Chapter 2: The Xorquin
"I told you!" Pix hissed. Their shared breakfast sizzled on the frying pan between them. The two had woken from a not so restful sleep to find that Mom had left in the morning, leaving behind the key for the fabber and a note, scribbled on a piece of paper: Kids, fab whatever you want, so long as it is already in the menu – no hacking in chocolates for breakfast. I’m going to be busy all day doing .
Mom, being an odd duck, had actually blanked out what she had written with a black marker. Jimmy frowned, thinking for a moment that he still didn’t exactly know what she did do for a living. Something with the diplomatic corps.
"I told you!” Pix broke into his thoughts, having launched into full lecture mode, pacing back and forth in the kitchen, waving her hand in the air. “Don't put the strange data crystal into your computer! And what did you do the instant I turn my back?"
Jimmy flipped his synthmeat over with his spatula, then pressed it into the skillet. Grease popped and cracked and he glared at Pix. "At least I got more information out of it than you did."
"Yes. We've stumbled on an intergalactic snuff film ring! Big whop."
"No, no." Jimmy shook his head. "If it was a snuff film, where was the sex. And it can’t be intergalactic, the Xorquin live on Harbinger too.”
“They have other colony worlds! They didn’t blow their own planet up, unlike SOME species I can name,” Pix muttered, leaning on the counter.
“Hey, that was…” Jimmy blinked, shook his head, and managed to get back on track. “It wasn’t just a snuff film. It had information, diagrams, plans. That kind of stuff.”
Pix made a face, lapsing into silence as she thought, her antennas sparking softly. “Well, was it a male Xorquin or a female one? Don’t their castes segregate on gender or something weird?”
Jimmy sighed, looking down to the synthmeat. “Male, and they did a century ago. Not so much now.”
The meat looked like it had been cooked through. To check, he swept his spatula over it. The sensors flashed green. Jimmy nodded, then transferred the meat to the plate. Jimmy flicked his thumb against the skillet’s handle and the grease magnet whirred, then dropped a hardened pellet of grease into his hand, contained in a hardened shell to keep it from spreading.
“How can you tell? They’re walking lizards,” Pix said, kicking the trash can so that it was closer to Jimmy.
Jimmy smiled at her, then dropped the pill into the trash. "A male Xorquin has a vocal organ the same color as his scales, females have orange coloration and ridges above their third eye." He made a vague waving motion where said sack would be.
Pix made a 'hmm' noise. "I bet that could be used as extra credit on some test somehow."
Jimmy shrugged and started breaking tri-colored eggs, dropping the purple yokes into the skillet, where they sizzled up with a ferocious smell of fruit. He started to stir those up with a spatula and looked up at Pix, raising his eyebrows. "Well, at least we have a whole Saturday to frantically search for a new computer to replace my old one, which is now sticking to the floor. Then we might be able to examine the record again!"
"Sticking?" A single pink eyebrow cocked. Pix cheated – her facial movements were programmed, meaning that she got to download most of her best looks off the mesh. It didn’t make them any less effective, though. Jimmy sighed again.
'Yeah. Melted plastic...we might need to replace the carpet too."
Pix's head made a plastic clonking noise as she dropped her forehead to the counter top. "Is this whole weekend going to suck?"
Jimmy shrugged as he slid the forlorn and rubbery remains of the eggs onto the plate. "I think I burnt them..."
Pix walked around the counter and looked down at the burnt eggs. She put her hand on Jimmy's back. "You tried, Jimmy. You tried."
The knob to the front door clicked. Turned. The door opened.
Jimmy’s brow furrowed as he looked up – something in the back of his mind was already convinced something was…
In walked something he didn’t expect to see.
The first thing he noticed wasn’t the three eyes, or the vocalization pouch, or the scales. It was the trench coat, wrapped around the Xorquin’s shoulders, thick and rather human looking. The coat flipped back with a single shift of one of the Xorquin’s shoulders, revealing the…
The sub-machine guns.
The sub-machine guns that were strapped to his sides. The sub-machine guns that were in his hands now.
Aiming at the two of them.
Jimmy’s knees gave out. The only thing he could do was grab for Pix as-
The two sub-machine guns, snub nosed and compact and black, opened fire with a roar like the end of the universe.
Actual guns, as opposed to video game ones, made really loud noise as they were fired. They weren't just small firecracker pops, but a deep throated roar, complete with a huge flash of smoke and bright orange flames that lit each puff from inside out. The kitchen wall above Jimmy and Pix was completely shredded, bullets punching through thin metal cabinets. Plates shattered, glasses exploded, and the shelves collapsed. A fine spray of plastic and plaster, shards of metal, and hunks of plastic flew through the air and, needless to say, their breakfast was ruined.
The Xorquin lowered the smoking guns, leaving a trail of black fog in the air. His clawed feet crunched over the dust left behind by the caseless rounds.
Jimmy always knew video games would come in handy. He just didn't know it would be like this. He had always expected the hand eye coordination and quick thinking would be most helpful, like at a real job, but right now, he felt barely coordinated enough to crawl. His entire body shook and it was all he could do to not cry out. But he knew one thing, one thing pounded into his head by twelve years of playing games.
When someone is shooting at you...
The Xorquin walked into the back rooms, to Mom's office.
Jimmy realized he had been squeezing Pix's hand in a vice grip. He realized this because she hissed at him loud enough to cut through the ringing in his ears. "Jimmy!"
He let go. That opened up the floodgates and he almost curled up into a quivering mess of fear. They were being shot at! With real guns! In his own house!
Pix shook him. "Jimmy," she whispered. "We. Need. To. Get. Out-"
The Xorquin came back from the office. He had some files, hard-files scanned right into plastic pads Jimmy had never seen before. Well, he supposed they were what Mom kept in her desk or something. The Xorquin put the pads on the table down and went upstairs, still in no hurry. He walked down the stairs a short while later, holding the data crystal in his right hand, the sub-machine gun in his left.
Jimmy hoped that, by the Codes or any of the many many Gods he didn't believe in, the Xorquin would just walk out. Now!
If something or someone had listened to Jimmy's frantic thoughts, they must have had a sick sense of humor. The Xorquin started to walk out after placing a smallish gray cylinder on the kitchen table. The cylinder sat there, ominous. A moment later, it bleeped. A small display opened on the front, metal sheeting smoothly melting back. It started to count down a numeral system that Jimmy recognized as the Xorquin numerals. He screwed up his forehead, thinking hard.
Uh how did they go? The squiggly one was a one, then those three dot things were zeros...um... He blinked, working it out.
1000. 999. 998. 997-
Oh no. No no no no. No.
The Xorquin walked out of the house, plastic crunching under foot.
Jimmy lurched to his feet, his knocking knees suddenly rusting solid, panic giving him strength. He opened his mouth, somewhat like a sewer adapted fish trying to live in pure water. Except he didn't have gills to flap or a mercifully small brain to not comprehend what he was seeing. A word rang in his head, echoing again and again.
Pix grabbed his shoulder, her other hand in her pocket. "Bomb."
"Bomb," Jimmy whispered, still frozen.
"BOMB!" Pix shook him. "RUN!"
Jimmy blinked, then started to move.
The sound of blaring sirens broke in, louder than the bleeping of the bomb. Several things happened at once.
The Xorquin backed into the house, gun banging off again, dropping a police officer and sending the others diving for cover.
Pix tackled Jimmy to the ground.
The police grabbed their sidearms and propped them up on their cars.
“LET 'EM HAVE IT!” one shouted.
As one, every gun in the galaxy (or so it seemed to Jimmy) began to pour bullets into Jimmy's house.
The Xorquin ducked down behind a cabinet, reloading his guns with a quick snap, his coat swishing about the floor. Jimmy couldn’t have been more than a few inches from the Xorquin, unnoticed, eyes glued to the lump in the Xorquin's pocket. The data crystal!
The Xorquin stood and opened fire, his guns hammering even louder than the police outside. A bullet whizzed through the lizard's arm, bright pink blood splashing out with it. It was only a flesh wound, but it forced the Xorquin to relocate, dropping spent magazines from his guns and the data crystal, which slipped from his pocket, like a Ring of Power deciding to leave its keeper behind.
"Let's get out of here!" Pix shouted over the sound of gunfire.
"I, Uh, but-" Jimmy stammered, brain still locked entirely on panicking.
Pix whacked him on the back of the head. "Disengage your panic circuits and GO!" Jimmy bit back the 'I don't have panic circuits, you stupid E.L.F’ that almost popped out of his mouth. He ran forward, Pix behind him. They made a bee line for the back door, even as the Xorquin and the Police fired at one another through the walls of the living room, giving the run a frenetic energy, a crackling, popping adrenalin rush.
Jimmy only half realized he had grabbed the data crystal on the way to the back door.
"This is insane!" Pix shouted, even as they resorted to crawling, bullets snarling overhead as they whipped through the thin walls. The Xorquin was firing full back tilt, more brave than sensible. Blood was starting to stain his jacket.
Then bullets started to come from the back and the front, the police encircling the house. Jimmy and Pix put their hands over their heads, burying their faces in the carpet of the living room.
"This is REALLY INSANE!"
"Where to now?" Jimmy shouted back.
"Well, if you hadn't lead me here, I could have gotten us out safe!" Pix snapped.
"I-" Jimmy bit his lip. No time to get mad at Pix.
The Xorquin waited for a slight lull in the bullets. Then the bullets trailed off, the bleeping of the bomb the only thing. What number was it at? 300? 400? 200?
Pix grinned, suddenly. "I know! We pull a Verloren Hoop!"
Jimmy wasn't sure whether to groan, panic or to call Pix a genius. When Jimmy had been younger, he and Pix had played mock battles with one of those take home laser tag games, complete with harnesses, side arms and laser-grenades. Because they were both good guys, by a strict twelve year old's agreement, they fought against an invisible but also laser gun wielding enemy they called Those Guys.
In those battles, they had come up with many fake plans and names. And a Verloren Hoop was...
Pix slapped the ground, the signal to go. Jimmy and her braced themselves, then and spun around to run in the complete opposite direction they had just come. The Xorquin ran to the back door, bursting through, firing as he did so. Someone screamed. Bullets started flying again. One whizzed over Jimmy's head. His heart rate was through the roof.
Then they were round the bend of the kitchen's corner, in the hallway that went to the back room. The bomb blipped, loud enough to hear as they passed by. The back room was there. Mom and Dad's bed, the most comfortable bed in the house. Mom and Dad's bathroom, where Jimmy had learned to shave.
Pix grabbed the nightstand next to the bed, a small metal table. The lamp, books, and other detritus that Mom took to bed fell down.
CRASH! The window burst open, most of the shards flying out.
"Just as much fun as it was at my house," she said, a wee bit of hysteria creeping into her giggle, using the legs of the night stand to shove out the shards, leaving a mostly non-slice n' dice window sill to climb out.
"You know," Jimmy said as he put his hand on the window sill, his mind settling at surreal detachment. "You could have opened the window."
"You're right!" Pix slapped her forehead. "I think my panic circuits are engaging. Yes. Definitely!"
Jimmy had planned to help her out the window, but she got herself out before he could even open his mouth.
A single forlorn holographic tree sat in the Leonite's excuse for a backyard. Arranged around the base of the projector was the curved depression that had once been a false pond. Stretched around the whole rather sad arrangement was a thick chain link fence that separated it from the other pitiful backyards in the neighborhood. Jimmy had only a few seconds to appreciate the metaphorical resonance of the pathetic back yard, when contrasted with the manicured front.
The police in the backyard were all dead. Their bodies lay, stretched out on the ground, blood pooling around them, all of them so terribly still.
Jimmy froze, eyes wide.
This was nothing like…anything. Nothing like a movie, nothing like a video game, nothing like a book, nothing like-
The gunfire from the front trailed off with a few final, loud pops. Smoke poured from the windows that looked into the living room, and the Xorquin sprinted full tilt out of the living room, leaping over the fake pond. He jumped before he hit the fence, vaulting himself over the fence with his wounded arm, face impassive (even for what amounted to a giant space lizard with three eyes).
He thumped, rolled, and came up, toeclaws clacking on the metal ground. He turned back, his three eyes
sweeping along the house that he had so completely destroyed.
His eyes swept over Jimmy and Pix and stopped. His gun came out in a flash. Jimmy put his hands up and Pix did the same a half second later. The Xorquin aimed through the fence, his leftmost eye narrowing in focus. A resounding crash came from the front door – a squeal of tortured metal that could only be the police making their gentle entrance.
The Xorquin pulled the trigger on the gun. Jimmy jerked, as if already shot.
The Xorquin looked at the gun, then looked like he was about to reload when a police hovercar flew overhead, the officer’s voice piped through the car speakers.
“Put your hands up!”
The Xorquin turned and ran.
Jimmy remembered to breathe as he realized...the Xorquin was leaving! Now, he thought, just don't notice the crystal was missing. Oh please, please, please don't notice the crystal was missing. The Xorquin vaulted the next chain link fence, a full back yard between him and Jimmy and Pix. The search light that stabbed down from the hover car swung around as the hover car swept out to keep pace, the officer cussing up a blue streak as he tried to keep the light fixed on the Xorquin.
Jimmy dropped his hands. Pix did the same. Pix grabbed Jimmy's hand and started to hurry away from the house – away from the bomb.
The Xorquin kicked in the back door of a neighbor’s house…and stopped.
He pulled something from his pocket, taking his time sweeping it about. It aimed at Jimmy. He looked up, then at Jimmy. Jimmy blinked, then looked down at his pocket.
The Xorquin started to run.
"Oh shit," Pix grabbed Jimmy and dragged him across the yard even faster. The Xorquin slapped in a new magazine as he ran.
The hovercar started to open fire, the officer in the passenger car using his side arm. The Xorquin didn’t even break stride: A quick bust let loose and the hovercar started to smoke, turning away and zipping off before it was hit again. The Xorquin swung his gun down, sweeping it about to aim at Jimmy and Pix.
Pix’s shoulder hit the entrance to the side yard, and they were out, onto the sidewalk in front of the house.
The police spilled into the backyard.
Jimmy and Pix kept running.
Jimmy didn't remember anything till they were three blocks away. His head was snapped out of his daze by the ear shattering roar of an explosion that caused the ground under his feet to rock upwards. He and Pix went flying, crashing to the ground a moment later.
That was one long ass fuse! Jimmy’s first cogent thought for who knows how many minutes. One long ass fuse.
Jimmy took a moment to reflect. He really needed to think of better things to think of.
He shook his head and started to get to his feet, his elbows scraped and bleeding. Pix stood, groaning as she rubbed her shoulder. They both turned, just to see what they already knew.
The plume of fire and smoke came from Jimmy’s house.
"What is going on?" Pix asked, not even having the consideration to sound out of breath. “I mean what the hell is going on?"
Jimmy’s hand went to his data crystal…and, with a sinking feeling, he realized the Xorquin would be after them. He looked around, expecting to see the lizard at any second.
Instead, he saw salvation. Salvation, in the most unlikely form, arrived in the driver's seat of a shoddy old gasburning landcar.
Richy, the shit. Richy, the foster brother of Pix and actual brother of Edward. Richy, who was glaring at them both.
"You tried to light my brother on FIRE, you b-" Richy got that far before Pix wrenched the door open, leaned in on one knee and grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him bodily from the car.
"Listen you horrible little person. You and your little scum sucker of a brother can both burn for all I care," Pix hissed in the most threatening manner Jimmy had ever seen. He had to stop himself from edging away from her. "We need a car. NOW!"
Richy gaped, terrified. "Y-you crazy-”
“Oh screw this!” Pix shoved him back against the car door, then hauled off and punched him right in the face. He did a neat one eighty spin, hovered there for a moment on his tiptoe and then collapsed.
Jimmy gaped. Pix stood, fist still clenched, panting.
“Yup.” Pix rubbed her knuckles.
“Remind me to never piss you off.”
Pix smiled slightly at Jimmy. “You'd never do that.”
Jimmy tried to understand the weird twisty feeling that crunched on his heart, beyond all the obvious reasons that he couldn't get straight right then.
The window shattered before the crack of the bullet reached their ears. Jimmy and Pix both ducked and Jimmy spun to face the street and there, down the road, was a distant, greenish figure.
Pix got the driver's seat and Jimmy kicked Richy out of the way, before diving into the back seat. Pix slammed her foot to the pedal, pressing it right up against the metal. The wheels of the car spun, squealed, caught, and the car shot off like a rocket.
Jimmy grabbed onto the seat in front of him, trying to keep himself from flying every which way as Pix took a corner so hard that he thought they would flip over.
“You can drive!?”
“Kind of!?” The car swerved to avoid smashing into a light pole and Jimmy slammed his seat belt home with frantic haste. “You can slow down! We got away!”
“Uh-huh. Right. Of course we did.” Pix didn't slow down.
Which turned out to be a really good idea because another car roared around the corner behind them. A police car, with the Xorquin at the wheel, driving one handed. His free hand propped a shredder pistol out the open window . He pulled the trigger and smoke followed the car. A series of red hot spikes slammed into the side and back of Richy's car, denting and burning the paint. One ripped through the tire. The car swerved and Pix gritted her teeth. Jimmy watched as, in slow motion, their car zoomed towards the Xorquin's car.
Pix bared her teeth and jerked on the wheel, viciously.
WHAM! Jimmy clenched his fingers on the arm rests, his face completely white. Every lurch, every movement of the car made his stomach do a backflip. The car's slammed together again. When they separated, the police car started to back away – peeling off. Jimmy whooped, elated.
That whoop turned to a scream.
They were running out of road.
The edges of City 18 overlooked a massive nest of pipes, tubes and the constant flow of sewage that leaked out from around the joints of all those tubes. It was a lot more sewage than non-humans imagined, but there were more than eleven billion creatures of all races living on Harbinger, and they all tapped into Harbinger's waste recycling systems somehow.
At the end of most roads were walls, but at eighteen points, there were foot bridges that crossed over to the far walls, where doorways lead into the sprawling maze that was the sewage systems of Harbinger. Those, Jimmy knew from history class, were built by the Architects so that the systems would be continually maintained. That factoid floated through his brain as he tried to find some way of explaining to Pix in the five seconds they had left to life why this was a bad idea.
“HOLD ON!” Pix shouted, the bridge racing towards them.
Jimmy's eloquent speech got off to a roaring start. “D-”
The car whipped past a sign reading “Now Leaving City 18.”
The wheels hit the foot bridge – by now, the self-repairing tires had inflated.
The wheels caught.
The wheels held.
"WhooooooHOOO!" Pix whooped, triumphant. Her whole body was a picture of intent focus: Her knuckles white, her antennas sparking, her eyes glowing a bright pink as she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. The tires were strong – for now, and kept their grip with all the intelligence programmed into them.
Jimmy saw the Xorquin receding in the rear view camera. Light glinted off the Xorquin's barrel.
Jimmy practically ripped the armrests off as fear tightened his grip.
A line of shredder bolts impacted in the back, two striking the tires. The self-repair systems started to whine, and traction-
The car shuddered, slipped, and Jimmy gritted his teeth at the screeching noises that came from the bottom of the car hitting the corner of the footpath.
Pix grunted and threw her weight to the side as she strained, hard, to keep the car going.
The car stayed on the footpath, somehow, tilting to the side, loud clanging noises coming as it smashed through the guide rail.
The car wrenched to the side, pivoting a full ninety degrees. WHAM! The trunk smashed into the doorway at the end of the bridge, crumpling up. The doors popped open and Jimmy almost fell out of the car. He pushed himself out fully when the car started to slide forward, tilting up and off the edge of the walkway. Jimmy spun, reaching for Pix's hand.
Pix stayed, frozen in time and space for a moment. Then, as the car began its inexorable slide down and off the side of the bridge, she leaped forward at the last seconds and grabbed onto Jimmy's hand. He grabbed her wrist and held on, bracing his foot against the surviving guide rails. Pix hung there. Slowly, he hauled her up and together, they collapsed onto the bridge.
She lay beside him, panting as the car went down...down...down...
Jimmy stuck his head over the side of the walkway, which had been flexing sickeningly under the weight of the car. There it was, tumbling end over end. It hit a tube and flipped, the front crumpled in, compacting the engine almost completely.
The car flipped again, then impacted with the side of a waste processor.
A moment later, something inside the car exploded. A massive green-white explosion ripped through the air. A cloud of smoke lifted up, smelling strongly of ozone.
“Do I, or do I not rock the house?” Pix grinned, rolling onto her back.
“I will give you that,” Jimmy said. He rolled onto his back as well, just wanting to rest for the moment.
“Now, time to run!” Pix jerked herself to her feet, and Jimmy groaned. She dragged him to his feet.
The Xorquin ran down the bridge. The bridge was fairly long, but the Xorquin got larger at a pace that didn’t exactly fill Jimmy with any sense of confidence.
Jimmy and Pix ran, Jimmy’s heart in his throat. Any second, he thought, a bullet is going to hit me. And it's going to hurt. And then I am going to die.
He reached the doorway at the end of the bridge. Then, he was in a hallway lined with doors. Grating rang under his feet and some of the doors opened up, revealing very confused trash crawlers looking at the two kids running for their lives.
Trash Crawlers had always struck Jimmy as the saddest humans out there. They were a bizarre mix of lower class citizens who couldn't get a job in the actual city and people who refused to cooperate with the local governance, who preferred to live off what they could scavenge out in the boonies. The faces that rushed past were that mix: Every shade and hue of humanity, some wan, some concerned, some confused.
Those faces all vanished back into the trash compactors they scrounged from when the first bullet cracked by. It bounced off the wall next to Pix and they both started running faster. Jimmy's lungs burned and his legs ached. He was reminded, insanely, of gym class.
Of course, he had better motivation here.
They hit a corner and Jimmy banked hard around it. Pix skidded slightly, but she kept up. The hallway, now that it had turned away from the trash compactors, went past even more trash compactors. These were actually in use, the sounds of their crushing and crunching filling the air. The door at the end of the hallway was marked ‘Intersection, look both ways.’
Jimmy got to the door first and yanked it open for Pix. Jimmy followed and they stood in the intersection for a moment, thinking. The intersection lead, if you went right, to more trash compactors. To the left, even more trash compactors...
As for forward, they ran into, well, more trash compactors. These all had their doors open and, to Jimmy's astonishment, Pix ducked into one. She splashed into the muddy water that filled most compactors. Trash swirled around her feet, bigger hunks just sitting there as smaller hunks clinked off of them. At least this was part of the inorganic processing systems.
"Pix, what...are...we..." Jimmy gasped for air.
Pix shushed him and then grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him to the side of the door. Then she stood completely still.
All Jimmy could hear was the pounding of his heartbeat, then a loud series of clanks as the Xorquin ran past.
Silence. His heart beat faded. Jimmy nodded at Pix, giving her a big mental thumbs up. She grinned and her antennas sparked with a soft zzit and a smell of ozone. Jimmy stuck his head cautiously out the door.
The Xorquin was running down the hall, where there was yet another bend. It wouldn't take him long after that bend to realize they had given him the slip.
By that time, Jimmy and Pix were long gone.
The hallways of Harbinger got dark the farther you moved off beaten paths. Lights were either forced into operation by the Council's shaky understanding of Harbinger's lighting systems or put in by jacking into easily accessed power sources and setting up a few lamps. But when you went away from the places where people lived, the light faded...dimmed...died.
And Jimmy and Pix were left standing there, hands on hallway walls so they didn't get lost in the endless darkness that had snuck up on them.
"He'll never find us in here."
"I'll never find us in here, actually." Pix's eyes glowed, but not enough to illuminate anything beyond her cheekbones. Jimmy was about to suggest that they head back, to find a flash light at least, when there was a soft click of metal on metal. He froze…and then Pix’s lighter came on, casting a flickering, ancient feeling sphere of light around them. Her face was set, confident, her eyes gazing at the fire in her hand. Jimmy's wondered if she always looked this pretty or if he was just too scared to not be scared of admitting all the things he really liked about her, if that made a lick of sense. "Okay, I think we're safe."
“You really must tell me this new theoretical definition of safe you're using,” Jimmy said.
“Hey!” She held her hands out in a 'come on' gesture. “We're safe-er than we'd be with guns banging and bullets whizzing every which-a-way!”
“I'll grant you that, but I'm not going to say we're 'safe' safe till we have something between us and that maniac!” Jimmy rubbed his shoulders. “Preferably the 'him being in jail or dead' something.”
“Word.” Pix ducked her head and her antennas sparked. “Shit.”
"No mesh here, Jimmy do you have a map?"
Jimmy sighed started rummaging around his pockets, but he had forgotten to grab his handheld or wallet in the mad dash from house to streets. A sick lurch of his stomach hit him, causing him to stagger against the wall slightly. They weren't just at home. They were atomized plastic now. Or at least melted plastic. He groaned, the mental image of waiting in line to get his ID and credit cards re-done stabbing into him.
"No luck, Pix." Wait, why worry about lines? He'd probably be dead by then! And then he realized that Mom would have to think he was dead too...
"Okay, well, I guess we're all going to have to try and get back to the city without getting caught by the Xorquin, without being shot by the Xorquin…”
“And without losing this,” Jimmy said as he held up the data crystal. It glittered oddly in the firelight.
“Wh...you picked that up!?”
“Well, yeah, he kinda wanted to kill for it, I thought that we'd want to keep it from him.”
Pix smacked her hand against her forehead. “Jimmy, if the crazy psychopath wants something, its generally considered polite to let him have it so he stops trying to kill us! Doubly so when he can track it!”
Jimmy scowled. “If having the data crystal would prevent him from killing us, I'd give it to him, but he tried to shoot us anyway, even when he thought he had the crystal. And that was a point to point scanner. So there.”
Pix 'hmmed'. “How could you tell?”
Jimmy snorted, slapping the wall they stood beside with his palm.
"Oh, right!" Pix shook her head. The mesh was jerry rigged over the centuries to broadcast with Harbinger's ancient systems. But anything not directly hooked to it - like a scanner - had to work around the fact that the material of Harbinger's walls blocked pretty much every emission known to the galaxy. So, any scanner was - by necessity - point to point. "We just need to keep a wall between him and we're safe!"
“So, how are we going to get out of here and to somewhere safe without dying horribly?”
Jimmy thought, looking down at the blackness where he thought his feet would be. They could try doubling back through the darkened corridors, getting colder and colder as they wormed their way closer and closer to the freezing hull of Harbinger, until they dropped dead from the sheer cold and exposure, all in the futile attempt to find a path back to City-18 and safety.
Or they could turn around and get definitely shot by a tall, gun-happy, three-eyed space lizard.
"I think we should...uh...hmmm..." Jimmy had never felt this kind of complete and utter indecision in his life. When bullets had been flying, the answer was obvious: move or die. Now, though, there were more options. And the fact that any of them ended with 'and then you die' struck Jimmy as being just a bit beyond his normal ken. He looked at Pix and saw she was caught in the same mental finger trap as he was. Looking directly into her eyes was too awkward, so he settled for her nose. "I think we should keep going forward. If I were the Xorquin, I'd be waiting for us to come back out of this labyrinth."
Pix nodded, glumly. "Too bad we're not like Jesus and have a ball of string or something."
"Yu. It was Yu the Engineer with the ball of String."
"Whatever." Pix jerked her hand and the light guttered out. She swore and started to work the lighter again. “Anyone got string?”
A mutual rummaging through pockets followed.
"I've got five feet of wire in my pocket."
"Nice try, Jimmy"
Sparks caught and light flared.
"Hey! At least it's something." Jimmy paused in his rummaging, the flickering light catching on something in the gunmetal gray corridor. He looked down. "Hey, Pix...look down."
She did so.
"Ooooh, what is this?"
Pix and he knelt down, the firelight catching and glinting on a small wire that ran along the edge of the corridor. It stretched forward and backwards quite a ways. It took only a second of peering at it in the dim firelight to see it was a power cable.
Jimmy grinned, wide. "Hey, Pix, I bet you fifteen credits this cable leads somewhere with lights and heat and possibly a mesh connection."
Pix looked at him, then grinned. "Sounds like a plan to me."
Jimmy grabbed the cable and standing. He looked at his hands, then up at Pix. “So, I didn't get to tell you this at the time, but, damn you've got a nice right hook.”
“Why thank you, Jimmy!”
“He deserved it, if you ask me.”
"I've been telling people that for months. Then he put my homework through the recycler and I gave up trying." Pix sighed. "Well, at least it's a better excuse than my dagget ate my homework."
Pix snapped her lighter closed, pocketed it, then grabbed the cable behind Jimmy and they started to walk forward into the darkness.
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