Author's Note: This week has been full of adventure! The most terrifying one, though, was the moment when my laptop's Hard Drive staggered out of the closet with a knife in its back, then fell to the ground. Someone in the house was a big fat murderer! ...it was entropy. Again. Friggen entropy. Either way, I got a new HD, a new operating system, and saved all my files! Yay!
Chapter 6: Darkness and Light
Wrapped up in very warm jackets and equipped with very nice, size-adjusting boots, Jimmy and Pix felt like they could take on the whole ship. Or at least Jimmy felt so. Pix looked pretty happy, and so Jimmy was fairly confident that she felt like she could take on the whole ship too.
It was a little strange how some food, fresh clothes and a gun could make the world look less scary. Even if the gun underlined how scary the world could be. Together, they clicked on their flashlights – kind of redundant in the brightly lit safe room, but sure to be useful in the corridors beyond -and Pix cocked her head. "Ed says, we head back to the door and see if Anna has gotten there yet."
"She doesn't know?"
"Well, she says Mom has turned her phone off."
"Or the phone is destroyed,” Jimmy said. “Or she’s out of the wireless bouncer’s range, or in a sealed room or…”
Pix tossed her hands up, shrugging in the most exaggerated way possible. "I don't know. Either way, we have a multitool…” She reached into her pocket, pulling the multitool – a sleek, silvery egg that extruded a small ring that she slipped her finger through. She twirled it in a circle, then caught the egg in her hand, before she started to thumb buttons that appeared on the surface, the smart material of the multitool responding to the motions and hand holding. Pix thumbed down a button and a knife popped out. Then a screw driver. Then a laser cutter. Then a flame-lighter.
"Coolio," Pix said as they walked into the darkness that swallowed up the doorways.
Jimmy tapped his flashlight, cycling through a few brightness settings before he got a diffuse, comfortable hue and started to scan it around. The corridor was the normal black and gray that they were used to. Jimmy, somehow, managed to contain his enthusiasm. Together, they walked, following Ed's directions, and eventually ended up back at a lighted area.
And there was Anna, sitting up against a welded-shut door, holding her revolver in one hand, resting it on one cocked up knee. Her breathing was ragged, her entire body quivering with the effort of staying alive.
There was a hole in her stomach. Blood had drenched her shirt and she looked downright gray.
She turned her head down towards them, then smiled. "Oh good," she said softly. "T-tell Ed to call more often."
Then she passed out.
Pix slung the sack of supplies off her shoulder and dropped to her knees. Out came the medical supplies and she bit her lip. Jimmy winced as he moved Anna's shirt up, revealing the wound. It was a nasty one...looked way too much like hamburger to suite his tastes. He glanced at Pix, trying very, very hard to not throw up.
"Okay, there are three hypos," Pix said, softly. "I don't know which one to use."
Pix nodded, then winced. "Owie."
"Ed started talking in all caps."
"Tell her that her mom is going to be okay."
"I did! Twice!"
Jimmy sighed. "Which hypo?"
"First this once in the neck," Pix said, pressing a red hypo into his palm. He bit his lip, tension riding through his body as his hand gently exposed her neck. Her heart was still beating. He put the hypo against the big vein, the jugular, and pushed the button. The hypo clunked and Anna sat up straight, eyes flashing open.
Her tail whacked the ground. Thump thump thump.
"Now this one, but spray it on the hole." Pix handed him a green sprayer.
Jimmy bit his lip, then sprayed the green stuff over the wound. The sealant hardened up and Anna started to whimper, softly. It was not a sound he wanted to hear from her. She was a tough action hero girl. Tough action hero girls never whimper.
"And now, this one." Pix handed him a purple hypo.
"Is this the royal hypo?"
Pix looked at him like he was insane. Was he insane? Sometimes, Jimmy felt like this was perfectly normal and he was insane for thinking nine foot tall lizards shooting your kitchen up in the morning was crazy.
Yes. Definitely normal. Jimmy shook himself. "What was that?"
"Stick it in her neck." Pix looked up. "Sheesh, Jimmy, keep it together!"
He nodded. "Right."
"It's not like you need to be Mahatma Clinton or anything," she muttered as the hypo hissed. Anna perked up again.
Anna looked around, her head twitching from left to right. She kept twitching till her eyes focused on Jimmy. "Jimmy," she said, softly. "Right."
She tried to stand. It wasn't going to work. Jimmy moved under her arm, shoulder to her armpit. She draped across him and nodded.
"Pix, start cutting the door," Jimmy said, leaning Anna up against the wall.
“Will…is it okay for her to be standing?” Pix asked. Then, a few nanoseconds later, she answered her own question: “The purple hypo is to stabilize her. Ed said so, at least, and I think she’s right. Better we get out of here, than…right!” She shook her head and went to the door.
As the smell of ozone and the sound of sizzling filled the air, Jimmy stepped back and looked Anna over.
"Okay," he said. "You just stay here. Uh, eat this." He handed her a protein bar.
Anna grinned, weakly. "S-Sure you're not going to just run away?"
Jimmy grinned back, just as weakly. "Well, it's either you the hostage-taking criminal, or the big bad Xorquin."
Anna's grin vanished faster than water dropped into a fusion reactor. "I...don't...like...hostages."
Her voice subsided into the soft sound of her stifled gasps – her eyes closing tight. Jimmy patted her hand. "Just, uh, try eating something," he said. Was eating something the right thing to do? He wasn't sure, but they didn't have water.
Anna nipped a tiny bit off the bar. Swallowed. A little color started to return to her cheeks. Only a little.
"Okay," Jimmy glanced at Pix. Her eyes were unfocused, and yet, seemed quite intent on the laser. The laser was invisible, but the light of the burning metal reflected in the back of her eyes, giving them an evil flicker.
"Uh." Jimmy gulped. The laser was burning a hole, not a line, cherry red droplets beading down the metal. "Pix."
She ignored him.
"What!" She turned while holding the laser, drawing a blazing red line along the wall. She switched the laser off in a hurry. "What?"
He knelt down next to her. "Uh, Pix," he said, softly, leaning his forehead till it almost bumped against hers. "Remember what we talked about last year?"
She nodded, looking down. "It's just...really pretty-"
"Pix." Softly. "Hand me the multitool."
She nodded, looking miserable. "I'm sor-"
"Don't say it. It's okay." Jimmy smiled, kissing her nose. She tasted sweaty. "Why don't you take the gun and help Anna watch our backs. I'll cut the door."
Pix nodded, then leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. She picked up the gun and stared resolutely forward as Jimmy started to cut. He relaxed into the rhythm of a long, slow job...and his mind started to cover old ground.
Very old ground.
He remembered the fire. He remembered the smoke. He remembered the smell. That horrible, horrible smell. Horrible not because it sickened him, but because of what he had thought it had been at first.
Barbecue. He had woken up in the middle of the night, thinking it was dawn because of the light that bloomed in his window. Thinking that Pix's parents had started barbecue.
Even years later, it made Jimmy's skin crawl.
"How’s the door?" Pix called, not turning around. Jimmy wondered if she had dared glance away from the corridor she was guarding. Probably not.
"Uh, halfway." Jimmy bit his lip and resumed cutting.
A half hour later and the door creaked open. Anna sighed, her color mostly returned. The protein bar was still half eaten, so Jimmy supposed she had been nibbling really slow.
"Okay," Jimmy said. "Here is how it goes, Anna. We have a gun too-" He had been given said gun by Pix, and was now using it to illustrate the point. "And we don't want to be hostages anymore. So we're going to get to Tortuga and then contact our parents. Unde-" He waved the gun, tugged on the trigger by accident and pumped a bullet in the wall. It bounced, hit the ceiling and ricocheted down the hallway.
Jimmy blinked, and rubbed at his ear with his free hand. Guns were loud.
A few moments later, Pix held the gun, Jimmy continued talking. "Right. What I just said. Understand?"
Anna cocked her head.
Five seconds later, Pix was rubbing her wrist and Anna held two guns.
The door opened into a small elevator. Or at least, Jimmy thought it was an elevator. It had a slightly sloped walls, and lots of buttons arranged randomly on the wall. Anna pushed one of the buttons. The button flashed a color humans weren't evolved to see and Jimmy winced.
The elevator doors ground closed, clunked, then they started to go up.
An indicator lit up above the door and it started to tick off strange symbols.
And, in the tradition of more than two thousand years of people going up and down elevators, everyone looked at the indicators.
Jimmy just wished some kind of mus-
Pix started to whistle a tune.
But the musack didn't last nearly long enough, seeing as how the elevator ride seemed to go on forever and ever and EVER.
So, Jimmy and Pix started to talk. They managed to get five sentences out before Anna glared them into silence.
So Jimmy started to pass the time by glancing at Pix's butt.
It was a very nice butt. He had noticed this when she had hit sixteen, but now at eighteen, it had become a very, very nice butt.
Pix coughed. "Jimmy, my eyes are up here. Or they would be if my eyes were in the back of my head."
Jimmy jerked his eyes back up. Pix smirked at him, then turned back to the front of the elevator.
Silence reigned again.
And Pix shuffled backwards, pushed Jimmy up in front of her, then stood behind him. He had the strangest feeling that she was looking at his butt.
Nothing can last forever. Nothing good and nothing bad. Which is why, at least an hour and a half later, the elevator chugged to a stop to...to...
"Oh my," Jimmy breathed, even as Pix walked forward. She put a hand on his shoulder, partially for his benefit, partially for hers. Jimmy stepped back and slipped an arm around her back.
Man, kissing opened up a whole world of touching. Touching that blew his mind. Fingertips on skin was not supposed to be as exciting and erotic as full frontal nudity on a screen. The feel of breath in your ear was not supposed to be so...so...
Jimmy, with all the willpower he could muster, managed to yank his thoughts back on track. He was starting to get a little sick of his hormones. But then again, there were upsides...no! He frowned at himself. On track. .
Jimmy had learned about the different levels of Harbinger in high school. He had learned of the Yetel's arboretum, with trees the size of City-18, of the Tette<click><click> ocean-cities, contained within massive rolling spheres that constantly moved through the equally massive ventilation systems of the middle levels. Of the Armory, which was bigger than a planet, where the endless war between the Yetel and the Urtish were fought.
Now, Jimmy began to understand the difference between hearing about other levels and actually being on them. At first, he was not sure what was so strange about the place. At least, not till he took a second look. No more grates on the ground, no ventilation fans, and all the light fixtures gave off a pale green-white light that gave everything a sickly sheen. It made Jimmy feel a mite queasy as he looked around at the smooth black walls and the smooth black floor.
Anna holstered her gun as the elevator door closed behind them. "Right." She turned to them. "Listen close. This is a warzone. If you don't do what I say, you will die. We're going to be sneaking underneath two armies and they don't care who you are or where you came from. Understand?"
Jimmy gulped. Where had he read it? Artillery doesn't care which uniform you are wearing. He nodded so fast his eyes almost bounced out of his skull. Pix did likewise.
Anna looked between the two of them, then turned and led them down the black corridor. As she walked, she pulled out a blipping, bleeping thing that looked like the lovechild of a cell phone and a Geiger counter. It didn't bleep in a way that meant eminent death so Anna kept walking forward. They kept curving and curving till Jimmy could have sworn they should have come back where they had come.
Then he noticed the increasingly upwards slant to the floor. It got steeper and stepper, even as the corridor got wider and wider. It opened up into a truly gargantuan room, the walls shimmering with the queasy, green hue of the lights.
Anna sighed and flipped her blipping thing closed, then glanced at Jimmy and Pix. When she was sure they weren't going to try and run into the empty room with no cover, no exits and no escape, she flipped out her cell phone and started to text.
Nothing happened. After a few moments, nothing continued to happen, save for the tick, tack, ticking of Anna's texting. Then, as suddenly as she had started, Anna was done. She flipped her phone closed and started walking, whistling to indicate Jimmy and Pix should follow.
"I'm getting really sick of being led around," Jimmy whispered. Anna glared at him. He glared back.
They came to a doorway at the far side of the room. It opened up into yet another elevator.
"Great." Pix leaned against the wall. "Another excursion in standing. Maybe we should experiment and try squatting this time."
Anna shushed her.
The elevator opened and Jimmy fell out with the jolt of it coming to a stop. Unlike the last elevator, this one had shot up like a bullet. And, like most bullets, it came to a stop with a sudden jerk. He scrambled to his feet when Anna kicked him, even as Pix stepped out to the other side of the elevator. She looked around with wide eyes, joined by Jimmy once he got his feet under him. His shoes crunched on discarded shell casings and flecks of metal.
The area around the elevator looked like it had been through a war. Bullet marks scoured the walls. Abandoned tents and cargo containers marked out what looked like it had been a campsite, but whoever had been here was long gone.
Anna crouched behind a box, her gun out. She glanced at Jimmy and Pix. "Stay here," she whispered. Then she peeked up and looked out and around. Once she had looked around, she slipped out and trotted over to the next pile of crates.
Jimmy peeked out to watch her, feeling a strange prickling feeling. It was as if a fan was blowing at him, but it came in uneven gusts, brushing and tickling. He glanced at Pix. "Hey, Pix, why are you looking..."
He looked up.
There was no ceiling. Instead, only infinite blackness stretched out overhead. The wall they had just moved from went up too, but vanished into blackness. There were no lights, nothing, which really begged the question of where the soft ground level glow was coming from. Just black. Then Jimmy saw a pinprick of light. It glimmered, a dot of white that wafted through the...the not-ceiling area. No, wafted was the wrong word.
Zoomed. It zoomed in a straight line.
"Anna!" Jimmy shouted, his voice sounding far more panicky than he wanted it too. Though, to be fair, Pix was clinging to his hand hard enough to bruise.
"SHUT UP!" Anna snapped. She stood up.
The glowing thing dropped something darker than the darkness around it, if that made sense. There was a whistling like a freight monorail car zooming down a tunnel. Jimmy had never heard that sound before other than movies or in his imagination as he read a book or simulated in a video game. In real life, it made you want to make a sewage plant of your underwear way more than you'd think.
"Duck!" he shouted.
The bomb hit the ground with an almighty explosion that sent Jimmy and Pix rolling. Jimmy sat up, his ears ringing. More bombs were landing in the distance, bursting and shaking the floor, their sounds oddly muted. He looked around frantically for Pix, his vision going in and out of focus. The only thing he could hear was this annoying ringing noise. Then he heard Pix's voice, as if through water.
Pix looked like someone who had just been put through a washing machine. Her hair was mussed, her clothes tattered, and her nose was bleeding. Jimmy tasted iron and he touched his face with his hand. Yup, he was bleeding too. He squeezed his nose shut and Pix did the same.
"Where's Anna?" Pix's voice shifted from tinny and distant to normal..
More explosions sounded in the distance. There were other glowing things in the skies. Jimmy tried to think. All his war books had covered old Earth Wars...so these were...
Airplanes! He should have thought of that sooner.
Anna! He turned around.
And threw up a little in his mouth. He turned back around and put his back against the box, looking at Pix.
He shook his head.
The air raid lasted about fifteen minutes. Most of it was way off in the distance, where lights and gunfire came up from the ground to shoot at the airplanes in the...well, Jimmy supposed he should call it the sky. Or something close enough to being a 'sky' to count for now.
Then the airplanes left. And Jimmy and Pix were left alone. At the edge of a warzone. With their only guide and protector dead.
Anna's cellphone started to ring. Pix closed her eyes. Jimmy felt sicker. Pix stood up. Jimmy watched her. Then he stopped watching when she started to walk over to Anna's body. She came back, holding the cellphone. It was unharmed, but, then again, only the top of...
Don't think about that.
Pix opened the phone slowly, her eyes very wide. "Hello?"
"Uh, no, this is Pixel A-3. Yes, that one. Uh...no...I'm sorry..."
She closed her eyes.
Pix closed the phone after that, sighing slowly. "That was Edna, Anna's-"
"I guessed." Jimmy gulped. Looking at his shoe seemed like the best thing to do now. It kept him from thinking too much about what was laying out there. "Okay. We're going to have to keep moving. This place looks like it's a kind of staging area. Who's to say the army, whichever one uses this place, isn't going to come back and do something nasty to us?"
"Not much." Pix nodded.
"So, I think our best bet is to take whatever Anna h-had." Jimmy gulped, trying to keep his stomach where it belong, not in his throat. "And figure out a way to get back down the elevator and..."
"Wait." Pix held her finger up. Her finger quivered. She clenched it into a fist but her fist kept shaking. Her whole body shook. And Jimmy would be lying if he said he wasn't shaking. "Xorquin."
"Right." Jimmy hung his head and grabbed up big hunks of hair with his hands. "Then, I think our best option is to find that, uh...what did Anna call it? That city? Tortuga!"
Pix nodded. "Well, given the choice between bad or worse, I'll go with bad."
"Yeah. Or a ham sandwich, if it was an option." Jimmy stood up. "Well, uh, let's do the Rites of Passing, at least."
They both looked at Anna. Pix bit her lip. Jimmy sighed, slowly, then turned around and threw up.
He stood up straight and wiped his mouth off. Pix patted him on the shoulder. "I...I don't know the words."
Pix stepped forward. She knelt down. Jimmy bowed his head. He saw Pix's hand reach up and she gingerly closed Anna's eyes. If the shell fragment had been a little bit lower, there'd be no...
Okay, didn't he have a talk with himself about not thinking about that?
"For all that have fallen, we won't forget." Pix stood, bowing her head and closing her eyes. "We w-won't forget why you have lived, so you can live on in our actions and our he...hearts."
"Well." Pix sighed, looking at Jimmy. "We gotta do something with her body."
"Yeah, we can't just leave her here."
In the end, they took her jacket off, then dragged her behind some crates. There, Jimmy felt through the many pockets of her jacked and found a lighter. He turned it slowly over in his hands. It had a small red devil painted on the side.
He sighed. Pix took the lighter.
"Um," she bit her lip. "I know how to do this..." She unscrewed part of the lighter, then dribbled a bit on Anna's body, then she drew a line with the fluid. She closed the lighter up, wiped it a bit on her shirt, then used it to touch off the line of lighter fluid.
Flames sprang to life, rushing along the line of fluid. They watched for a bit, Pix pocketing the lighter. Jimmy didn't say anything. Once they were sure the burning would work, he spoke up.
"Let's leave,” he said, still holding the coat, turning around and away from the burning body. "Before we get shot at or something."
Pix nodded. Together they walked off, towards the huge open space they both knew as the Armory.
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