Chapter 10: Disinformation
“You know what my question is?” Jimmy asked as he turned away from the grim projections that the computer kept hanging in the air.
“What do we do next?” Pix suggested. “I'm just saying: Flamethrowers. That's usually what people do in vids. Flamethrowers.”
“No,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. “My question is a lot more simple: Why!?” He threw his hand at the projection. “Why this!?”
Edna shrugged. "We kicked their ass in the last war and, well, you know how Xorquin are."
Pix, though, was looking thoughtful, rubbing her chin as she considered Jimmy's question. At Edna's statement, she jerked her head back. “That's a loaf of shit! We beat their army, yeah. Fifty years ago. And don't give me that 'you know how Xorquin are' crap. That's racism is what that is. Xorquin are aliens, yeah, but they still have to think in a vaguely logical way." Pix pointed at the screen. "Look at that plan and tell me it's not completely insane. It's too complicated, it's too expensive, and it's too damaging to Harbinger. We all live on Harbinger!"
Edna opened her mouth, closed it, and then pointed this fact out: "They still sent an assassin after you. Not to put too fine a point on it, but assassins going after the children of important personages is never the option taken by people who aren't serious.”
Jimmy frowned. It seemed like every point that they made, this whole situation wound backwards and made the conversation even more complex – snaking issues around and around, creating knots of illogic. It was like trying to figure out one of those moon logic adventure games that you could download for free off the net.
"Okay, yeah. They did send an assassin after us." Pix put her fingers under her chin, stroking her cheek with her thumb, slowly. “But...but...”
"Well," Jimmy looked around. "I don't know about you guys, but I think we should phone home."
"Phooone hoooome," Pix grinned at him ."I like that plan."
"Oh, come on Edna! This is the future of the human race we're talking about here,” Pix said.
"I thought you said their plan is insane." Edna smirked. “If it is insane, why should I risk bringing Starpol down on my head?”
"Yeah, I'm also eighteen. Though I tend to be completely flawless, I do occasionally make a mistake. I'd rather be safe than everyone I know and love dying horribly."
"And, you can set up those ransoming demands over the phone." Jimmy offered helpfully.
Edna sighed, slowly. "I suppose..." But she didn't look anything close to happy about it.
Jimmy, considering how this direct communication would definitely make it easier for Harbinger's interspecies police force, the Star Police, to come down on her and her gang...managed to still not feel sorry for Edna in the slightest.
The long range communications of Edna's gang were all handled by one big old transmitter. It – along with the other transmitters used by other gangs and organization – were all aimed at the same antenna, which was worked into the disguised entrance. Jimmy wasn't sure how they handled the bottleneck that created without slowdowns that would be worse than the worst days of the network's prehistory. What he did know was the connection with the Armory was all right – but anything beyond that got a little sketchy. The war had a way of futzing with the shipwide network, despite his father's efforts in the Council to protect civilian net traffic.
"Let's try the operator," Edna said, her arms crossed over her chest as if she was trying to ward off a chill. She kicked the transmitter and it started to whirr and flash, the machines within activating. Jimmy was more used to machines that just started working when they were turned on – not machines that were cobbled together across multiple generations, machines that shook and rumbled as they turned on.
The machine chimed, then stopped shaking. Before Jimmy could ask Edna if that was good or not, she answered the question by scowling – the lines on her face arranging themselves to make her even uglier, scarier, and older looking than normal.
"What the..." Edna said, then looked at Pix and Jimmy. "It's being jammed!”
Edna reached into her pocket and snapped out a small hand-held, which unfolded into a sleek weapon with a series of whirs, clicks and pops. "I don't like this. You two, head down the corridor and get armed. I'm going to get the rest of the gang together."
Pix shrugged, grabbed Jimmy's hand, and dragged him out the door, opening it with her shoulder. She peeked her way out and looked around. There were no bad guys, at least, none that Jimmy could see – and Pix seemed to agree, as she dragged Jimmy down the corridor and to a door with a stenciled outline of a gun on the middle of the door, planted right below a window of grimy glass that had been built into the door.
The door opened to Pix's shove and Jimmy whistled.
That...was a lot of guns.
Jimmy's whistle dropped lower and then trailed off. Pix nodded, then looked at him.
“All right,” she said. “Let's get ready to chew bubble gum. But I'm all out of ass.”
“That's not even close to the right quote,” Jimmy said. He grabbed a rifle and it slipped through his sweating fingers. He yelped, grabbed, and the gun went tumbling to the ground with a clatter and clank. It bounced several times on the ground and Jimmy froze, half reaching for the gun. The barrel was aimed right at Pix, "Uh, good thing that wasn't loaded."
"Yeah. Good thing." Pix grabbed the rifle away from Jimmy as he picked it up. She looked at it. "Actually, it was loaded. I'm just really-"
Something moved in the window of the armory, darkening it.
Jimmy tackled her the moment before a flurry of bullets blew through the door. The two of them hit the floor as the wall got shredded just as badly as the door. Pix yelped – Jimmy thought she was asking “what the hell is Edna doing, letting this guy in here!?” but he wasn't sure, since the sound of gunfire was drowning everything out, even conscious thought.
Jimmy, didn't even bother thinking. He just grabbed for a gun. He hands closed around something in the middle of a pile, so all the other guns atop it fell over, but he still got the weapon out. His thumb went to the safety. The gunfire from beyond the door stopped, and the only sound was the almighty ringing in his head.
He rolled onto his back, his aim a bit awkward. But it did the job. The trigger was way too easy to pull. And the bullets came rather faster than he expected. He whacked himself in the nose with the gun. But the bullets scared whoever was shooting, because Jimmy didn't feel a bunch of the other guy's bullets perforate him. He scrambled to his feet and poked his head up to the now shattered window in the door. The Xorquin was running down the hall and he had left behind a sphere that was blinking a bright green...rapidly.
The world blew up.
A bright white light and a loud ringing noise brought Jimmy back to the land of the living. A Yetel looked down at him and chittered something. A moment later, the translation came through, sounding tinny and distant over the sound of the ringing.
"Mild shock, broken nose, he'll be fine."
"Good." That was Edna, sounding even farther away. "I want everyone to track down this guy. Find him and kill him."
'Wha," Jimmy managed to get out before the Yetel stuck his shoulder with a hypo. Jimmy winced at the tapping feeling of the hypo filling him with drugs. The pain that he had felt floated away from him – or, maybe, he was floating above the pain. He wasn't sure which.
"Don't try to spork," the Yetel said.
"It won't emasculate your condition."
Jimmy closed his eyes. "Something is wrong here. Where's Pix?"
"No I'm not!"
"Shut up you!" Jimmy snapped at the Yetel. "Your translator's broken!"
"I know." The Yetel stood up. "I will have to treat others. Stay safe."
"Hm, at least he got that one right." Jimmy tried sitting up, thought better of it, and stayed where he was.
Pix leaned over him. "He-" Jimmy started, but she leaned down and kissed him upside down.
She broke the kiss, grinning at him as she did so.
"...lo" Jimmy finished. This time he managed to actually sit up.
"So, guess what? We got exploded a little, and the bad guy got to unload another magazine at us." Pix sighed. "This guy has got a close range empty a gun at us twice, and twice we've ducked."
"This time, I pulled you down. We're tied, now." Jimmy tried to stand next and actually managed it without his head vibrating off his neck and shattering on the ground.
"Yeah, well, some of the other members of the gang weren't so lucky." Pix looked somber. "Two people I don't know are dead. They're dead. Is it wrong to be so happy that I'm not?"
Jimmy couldn't think of an answer for that. So, instead, he hugged her. Eventually, some day, that wasn't going to answer everything. In fact, it didn't even answer anything now. But it sure felt nice.
Pix sighed, leaning into his chest. "Well.” She stood up, slipping from his arms. "Let's get going."
The Yetel medic tugged a sheet over the second corpse. The sheet made him look like a Halloween prop rather than a person whose life had ended abruptly and completely and utterly. Final destination. Jimmy shifted on his feet, suddenly uncomfortable.
Edna looked around at her gang members. She seemed tiny next to them – a collection of gangers and criminals looming over a young woman. But Edna had mastered her mother's trick of seeming taller and louder than she was supposed to, and so, they all looked as if they were looking up to her. It was quite a trick.
"Okay, we got hit hard. We're going to find this bastard and kill him." She nodded. "And, after this, we're going to do a job that's going to pay off so big that you won't believe it."
"I don't believe it," one of her men snorted. Edna glared at him and he shut up.
"Now, everyone get kitted up, I gotta talk to the kids." Edna turned around and walked over to Jimmy and Pix.
"Okay." Pix held her hand up. "Quick question. What job was are you talking about?"
"Job? Saving the human race." Edna bit her lip. "Okay, I know that doesn't pay, but just so long as the men don't know, we'll have some muscle."
"Great." Jimmy put his hand on his face. "This is going to end well."
Edna put her hands on her hair, running her fingers through it. "Here is the plan. You two are going to be our sneaky pair."
Pix raised her hand, as if she wanted to ask a question.
Edna glared at her, then turned back to Jimmy. "See, two people, no matter how hard this Xorquin is looking for then, are easier to hide than a gang. The more people, the bigger footprint they leave behind. The gang is going to draw your scaled friend off. I'm going to send the gang with two other kids, one of them with pink hair. They are going to book it for your place."
Pix bit her lip. "But, wait, won't that get those two kids shot at?”
Edna looked at her. "It's called diversion."
"No, it's called sending two kids off to get shot instead of us," Pix said, crossing her arms over her chest.
Edna pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes – Jimmy could almost hear what she was thinking, and it was definitely less than complimentary.
"At least tell them-" Pix started
"Of course I'm going to tell them!" Edna exploded, throwing her hands up. "I never send people into danger without telling them."
"What about the whole not having money t-" Pix whispered, leaning in as she did so.
"That's money. They'll live without money." Edna hissed. There were people listening in, standing at the edge of the hallway, pretending to be interested in something else. Jimmy felt a sudden twist of fear.
"Pix," he whispered in her ear. "Let's moralize later, when we won't die because of it."
Pix glared at him, then at Edna. Then she sighed. "Okay. Fine. How will we get where we're going without getting lost? Or perforated? Or both?"
"I'll be guiding you." Edna tapped her ear, where a com-bead nestled. "Though, obviously, the communication isn't going to be clear everywhere in Harbinger."
Jimmy nodded. Pix nodded as well, though she did so grudgingly. "Can we do it in a way that doesn't involve you connecting right to my head?" she asked, sounding a bit plaintive. "It kinda gives me a headache after a few hours."
"We'll get you two comlinks."
"Okay," Edna said. "You two, go to the mess hall. Get fed. I'll gather up whatever equipment you might need and then you'll head out."
Pix sighed. "Okay. Thanks."
But Edna was already walking away.
Jimmy, in lieu of a long, complex description of his current feelings about the meal, shoved his spoon into the goop, then lifted the spoon up to eye level so that he and Pix could look at it. The greyish liquid dribbled from his spoon and plopped into the bowl with the sound of someone with the runs.
Pix closed her eyes and put her hands over her face. "Jimmy, please, I'm feeling sick enough as it is!"
Jimmy grinned, then started to spoon down his gruel. It actually tasted better than it looked, which wasn't very hard.
Pix sighed, pausing between spoons. "Are we becoming bad guys?"
Jimmy glanced up at her.
"We're working with criminals. We're shooting at people. Heck, we're using human shields." Pix bit her lip. "These things good are not!"
Jimmy sighed, softly, and set down his spoon. "It's all about numbers, Pix. If we save six hundred million people, it is worth two lives. Also, it's not like we're tricking these people to do this for us. They're volunteering. It sucks, but it isn't evil."
"So Edna claims." Pix crossed her arms over her chest. She looked away, at the corner of the mess-hall. "What...what kind of people are we going to be at the end of this?"
Jimmy shrugged. "I don't know. But, Pix, we were going to go to college. We'd be different people at the end of college, too, if that makes you feel better.” He smiled at her. Pix snorted, then stuck her tongue out at him.
“Yeah, but at the end of college, we'd just have lost our virginity, not our...what is it called when you haven't killed someone?” she asked, rubbing her chin.
Jimmy looked down at the pool of goop, his spoon making ripples as he moved it back and forth and back and forth. Then, with a kind of casualness that sounded exactly nothing like casualness whatsoever, he said: “We...could fix that.”
Pix's eyes narrowed. "Are you asking me for sex?"
Jimmy blinked. There was a pretty girl who he was madly in love with, and she had brought up the big S and what emotion was he filled with? Excitement? Lust? Love? Nope! None of those
Panic. "I, uh, bu...tha..."
Pix grinned, slowly. "Say the magic words."
"Um," Jimmy's brain snapped like a rubber band, from panic to..."Ni! Ni!"
Pix cowered in mock terror and they both started to laugh hysterically. Two of Edna's gangers walked into the mess hall and shoved their plates under the gruel dispenser. They both looked at Jimmy and Pix, who kept giggling. Pix bit her finger.
"I'll keep guessing." Jimmy sighed. "We don't need to rush it."
"Actually, yes, we do need to rush it." Pix winked. "After all, who wants to die a virgin?"
"Who wants to die at all?" One of the gangers growled. "And git! Those are our seats."
Jimmy got up, slowly, then smiled disarmingly at the ganger.
"We were just done." He grabbed Pix's hand and helped her up. "Afterall, I just figured out the magic words."
"Did you now?" Pix chewed on her lip, her eyes twinkling.
He grinned. "I'll tell them to you in our bunk, okay?" He grabbed her hand and she giggled.
They scampered out and bumped right into Edna. Edna presented a gun, handle first, to Jimmy. Jimmy looked at the offered weapon as if it was from some kind of bizarre alternate universe. Then he took it, gulping.
"You two. Firing range. Five minutes." Edna turned, then noticed how Pix and Jimmy's hands were pretty much glued together. She looked up at them. "Five minutes. Don't be late, you horny teenagers."
"Exactly," Edna said, grinning at the two of them. She turned back to the hallway and walked down it, her hands in her pockets. Jimmy sighed, looking at the gun in his hand.
He looked at Pix.
"Well..." Pix sighed. "I guess that ruined the mood."
"Shot, Pix. It shot the mood." Jimmy grinned. Pix snorted, then turned to him, putting her hand on his hip. She smiled up at him.
"So, for when this is over...what were those magic words."
Jimmy grinned. "That, Pix, would be telling."
Pix snorted again. "Information! We need Information!"
They both walked down the hallway. "Orange Alert. Orange Alert."
"Did you really think a giant balloon would stop them?"
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