Chapter Nine: Letter From The Desert
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"So what is all the fuss about?" Jetta demanded as the group of
unlikely allies assembled in the front room of Starlight Mansion.
"Whatever it is 'ad
better be good..."
"We got a note." Aja waved the sheet of paper, sending Jetta a glare as she did so. "I don't know, it doesn't say much, but at least it's something to go on."
"So tell us what it says already!" Roxy demanded. "Get a move on, Hologram, we don't have all day!"
"All right, cool out!" Aja snapped back. "Basically it says...
'From one sandy place to another - if you want to see Jerrica again then take a long drive to someplace dry and dusty - there's a clue waiting for you in the Dragon's rock."
"What the heck is that meant to mean?" Roxy asked. "Dragon's rock? What?"
"Well, dry and dusty suggests to me the desert, and so does the sand reference." Shana observed.
"Which desert?" Kimber wondered.
"Arizona? That'd be my guess." Rio put in.
"It's a long way to go." Raya frowned. "Can we do it in a day? And its so big, how will we know where this Dragon's rock is anyway? I have never heard that name before!"
"I think I have, but I don't think it's a proper name." Aja looked thoughtful. "When I was small, before Dad died and I came to live with the Bentons, we used to visit friends in Arizona. There was this big network of caves we used to play in - the shape of the landscape was kind of like a dragon, and they told us locals call it the Dragon's Rock."
"Could you find it again, if you had to?" Shana demanded. Aja paused, then nodded.
"I think I could." she said slowly. "I was only six or so at the time, but we went there such a lot...maybe I can."
"Then you and Roxy should take the desert. We'll carry on the hunt here." Rio suggested. Aja nodded.
"Okay by me. Roxy, you game?"
"How are we gonna get to Arizona and hunt and all if it's such a long way to drive?" Roxy retorted. "I'm not spending all day in a car with you!"
"So we'll fly." Aja shrugged. "Would you stop with the complaints? It's getting to be a real drag."
Roxy just pulled a face in response, but nevertheless she got to her feet.
"Then let's go." she said abruptly. "Get this over with. I'll drive, okay?"
"You can drive?" Aja stared at her. "I didn't know that."
"Aja, love, Roxy's idea of driving involves 'otwiring a car and joyriding it across town." Jetta put in, a faint smile of amusement on her face. "She don't have a licence, neither - if you value your life you won't let 'er near the wheel."
"Shut up, Jetta, I drive better than you do!" Roxy put her hands on her hips.
"Well, if you don't have a licence, you're not driving the roadster." Aja said firmly.
"Wimpy Holograms." Roxy muttered.
"Wait a minute, who's gonna fill Jem in on the situation?" Jetta glanced around her, a suspicious look in her grey eyes. "And where is she anyway? The girl's more elusive than Roxy's brain!"
"Jetta..." Roxy narrowed her eyes, raising her fist in a warning manner.
"Jem's gone...to...to handle things at Starlight Music, hasn't she Stormer?" Kimber glanced at Stormer pleadingly for confirmation, and with a moment of hesitation Stormer nodded her head.
"Yes." She agreed. "We...uh...spoke to her earlier, she told us to fill her in when we knew any more."
"I wish she'd bother to come join the 'uddle." Jetta snapped. "I don't trust her goin' off on 'er own like this." She paused, eying Stormer. "Still, if you've seen 'er, Stormer, I guess we'll 'ave to believe she's not causin' trouble. Come on, Shana. If they're chasing up this letter, I say we go talk to Pizzazz's father and see if 'e's heard anything. He 'as contacts all over who might be able to 'elp us without it bein' all over the press."
"Won't he be worried about Pizzazz?" Shana demanded. Jetta shrugged.
"Got a better idea?" she retorted.
"No." Shana admitted. "But if you'd let me stop and think I'm sure I could come up with one."
"Well, I say we go and you can think on the way." Jetta looked exasperated. "Get a move on, will ya?"
"This whole situation is surreal, I don't like it." Rio muttered to Raya as the groups split up to go their seperate ways. Raya looked surprised.
"But we're all working together and not fighting...how can that be bad?" she asked.
Rio clenched his fists.
"If I get my hands on whoever kidnapped Jerrica there won't be anything left of them." he growled. Raya looked troubled.
"I think it is more important to find Jerrica first, Rio. I'm worried...I hope she is okay."
"So do I." Rio admitted. "I..." he paused, looking slightly sheepish. "I think this has made me realise who means more to me...Jem or Jerrica. I've barely seen or thought about Jem since you told me Jerrica was missing...I feel bad that I've kinda messed her about so much over it, too. I just wish she was here so I could tell her to her face."
"I'm sure she understands, Rio. She loves you." Raya shrugged. "Right now we have to get looking. Otherwise who knows what might happen to her?"
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"I still think that this is a waste of time."
Roxy stepped out of the hire car, looking around at the desolate landscape with a definite look of boredom on her face. The girls had managed to get a flight out to Arizona and after much bickering and disagreement had arrived at the rock in question, ready to hunt for their missing allies. Roxy had insisted on sulking over Jetta's remarks about her driving the whole way, and Aja was feeling ready to throttle her companion if she uttered another word, but somehow she kept a grip on her temper. They had more important things to do.
"Well, maybe it is, but we don't have anything else to go on." she responded levelly. "Come on. When Dad used to bring us here, we used to go in round the back, this way. It's the quickest way of getting to the centre, if I remember right."
"Aja, you were a kid...how do I know you're not making it up?" Roxy demanded, nevertheless doing as she was told. Aja shrugged.
"It made a big impression on me. I used to love coming here, we all did."
"Yes, my family and I." Aja smiled. "Dad died when I was about eight, and I was put in foster care...so were my sister and my brother...and of course I came to live with the Bentons when I was eleven. I haven't spoken to either in a long while, though I do know where they are...my sister is working out in Hong Kong and my brother travels all over the world doing nature shots for some magazine. It's nice we still keep vaguely in touch, even though we didn't really grow up together. We send cards at Christmas and that kinda thing."
"Mushy nonsense." Roxy snapped.
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?" Aja asked as they negotiated a tricky piece of rock. Roxy shrugged.
"Don't know, don't care." she retorted. "I hope not. Waste of time, family. Shut up talking to me, will ya? Bad enough I'm stuck here with you!"
"Whatever you say." Aja shrugged, though her curiosity had been aroused.
For a while the two girls continued on in silence, then Aja grabbed Roxy by the arm.
"Round the next bend!" She hissed. "That's where we used to...wait! Do you hear something?"
"Sounds like voices." Roxy nodded her head, then, "Let me handle it, huh? You wimpy holograms don't know nothing about standing up for yourselves!"
"Roxy, quit the tough girl act." Aja snorted. "We're in this together."
She rounded the corner, then stopped dead. The cavern was filled by three men, all well built, all clearly up to no good as they sat around sorting out large wads of money, and it didn't take Aja long to realise that they were on the wrong scent as far as Jerrica and Pizzazz were concerned. Whoever these guys were, they were trouble, and they didn't look pleased at being interrupted.
"What do you want?" The biggest of the three got to his feet, his expression menacing and despite herself Aja swallowed hard.
"We were looking for friends of ours...I don't suppose you've seen them?" she asked hesitantly.
"Look, kid, noone comes here unless they want to mess with us personally." The second guy leered at her. "What do you think, boys, think we can handle one snooping girl?"
"Sure we can. Can't let her go to the cops." The third guy agreed. "Let's get her!"
Aja was no wimp, having grown up something of a tomboy, and having taken up various martial arts as hobbies from a young age. However, even she wasn't sure she could take on three big men on her own, and she soon realised she was on her own, for Roxy was nowhere to be seen. Muttering under her breath about Misfits and their twofacedness, she backed up against the cavern wall, hoping to make a dash for the entrance, but it was looking less and less likely an option as they closed in.
And then, out of nowhere, a fair sized piece of rock came flying within inches of the leader's nose and a new voice joined in the conflict, making Aja immediately feel guilty about her bad thoughts towards the Misfits.
"Hey boys, can't you pick on someone your own size?"
It was Roxy, clearly enjoying the chance of confrontation. She had grown up fighting, it was second nature to her, and she had no fear of the sinister men. "Why pick on that wimp? Come over here and I'll show you a real fight!"
"There's two of them!" One of the men exclaimed. "Where'd she come from?"
"Scared, boys?" Roxy demanded, her arms folded and her foot tapping impatiently. "What's the matter...can't you even fight a girl?"
"Get her!" The leader was riled by this and made a charge for Roxy, Aja forgotten.
"Run, you dumb Hologram!" Roxy shrieked as she dodged the angry blows of the men, grabbing Aja roughly and yanking her towards the cavern entrance and down the passageway into the darkness. Too confused to protest Aja did as she was bidden, following the Misfit through the many winding passages and turns. Though they were soon lost, it didn't matter. It seemed far more important at that moment to throw off their followers, who would indeed be mad now.
"Thanks, Roxy." she managed to gasp as they ran. Roxy shrugged.
"Forget it. It's not important." she responded abruptly. "Save your breath, huh? You'll need it."
Aja saw the sense in this, and fell silent, inwardly wondering why Roxy had bothered to come to her aid.
"Maybe there's more to her than meets the eye." she mused. "I wonder..."
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"What are we going to do now?"
Stormer sat down in the centre of Starlight Music's biggest recording studio, a frown on her face. She and Kimber had been through every single one of the company's files to look for someone who might bear both bands enough of a grudge to act in this way, but had come up empty.. "I hate this, with time running out...did you give Aja the earrings, by the way?"
"Yes, I did. She said she'd look at them." she agreed. "I don't know though...she said she wasn't sure if she could fix them or not. She's not had any real training or anything, Stormer...not like Rio has, for example."
"Why not ask him, then?" Stormer demanded.
"Because Rio doesn't know who Jem is." Kimber admitted. Stormer looked surprised.
"He doesn't? Oh! I always assumed...since he was so into both Jem and Jerrica...that he must know!"
"Well, he doesn't. Things happened so quickly and...well, Jerrica's always been afraid of his reaction should he find out. He's so proud and he has such a temper...she's afraid he'll break up with her for good." Kimber explained slowly.
"I guess that makes sense." Stormer looked thoughtful. "I was afraid of Aja knowing Craig was my brother and so was he, in case she didn't like him any more and stuff. It's difficult when you have a secret to know how people will react to knowing it."
"Yeah, I guess so." Kimber nodded. "I'm so bad at it, though...I always get upset and come close to giving Jerrica away, and I know I mustn't! I just feel though that Rio should know and Jerrica should have told him from the start."
"Easy to say with hindsight." Stormer shrugged. "But it means we can't ask his help, not with the earrings. Kimber, Jetta isn't stupid. She knows something's up. Sure, she believed me this morning - and I felt bad lying to her - but it won't last. She's perceptive as anything and she'll figure it out."
"I know...I know." Kimber frowned. "I never realised how sharp Jetta really was. She's beginning to worry me too. But we can't make Jem appear without the earrings...Synergy can't project outside her room."
"No...I know." Stormer sighed. "And we're still no closer to finding Jerrica or Pizzazz. Think that letter Aja and Roxy have will lead anywhere?"
"Who knows? I hope so." Kimber replied. "I'm not sure how long the Misfit/Hologram truce can last!"
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"They're gaining on us!" Aja paused briefly for breath behind one of
jagged rock walls, glancing across to make sure she and Roxy had not
separated in their wild dash. "We gotta lose them somehow!"
"Smart move, Aja, bringing us into this cave in the first place." Roxy snapped. "You got any more bright ideas?"
"Shut up and come on! We gotta keep moving!" Aja grabbed Roxy by the sleeve, pulling her down one of the more hidden passages that led off at an angle. "Down here! It's pretty dark, maybe they'll lose track of us!"
"More likely we'll lose track of us." Roxy retorted. "Get your paws off me, will ya? I can find my own way, you know."
"Fine, then, but get going!" Aja responded. "Unless you want those guys to finish off what they started! I don't know about you but Id rather not meet up with them again!"
"All right, I'm coming! Shut up or they'll hear where we are!" Roxy replied.
Aja opened her mouth to snap back but realised that Roxy was right, so shut it again, turning her focus to negotiating her way through the dimly lit passage. She could hear Roxy close behind her, but the sound of the men had gotten fainter. Her heart leapt. Maybe they'd lose the men after all!
There was a light up ahead and she sped up, preparing herself for some kind of pathway that would lead them to safety. They were almost there...they had almost made it!
But a pathway was not what she got. The tunnel led out onto a precipice with a steep, but not unnegotiable climb down the only way out. She swallowed hard. How quickly could they get down the cliff face? Quick enough to evade their pursuers?
"Why've you stopped?" Roxy emerged behind her.
"Look." Aja pointed. "We must've been going up the whole time we were in there. The only way down that I can see is down that way...we gotta be quick about it, too. I think I can hear them again."
Roxy cast a glance over the edge of the precipice and despite herself she let out a strangled gasp. She had always been terrified of heights, ever since her childhood, and no matter how hard she tried to remain calm she began to feel giddy with fear.
"We can't go down there! We'll be killed!" she protested.
"We haven't a choice." Aja responded. "C'mon, Roxy, we gotta lose those creeps!"
"I'd rather stay and fight." Roxy responded. Aja rolled her eyes.
"Come on, Roxy!" she exclaimed, exasperated. "What's up, you scared? A big Misfit like you?"
This baiting had the required effect on Roxy's pride, and she reacted at once.
"I'm not scared!" She protested fiercely. "I just think it's a crazy idea, that's all! You're gonna get us both killed!"
"We'll take the risk. I reckon if we stay here getting killed is a pretty big option also." Aja grabbed her companion by the arm, pulling her towards the edge. "Seriously, Roxy, I can hear them and I think they mean business. If we hurry, we might even get undercover before they find their way out of the passages!"
"All right already, let me go!" Roxy snapped, wrenching her arm out of the other girl's grip. Not without misgivings, she followed the Hologram over the side, not daring to look down.
"I wish we had a rope." she muttered.
For a while the two girls climbed steadily, and Aja began to hope that they'd shaken off the men.
"I think there's a cave down below, if I'm right about where we are. We can hide in there and catch our breath!" she called.
"What?" Roxy turned to glance down at her companion, immediately regretting it. She caught sight of the drop below her and fear gripped her heart as she grabbed more tightly onto the rock face, closing her eyes as she tried her best to steady her swirling, panicking thoughts and calm her blurring vision. She was truly terrified now, physically unable and psychologically determined not to move another inch.
"C'mon, Roxy, what's the hold up?" Aja paused, glancing up at her companion in irritation.
"I'm not moving!" Roxy fought her paralysed vocal chords for control and won. "It's not safe!"
"You have to! We haven't far left to go!"
"I'm not moving! You hear me? I'm staying put!"
Aja rolled her eyes, deftly clambering back up the rock face till she was level with her companion. As she neared the Misfit, however, a startling realisation came to her.
Roxy was shaking, visibly shaking with pure terror and with a jolt of surprise Aja realised that her companion wasn't all that tough after all.
"You're really afraid, aren't you?" She exclaimed.
"I'm not scared!" Roxy protested, though her look belied her words. "I just..."
"Look, stop trying to bluff it out." Aja interrupted. "Shut up and let me help you. We haven't time to mess about, and we're getting down to that cave if it's the last thing we do!"
"What if it is the last thing we do?" Roxy demanded.
"Stop it! I can hear them coming...we haven't long!" Aja reached out for the Misfit but Roxy drew back.
"Don't touch me! I'll fall!" she exclaimed, a note of real fear in her voice.
"I'm only trying to help you. Just trust me, okay?" Deftly Aja moved closer to her companion.
"Trust you? Hah. That'll be the day." Roxy was scornful, but she ceased to fight against the Hologram's attempts to assist her. Beyond acting for herself, she allowed Aja to help her down the rest of the rock face and into the cave, where she sank back against the wall with a shuddery sigh.
"That's the last time I go anywhere a Hologram suggests!" she exclaimed.
"Here." Aja extracted the water bottle from her bag, holding it out. "You'll feel better once you've had a drink."
"I'm fine. I'm not a wimp, Aja." Roxy replied, taking the water all the same and sipping it tentatively. "Just that was a crazy idea. From now on you listen to me some, all right?"
"Why didn't you just tell me you were scared?" Aja demanded. "If I'd known you were seriously afraid of heights then I'd have thought of some other way to get down - would've helped you at least."
Roxy frowned, a stubborn look coming into her brown eyes.
"I don't get scared." she muttered.
"Well, have it your way." Aja shrugged. "Either way, we made it. Just try not to pretend to be so scared next time, huh?"
"Next time?" Despite herself Roxy's eyes widened. "You're kidding me! You think you're gettin' me to do that again?"
"There's nothing wrong with being scared of heights, you know. Lots of people have phobias, it's nothing to be ashamed of." Aja stretched out more comfortably on the hard cave floor. "You might as well admit it - it was pretty clear to see."
"Okay, okay, no need to rub it in." Roxy snapped. "So I don't like heights, is that what you wanna hear? Don't make a big deal out of it." She glanced around her. "Why are we in here, anyway? What's to say they won't find us if they climb down?"
"Nothing." Aja admitted. "But, like I said, we needed to catch our breath back and in any case I was afraid you were going to go hysterical on me. You sounded pretty close to it up there."
Roxy's eyes narrowed and she grabbed Aja roughly by the shoulders.
"Listen to me, Aja, I'm no wimpy Hologram. I don't get hysterical. I get on and do stuff, all right?"
"I know you do. You were pretty brave, all things considered." Aja shrugged. "You feeling steadier now?"
"Good. Then we should move. If we're where I think we are, we should get back to the car if we take that passage." she pointed. "I think we're almost parallel to where we came in. We just came the long way around."
"If there was a quicker way I'll kill you, Aja Leith." Roxy snarled, tossing the water back at her companion. "Okay, then let's move."
"Do you have to be so obnoxious about everything?" Aja retrieved the bottle, looking exasperated. "Didn't your parents ever teach you any kind of manners?"
"My parents? Hah. Right." Roxy snorted. "I didn't have any, Aja. Not everyone grows up in your little happy fairy world, where everything goes for you, you know. But I don't need 'em anyway, and never have. I take care of myself."
"Everyone has parents." Aja objected. "I mean, you know mine are dead, but I still had them."
"Well, I didn't." Roxy said shortly. "I told you, I take care of me, and that's it. I don't need a family. You coming?"
"I'm right behind you." Aja nodded, following the Misfit down the narrow passageway. Her instinct proved correct, and it was with a measure of relief that they reached the car. Aja wasted no time putting the vehicle in gear, roaring away in a cloud of dust.
Roxy glanced back over her shoulder.
"We lost 'em!" She exclaimed. "Bet they're still hunting through the caves, the losers!"
"Well, we learnt one thing today. Jerrica and Pizzazz aren't out here." Aja sighed. "That note was putting us on...and we almost got nixed by some very unfriendly guys in the process. What do you say we do now?"
"Who cares? Go back to LA, I guess." Roxy shrugged. "No point hangin' around here."
"Guess you're right." Aja nodded. "What a waste of a day."
"Tell me about it." Roxy grimaced. "Hanging out with a Hologram ain't my idea of a good time, you know."
Aja shot Roxy a sidelong glance, her expression thoughtful. The events of the day had made her curious about her companion, for the signals that girl was sending out no longer seemed so clear cut and aggressive.
She had found a chink in the Misfit's defensive armour, and she was determined not to let this chance slip her by.
"How long have you been scared of heights?" she asked.
"I'm not scared of them! I just don't like them." Roxy reacted. "If we were meant to be high up we'd have wings to fly!"
"Roxy, you can pretend all you like but I saw you and you were shaking." Aja said matter of factly. "You're not fooling anyone with the tough girl routine."
"What's it to you, anyway?" Roxy folded her arms, glaring at the other girl.
"Nothing, I guess." Aja shrugged. "Just interested. You didn't strike me as the kind of person to have any phobias, that's all."
Roxy opened her mouth to shoot down the remark, then paused.
"I ain't." She replied sullenly. "Can't let yourself be weak, Aja. Not where I come from. You and your weedy friends don't have a clue what it's like in the real world, outside all your rich kid nonsense, do you? You think you help, with your benefits and all of that garbage, but all you're doing is shoving what you have down the throats of people who don't have it."
"What do you mean?" Aja looked startled.
Roxy gestured impatiently.
"Oh, what's the use? You just don't get it."
"Try me. I'm open to listen, anyway." Aja responded. "Really, Roxy, I'm interested. What don't we understand?"
"Anything." Roxy's tone was abrupt. "There are two types of people where I grew up, Aja. Fighters or dead guys. If you can't take the hunger or the cold or the competition you don't make it. I'm tough. I made it. But those people...my people don't want rich kids like you givin' them no charity. They wanna make it their own way. Things are already bad enough without you comin' with all your con...con...condescending nonsense an' puttin' them down further."
Aja was silent for a moment. Then,
"Where did you grow up?" she asked.
"Philadelphia. You and your loser band totally wrecked my homecoming with one of your stupid campaigns a year back." Roxy replied darkly. Aja looked confused, then remembrance dawned in her face.
"Our illiteracy campaign! Oh, but we did so much good, Roxy! We helped so many people!"
"Yeah? Well you didn't help me." Roxy retorted. "You took my friends away from me, turned them into strangers and put your nose in where it don't belong. Some help you are. Why can't you ever leave things alone, huh?"
"I don't understand why you feel that way." Aja replied. "Roxy, you must see..."
"Stop using that tone of voice, like I'm a kid and I don't understand!" Roxy snapped. "Spend some time in the real world, huh? You wanna know what it's really like to be a runaway, and to fend for yourself? It's not some dumb Haven House where people fuss over you and feed you and find you a future. It's survivin' with less than nothing to keep you goin', that's what it is. You think those kids have it bad? You haven't a clue."
"Some of the kids at Haven House have had it really hard in the past, Roxy." Aja said softly. "Some of them come from really violent backgrounds...it takes them a while to get to grips with the fact that not everywhere is like their home was. And I still don't see why you care so much about what we do. What does it matter to you anyway? Oh, wait..." As an idea occured to her. "Roxy, were you a runaway?"
"What's it to you if I was? I ain't one now." Roxy responded curtly.
"You were." Aja deduced. "Oh, I should have realised before! Is that why you say you don't have parents?"
"I don't have parents." Roxy retorted coolly. "I grew up with my aunt and uncle till I was fourteen and then I'd had enough so I left. You don't know a thing about me, Aja, so don't try and pretend to understand me. You're a Hologram, I'm a Misfit. We ain't compatible."
"Had enough? Had enough of what?"
"None of your business." Roxy snapped.
Aja's eyes opened wide as she put two and two together and realised exactly what Roxy's reticence suggested. Inwardly she berated herself for not seeing it before, for now it was plain why Roxy behaved the way she did.
Roxy had been an abused child, who had run away in search of a better life and who had learnt to fight for herself simply to survive.
Deep down inside of her the childhood neuroses lurked, but she had wrapped herself up in a fierce, intimidating shell that as yet the Holograms had been too blind to try and break down.
But the incident on the cliff had begun to break away that defensive shield and for the first time Aja saw Roxy how she really was - a mixed up child who was out of her depth in the world outside that she had grown up in.
"She's not dumb...but there's a lot she doesn't know." she mused to herself. "Oh, we should have picked up on it before! No wonder she hates so much...I wonder if even the other Misfits realise that she isn't so tough deep down!"
She shot Roxy a glance, but her companion was staring out of the window at the view, clearly in no mood to continue the conversation. In any case, though Aja realised that Roxy needed help, she was reluctant to even try and probe any deeper. The Misfit had a fierce temper and a habit for impulsive actions...it wouldn't do to arouse either whilst she was driving.
Instead she nudged her bag with her foot.
"Do me a favour, would you?" she asked. "Get that note out and go over it again? I want to see if there's any clue we could possibly have missed."
"Do it yourself." Roxy retorted.
"But I'm driving!" Aja protested.
"So let me drive." Roxy snapped back.
"Without a licence? No way!" Aja shook her head. "C'mon, Roxy, don't be a pain! You wanna find Pizzazz, don't you?"
"Yeah." Roxy nodded. "So?"
"So check that note."
Roxy turned her gaze back to the window.
"I can't." Her tone was flat.
"Roxy!" Aja was frustrated now. "Stop being childish!"
"I told you, I can't!" Roxy snapped back angrily. "How dumb are you? I can't check the stupid note and I won't. You want it so bad, you do it!"
"Why can't you do it? Afraid to chip a nail or something?" Aja demanded. "Come on, Roxy! Be a team player for once, will you? It might be important!"
"How many times do I have to tell you, I can't!" Roxy exclaimed.
"Why not?" Aja demanded again.
"Because..." Roxy faltered, then glanced down at her hands.
"Because I can't read." she admitted quietly, all fight gone from her tone. Glancing at her, Aja was surprised to see how folorn the rough and tough Misfit was. Despite herself she felt a pang of sympathy for her companion, and in an instant understood the real resentment behind the campaign the Holograms had carried out in Philadelphia. Roxy had proven a nusiance for them then, but none of them had stopped to probe deeply enough to make that connection.
It had never occured to them that Roxy herself could be illiterate.
"You can't read?" she repeated. "But...why not?"
"I never learnt." Roxy shrugged. "The...the letters don't let me. In any case, I dropped outta school. I don't do work. Who needs to read to be a rock star, huh? I can read music, that's all I need."
Aja paused, then,
"Don't you want to learn?" She asked.
"Nope. Waste of my time." Roxy responded. "I tried a while but it's no good. Sometimes I see the words right, sometimes I don't, and I ain't gonna be treated like a dumb kid for anyone. Like I said, who needs it? It's no big deal, reading." She glanced at her companion. "You know, you're awful nosey."
"Maybe." Aja shrugged. "But I don't think you'd have told me if you didn't want to."
"I told you to get you off my back." Roxy snapped back. "Don't get all clever over it, okay? Just because I can't read don't make me dumb."
"Look, Roxy, we're stuck working together, so we shouldn't keep fighting." Aja put the car up a gear, glancing at the fuel monitor and then back at the road. "Can't we call a truce, at least for now?"
Roxy paused, then nodded slowly.
"I suppose...for now." She agreed cautiously. "Just till we find Pizzazz and Jerrica though, okay? I haven't gone sweet on you."
"Fine." Aja nodded.
"And you gotta stop asking me questions. I hate questions!"
"Well, I'm afraid I kinda like asking them." Aja grinned. "I'll try and remember." She glanced around her. "When we get back to the airport I'm gonna fish that note out again and see if it gives us any further clue, before we quit this state, okay?"
"Sure." Roxy nodded. She hesitated, then shot Aja a curious glance.
"You didn't laugh at me. Why?"
"Now who's asking the questions?" Aja sounded amused. "Why would I laugh at you, Roxy? What've you said that's funny?"
"Jetta and Pizzazz tease me about my reading all the time." Roxy admitted, toying with her belt buckle - a sure sign she was uncomfortable with the situation. "I hate being laughed at."
"What about Stormer?" Aja asked.
"Nah. Stormer...well, Stormer's different." Roxy shook her head. "She's..." She stopped.
"Your friend?" Aja asked gently.
"Who said I needed friends?" Roxy snapped.
"Nobody." Aja shrugged. "Suit yourself. But since I met Craig and I knew Stormer was his sister I've gotten to know her quite a bit, you know. And I know she cares about you. In fact, she reckons you Misfits are all friends, in a weird kinda way, and that she and you are specially close. She says you've been through a lot together."
"She said that?" Roxy looked taken aback, then a smile, tiny but genuine, touched her face. "Well, maybe. I mean if anyone messed with her I...I'd sort them out for her, no sweat. I guess...I guess maybe we are friends. I never thought about it...but...yeah."
"She thinks a lot of you." Aja grinned. "Says you're the best bass guitarist in the state, you know. Of course, my loyalty is with Shana, but she reckons you're a natural."
"Hey, I am the best bass player in the state!" Roxy exclaimed, but inwardly her beaten pride glowed at the compliment. She did not find it easy to either like or bond with people, but with Stormer she had managed both. To begin with, she had been leader and had pulled her shyer companion into many scrapes. Now, though, Stormer's own quiet influence had begun to take hold of Roxy, and though wild horses wouldn't drag it from her, the blond looked up to and admired her younger friend in many ways.
Especially where music was concerned, for Stormer's own talent was unmistakeable. Roxy was very insecure about her own ability, and praise meant a lot more to her than she'd ever let on openly.
"Well, maybe." she conceded. "And here we are. I say we look at the note then get the first flight we can home and fill the others in on what we've found out. Wherever the heck they are, Jerrica and Pizzazz are not in Arizona!"
Chapter Two: Deception
Chapter Three: On Tour With The Holograms
Chapter Four: The Next Stage
Chapter Five: Jem?
Chapter Six: Trapped!
Chapter Seven: An Unlikely Team
Chapter Eight: Laying Plans
Chapter Nine: Letter From The Desert
Chapter Ten: Jetta's Hunch
Chapter Eleven: Some Outside Help
Chapter Twelve: Kimber's Dilemma
Chapter Thirteen: The Great Escape
Chapter Fourteen: Fire!
Chapter Fifteen: Repercussions and Rock and Roll
Chapter Sixteen: The End Of An Era
(The Misfits and Holograms and other animated Jem characters are copyrighted to Hasbro Inc. All characters who do not appear in Jem episodes are my own creation. This story is copyrighted to E.A Woolley (2001)