Chapter 7: Armory and Allies
The Armory redefined the concept of large – at least, when it comes to enclosed spaces. Most people said that it was large enough to fit a whole planet, but Jimmy was pretty sure that was an exaggeration. More importantly, it was currently being fought over by two very angry groups of people. This much, Jimmy knew from the text books and his father's long-winded discussions about it at the dinner table.
First, the Yetel had taken up residence in the Biodecks (which were connected to the armory in a few hundred locations), while the Slor had started living in the Armory itself. This had been nice and happy and peaceful for almost a hundred years – more due to a lack of much contact and communication than anything else. The Slor had devoured trash, the Yetel had managed their trees and their fungus, and then...
Well, then, the pressure of time and the growth of Harbinger society led to contact – a set of large junctions that connected Armory to Biodecks. There had been a hope for peace – on a starship as large as Harbinger, peace had been easy for hundreds of years. But then, the most common death of diplomacy cropped up: A translation error, created by the difficulties of communicating between a perfectly harmonious, pheromone-based hive mind and a race of rampant individualists who communicated by spraying semi-acidic mucus at each other, led to ten years of war and death, with the battles and the retreats being etched out in text books and shipnet debate forums.
Jimmy had followed those. He had even played some sim-games based off the more famous battles and campaigns.
In reality, though, everything looked way more complicated than the simple battle plans laid out in Jimmy's textbooks. The first and most glaring difference was the terrain. What looked like contours and lines on a map translated into...insanity. Piled atop the flat, matte black ground was a hodgepodge of artifacts and trash. There were piles of guns that looked almost human in design, mounds of black cubes, slabs of what could have been rotting meat mixed with barbed wire. There were swords mixed with mounds of cloth and discarded bits of electrical machinery. There were obelisks rising out of cleared spaces of ground, marked with symbols and sigils that made Jimmy's eyes hurt.
It all combined to create a clashing, mashing mixture of stuff that made Jimmy's head hurt just looking at it. He took a moment to look down at the cargo container that he was perched on, to give himself a break. He rubbed his temples with his fingers, then pushed himself back, turning around on his belly – easy, since the container was nice and flat – and looked over the edge at Pix. She waved at him, and he smiled.
“Good news,” he said.
“I'm waiting with baited breath!” she called up to him.
“I can't see shit,” he admitted, turning and dropping off the cargo container. He landed with a grunt, and turned to Pix, who frowned at him.
“That's...not good news,” she said.
“I know, I just wanted to build morale,” he admitted, shaking his head. Pix smiled, but it was wanly.
"Well, we can't just walk randomly. There's only enough food in those pockets to last us...how long?"
Jimmy patted said pockets. It felt downright eerie to be wearing a dead woman's jacket, but what else was he going to do with it? They had done a thorough inventory of the stuff, though that had been mostly sorting it into two piles: Things that could be used, and things that they had no idea what they even were.
"Uh, five days of food."
"Five days." Pix sighed, then started ticking off their needs. "We need a guide, we need transport, we need water."
"I know, I know. Let me try Anna's speed dial again." Jimmy opened Anna's phone and tapped the speed dial for Edna. It rang and rang and no one picked up.
"Great." Pix put her hand on her forehead. "This is it, we're going to die."
"No, we're not going to die!"
A distant explosion echoed through the armory. Jimmy was sad that he was already getting completely used to those.
"What we are going to do," Jimmy continued. "Is-"
The phone rang. He yelped and dropped it with a clatter.
It sat there, between Pix and Jimmy, ringing.
"Not me." Pix whispered.
Jimmy nodded, then knelt down and picked it up. The caller I.D said that it was from Edna. Jimmy gulped, trying to wet his mouth. It didn't work. He put the phone to his ear, half expecting to hear something horrible. Instead, he heard a young woman's voice – a sad voice. A very, very sad voice. "Listen. My mom...My mom is dead. That means the gang is partially under my control now. I have to show Tlessia I'm strong, or that damn cat is going to take over. You follow?"
Jimmy nodded. "Right."
"I'm going to lead you to Tortuga. Then I am going to make a profit off you and keep a hold on this gang, and keep Mom's vision alive. Agreed?"
"Okay. On one condition," Jimmy said, voice soft. "You keep the Xorquin off our tail."
"I don't even know where he is! I don't even know if he even knows where-"
"Then it should be easy," Jimmy said. Part of him was depressed how rough he was being. Another, bigger part didn't want to die very much. "And when we get there, we want to get home. No ransom."
"Well, then, I can't help you there." Edna sounded just as rough. Jimmy wondered if it depressed her too. "It's either you come in as ransoms, or I let you rot out there, like you left my mother."
"Hey! We gave her the Rites as best we could."
Edna went quiet for a long, long time. Jimmy bit his lip, glancing at Pix. She was looking at him as if she wasn't quite sure...well...she reflected what Jimmy felt inside, clearly on her face: This adventure meant more than just running. It meant being hard. It meant shooting. It meant death. Jimmy's attention was drawn back to the phone when Edna's voice came back, set to maximum hard "Okay. Then, how about..."
"Wait." Jimmy blinked, a rather surreal thought popping up. "Uh, some government agency of the Xorquin wants something we have very badly."
"What are you talking about?"
"We ran from a Xorquin agent, you know. The one that is chasing us, he has to work for them," Jimmy said, trying to keep the sound of desperation out of his voice. This had better work or... "And this agent wants a data crystal. They're willing to kill for it, which means it has to be worth a lot, even more than me."
There was a pause.
Jimmy smiled, slowly. He could practically hear the interest in Edna's breathing. Well, not really. But he felt a slow blooming confidence, deep in his chest – she was at least considering a trade.
"Sold," Edna said. "You bring us the data crystal, we'll get you home and...like m-mom said..." She stopped, and then resumed when she was in control of her emotions again. “Never take hostages. They're a bad deal. So...get to work getting over here. Partners.”
Jimmy flipped the phone closed. He closed his eyes. Then he turned to Pix, who was looking at him with wide eyes.
He gave her a thumbs up and felt ashamed at how proud he was of himself.
Jimmy had Pix on guide duty. She had the antennas, and she could text while talking, while walking and while constantly listening for distant artillery fire – she really was the best at multitasking. Part of it was that her brain was part computer, so she actually multi-tasked, instead of the cheating way that humans did it. Edna drip fed them information over the past twenty-four hours, herding them along the paths that would, supposedly, take them to safety. Jimmy found that, unlike the various translations of the epic Lo'Tor that he had seen for lit-class, he and Pix actually had to stop and rest every once and a while. It was a weird thing they kept leaving out of the narrative in those stories.
It was on the third rest stop of the day, sitting under a huge something or other that looked like a gigantic...thing. Jimmy didn't really know what it looked like. Imagine a crooked finger, except the first knuckle branched out into five more fingers, and each finger ended in an inside out sphere that glowed a sickly green. Oh, and each split criss crossed in a way that did not seem possible, giving the entire structure a queasy, not-quite-real look to it. That was the best description that Jimmy could really think of it.
Jimmy closed his eyes and stopped looking at it before his head started to ache. The only good thing he could say about the thing was that it shielded the two of them from prying eyes above and its sides were smooth and fun to put your back against.
"Man, this sucks." Pix tapped the side of her head. "The connection is getting futzy."
"Yeah. But at least we're not-"
SCHREE! Two big old planes shot over head. In the distance something exploded, the explosions echoing and flashing.
"Great." Pix sighed. "More bombings."
"At least we haven't seen an actual army." Jimmy hugged his knees to his chest.
"What's that squeakling rumbling noise?" Pix looked around, her brow furrowing. She stood up slightly and looked around the corner of the thingy. Then she sat down, her face bleaching white. "Tanksarecoming!"
The squeakling rumbling noise got louder and louder as the first tank pushed past and around the thingy. It was painted a dull matte black, with a lot of smooth, rounded edges and a really big gun. It drove around to the front of their cover, then the front of the tank slammed right into a pile of rubble with a loud CLANG! Another tank drove up from the other side, and then more and more, each one louder and clankier than the last.
Jimmy and Pix stayed completely still, hoping beyond hope none of the tanks would notice them.
When the last tank vanished behind a pile of cargo containers, Pix spoke up. "Running time?"
Yup. Running time.
"Okay, now that we're no longer right in the direct path of bullets," Pix looked up at the sky, then back down at Jimmy. "I think it's time to tell you some rather bad news."
Jimmy thought he was pretty used to bad news. He smiled. "Don't worry, whatever it is, we can deal with it."
"Okay." Pix sighed. "The connection is dead. I'm not getting any signal."
Jimmy nodded. "Okay, that is...." He stopped dead. "No more directions?"
"Not unless a map flies over here with wings and a harp!" Pix collapsed back against a cargo container. The endless mazes of those things, the huge piles of rubble, the countless bizarre devices to whose purpose Jimmy could only guess at, they were all starting to wear thin on him. That and the freaking light that came from nowhere and overlaid everything with a sickly greenish color to it. Even Pix looked gross in that light.
"You know what?" Jimmy declared, turning to look at Pix. "Lets take a break. Maybe the connection will come back, and it's not worth getting lost while we wait. So, lets just procrastinate for a bit."
Pix cocked her head to the side. "Well, I've procrastinated on studying, tests, projects and homework...why not adventuring too?" She slid down the side of the cargo container and landed with a thump.
Jimmy grinned, resting his back against a cargo container opposite from Pix's. Their legs ran in parallel. He tipped his shoe to the side and rubbed her thigh. She giggled and kicked her foot, a shoe flying off and smacking into the container across from her..
"Ew," Jimmy made a face as Pix's feet started to stink up the place.
"Let's be stinky together!" Pix yanked his shoes off and for a while, they were. Then they got used to it. Jimmy leaned over and slowly slid his hands over Pix's feet.
"What are younmmmgha!" Pix rolled her head back and closed her eyes as Jimmy's thumbs worked the part of the foot that was right under the big toe. Jimmy didn't know what it was called, he just knew that if felt good when you massaged it.
Then he grinned.
'Oheheheh! D-dhehe-tickle!" Pix giggled her head off.
She jerked her foot away from Jimmy, then, moving her legs to the side and underneath herself.
"Oh," she whispered, hands going to the floor. Jimmy had noticed it wasn't as cold as he had expected, but he was a bit more interested in backing up against the cargo container, Pix crawling at him with a downright evil grin on. "Oh, yes, you're gonna get it now!"
She tickled his ribs, slipping her fingers and hands under his shirt. He laughed and batted at her arms.
They both managed to ignore the freight engine sound of artillery shell zooming overhead.
Somehow, between the tickle offensive Jimmy was planning for Pix's armpits and his defensive elbow actions, they started making out.
Kissing never really got old. Jimmy put his hand on her cheek. She grabbed his ribs harder, fingernails digging deliciously into the skin. Jimmy felt her toes brush his toes. He wiggled in response. She drew back to breathe something incredibly sexy and also incredibly unintelligible at his lips.
"What?" he whispered.
"I said I want to-" Pix described something rather surprisingly graphic.
Jimmy snorted, despite himself. "Y-You do know that sounds kinda stupid when you're not in a p-" She kissed him and he shut up.
Pix jerked back. "What?"
"Oh, I mean..." She sat back on her haunches. "Oh! Sweet!"
"What?" Jimmy felt a bit non-plussed. Was he supposed to be horny still, or what?
"The connection is back!"
"OH!" Jimmy sat up even more. "Ask Edna-"
"Shhh!" Pix hushed him. "Let us girls figure out how to save the day. Okay, sit in your corner."
Jimmy stuck his tongue out at her. Pix cocked her head and her antennas sparked a few times. She closed her eyes and hummed, tapping her fingers on her knee.
"Okay, here's the good news." she said, grinning. "And, by the Architects, we need some good news. The battle is moving up that way, from what Edna can figure."
"How does she figure that?" The sounds of battle, to Jimmy's ears, were getting closer and closer.
"I don't know, didn't ask. She just said now is a good time to move."
Jimmy sighed. "Before we do, I have something totally serious and important to say."
He kissed her.
A few minutes later, they came up for air.
"Okay," Pix nodded, panting. "That is serious and important."
They got up slower than they could have, seeing as how they took several stops to kiss each other. And maybe more than that. Then, hand in hand, they started to walk again.
"Sorta." Jimmy sighed, lowering the binoculars from his eyes. At first, the stuff in the Armory had bugged him on a fundamental level. But now, after two days of trudging through the damn thing, the very fact of the Armory was starting to bug him every time he thought about it. Why put a big old mostly empty room in your spaceship? Why make it so stupidly huge, especially when most of that empty space was completely empty – literally, the ceiling was a few miles overhead and there was no way that anything would be packed in that high. And it made even less sense considering how the Armory was in the center of the ship, meaning loading or unloading it would be nearly impossible and would take literal centuries of work.
When people found things that didn't make sense, most of them just shrugged and said, 'the Architects work in mysterious ways.'
Whatever the hell that meant.
"Could you clarify that 'sorta' for me? It's a mite vague!"
"Well." Jimmy looked down from his perch on the latest thingy. It was tall, had few easily climbable rungs that jutted out from the side, and offered a perfect perch to look at everything in a mile wide circle.
There were some tanks, no telling which side they were on. No, wait, the hatch on one was opening. Ew. Slor always made Jimmy think of those gross slugs that lived under bits of trash in the gutter. The only difference between them and the Slor was that the Slor were bigger, and slimier and had a complex, elegantly organized society, advanced technology and the most beautiful poetry written in the known galaxy. But that didn't change the fact that they made Jimmy want to run for the salt whenever he saw them.
"Okay," Jimmy sighed. "There's a Slor tank group ahea..."
"Ahea?" Pix cocked her head. "What does Ahea mean? Did you mean ahead?"
The Slor tanker's upper half exploded in disturbingly red goo and fleshy bits. Jimmy flinched backwards, blinking a few times. The other Slor started to slide back into their tanks. Another one exploded, and then a third barely missed being exploded by a hairs breadth, the bullet meant for it sparking off of the armor.
"Pix!" Jimmy shouted, confident they couldn't hear him. After all, they were far away and getting shot at by some sniper. "The Slor tankers ahead of us are getting shot at by a sniper!"
"It's definitely gross." Jimmy's stomach did a slow flip flop when he remembered the Slor were some of the best artists and poets the galaxy had ever seen. Bang, there went Globbydab. Bang, no more Vorrrrt.
Bang, no more Jimmy. He shivered at that rather dark train of thought. And then he saw the tanks starting to traverse their turrets in his direction.
"What the...!" He flattened himself as much as he could, pressing his head to the deck. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAP!
He could hear the ripping sound the machine guns made even from over here. Bullets started to rain down on the front of the thingy he sat on, some zzziping overhead like angry wasps. He started to inch his way backwards, down the gentle slope of his perch. His feet went over the edge, then his legs, and then he was shimmying down with a nice hunk of metal between him and any bullets. That fact did not make it any less scary.
He dropped down to the lower level and, now there was way more metal between him and the hail of bullets, he moved freely to jump down. He landed and rolled when he hit the ground. He got back to his feet and blinked. "How did I do that?"
"I don't care, I'm just glad you're not ending up down here with fifty thousand extra bullet holes!" Pix grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him. "What. Were. You. Thinking!?"
Jimmy's head bobbled with her shaking, even as his knees started to melt. "Stop s-s-s-shaking me!"
She stopped. Then she started again. "Seriously! Tanks! Aiming at you! Big TANKS!"
"Stop!" Jimmy grabbed her and kissed her.
"If you think that makes it all better...well..." she scowled at him, then kissed him back. She jerked back, dragging teeth over his lips for a moment. "You're absolutely wrong.”
"Well, I'm okay, and I have learned to hide as often as possible." Jimmy gulped. His knees had turned to jello when he hadn't been looking. Pix let go of him and he collapsed.
He held one hand up. "I'm okay, I'm okay." He smiled from where he was laying. The tanks had stopped firing and he thought he could hear the creak and groan of them moving off.
"Next time, just watch for long enough to know if it's safe, then get back down." Pix helped him up. “Don't let them think you are the sniper. I figure they don't have enough time to identify a possible target when they're getting shot at.”
"So, think we should go around or through?"
"Well, if this was sex, I'd say through. But as it's not sex-"
"Do men always have to connect things to sex?"
"It's in my contract."
Enjoying the story? Thanks, I'm glad you are.