Day 165, the least I could do:
I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache only to find Nixa crashed out on my couch. Half of the bottle of green stuff she brought with her last night was missing and I was struggling to remember everything that happened the night before, but had been pretty out of it myself.
As I tiptoed over to the water dispenser to get a drink, Nixa woke with a start. ‘Where am I?’ she click-moaned groggily.
Wiping a glass on my shirt, I poured another water and handed it to her. ‘You’re on my couch… and good morning. Only… if your head hurts anywhere near as much as mine does, it can’t be that good.’
Nixa took the water gratefully and eyed the half-empty bottle, rubbing her eye-lenses with the other claw-hand. ‘I feel awful,’ she said, lapsing into a long silence and staring at the floor while she sipped at the water.
I took a drink and smiled, ‘Yeah, me too.’
I was kind of wondering why she was still at my place, it wasn’t like Nixa to drink, or crash on people’s couches (I was a bit worried about her).
( sadly ) ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.
I asked, ‘Whatever for? It happens to the best of us.’
‘Oh, it’s not that but, I don’t know how to ask you this… do you mind if I stay here for a few nights?’
It wasn’t what I was expecting to her say. ‘Yeah, of course, no problem… what’s up? Is something wrong?’
Nixa burst into a flurry of clicking and shuddery shoulders and I realized she was ( crying ). I sat beside her on the couch and put a hand tentatively on her shoulder-thingy. ‘Are you ok?’ and then, ‘Whatever it is, you can tell me.’
That only resulted in more crying, and I was starting to freak out a bit. It’s the last thing that I expected to see Nixa doing. I’d have been less surprised if she told me she had a crush on Jane or John. When the click-sobbing finally subsided she said, ‘I lost my job! They… they… fired me! For no reason! No reason at all! Unless.. do you think they know that we tried to escape? Is that it? … I’m so ( stupid ) … of course that’s the reason! And when I got home… my door code had been changed… and… and… why is this happening to me?’ she clicked ( hopelessly ). I patted her back and she rested her head against the side of mine.
I tensed up, but not because I found the contact a little creepy. I was well used to Nixa by now and nothing really bothered me that much about her. The freak out was because I knew it was my fault. P’shush’t had made good on its promise to punish Nixa in order to keep me in line. No matter what I did, I left a trail of casualties. Only the people that should have been taking the hits were laughing it up while the good ones suffered.
Knowing that I couldn’t tell her the horrible truth, now especially, I patted her back some more and said, ‘Nixa. It’s going to be ok… look, if they knew what happened they’d… well… I guess… we’d all be in trouble. Or most of us anyway. And I don’t know what to say, really, except that… you know, I promise you… I’m going to try to help you… I, uh… I honestly feel like this is my fault, because it kinda is… and…’
And it was. Ten-hundred percent my fault. No doubt about it.
Nixa ( sniffled ) and straightened herself up, ‘Oh don’t mind me, I’m just being silly, aren’t I? I must look ridiculous to you right now…’ ( tearful ), ‘You’ve been a such good friend…’
Sensing my distress, she went on, ‘It was my choice to participate in the escape, I can see that it’s… I just thought we were going to get away with it… Why did I think that we would get away with it? … And I don’t want anything to happen to you too. Only, I don’t see how the Slixt found out who was on Sub-Level Six… they obviously knew that someone was down there, but if they knew that it was us, then… but why they didn’t come for us that night? … I thought… well, I really hope you don’t lose your job too… Oh! What am I going to do?’ she asked me, ( wringing ) her claws.
I couldn’t imagine how painful it must have been for Nixa not to know exactly what to do and be doing it. This must have been the first time in her life that something like this had happened, if you didn’t count the days after the Slixt took her. I remembered her telling me about all that awful stuff that her own people had done to her. But even then, she’d been motivated by her sense of responsibility to others. Nixa always ended up doing right by her friends when all they did in return was ( expletive ) her life up.
Why the ( curse ) was all this bad stuff happening to us? To Nixa especially. If anyone deserved to lose their job it was me, but somehow I’d managed to slime my way through unscathed. Maybe I was no better than the Slixt.
I stood up, full of nervous energy, trying to think of something that could turn this all around, debating whether I should just tell Nixa what P’shush’t had done and why. But she looked so sad that I chickened-out. Instead, I said, ‘Look Nixa. Don’t worry about staying here. Honestly. You can stay as long as you need to. I’m pretty sure this is all my fault and…’
Nixa was a much better person than I was. ‘Please don’t be too hard on yourself, we all wanted to get out of here.’
‘Yeah… ummm… I really do feel responsible for this, and I just want you know… I mean, I want you to understand that I’m going to do everything I can to make this right. Even if I have to take down P’shush’t myself.’
( concerned ) ‘What are you talking about? P’shush’t? We have enough trouble without antagonizing the Slixt. I’m already out of a job and my home… promise me you won’t ( rock the boat ) anymore. Don’t you think that we’ve done enough already? Just promise me you won’t make things worse by doing anything ( stupid ), will you?’
I agreed on the outside (Unfortunately for Nixa, making bad decisions and doing stupid stuff was the only thing I was good at).
Day 167, in it together:
Nixa was out looking for work.
I had to hand it to her, if I’d been fired, I probably would have sat around my apartment moping for a month. But not Nixa. She was always doing the exact thing a person was supposed to be doing at the exact time they should be doing it. I knew that she felt guilty about staying with me, and the fact that everything was actually my fault made me feel miserable too. Nixa decided that it was her duty to keep our spirits up, and not the other way around, as it should have been, but she was who she was. So, to make up for crashing on my couch, she was always engaged in a flurry of activity. On the plus side, the apartment was cleaner and smelled better than I ever remembered it.
Meanwhile, I’d been keeping busy as well. I guess. I’d been racking my brain, trying to find a way to satisfy P’shush’t without getting us all killed. The trouble was, I couldn’t think of anything, and the only person who was smart enough to help me was out looking for a job. Besides, she had no idea what was really going on, so how could she help? The smart thing would have been to tell Nixa everything already, but the more distressed she became about being jobless and homeless the less I found myself able to talk to her.
My tablet pinged.
It was a message from John. ‘We didn’t think you had it in you. Meet us in the Silk Road at 900 hours on the 38th cycle. Come alone.’
The last time I was supposed to meet J&J there, Jane had ambushed me and tried to… you know… which basically started me down the road that led to lying to Nixa and effing everything up for everyone repeatedly.
I knew that whatever they wanted to talk to me about, it was just more trouble waiting to happen. But I had to get P’shush’t off my case, and by extension, Nixa’s. If I could somehow prove that J&J were regular Humans who weren’t planning anything sneaky then we could all go back to making a living, and that wasn’t so bad, considering. The problem with this plan was that J&J were almost certainly up to something shady, and no matter how I tried to fit the puzzle pieces together in my head, I couldn’t understand what.
First of all, the fact that P’shush’t was relying on someone like me for… anything really, was a sign that the Slixt were desperate. Heck, I couldn’t even find my socks this morning (mainly because Nixa had cleaned up, but still) but somehow the slugs thought that I’d be able to find out something that they couldn’t?
Then there were all the warning signs I’d been blatantly ignoring for a long while. J&J hadn’t been onboard for a month when they started showing up in nicer clothes, strutting around like peacocks. Plus, they seemed to know their way around the city pretty well for people who supposedly never left their apartment. And then there were all the times when they acted strangely. Even for J&J. But what was I going to do about it? I didn’t exactly want them to get into trouble, even if that’s what they [pthemselves were after.
Back to square one again. Satisfy the Slixt, somehow, and then P’shush’t would owe me. Assuming it didn’t double-cross me, which seemed likely. Then I could get Nixa her job back… after that, it’d only be a matter of spending the rest of our lives here on the ship. Fantastic.
A prospect which didn’t seem so bad at the moment. Back on Earth I’d always wanted to escape my hometown, travel somewhere exotic where I’d get famous and all that stuff, but when it came down to it, I never even tried.
I’d come to realize that wherever I was – that whatever place in the universe I called home, it would never really be what I wanted it to be. But if I could stop ( cursing ) things up for like five seconds, then maybe it didn’t matter where home was. Maybe it was the place that you made for yourself, and not the place that you yearned for. But to get there, I’d have to stop crapping all over everything first.
I couldn’t change what I couldn’t change, but the least I could do was try to fix things and (one way or another) find a way to end this.
Day 168, the whole truth:
Standing among the rows of colorful silks and fabrics, I was painfully reminded of my last time here. Jane’s lips and my lips pressed together, and then a whole heap of trouble. Now it felt like all of it had happened to a different person.
I was lost in my thoughts when Jane appeared beside me. She was wearing the same dress that she wore on that fateful day. Her hair was done up the same way. She was always playing games and I always ended up being the one that was played.
‘You came,’ she said, with a hint of something in her voice (the translator-bolt missed it, as usual).
I wanted to put a stop to anything that might happen while there was time to do so, and while I had the power to resist her. She looked good. Better than ever. Strong. Beautiful. Confident. But still, I had to nip this in the bud. So I said, ‘Yeah, I was expecting John to be here too.’
Jane winked at me. ‘He’s close. Come on, follow me.’ She grabbed my hand and started pulling, but I didn’t move. Jane turned back to me and said, ‘Stop messing around, and come on… you’ve earned it!’
I wasn’t sure what it was I’d earned. Maybe it was an award for “not getting them killed because of a crazy plan that I/they cooked-up in the first place”. But I wanted them to be grateful. How grateful? I must have blushed as Jane pulled me into a narrow gap between two buildings. It was carefully hidden behind flowing silk tapestries. We hurried down a garbage-strewn path, and then through some kind of illusory wall-thing which might have been a hologram or something. Then we stepped into a little alcove where Jane opened a false panel in the wall. Then down some rickety steps, and finally through an old fashioned push-door into a grimy little utility room.
Jane stopped, turned around, and started patting my clothes. All over.
I said, ‘The last time felt a little more romantic…’ but Jane just snorted and told me to shut up. After she was done feeling me up, she pulled a long, hard, thingy out from under her skirt. Like a studded aluminum flashlight with embedded widgets, and stuff. She started waving it all up and down my body. Sometimes as it passed over me it would beep once and other times there would be multiple beeps. Even I could figure out that it was some kind of portable scanner.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Just shut up,’ she replied. When she was done, she looked at a read-out on her tablet, and then waved it around some more. Finally, she was satisfied, apparently, because she said, ‘You’re clean.’
‘Scanning for eyes,’ she said, like I would know what that meant (the trouble was that I did, and she looked at me a little suspiciously when I didn’t act puzzled quickly enough). So I asked, ‘Eyes?’
Jane slid the scanner back under her skirt and nodded, ‘Yeah. Eyes. You wouldn’t believe what the Slixt are capable of.’
I could believe it just fine. ‘What’s going on Jane?’ I said slowly.
‘Come on,’ she said, pulling at a shelf laden with cleaning supplies to reveal yet another secret door, motioning for me to follow. This was just too weird and too much like being in a TV show for my liking (on “Humans are Dumb” things didn’t tend to end well for the participants).
What’s next, I thought, but it should have been obvious.
We entered a large room full of crates with lots of little rooms off to the sides. John was standing near the center, posing proudly beside a giant machine that looked like the love-child of a robotic jellyfish and those big espresso machines you see in high-end coffee shops back on Earth. It was gurgling and grinding away up top, and down below it was pooping out bits of metal that looked vaguely familiar.
I had to admit that I was completely at a loss for words. If James Bond or Dr. Who showed up in the next few minutes, I wouldn’t even blink.
‘What is that?’ I said.
John was beaming, ‘It’s a Cycler!’
Jane snapped, ‘Shut up John,’ and to my surprise, John looked sheepish. She turned back to me as we approached the machine, ‘He’s right, it’s a Cycler.’
This was highly illegal and something the Slixt would definitely want to know about. It was surely important enough to save Nixa and get me out of trouble as well. ‘Er… how did you, ah…?’ I asked.
Jane almost laughed, but became super-serious instead. ‘It’s not important.’
I was looking at the pile of gee-gaws littering the ground below the machine, ‘But… but… what is it making?’
John wore a smug expression, while Jane practically commanded me to follow her, John following us with a ( curse-eating ) grin on his face.
The room we walked into was full of more crates, but also, and totally incredibly, stacked with a crap-ton of machine-guns. A bit like the ones that Humans made, back on Earth. But wait, there was more. Stacks of stuff. Wicked looking tubes were piled in all the corners, along with bags of thingies, and batons, and knives. Judging by the type and number of supplies, Jane and John had been very, very busy planning World War Three (or whatever you’d call that in space).
‘Oh ( curse ),’ I said.
Jane was happier than a girl with a new puppy. ‘That’s right.’
John laughed again but Jane shot him a look that shut him up.
I was trying to process it all. ‘But you’re…’
Jane switched to her big, vulnerable, doe-eyes and said, ‘Yes?’ while batting her eyelashes for added effect.
‘How? You don’t even have jobs…’ but my protest sounded pretty lame even to my ears.
John piped up again, unable to contain himself. ‘We have sponsors.’
What now? ‘Say what?’
Jane picked up one of the guns, fiddling with it expertly. She looked down the barrel for some reason and said, ‘Patrons… important people with the resources to get things done, and who can provide the necessary tools.’
Tools for what? I was totally confused, ‘Why you two? You’re hardly popular… and you’re not exactly the most… what’s the word I’m looking for… capable?’
To which they both laughed.
John was smug again. Smug or not, this new John was slightly preferable to the angry-alpha-male-thing I’d gotten used to. Slightly.
Anyway, John said, ‘Well, we know something you don’t.’
‘Which is what exactly?’
Setting the gun back down on the pile, Jane replied, ‘Humans are immune to the Slixt.’
I leaned against a green crate, then thought better of it lest it explode somehow and make the day more confusing/worse than it was already. ‘I don’t get it. Can you please explain all of this from the beginning?’
Jane and John took me to another room where there were a bunch of lockers along the walls and a small table in the middle. We sat down on Human-style chairs, John pouring out fizzy drinks. Then they explained almost everything, but I still couldn’t believe it.
They weren’t mad at me for the failed escape attempt, which they referred to as “Plan B”. Had it worked, they wouldn’t need “Plan A”. But since it didn’t, they were back to their original mission. Somehow in the process I’d proven myself trustworthy, and they were now confident that I wouldn’t betray them.
(I wasn’t nearly as sure about that last point.)
They also felt that I might even be able to help them. Not that I could see how, exactly. My track record so far hadn’t been that great. But maybe that was the point… maybe I was the “patsy”… the one who got left holding the bag when things went sideways.
J&J explained that shortly after arrival, they were approached by a Blixan merchant who introduced them to a few other aliens, who then introduced them to some different folks… and, given J&J’s background and species, the aliens decided that they would be suitable to the task at hand. Which was apparently some kind of suicidal rebellion-plot.
I had a lot of problems with their story, ‘But, you hate aliens… why are you working with these Blixans or whoever they are? You trusted them, but you didn’t trust me? And, like, what the ( expletive )?’
Jane was poking her finger into the table to emphasize her points, ‘The enemy of our enemy isn’t our friend exactly, but they make good allies, and if we’re going to pull this off, we’re going to need as many ( curse-bag ) aliens as possible helping us. If nothing else, they can soak up some Slixt bullets when things kick off.’
I did a face-palm. Then, peeking out from between my fingers, I said, ‘This is crazy, how can the Slixt not know about this?’
John said, ‘Weren’t you listening? Humans are immune… immune!’
‘The Slixt!’ he exclaimed.
I felt a migraine coming on.
Jane cut in, ‘Yeah, you know why there aren’t any other Humans here, don’t you?’
‘They keep getting themselves killed or they.. uh… kill themselves…’
John said, ‘Well you’re half right.’
‘What are you taking about?’
Jane replied, ‘Kill themselves? Is that what they told you? No that’s not it at all. Jeez, you’re so stupid. Humans are immune to the Slixt’s secret weapon. That’s why they don’t have more of us onboard. The Slixt are actually afraid of us.’
I didn’t believe them, but they insisted that it was true. Jane laid it all out for me. It was all due to the…
( – record redacted: content removed by order of Inquisitor Slub’bump : ref #869-N0K-701-Z )
Which I didn’t think was conclusive proof of anything – it was a neat theory, possibly even the right one (reminder: I’m not good at science). But as far as Jane and John could tell, the Slixt had abducted them for a very specific reason. One which they were planning to subvert for their own ends. I wasn’t so sure. It all sounded a bit ( counter-intuitive ) to me. But it also kind of made sense in some ways.
They weren’t done surprising me. It turned out that Jane and John did actually remember who they had been back on Earth. All that rubbish about them having amnesia was a story they’d adopted very early on. Part of their training they said.
Apparently, the two of them had been some kind of military weekend-warrior/training-people, or something. To top it all off, Jane had been John’s commanding officer back home. Which did explain a lot, if not everything.
Jane was saying, ‘You fall for everything and everyone.’ (Which was insulting.) ‘So we can’t figure out why the Slixt abducted you, of all people… we make sense… but you? No way.’
John had a theory, ‘It’s probably because you’re so sympathetic… maybe they thought our benefactors would have approached you because of how gullible you are?’
‘So,’ I said. ‘Let me get this straight. Humans are supposed to be immune to the Slixt ( – redacted – )? And that makes us special because? … And that matters at all, since the slugs control the ship and the really scary guns, and no offense… but Humans are, like, the “key” to everything? Isn’t that like, totally absurd? And you’re telling me that the Slixt abducted us so that we could reveal some kind of a big-plot to overthrow them? Is that it? But it doesn’t end there? Because there is a plot to overthrow the Slixt? And you’re actually involved in it? For the same reasons that the Slixt brought you here? Ah… if the Slixt are so smart then would they have let things get this far without creating a big trap? Also, I don’t understand how you managed all of this in such a short time… honestly… aren’t you even a little bit concerned about how utterly convenient and ridiculous all of this is? I have so many questions…’
‘Get real’, Jane said. ‘This isn’t a TV show… I’m not going to sit here and tell you everything just because you want to know it. That’s not how any of this works.’
‘Ok, how does it work?’
‘We only need to know if you’re in or out. You obviously don’t want to be stuck here any more than we do. Listen to me: we’ve got a real chance here… better than escape… you don’t seem to realize how big this whole thing is… if we can take over this ship and bring it back to Earth, do you know what that would mean?’
‘Obviously it means that we all get to go home,’ I said, feeling like the dumbest student in the class.
‘Seriously?’ replied John.
Jane went on, ‘It means that we’ll be heroes. If you hadn’t noticed, the universe is a big ( cursing ), scary place, filled to bursting with monsters, and the Earth is a sitting duck, just waiting for some alien d-bags to come and harvest it. Can you really not see that? Do you realize what we can do with this kind of technology? If you haven’t already figured it out, I’ll spell it out for you: we can use it to save Humankind!’
I wasn’t sure it would be that simple, but I was sure that even if they succeeded, they probably wouldn’t be allowed to keep the ship. Like, if the Slixt were somehow overthrown, then who would take charge of the ship and the city? I was pretty confident that it wouldn’t be Jane and John. So I asked, ‘How are you planning to save Earth exactly? By going to war against the whole universe?’
John nodded, ‘Exactly.’
‘This is crazy.’
Jane stood up, ‘It’s time to put your cards on the table.’
‘Yeah, are you in or out?’ repeated John, also standing up.
‘Do I have a choice?’
Jane stared me down, ‘You do, but you won’t like the alternative.’
This was the part in the movie where the character either got to walk away unharmed or turned out to have a minor role that got them buried in the foundations of a construction site, so I said, ‘Then I guess I’m in.’
‘Good… Now, you better get back to doing what you do best.’
(Why does everyone keep telling me that? Don’t they realize that I’m not good at anything?)
On our way out, we passed another room full of poorly made rubber Slixt costumes. I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of it if it weren’t suddenly so terrifying. ‘You can’t honestly think that those will fool anyone?’ I asked in a high voice as we went by.
Jane just grinned and said, ‘Don’t you worry about that. We’ll let you know when we need you.’
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