner for which ’twas accustomed.

He looked out the window to his right & saw Dawn’s apartment bearing its chest to them like an 863-kg gorilla.

OK, it wasn’t truly doing that; but it wanted to let you know that it could if it truly desired to. It just didn’t feel like it is all.

Lance glanced in all directions as he said, “You all brought your costumes, ¿right?”

“We’re already wearing our costumes,” Agent Granny Smith Apple said as he pulled @ a piece o’ his goldenrod jacket.

“I’m not,” Agent Mellow Yellow said before a chuckle.

“No, I meant your other costumes,” said Lance, diverting his glaring eyes from Mellow Yellow’s utterly unprofessional spade boxers.

I mean, truly: ¿not diamonds? ¿Does he not e’en understand themes?

Lance pressed the edges o’ his fingers gainst each other. I’m beginning to suspect that he’s not a true team player…

They all changed into their other costumes & then Lance opened his right door, poked his head out, & swung his head round to check the environs 1 mo’ time.

He went back in & turned back to his minions once mo’.

“Be as unnoticeable as possible,” Lance said in a hushed but hoarse tone. “Follow me o’er to the side o’ the apartment. Hopefully they aren’t expecting us already & watching the whole neighborhood.”

He led them out in wide Looney Tunes tiptoes, only for his eyes to bulge & his right lower lid to rise when he saw Agent Granny Smith Apple suddenly begin running round the street with his arms out, crying, “¡Ha! ¡Ha! ¡Ha! ¡Look @ me: I’m a biplane! ¡Weeeee!”

Lance pressed an index up to his lips & whispered, “¡Shhhhhhh!” in 1 quick, sharp spurt.

Granny Smith Apple stopped, letting his arms flop back down while he stared @ Lance with a blend o’ confusion & shame.

Then he said loudly, “O, sorry, Mayor Chamsby, Sir.”

Lance shook his fists by his sides & gritted his teeth, mouth emitting rev-like noises.

Ne’ertheless, he said nothing mo’ to him & ’stead quickened his pace toward the side o’ the apartment.

When his henchmen made it there, he turned to them with his fists resting on his hips & said, “Well, we rehearsed this. Form your ladder position.”

They nodded & began climbing onto each other’s shoulders till they reached the 3rd window from the ground.

After Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty called down, “We’re ready, Sir,” Lance climbed up them to the top & pressed his face gainst the window—which he found unbearably foggy & frigid, in contrast to the generally mild weather.

¡What a shock: the lazy looter is snoozing in the midst o’ the afternoon!

’Course, she still leeches off her voodoo skeleton for protection… Still, he shouldn’t cause any problem.

The question now is, ¿how will we get in?

Lance drummed his fingers gainst the pane, feeling its gross wetness seep through his glove.

There must be a clear, simple way to get inside…

Lance waited there, his head turning to the side for some reason in search o’ inspiration. How he’d find inspiration anywhere in a grubby ghetto like this was beyond him.

That was when his eyes gradually ballooned.

¡That’s it! ¡That’s perfect! ¡It’s such an obvious plan, I don’t see how I didn’t think o’ it a whole minute ago!

He bent down & whispered his plan into Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty’s ear, who bent down & whispered into Agent Mellow Yellow’s ear, who bent down & whispered into Agent Granny Smith Apple’s ear, who slanted outward & whispered into the ears in the walls, whose drainpipe whispered into the grass’s ears, who whispered into a colony o’ lady bugs’ ears, who flew up to Lance’s ear & told him to keep quiet, they’re busy trying to watch grass dry.

“¡Ooo!” Lance oooed. “¿Who told?” He swung his body left & right. “¿Who told? I won’t have communist spies spying on me.”

He swung all the way round when he heard bushes rustle. Out o’ them emerged 3 men in beards & fedoras. They were just dropping binoculars hung from their necks down from their eyes ’fore turning with pouty faces aimed @ the dirt & stalking ’way.

“Gee whiskers, a fuckingmother comrade can’t ne’er get no grains in this train. Ya shovel, ¿mamma-mia?”

Lance’s brows crushed down on his eyes like anvils, which probably wasn’t good for his health.

“Stupid oonists,” he muttered. “Always saying words I don’t understand. I know their code.”


Almost an hour later, Edgar heard Dawn step out into the living room. When he glanced ’hind him, he saw her looking down @ Autumn curled up to her pillow with an uncertain frown. Then she looked @ Edgar, walked o’er to him, & whispered, “You don’t think Autumn would mind me using her laptop for a sec, ¿do you?”

Edgar shrugged.

“It has a password on it, anyway,” he whispered back.

Dawn began to rub her chin uncertainly.

“Knew I shouldn’t have taken my laptop to the cleaners yesterday,” muttered Dawn.

“Autumn probably wouldn’t care if you woke her & asked,” said Edgar.

“¿You sure?”

Edgar nodded.

Dawn walked o’er to Autumn & bent down next to her. She stared down @ her for a few seconds, jaw hanging open with a thin stream o’ dribble spilling onto her pillow, & then looked up @ Edgar with a wincing smile & a snicker.

“I almost hate to wake her, she looks so cute.”

Ne’ertheless, Dawn did nudge Autumn lightly on the shoulder, causing her to turn o’er on her back, open her naked eyes a millimeter, & emit incomprehensible gutteral & nasal noises.

“Sorry to wake you, ¿but would you mind if I borrowed your computer for 1 second?” whispered Dawn. “I promise I’ll treat him with the utmost delicacy.”

Autumn emitted ’nother noise & sat up. After a pause, she slid her laptop out from under the tea table, set it on said table, opened it, & typed in her password as rapidly as @ any other mental state. When the photo o’ Edgar with a book in-hand, followed by a tidy grid o’ icons & words, appeared, Autumn plopped back onto her sleeping bag, turned back onto her side, & closed her eyes ’gain.

Dawn slid the laptop to the perpendicular side o’ the table she was sitting @. She hesitated for a moment so she could recall how Autumn used this unfamiliar OS.

Edgar turned back to his dish-washing, only to be distracted ’gain by a ding o’ the doorbell. He turned back to see Dawn getting up to answer it.

’Hind it was some man in a business suit.

“’Scuse me, Madame; but I’m ’fraid I lost 1 o’ my Digipets somewhere. ¿Could you help me find the li’l fellow?”

“O… uh, OK,” Dawn said as she followed him out the door.

A moment after she left, a potted plant ’bout as tall as Edgar appeared to waddle inside all on it’s own.

“Um, Dawn…” was all Edgar could say, the rest o’ what he might say cut-off by shock.

He continued to stare @ the plant for the next few minutes, only to see it remain stationery—that is, a pencil-gripping arm reached out from the dirt it held in its mouth & began writing on its thin, crispy boughs.

He rubbed his knuckles in his eyeholes & stared ’gain, only to have his attention distracted by a falsetto voice outside saying, “¡Edgar! ¡Please help! This is Dawn speaking.”

Edgar rose & ran o’er to the doorway. With his head leaning out, he said, “But that doesn’t sound anything like you.”

“¡They used a needle to totally change my voice & personality!” said the same falsetto. “¡O, Edgar! ¡Please hurry!”

Then he suddenly heard Dawn’s actual voice say, “That’s not me. ¿What’s going on? ¿Is this a prank or something?”

Before he could finish hearing her, he felt a hand push him out the doorway. He turned to see 1 o’ Lance Chamsby’s drama-masked guards say, “Sorry. We need this room for a sec,” just ’fore shutting the door.

Edgar rushed back for it, jiggling the knob, only to remember that jiggling doorknobs does nothing productive. He then actually turned it, only for it to remain stiff. Edgar wiped his hands on his nightshirt.

¿What have I done? ¡I can’t believe I’ve stupidly endangered Autumn so quickly, without e’en thinking!

Panic overriding his etiquette, he began slamming his fists gainst the door & shouting, “¡Autumn! ¡Wake up! ¡Lance is attacking ’gain!”

To his surprise, the door opened, only for him to see the same minion as before.

“We don’t want any,” said minion said just ’fore closing the door ’gain.

Edgar tried the knob ’gain, to see if he’d left it unlocked this time; but felt his chest fell when he saw this return false.

Then he straightened like a dog on the scent o’ cocaine.

¡Dawn! ¡She ought to still have a key on her or something! ¡Maybe she can help me help Autumn!

“¡Dawn! ¿Where are you?” Edgar called out, leaning o’er the apartment railing & swinging his face round the bottom o’ the lot.

“¿Edgar?” Dawn’s voice rang out from a few meters ’way. “¿Is that you? ¿What’s wrong?”

Edgar jumped when he heard a yelp o’ pain, only to see Dawn dashing out o’ an alley a minute after.

“¿Is everything all right?” she asked breathlessly.

“Wh-what was that noise?” asked Edgar.

“¿That yell? That was that guy who claimed he wanted me to look for his Digipet or whatever,” said Dawn. “Must’ve been ardent ’bout it, ’cause he tried to hold me back when I tried running o’er here.”

“He lied,” said Edgar, the full force o’ his emotions pushing through his voice like heavy wind. He pointed toward the front door. “¡They only tricked us outside so they could lock us up & attack Autumn!”

Dawn’s brows fell. “¿Who?”

“Lance’s bodyguards.”

Dawn slapped her hand on the side o’ her face. “¿Truly?”

“Yes. ¿You have your key on you?”

Dawn’s eyes widened & she began rummaging through her jacket’s many pockets.

“¡O! ¡I do!” Dawn said as she pulled 1 out. “I actually carry multiple o’ them just to counteract my missingmindedness.”

“¡O, thank god!”

He watched her clamber up the stairs to the 3rd floor, & then stayed close as she unlocked the door. She herself was so shaken that she missed the lock the 1st few jabs, & twisted so hard she looked close to snapping it off.

Through the door, they could hear Lance’s muffled voice say, “—tchiness won’t be the worst sensation you shall—” only for him to be cut off when they shoved the door open.

All faces turned to them, ’cept Autumn’s. Autumn, who was held by four o’ henchmen like a trampoline, suddenly twisted an arm & leg out o’ 1’s distracted grip & used them to knock her other 2 captors out o’ their clasps. In less than a second, Autumn was back onto the carpet, & in a moment mo’, charging after Lance.

Lance’s movement attracted Dawn & Edgar’s attention. They saw him stand, holding a black hunk o’ plastic out. A piece o’ the tea table & Autumn’s laptop protruded the corner o’ Edgar’s vision.

“I warned you,” Lance said with a curling smile.

His thumb moved a li’l. They looked back @ Autumn to see her still running toward him, but with eyes stretched with concern.

A few steps afterward, she clutched her chest & began to slow, eyes bulging.

“¿Autumn?” Edgar & Dawn gasped in unison.

Autumn stopped & tipped back & forth, other hand held out with bent fingers as if in search o’ something to hold onto.

The rest o’ Lance’s minions stood back near the wall, arms held out to their sides themselves, as if they were frightened, too.

Lance, however, kept his attention purely on Autumn’s face, his chin jutting upward like a victory uppercut, while his front leg & arm tilted slightly downward.

Finally, Autumn fell onto her knees in 1 sudden swoop, followed by her upper body’s slow deflation down to the floor, her outstretched arm still out, now clutching the carpet.

Edgar sprinted o’er to Autumn. He bent down next to her, grasping her hand full o’ bumps & concaves from her veins like a fleshy spiderweb.

“¿Autumn?” he whimpered.

“Save your breath, skeleton—if you have any.” ’Twas Lance’s voice, stern husky. “I can confirm she won’t make it from that.”

“¿What did you do to her?”

Edgar looked up & backward with surprise @ this familiar voice in an unfamiliar tone o’ fury & shock. Dawn’s wide eyes & tiny pupils matched this tone, as well as the shaking fists by her sides.

Lance eyed her coolly. “I didn’t do anything to her.” He smiled. “She just happened to have a heart attack, for some reason. Guess she should’ve exercised mo’.”

Lance turned back to his henchmen.

“Now, we are through here. Agents, escort me out, & if either o’ these looter-accomplists try accosting any o’ us, arrest them.”

Dawn’s eyes darkened on Lance, which only made Edgar shake mo’. ¿Is she going to… get in trouble, too?

However, her eyes soon smoothed to normal, & she back ’way from the door.

“All right, Mayor. Go on through,” she said. “I just hope that you’d take just a second to think, e’en if you’re truly as maniacal as you are, ’bout the risks you are taking for yourself.”

Lance turned a blanched face toward her.

“¿Is that a threat?”

Dawn threw out a finger & wagged it, as if disciplining a dog.

“It is that I’ll use any legal thing I can to stop you,” said Dawn. “You can avoid all o’ that if you, please, just do whatever you can to bring Autumn back to life.”

“¿Why, so she can chase after me & threaten my life? Ha.” Lance turned his attention straight toward the door ’gain. “I’m ’fraid, much as A cannot be A & not-A @ the same time, nor can I, the epitome o’ justice, exist ’longside the nadir o’ humanity, justice, & property. In the end, 1 o’ us must be gone—& the world is a much better place if that person isn’t me.”

Dawn’s face twisted lemon sour.

“I’m glad to see you’re humble.”

Lance turned his face back @ Dawn just as he grabbed the edge o’ the still-open front door.

“I’ll give you 1 generosity, since this 1 may actually be useful in the long run, by giving you advice that might just salvage you from the trash heap you seem to associate yourself with: despite what the blabbering idiotic masses say, humility is not a valuable trait.”

After that, Lance left sight from ’hind the doorway, only the sounds o’ his soles on the wooden deck remaining in their senses. His henchmen, hitherto lost in the mo’ enticing events, regained their focus when they jogged ’cross the room & out the door. Though their expressions were all still concealed by their masks, Edgar could tell by the way their faces tilted downward & the fidgeting o’ their hands that they didn’t feel nearly as triumphant ’bout the situation as their boss did.

The last 1 out stopped just outside the door & looked round inside just ’fore leaning in & grabbing the door. “Good day, Madame & Sir,” he said just ’fore closing the door.

Dawn only shook her head silently, face worn, the depressing sight o’ a previously-cheerful birthday balloon slowly wrinkling as it lost air in the following grayer days.

To be continued…