Friday, October 24, 2014

E.L.F: Chapter Seven

Author's Note: I have an editor. No, really, it's true! But this week, the printer decided to be evil and print the pages out of order. Fun! But it wasn't was an adventure. An editing adventure! Now, an actual adventure!

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 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 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."

"Yeah, wh-"

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.


"See anything?"

"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?"

"Well, I-"

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!"

"Uh...bad? Gross?"

"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.”

"Good thinking."

"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. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

E.L.F: Chapter Six

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! 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."

"Ask Ed!"

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'"

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.

He grinned.

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

"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

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! 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 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.'m sorry..."

She closed her eyes.

"She's dead."

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."

"I do."

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."

Jimmy nodded.


"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."

And to get away for the smell. But he didn't say that.

Pix nodded. Together they walked off, towards the huge open space they both knew as the Armory.


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