Chapter 14: The Slayer
Pictures don't do some things justice. Like watching porn was nothing like actually laying on the ground as your girlfriend did a strip tease. Like how fighting zombies in a video game was nothing like firing a gun at something in real life. Like all that, looking at the Traverse Tourism Guidebook was nothing like actually gaping up through a jagged hole in a bus at the actual, faction Traverse.
It was almost enough to distract Jimmy from the way the bus' hover systems kept whining like a kitten being slowly twisted in half. Almost.
The bus flew out over a thin jetty that thrust out of the connecting tunnel and into the Traverse itself – the size of the jetty against the vastness of the Traverse only reinforced the gut-punch feeling of awe that filled Jimmy. Pix looked up as well, and said the only thing that really could be said.
“I think I'm going to be sick...”
The sky was the ceiling, and the ceiling was the sky: The Traverse curved and curved and curved until it met itself once-more: A trench the width of a continent, forming an inverse donut that connected the upper levels of Harbinger to the lower levels. Distant cities glittered overhead – several of them sprawling wide enough and large enough that their larger sykscrapers were visible even from this distance. The feeling of vertigo – of falling upwards and into infinity – was almost paralyzing. Jimmy tore his gaze from overhead and to the cracked and shattered pane of safety glass that was all that was left of the bus windscreen.
They were shooting towards another city – one similar to those that spread overhead.
It was built against the wall, with countless platforms, large and small, welded securely to the wall of the Traverse. And onto these platforms were buildings. They glittered like multicolored jewels – and between them wove vast amounts of sky traffic that made the cities of humanity look like...well, like slums in the sewage section of the ship. Jimmy shivered, trying to think of how many people lived there.
Pix shook her head. “I...never thought I'd see this stuff, you know?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy murmured. “Nothing will-”
Jimmy never got a chance to finish that sentence. The bus side motors at that moment decided to finish dying – they cut out with a loud 'chkkunnnnnnnngh.'
“Oh goodie! Life is getting more exciting,” Pix said, grinning at Jimmy – her eyes whirred and focused as she grabbed his hand and squeezed. Jimmy smiled at her and thought: I feel like I can fly. Also, wow, that was super cliché. And now, thinking that it is cliché is-
"HOLD ON!" the Urtish driver shouted – his translator spluttering and coughing and trying to speak in five languages at once. The bus started to tilt down to the right. The Urtish jerked on the stick, his face set with concentration. Jimmy grabbed Pix and held her close, trying to will the bus into staying in the air.
The bus skidded along with only some engines working, slewing and swerving in the air drunkenly as it half flew, half fell towards the city. Jimmy took a moment to thank the Architects that the city was on this side of the Traverse – not on the far side, as a continent sized space yawned between them and that.
The bus shuddered. The driver – his face slick with the thick oil that Urtish spurted out of their pores when stressed – jerked back on the stick.
The bus went up...and at the apex of its shuddering arc, the other side motors cut out with a sound like a gargling blender. The bus dropped. For a moment, Jimmy felt the weightless horror – looking at the city platforms they were rushing towards, and thinking: We're not going to make it.
The bus smashed into the ground with a CRRRUNCH! It started to drag along the broad, beautiful platform, scattering smashed tiling and metal in every direction as it slewed. The back of the bus clipped three trees, filling the air with splinters and a haze of leaves. People went screaming as the momentum of the bus jerked to the side and the front slammed into a store that had been built near the platform specifically to sell tourists new shoes. The windows shattered and the shoes went flying as more people ran screaming in every direction...but the bus stopped.
Jimmy picked himself up, groaning. "Everyone okay?" he asked, looking around. Pix stood.
"I'm gonna be sick." She stuck her head out the window and threw up.
Jimmy patted her on the back as the door to the side of the bus opened. The Urtish got out of the driving cab and wiped his forehead off with the back of his hands, flicking the goop onto the floor of the bus.
"Could someone please explain what just happened?" he growled at Jimmy. Jimmy coughed, waving his hand under his face to try and clear away some of the dust that their impactful landing had produced.
"Well, uh," Jimmy put his hand behind his back. "Okay, so, like, there was this Xorquin, and he's chasing us, and we were just planning to take the bus normally, but then he kinda tried to kill us again, and we're really, really sorry about damaging your bus."
"No, you didn't damage my bus." The Urtish slowly gestured around himself, looking away from Jimmy, then back to him. "You destroyed it!"
Jimmy looked up at the roof, peeled back like someone had taken a giant can opener to it. He looked at the windows, all riddled with bullet holes, turning the side of the bus into swiss cheese. He looked down at the dented and smashed up floor. He looked at the control console, bright red with failed systems and destroyed hover-engines.
Pix wiped her mouth as police cars started to arrive, their lights flashing.
"Sorry? Sorry!?" The Urtish was shaking Jimmy like a rag doll now. "This bus was just overhauled! I just had it fixed! My manager is going to kill me. No. Wait! He's going to kill YOU!”
"Get down!" Pix tackled Jimmy as bullets started to zip through the air. The Urtish yelped and started to duck. A bullet burst through his arm, splashing Jimmy's face with green blood. The Urtish clutched at the wound, clenching his teeth in agony.
"Shit!" Jimmy looked around, then grabbed at his pockets, finding a bandage. He tossed it to the Urtish, who grabbed it gratefully and wrapped his wounded arm in a tearing hurry.
Pix looked at Jimmy. "Can we go anywhere without people shooting at us?"
Jimmy peeked up, through one of the swiss cheesed windows. His eyes widened.
"You gotta be kidding me,” he said, ducking down. He looked at Pix. "Xorquin!"
"Yeah." Jimmy nodded. But the police were firing on the Xorquin now. The gunshots were garnering attention from the people who had gathered around the crash. They screamed and ran like anyone sensible would.
The Urtish propped himself up against one of the chairs. Everyone in the bus was huddled down. Some had been hit, and their blood was getting all over the floor. Jimmy felt his stomach clench up. Every one of those bullets had been aimed at him...they should have hit him, not these...
Jimmy looked up. The Urtish waved at him. "Run!"
He blinked. Then he realized that the Urtish didn't want to be next to someone who was getting shot at. Then Jimmy realized he didn't want others to be around him while he was being shot at either.
Earlier, he had thought about doing something brave and heroic and how being in love had changed his opinions. But now, he found something, deep inside himself. Despite all of his logical thoughts, despite every bit of him that screamed no, he should stay down, he knew what he had to do. Jimmy squared his shoulders. "Pix, ready to crawl for your life?"
"Always, babe." Pix cracked her neck, face set and concentrated. "If we don't survive the next few feet, I really love you."
Pix reached over and punched him in the shoulder as hard as she could.
The sounds of gunfire outside were even louder than Jimmy had expected. Bullets whined through the air. He crawled down the steps of the bus, which was far more awkward than he had expected. There was glass on the ground – glittering and dangerous. He put his hands down carefully, but with the adrenaline pounding through his body, he wasn't sure he'd even notice getting cut.
Pix had a harder time of it. She hissed, then kept crawling – leaving behind smears of blood on the ground. They squirmed behind the wrecked bus, bullets pinging and bouncing off the side of the hull. Jimmy coughed, shaking his head and looking at his hand, wincing – he had a thin cut along one thumb, while Pix gritted her teeth, clenching her hands into fists to try and keep her palms from bleeding too badly.
Jimmy looked around for the next place to scramble for. There was an alleyway, with a dumpster, it would give cover. Problem, there was a big open space between there and here. He gulped. "Pix," He pointed. "Run at three."
She nodded, clenching her bloody hand to her chest.
"One. Two. Three!"
They lurched to their feet and ran. It took forever and no time at all, with Jimmy's back itching every second of the way. Gonna get shot, gonna get shot, gonna get shot...
His shoulder slammed into the side of the alleyway and he staggered, hit the ground, rolled, and ended up behind the dumpster. Pix skidded like she was trying to make a base in bat-ball.
She rolled then, getting behind the dumpster too. This got her squished up against Jimmy. Normally pleasant. But right now, with an elbow in the belly and a hard spine in the groin, Jimmy was a little less than aroused.
"We made it," Pix said, leaning her head against Jimmy's chest. Her right hand was still clenched in a fist.
Jimmy gently grabbed her wrist. "Oooh..." He bit his lip, brow furrowing as Pix opened her fingers. It was not pretty.
She closed her eyes. "Ugh."
"Um..." Jimmy reached into his pocket. He found the multitool, but...
"Shit...no bandages. Hey, uh, hold your arms up."
He grabbed the bottom of her shirt. "Lean forward."
She did so. Jimmy then slipped the multitool against her belly. She shifted. "Cold!"
"Sorry, just stay still." He bit his lip and carefully cut with the multitool's knife. He cut his way around Pix's belly and, for his work, he got himself a a long strip. "Okay, arms down-"
"I know." Pix turned around, holding her hand out to him, still not looking at the wound.
Jimmy sighed. "We'll need to clean it as soon as we can."
"I know," she said around a hiss of pain as he jerked the bandage tight.
"How's it feel?"
"Better, but that might be cause I'm not looking at it anymore." Pix tested her hand. She looked at him. "Well, look at the bright side, I now get to show off my bellybutton."
He blinked, then looked down. Why, she was right.
"Hmm. I kinda like it. It's sorta punk."
She grinned, but it was weak. "What now?"
"Now-" Something exploded, flashing the alleyway with bright orange and a crack of sound. "Let's not go that way."
Pix and Jimmy had to creep along, ducked down low, till they got to the other end of the alleyway. People were off the streets, hiding inside their buildings. Jimmy looked from left to right. The coast was clear.
Jimmy chucked his gun into his pocket and then he and Pix ran. They passed shops and then ran into crowds who had not realized stuff was exploding near by. They vanished into the crowd. The police flew by over head. One shone its light at the bus and started to chitter something in Xorquin.
Jimmy paused, looking over his shoulder at the police cars. He grinned. "I think we made it Pix," he said. "They got him!"
Which was, of course, exactly the right time for the car to explode. Jimmy and Pix staggered backwards, despite being too far from the blast for it to actually effect them. Jimmy stood, eyes wide as he traced the line of smoke from the burning car to...to...the Xorquin, who had a sleek, deadly looking rocket launcher mounted on his shoulder, an aiming device unfolded around his eyes. The rocket launcher made a loud thumping noise and another rocket slid into the firing chamber. The Xorquin slipped the rocket launcher over his shoulder and pulled his shredder out. Another police car shot overhead, sirens blaring. The Xorquin dropped into the alleyway next to building.
"Won't that guy just DIE!?" Pix shouted. "Did he just...did he just pull a ROCKET LAUNCHER out of his ASS!"
"Edna," Jimmy put his finger to the comlink, which had been silent for a while now. "Any bits of advice?"
"Um..." Edna voice was a bit staticy. "Signals...breaking up...sewage...uh, Jimmy, there is a safe house...at this location"
"Okay, thanks!" Jimmy's neck was itching. The Xorquin was in the crowd, which was panicking and screaming and doing everything you are supposed to do when someone blows up a police car. His minimap started to blink out the trail. Jimmy shrugged. "Follow me." He grabbed Pix's hand and they ran forward.
The sounds of the panic spreading through the City followed them as they ran.
Jimmy got to an alleyway, the sounds of the commotion downtown fading. There were less people and the shops looked shabbier. They were still pretty posh, but they were less posh than before. The alleyway had a door at the end. "That's the dzzzr," Edna said. "Just head down...zzz...shld be umcked."
Jimmy nodded. "You're really breaking up."
Jimmy got the door open. He and Pix rushed inside and then slammed the door, plunging them into darkness. Jimmy felt around for the light switch.
"Edna?" Pix asked. "Edna!"
"She's being jammed."
"Who could be jamming her?" Jimmy snapped on the lights and they both gaped.
This safehouse was not big, not compared to the Armory or the Traverse. However, it WAS full of guns. And not just any kind of guns! Human guns. Guns that actually made sense and looked like they were something that he could use.
"Oooh, Flamethrower!" Pix grabbed the bulky collection of fuel tanks and tubes and bits of metal, then switched on the front end. A small blue flame burst up before the blackened nozzle. "Hehehe, sooo coool!"
"Uh, Pix, uh..." Jimmy held his hand up. The nozzle swung to aim at him. "Finger off trigger!" He shouted.
Pix blinked. "Oh! Shit!" She took her finger off the trigger, than aimed the flamethrower away from Jimmy. She then shut the flamethrower off, blushing as she did so. "Um, sorry."
Jimmy sighed. "Pix, maybe we should put the flamethrower down."
She bit her lip, looking at it.
Jimmy sighed. "Pix..."
"No." she whispered, eyes at the ground.
"Pix, we talked about thi-"
"Yeah, so, it's a big, phallic lighter!" She glared at him. "And you know what? No! I'm not going to throw my lighter away. You keep telling me to do that. You keep telling me to ball up my past and throw it away and forget about it. Well, screw that! I don't want to forget!" Her eyes started to brim with tears. "I c-can't forget, okay!"
Jimmy shifted from foot to foot. What could he say?
"Isn't it...really silly to be crying while holding a flamethrower?" Pix's voice cracked.
"A bit, yeah."
She shucked it off, the strap went around her shoulders catching on her antennas. She grunted, and sniffled, then bust into tears. Jimmy bit his lip. Should he help? Or would she punch him for invading her personal space?
Jimmy, you idiot, he thought, you've had sex with her, what, a zillion times?
He put his hand on her shoulder and she punched him in the face. Jimmy clapped his hand to his nose, eyes closed. "Augh! Pix! What the...what the hell!"
"Sorry!" She grunted and got the flamethrower off. She turned around, arms across her chest. "Just, I don't feel like touching right now, okay!"
Jimmy sighed, still holding his nose. It was bleeding.
Pix shifted from foot to foot, rubbing her arm, looking away.
Jimmy took his hand away from his nose, squinting at the blood, then he sniffed, trying to get the blood to stop.
"Um..." Pix bit her lip. "C-could I have that hug now?"
"No!" Jimmy snapped. "I mean...just a second. You punched me in the face!"
"I'm sorry." She looked at him, looking so completely miserable that his heart melted.
Jimmy melted. "I'm sorry too Pix."
He wiped his bloody hand on his hip, then hugged her tight, trying to not get blood on her shirt. She squeezed him tight and forced the issue, burying her face in his hair and sobbing.
"I-I miss my parents so much!" She sobbed. "A-an-and it's all...all my fault!"
Jimmy squeezed her again. He opened his mouth to say something and...
Then the door to the warehouse exploded. Fragments whizzed through the air and Jimmy cried out, hitting the ground, pain flaring in his back. Pix grabbed the flamethrower, flicked it on and pulled the trigger without a second thought.
The Xorquin, who stood in the now circular doorway, was engulfed in an instant. Didn't even have time to shoot his gun or rattle in fear. He just stood and burned.
As did the box of ammunition next to him. Flames flickered, then grew. The ammo did not cook off right away. Pix started dragging Jimmy toward the other door. The Xorquin was still walking forward, a dark shape in bright bright orange flames. He stepped out, then fell, face first on the ground. He lay there and burned and burned.
Pix got Jimmy out of the building.
BANG! The back of the building went up in a massive burst of flames, bullets cooking off like firecrackers, whizzing through the air, whining like angry insects.
The building started to collapsed, helped on by the occasional bang as the stuff inside exploded.
"Pix," Jimmy wheezed. "I...I can't move my legs."
'What!?" She pushed him up and looked at whatever had whanged his back. Blood was seeping around a hunk of metal jammed into his shoulder blade.
"Jimmy, your spinal column is not on your shoulder."
"Oh right." Jimmy wiggled his toes. "Okay, I can move my legs...I think I'm going to start screaming now. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGRRH THAT HURTS!"
The police were arriving, sirens following the bursts and the blasts. They settled down and the mixed race forces of the Traverse piled out. Xorquin, Slor, some Yetel, and a human. The human, a woman with bright red hair that she kept tied back under her blue cap, knelt down.
"Are you two all right?" she shouted, even as she looked Jimmy over.
"He's got a thingy in his back!"
"I can see that." The police officer tapped a com-bead in her ear. "We need an ambulance and some first aid here. We've got a broken shoulder blade, a major laceration on a hand, and a possible fatality inside of the building."
"I hope so," Pix whispered. The police officer shot her a look, then tugged out a small, one hand first aid kit. She pressed a hypo to Jimmy's neck.
"I'm going to be putting your arm in a brace," she said, even as everything got fuzzy and out of focus. Pix stayed in front of Jimmy. She grabbed his hand. The police officer was still talking. "This is going to hurt."
"AAAAAGH!" Jimmy screamed, eyes clenched tight shut as he felt the metal wrench out of his shoulder. Then the police officer just wrapped his shoulder up, which eased his pain, but it also made him feel all stiff. He could only bend his elbow, anything up above that was wrapped.
"Okay, that'll hold you." The officer moved on to Pix, opening up the bandage. She winced. "What did you do, crawl through glass?"
"Yeah." But Pix's eyes were locked on Jimmy's. Soft. Relived.
Part of the burning warehouse crashed in and smoke filled the air. Fortunately, Jimmy and Pix were walking away from the place. Pix looked back as the firefighters started to spray foam on the fire, but it wasn't doing much.
"Is he dead?"
"He's on fire, in an exploding warehouse." Jimmy sighed. "He's dead."
"So it's over?" Pix bit her lip. "Just like that?"
There was a shift in the burning husk. Some rubble was moving, prolly cause something under it was collapsing.
"I am going," Jimmy said as he turned to Pix and hugged her with his working arm. "To love our summer vacation..."
Pix made a sound halfway between a scream and a whimper, her fingernails digging into Jimmy's back. "No...no, no, no!"
Jimmy looked at the burning building. A blackened skeletal arm stuck out of the blazing wreckage, gleaming silver in the orange fire flight. Then a splash of fire-retardant foam splattered over it, covering the nightmarish vision. No, it must have been a trick of his vision. He must have mistaken.
Then the rubble shifted, like a disembodied lung rousing from the dimming fire. The rubble slid away, revealing a metallic muscle, all matte black surfaces mirrored to a shine. Semi-liquid black metal moved about hard steel bones. The arm cocked, then propped itself against the ground. Then up, up, the figure stood, revealing its matte black chest, its pyramid shaped head, its glowing red cyclopean eye. Its chest shone despite its blackness, ribcage branching over a glowing green power source. The legs were spindly, and one of the knees was busted up, twisting to the side of the quickmetal skeleton stood in the flames.
"You've gotta be kidding me," Jimmy whispered. The police and the firefighters looked just as surprised and shocked as anyone would feel, looking at that...thing.
The skeleton looked at its legs. The hip-joints exploded, then, letting the legs fall aside, crumbling to dust as they smashed to the ground. But the figure still stood, hovering in the air, spinal column trailing along the ground like a tail.
The figure held out its arms, then extended its fingers. Foot long claws snapped out to gleam in the firelight.
"Time to run?" Pix whispered.
"Y-" The nightmare skeleton flew forward, fast and deadly, like a bullet leaping from a gun. A bullet with claws.
Jimmy's eyes were closed, but he was awake. He didn't want to open his eyes, becase his head hurt and blackness was painful enough.
His hands were tied in front of him. It moved his shoulder slightly, but not enough to hurt. He just felt a stiffness. Okay, first, he slowly slid his tongue out and licked across his chapped lips, trying to think of what hurt so much. Okay...head. Hit on head? Um...chest...back...legs were tied together too.
He drew in a slow breath and opened his mouth. "Pix?"
"Don't whisper so loud," she whispered back. She was right: The sound sent throbs through his head.
"Wh...where are we?"
"I don't know, it's dark." There was shuffling sound. "The chair is fastened to the ground. No slipping out. I don't think."
"Well, you're both awake."
Jimmy's brow furrowed. That was not Pix, and that was not him...so who was it? He opened his eyes slowly. Darkness. He craned his head around as far as he could go.
"Who are you?" he asked, voice raspy.
"I am Howl." The voice sounded like one of those smarmy teachers. The kind who pretended to have 'American' accents cause they thought it sounded sooo intellectual.
Pix sighed. "Right, and who the hell is Howl!?"
"Howl is me."
"Pix." Jimmy snapped. "Diplomacy. Sir, why have you tied us up?"
"I didn't tie you up. My servant, the Slayer, did."
"And your Slayer is?" Jimmy asked, though he had a sinking feeling he knew already.
A red light started to glow in the darkness. A familiar red eye. Watching Jimmy. Jimmy's throat went drier than space.
"Nevermind," he whispered. "Uh, so, are you behind this?"
"Of course!" Howl laughed, his drawl getting more obnoxious every sentence. "The plan, the data smuggling, the war between the Yetel and the Slor, Tortuga...everything."
Jimmy blinked. That crazy. "W-What are you talking about?"
"But enough of your questions. Where is the data crystal?"
"What data crystal?" Pix asked. Something blurred in the darkness and Jimmy cried out, feeling a sharp pain on his chest. A stinging cut raised across his skin and he tried to ignore it.
"If you ask stupid questions again, cyborg, my Slayer will do more than give your love a papercut. Now, where. Is. The. Data. Crystal."
"Not telling." Jimmy growled.
"I have it!" Pix shouted a moment after that. "I have it I have it, just...d-don't hurt him."
Jimmy gulped, eyes closing. The Slayer ghosted past, the sound of his passage like a woosh of a cape. Pix grunted. "It's in my data port...lower..."
There was a shink, crystal slipping against metal.
"Wait, Howl, aren't you going to explain...anything!?"
"No, I was actually planning to kill you."
"Oh no you won't." Pix sounded like she was smirking.
"And why is that?"
"I've got wireless," Pix said. "See, I've been decrypting the data crystal in some sub programs in my head." She sighed, slowly. "That's why I've been kinda unfocused lately, Jimmy."
Unfocused? Jimmy kept quiet, trusting Pix. Please do this right, he thought.
"Anywho, I've put those copies of data onto the ship net in a dozen different places. If I don't send a signal every five minutes, the files will be distributed in a fractal copying pattern, that will put them in everyone's inbox by next breakfast!" Pix's antennas sparked, illuminating a small circle of white light around her head.
Howl whistled, softly. "Clever girl. Slayer, bring them to me. I want to meet them face to face."
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