Chapter 5: Young Love
As they walked, they talked. It felt normal, like walking home from school. If school involved being chased by a big, angry, three-eyed space lizard.
"So, how did you get away from him?"
"Remember when Richy tried to twist my antennas off two years ago? It was like that, except with more kicking..."
"Oooouch...I didn't know Xorquin had external gen-"
"Shh!" That was from Anna, who had stopped at the corner of one of the interminable hallways they were wandering through. This corner, though, was different. Mostly because the corridor it led down ended at a door, not another branch of Architect damned corridors!
Jimmy wondered how sick he'd get of the generic corridors Harbinger's creators jammed everywhere by the time they were done with this little 'adventure'.
Adventure. Yeah. Some adventure. At least he had kissed Pix.
No, wait. Pix had kissed him. Big difference.
Pix. Had. Kissed. Him.
Oh my. Pix had kissed him! Pix had kissed him! Pix had-
Jimmy snapped to attention as Pix snapped her fingers under his nose. "Geesh, you're zoning out a lot today."
"Comes from having, stuff, I mean..." Jimmy shook his head. "I mean, like, I, uh, I..."
He kissed her. Quick peck on the lips. Then it became a long kiss. Then she was touching him. And he was touching her.
And then nothing else was there. Just them. His hand slid along her belly, under her breast, then slid up. Her nipple was hard. Oh my. Oh my. Oh my. She was touching him too. He squeezed and she made a soft gasping noise at the back of her throat. No, more like a mewl.
Now. That. Was. Something.
"By the Architects, can I leave you two alone for five seconds?" Anna asked, sounding annoyed. "Or should I just duct tape you together."
Jimmy and Pix leaped apart, flushing bright red. Jimmy looked at his feet, kicking one against the ground, while Pix put her hand on her pocket and scowled when she remembered her lighter was gone. The two of them looked back at Anna, who frowned at them for a time, then shook her head. She turned back to the door to continue whatever it was she had been doing.
Now that Jimmy wasn't touching Pix, he realized the door had been welded shut.
"Why is that door welded shut?" he asked.
Anna gave him a "Seriously" look, then went back to fiddling at the door. She pulled a small lighter and fiddled with it till it became a...a...
"No way," Pix said, proving her telepathic abilities were in full swing once more.
Anna ignored them and started using her mini-laser projector to slowly, very slowly, as it was, cut her way through the welding.
Pix and Jimmy sat down and Anna whistled to herself, softly. Jimmy looked at Pix. Her head was resting against the wall and her eyes were locked on that lighter, reflecting some of the glow that came from cutting through metal. Some hair had fallen down over her chin. He brushed it away. It had seemed like a natural move. She turned her head to him and grinned, eyes closed.
"For some reason," she said, her voice soft. Very soft. "This all doesn't seem so bad anymore."
Jimmy's stomach growled, loudly. He started at the sound and tried to remember when he had last eaten – let alone when he had gotten a drink of water. But then, Pix opened her eyes and he forgot about silly things like drinking and eating.
"Not so bad," he murmured back.
She grinned. "You look sappy."
"I like sap. I think." He pursed his lips. "What is sap again?"
"Uh, tree stuff."
"Why is it sappy, then?" Jimmy looked up at the ceiling. Pix snorted and leaned over. Lips touched neck. Jimmy's back stiffened as her tongue touched that place you put your fingers when you want to check your pulse. His toes curled.
Anna sighed loudly and dramatically.
Pix ignored her, lips traveling up to Jimmy's cheek bone. He didn't want to move. Moving would be bad. Moving meant lips would stop touching skin.
Jimmy ignored Anna as Pix's lips moved to his ear. Oh did tongues go in there? Apparently! He giggled. Tickles.
Oh the door was open! He jerked away from Pix, who stuck her tongue out at him. The door was open and Anna tapped her foot. "Come on."
Jimmy stood up...just as a bullet ricocheted off the door and hit him in the shin. He slammed right back down on the ground. He looked at the hole in his pants and the blood that welled from it. Wasn't a wound supposed to not hurt for a bit THEN start hurting? Because someone obviously hadn't told his leg that fact. It started hurting like a motherf-
Pix started dragging him, her eyes wide and wild. Anna started shooting – again, Jimmy was shocked by how loud guns were, even with silencers and baffling devices. The door closed and Anna spun the lock, then started to weld the lock shut. Jimmy took this as an opportunity to experience what being shot feels like. He enjoyed it only slightly less than he enjoyed taking a final exam.
Anna zapped the lock and it stuck together. No time to weld the whole door, Jimmy guessed.
"Can you walk?" The wheel that opened the door groaned against the newly welded lock – the Xorquin kept trying, making the groaning noise get louder.
"Don't know," Jimmy hissed. Anna rolled her eyes, pulled out a small injector thingy, and jammed it into Jimmy's neck.
The pain floated away on pink elephants. Whee. Jimmy got up and got a fit of the giggles. His head flopped back. Everything had this awesome color hue to it, like someone had painted the world in that soapy stuff they blow bubbles with.
"Now we run!" Pix shouted.
Once they got around the corner, Jimmy heard the door exploding as if the noise was coming to him through a long plastic tube.
Jimmy's leg didn't quite work right. He supposed it should have hurt, but the happy juice was making everything fuzzy. Fuzzyish. The lights all had halos around them. Bubbles!
Pix was at his right. Anna behind. Anna kept dropping things. A green baggie that burst and expanded to cover the floor with steaming moss. A mechanical drone that stuck into the ground and bleeped. A bunch of spikes that turned invisible once they hit the ground.
After that, Anna stopped throwing things. Maybe she was out of things to drop.
"How much farther!" Pix shouted as she ran. She didn't need to breathe as much. Lucky her. Jimmy started wondering if she would let him touch her breast again. That had be awesome.
"Far," Anna said.
Okay, the hurt was starting to come back. An edge to the running. He could live with it. By the fifth intersection and the second set muffled explosion and series of Xorquin cursing- guess the toys Anna dropped worked, sorta- the pain was back in full force. Each step made his teeth clench. Er. Jaw clench. Would be the jaw wouldn't it? Teeth don't have muscles.
THIS HURT A LOT!
He said as much. Well, more, sobbed as much. Pix cooed at him.
They got to the end of the corridor. Jimmy was shoved against a wall behind some cover and Anna started fishing around in her pockets like a madwoman. Things started to come out of those pockets, and sadly, most of them were useless. Cell phone, ammo (well, kinda useful), watches, a weird dongle, a grenade.
Anna pulled the pin, but held down on the thingy that had to pop open before the timer would start. Normally, Jimmy would try and think up the name of said thingy. Now, he was too busy grabbing his shin and hissing loudly as he felt blood stream through his fingers.
Anna licked her lips, eyes peering down the corridor, waiting for the Xorquin to come around his corner.
A grenade landed at her feet.
She kicked it. It hit the wall, bounced, then exploded in midair. Anna flew backwards, slamming into the wall right next to Jimmy. She dropped her grenade...and kicked it as well. It bounced and then phoomphed, rather than banged.
The phoomph slammed into Jimmy a moment before a wall of smoke bloomed out to fill the corridor.
"You two, go that way," Anna hissed, pressing a dongle into Pix's hand. "Get away, kay?"
"Kay." Pix nodded. She looked at Jimmy and coughed. Jimmy coughed back. Not quite a kiss, but for now, it would do. They blundered into the smoke and Anna started firing her gun wildly into the air.
Five heart stopping minutes later, they were out of the gas cloud, leaving the gunfire behind.
"That...was...a big...gas...bomb," Jimmy gasped.
"Anna has way more toys than she should."
And, with nowhere else to go, they kept going forward.
Jimmy tried to visualize where he and Pix actually were. The sewage system sat in a big nest of pipes and hallways that held the pipes. Those made sense, because you'd need hallways so you could get to a broken pipe and fix it. Right. Then there were the Urtish, who were around the big old freight elevator. That also made sense, so you could move stuff up and down between the lower levels and the middle levels.
So what were all these pointless, endless, winding maze corridors doing here! They served literally no purpose as far as he or anyone else could tell – and he would have heard if someone had figured the corridors out. At least, he was pretty sure he would have. And to add endless insult to a very persistent injury, Jimmy had to walk down each and every single one. That made it personal.
"Let's take a break,” Pix said, suddenly. He glanced at her and saw she was looking at his leg.
"This strikes me as an excellent idea!" Jimmy held one finger up to demonstrate just how excellent he thought it was.
They both plopped down. The corridors to the right of them got darker and darker, while the corridors to the left were brighter and nicer. Too bad brighter and nicer meant guns and bullets now-a-days.
"I'm sick of this." Pix stuck her hand in her pocket. "I'm...really sick of his." She took her hand out and flexed the empty fingers, as if she could get her lighter to appear out of thin air.
Really. Really. Slowly.
"Okay, enough of this." Pix pulled out the dongle Anna had given her. It had a small glass cover over a red button. She popped the glass open with her thumb and then hovered over the button, looking at it. "I wonder what would happen..."
"Don't." Jimmy put his hand on her wrist. She looked at him, pink eyebrows raised. “It might explode, or something.”
"Well, it's not like we have an instruction booklet or anything."
They both looked at the device. Jimmy frowned. "Well, she gave it to us for a reason."
"And now that you mention it." Pix's thumb moved up and popped the glass down once more. She sighed. "Anything Anna and her bunch want us to do, can't be good for our safety."
A distant bang sounded, bouncing off walls and down corridors.
"What are we doing?" Pix moaned, putting her face in her hands. "We're kids! We don't have guns, or kung-fu or computer hacking abilities. We're not super smart or have telekinetic powers or anything and-"
She blinked. "I'm getting a text, one second."
"Who is it from?'
"Okay, say what you say and say what he says." Jimmy watched her. She nodded, eyes closed.
"Right. Who is this?"
She switched to a deeper, more masculine voice. It was actually pretty funny. "This is Ed."
Back to her voice. "Okay, who is Ed?" Her antennas sparked.
"I'm Anna's-" Pix started, blinking. "Daughter." She looked at Jimmy. "Daughter?"
Jimmy shrugged and held his hands up in a 'confused' gesture.
"Okay," Pix said. "Uh, Ed?"
She blinked and switched to a falsetto, equally as amusing as her masculine voice. "Yes. Ed. For Edna. Now, mom said to get you guys out!"
Jimmy perked up. "Okay, tell her to give us directions. Tell her everything."
"Right." Pix nodded. Then her face fell. "Oh, shit, we can send out a signal with this doobobber." She held up the thingy Anna had given her, thumb over the button. "But that will give our position away to anyone who is looking."
"Aka giant space lizard." Jimmy put his face in his hands. "Great!"
Pix sighed, closed her eyes, then looked at him. "How is your leg?"
The bleeding had stopped, but it still throbbed like crazy. The injections had been stim/painkiller combos, which meant faster healing. Not faster enough! Jimmy took off his shirt and Pix grinned, wide.
"Someone's been working out."
Jimmy blanched. Oh right. Secret work out sessions had seemed like a great idea a year ago, but Pix had never noticed. Oh wait, Jimmy had never taken his shirt off in front of her. Durr.
He tied the shirt around his shin and sighed. "Probably too late for this to do any good, but damn, actually..." He grinned. "That makes me feel better."
Pix smirked. Then she put her hand on his chest. He looked down at her wrist, then up the arm to her shoulder, then finally to her. She stroked her fingers over him and he felt goosebumps raise up.
"Okay, I'm not complaining," he whispered. "But, uh, why?"
"Mm, you got to touch me here..." her fingers closed around one of his nipples. Now that was interesting. "I get to in return." Pinch.
He jumped slightly and Pix laughed.
They started to walk along and Pix pressed the red button on the gadget. The device didn't make a loud pinging noise and there were no fancy graphics to show a dramatic red blip appearing on some distant computer screen. Reality was a whole lot more boring.
Pix just started to say when they should go left, right, or straight.
Then, about a half hour later, they got to another welded shut door.
"Great, what now?" Jimmy looked at Pix, who was probably saying the same thing to the girl on the other end of the line.
"Okay, she says her Mom is in trouble and can't catch up with us." Pix scowled. "And the Xorquin is in trouble too. So, we can either try our luck in the dark or wait till Anna catches up with us in a day or so, and cuts through the door."
Jimmy bit his lip. The Dark. The last trip through the dark had been far from pleasant.
But staying still, especially with Mr. Give Our Position Away turned on, sounded like the best way to get dead quick that Jimmy had heard all weekend.
For some reason, Jimmy thought this was not going to be the last death or high chance of death choice he was going to make in the near future...
He squared his shoulders and his shin throbbed. His skin prickled with goosebumps and his back got that maddening itch you get when you don't wear a shirt. None of that stopped him from making a decision.
"Okay," he said. "Let's go into the dark."
"But, we don't-"
'I know." Jimmy sighed. "I guess, blood stained shirt goes on." He took his shirt off and put it on his back. It was a bit blood stained and his shin started to throb more. He slid his arm around Pix's shoulder and squeezed him tight. She slipped her arm behind him, hand on his hip. Squeezed.
They waked into the dark, Jimmy's free hand on the wall, the sound of his fingers trailing along the wall as they walked.
"So, you've been working out for a year? In secret?"
"Well, it wasn't that hard. Just, every day, after school, when you went home, I pop off to the gym."
"Really?" Pix made a concentrated effort to feel him up. Not that Jimmy minded.
Not in the slightest.
"Yeah. It's not that hard to hide, I just wear baggy shirts."
Pix giggled. Her hand kept feeling him up. Still no complaints. Nope. None at all.
Jimmy wanted her. Badly. That hand on his chest, those fingers tracing the lines of his modest muscles, the breath on his cheek...she was so close. And it was so dark now. He slid around, hands went to her hips and he kissed her.
Things got quiet. Nothing but the soft smack of lips. Rustling fabric. His hand slid up her belly and then to her side. He felt the hardness of her data port. His finger slipped around it.
Softly, hot against his ear. Her fingers went around the back of his head.
Jimmy gulped. "Pix," he whispered. "Wait…this...this isn't the best time."
Pix groaned, sounding really annoyed. Jimmy sighed – but having said it, he couldn’t unsay it. And here, he thought that he’d never ever turn down the chance to get laid. Well, then again, he also thought that he’d never be kidnapped. Or shot at. Jimmy let go of Pix and he saw one of her eyes close in a wink.
"Don't worry,” she said. “When we get a bed, and some free time."
“Pix, I-“ He started, but she shushed him. Her antennas sparked softly in the darkness, making Jimmy blink and rub at his eyes to try and get the spots out of them.
"Okay, Ed is coming through with more directions,” Pix said. She sounded just a little annoyed about that.
They started walking again, slowly, as Pix read what Ed was sending out loud. "Left...forward…right, right, left…"
"Where are we going?"
"I dunno." Pix paused, stopping in her walking. "Let me ask." Jimmy squeezed her shoulder, comfortingly.
"Oh cool!" Pix turned to him, her eyes glimmering in the darkness. "We're heading to one of those safe houses in something called the Underground."
"Great." Jimmy sighed. "Hopeful it has lights and a heater."
"It might. Left."
A while later - Pix said a half hour, and Jimmy was willing to trust her on that - they got there. To Jimmy, the only thing that changed was the wall that his finger suddenly sheered away, with the only clue that it was about to open being the lip of a doorframe they had walked through.
"Okay, we're here." Pix forced herself to sound chirpy and upbeat.
The air didn't reply to Jimmy's question.
Pix sighed. "Okay, I'll go left, you go right. Feel around till you have the wall and keep talking, or else we'll lose each other."
"Got it." Jimmy felt his stomach turn over. This was something he didn't want to do at all. He started groping out, trying to imagine the room. Okay, if it was anything like any other rooms he's been in, there'd have to be-
Aha. The wall. He followed the wall till he slammed face first into something. He swore at it for a few moments before Pix found the light switch.
He blinked away tears and gave Pix thumbs up. The room started to warm up, thankfully, and he got a look at what he had run into.
It looked like a perfect copy of one of the rooms he had seen way back when on the other side of Urtish territory, complete with its own wall of weird trash-can artifacts, left behind by the Architects. Jimmy's stomach verbally reminded him for the fifth time in as many hours that it had been a long couple of however long they had been running. He wiped more tears from his eyes and looked at Pix.
"Pix, how long has it been since we ate last?" Jimmy rubbed his belly. She looked up at the ceiling and muttered to herself.
"Uh, about...a while." She groaned, putting her hand over her eyes. "About five, maybe six hours. I don't know, my chronometer is a bit screwy right now."
They both giggled. Then they laughed.
Then they both had a near enough simulation of a heart attack because one of the trashcan shaped thingies with tubes sticking out of their tops came to life. The end of the tube flashed blue and it hovered at Jimmy.
Jimmy yelped, jumped backwards, tripped over his own feet and crashed to the ground. The thingy juddered forward, then crashed down and fell to the side. Whatever had brought it to life was gone.
Pix ran over and knelt down next to Jimmy, putting her hands on his shoulder.
"Okay." Jimmy closed his eyes. "Screw this! I refuse to be injured anymore, by the Architects. If my bullet hole doesn’t close itself right NOW-"
"It's okay." Pix hugged him, tight around the neck. Jimmy made a gack noise, as that sorta cut off some of his air.
Once she was done hugging/strangling him, Jimmy had gotten over his urge to rant at his own body and they started to set up shop. Tucked into the corner of the room, Pix found a bag of hardened plastic. Within the bag was a generator, a wireless bouncer – one of the many that filled the vastness of Harbinger with wireless communication – and another, smaller baggy, which itself was strapped to the side of a heater. Pix turned on the heater, and the two of them pressed themselves against one another, and sat near the heater as the air around it started to grow warmer and warmer.
“All right!” Pix said, her voice deliberately cheery. “Let’s see what we got in the goodie bag.”
She opened it and started rummaging through it.
She tossed a protein bar to Jimmy, who grabbed it and started to munch. Pix took her own and stuck it in her mouth and started to chew while rustling around through the bag. She took out a few oversized jackets, grinning at Jimmy as she did so. Another munch and she pulled out some medical supplies.
Then she pulled out the gun.
She dropped it and it hit the ground with a clatter that was far louder than it should have been. The gun skidded aside and ended up near Jimmy's foot. He reached down, gulped, and picked it up. It was heavier than he had thought it would be. Heavy and clunky. The barrel was black, the handle had a brown swell that made it easier to grasp. The trigger was thin, and when Jimmy put his finger on it, the gun whirred and clicked to life, an indicator glowing on the side. It buzzed in his hand, feeling almost alive.
He set it down in a hurry. The gun stopped quivering and he looked at Pix.
She held up two small magazines, green tipped bullets in each of them. Jimmy closed his eyes. "Okay, okay, okay," he said, softly. "Okay. Okay."
"Okay?" Pix set the magazines down. "At least we can shoot back this time."
"Shoot back!?" Jimmy opened his eyes and watched her as she pulled out a flashlight, a pair of binoculars and a small multitool.
"Yes, shoot back," Pix said, glaring at him. Not at him, Jimmy realized, but rather, though him. Glaring at the world and all the shit it had decided to dump on them. "Next time, I'm going to shoot back."
Jimmy looked at her. For a moment, he thought of her lighter. Memories…he shook his head.
"No, Pix, I'm going to shoot back." Jimmy picked the gun up again, making sure to keep his finger off the trigger. He had heard that from at least four different people on the 3V: Keep your finger off the trigger unless you want to make something dead. He grabbed one of the magazines and, after some fumbling, he got it to slide into the handle of the gun. The gun clicked and cocked itself, then dinged cheerily.
Pix a moment later grinned, antennas sparking. "Well, I guess that makes sense. After all, you played the most video games."
Jimmy pursed his lips. "Maybe we could fire the gun democratically."
Pix cocked an eyebrow. Very Spockian.
"Or...." Jimmy grinned, trying to lighten the mood. "We could do it via representative democracy."
"I elect James Leonite."
"Any objections?" Jimmy was finding it really hard to not dissolve into hysterical laughter. No one spoke, not even the weird things in the side of the room. He'd have to think of a name for them eventually. Hovering-Trashcan sounded like a good name. "The motion is passed."
Pix golf clapped.
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