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Chapter 17 – Slixt’mas Party

Day 216, ’twas the night before apocalypse:

The three of us were huddled up in an alley, a few Triblak’s-girths away from Jane and John’s new lair. My fellow Humans had picked another shady, anonymous market to hide in (which I thought smart). The sign above the garage-style doors indicated that it had been some kind of novelty shop in a past life, but this night it was dark, its shutters drawn up tight – almost too quiet.

‘Are you sure they’re in there?’ I asked.

Wheezy whispered, ‘We’re sure.’

Jerkface wanted to know what my plan was but I didn’t actually have a good one now that I was there. Wheezy didn’t like that very much, and neither did Jerkface for that matter. But after a lot of hushed arguing they grudgingly agreed with my rushed assessment of the situation.

We felt that it was possible that the new rebel base was filled with an unknown number of heavily armed and desperate freedom fighters. Jerkface was insistent that we make a move, but I did a quick survey of our collected abilities, and it turned out that none of us were highly trained ninja-assassins or space-commandos, so the idea of sneaking in without getting caught. Busting the place up was out of the question.

Jerkface didn’t look too happy with me, but what else was new? ‘So what now?’ he asked.

I handed him a hot thermos of Koo-gloop and said ‘Now we wait.’

‘Great plan,’ whispered Wheezy. ‘Just great.’


Day 216, arms race:

Slixt’mas dawn was presaged by a warm, roiling mist that descended over the city like a cloud, soon followed by the glow of a sickly green-gold light from above. This special-effect was designed to make the city feel more like the Slixt home-world and to make the festivities more authentic for the slugs. To me, it just seemed like a bad omen. My palms were sweaty and I rubbed them on my clothes every few minutes, nervously shivering while we waited for something to happen.

 We were surprised to see a long line of aliens begin queuing up outside the closed shop. Before long, they were winding down a side alley. Hundreds of them came in quietly, their faces drawn, determined, sometimes jittery with excitement. One might have been tempted to have called the collection of aliens a small army.

I recognized a few familiar faces in the queue. Many of those were drawn from the list of people I’d warned about the coming civil-war only the day before. How they found their way here so quickly was anybody’s guess. For all of my attempts at lying low and sneaking around the city, this explained why P’shush’t hadn’t been the least bit surprised when I’d told it what was coming.

This had to be the worst kept secret in history. I expected armored Slixt to come slime-crunching their way around the corner any minute, but as the mist grew thicker, and the light grew brighter – making everything glow in pale vomit-like tones – I knew in my heart that the slugs would let this play out (I just didn’t know why).

‘What now?’ hissed Jerkface. The brighter it got, the less hidden we were – soon enough we’d stand out like a bunch of Queezixxes.

So far, my awesome non-plan was failing big-time. I figured it was time to adjust my strategy. ‘We join the line,’ I said.

Wheezy keened pitifully behind me.

‘Relax Wheezy, I know that your heart’s not in this. But I have one last thing to ask of you… and you don’t have to do it, but if you do, it could help us all. At the very least, you’ll be safe from the fighting.’

Wheezy looked unsure about my request, but in the end scurried off gratefully into the morning mist, tears streaming down their face and refusing to look back at Jerkface and me.

In case this was the last time they’d ever see us.


Day 216, new recruits:

We couldn’t just waltz across the street and join the line without looking like we had been hiding in the shadows the whole time (which we had been) so instead we crept through an alley and around the block, finding our way to the end of the line. By that time it was already moving.

My pulse quickened as the aliens shuffled forward anxiously, all of us winding our way around first one corner and then another. I wanted to ask the person in front of me what they were thinking, but by some unspoken agreement of mass civil-unrest everyone just kept their heads down, mumbling to themselves, or looking into the distance, playing out the coming hours in their heads and maybe wondering if they’d made the right decision.

The line moved quickly and before we could reconsider (and follow after Wheezy) we came around the last corner and found ourselves back in front of the shop. The garage doors were open and a half-dozen mostly-harmless looking Blixan merchants were there handing out poorly-disguised guns and low-quality costumes to everyone that came by.

It meant that Jane and John had told the truth about the Blixans at least, and the fact that there were so many different aliens here, picking up guns and heading off into the morning crowds indicated that this was really happening. There was no going back. J&J had found their Resistance.

I walked up to one of the Blixans, who sized me up quickly and shoved a rubber Slixt costume into my arms. Then they handed me a heavy rifle that was covered in bits of colorful paper, ribbons, and sparkles. It wasn’t any kind of toy that you’d want a few hundred angry aliens playing with. Yet there they were, passing them out like candy. I expected the Blixan to ask me for a password, or to flash some kind of secret rebel-sign, but it appeared that they had enough artillery for everyone and weren’t too picky about who got a hold of it.

I took the gun and the costume from the Blixan, asking in a rushed whisper, ‘Are Jane and John here?’

The Blixan stared me down like a disapproving parent (reminding me somewhat of Nixa). ‘Who?’

‘Jane and John!’

The Blixan waved for me to get moving so it could hand out more weapons. When I didn’t, it grabbed me roughly by the shoulder and whispered into my ear, ‘If you know what’s good for you you’ll get moving. The Humans aren’t here… and I’ve never heard of them anyway. If we were expecting to be alive tomorrow, I’d tell you to ask me again, but this place will be burned to the ground… just go and do what you need to do. Fight for your life! The time for conversation is over. Now go! Get out of here!’ and it shoved me as I stumbled away.

Jerkface was waiting ( impatiently ) near the place where we’d spent the night watching the shop. He was wearing an ( unknown expression ) on his face. I must have had a similar expression on mine, not knowing if what I was supposed to be feeling was fear, or something else.

We found a quiet corner and put on our costumes. I looked like a ( dick-butt meme ) from Earth, with my legs sticking out the bottom of the rubber Slixt thing I was wearing. Jerkface was done up like some kind of garish alien-clown-thing-from-hell that made Human clowns look positively soothing by comparison.

The gun I’d been given was a lot like the ones back on Earth, but hadn’t come with any ammunition. So maybe a ray-gun, if such a thing existed. There weren’t any buttons on it except for the trigger. Just point and click, I guessed. Mostly I hoped that it wouldn’t actually be needed.

Jerkface seemed to read the hesitation in my face and gave me a ( shrug ). ‘We don’t want to be the only people in the city who don’t have one of these today, right?’

I wasn’t so sure.


Day 216, the parade:

The rebels that we’d seen earlier had done a good job of blending into the growing crowds as we made our way to the staging area in the outer ring of the city where the parade was getting ready to start. There were more aliens out in the streets than I’d ever seen. In contrast, the Slixt “togetherness patrols” that had been ever-present in recent days were conspicuously absent.

Meanwhile, throngs of people were bunching up, ready to start the day’s celebrations, or to tear down the city, or whatever they individually may have been planning. It was hard to tell who was in on it, and who, in the coming hours, would become an innocent bystander.

Of Jane and John there was no sign. Whether they had used the secret-weapon they had borrowed from the Groazl, or what, there was no indication that they were anywhere nearby. I figured they had been hiding in the back of the Blixan shop, but it’s not like we would have been able to get inside to confirm. Even if we had hung around all morning, there was no way of knowing if they hadn’t already left by another route. So here we were, waiting in a large crowd, many in costumes (some aliens were basically their own costume), and lots of people holding fake guns, or maybe real ones, and a good few bearing placards wishing everyone a Happy Slixt’mas and other rubbishy catchphrases.

I convinced Jerkface to move up and we wound our way through the crowd near to where the Slixt were mustering before proceeding down the central avenue.

There were dozens of floats in different styles and colors. Giant balloons loomed overhead, depicting famous Slixt or other historical aliens from the time when the city was founded. The air was thick with the buzz of excitement/threat of certain-death.

Giant screens had been erected all over the city, each displaying the ominous sight of my own planet, Earth. In each case it filled up the entire display. The caption underneath read:

“A glorious conclusion to our Slixt’mas celebrations.”

I knew then that the Groazl was right. The Slixt would let the war happen, and then they’d destroy the Human world as a message to the other aliens. “See what rebellion gets you?” they’d say, and the people would listen. My world would be gone by tomorrow (major, major bummer), and I couldn’t see a way to stop it.

Long lines of armored Slixt formed up in front of us, sandwiched between the impressive war-machines that they’d brought out for “display”, ready to slime their way along the parade route.

My teeth started chattering all on their own. Jerkface slapped my back encouragingly.

Music swelled from every public-speaker and then it was happening. The parade started to move as we grimly marched behind it, throngs of onlookers cheering (or pretending to) from every sidewalk and window while Slixt shaped confetti floated through the thick mists around us like brightly colored ashes.


Day 216, cataclysm:

The roaring of the crowds was deafening. We passed through my part of town, and then the market district, toward the banking sector. Every nerve in my body felt raw, just waiting for the moment when the ( curse ) would hit the fan. We walked like zombies caught in the surge of the bodies following the procession.

It was just as we entered the circular park where the statue of Sp’loort the Third loomed over the crowds that the war began.

Like a giant starter’s pistol, a series of incredibly loud, thunderous booms rolled across the city. Then, a massive explosion very nearby shook the ground under our feet knocking us over. As we struggled to avoid getting trampled, the Slixt statue was hit by a rocket, sending bits of concrete and dust through the air, and then… pande-crapping-monium broke out.

Huge sections of the crowd started screaming, but we could only hear their cries in small bursts through the deafening noise of untold numbers of weapons coughing hot-death into the misty air (there were a lot of rebels after all).

Through the smoke I saw the back line of armored Slixt go down in the first salvo from unseen attackers.

My world filled up with a nearly endless chorus of Brrraaap-Brrraaap-Brrraaap and Jerkface grabbed a hold of my costume, hauling me into an alley just before the place that we were standing was vaporized by a burst of Slixt weapons, which were returning fire indiscriminately.

As projectiles ricocheted off the walls around us, I ripped off the Slixt costume as fast as I could, Jerkface doing the same with his. A moment later, we were nearly trampled (again) by a stampede of people fleeing the carnage. All the while, the rumbling of the city and the roar of war pressed down on us.

Somewhere close-by we heard the sound of a tremendous automatic cannon that the Slixt must have hidden, preparing for this moment. Its shells shook the street as we cowered in the alley, bits of building crashing down around us. Until that too was silenced and then replaced by even fiercer gunfire from all sides.

Despite my better judgement, I edged toward the street-side of the alleyway and poked my head around the corner, Jerkface right behind me.

What I saw was sickening. The rebels were fighting the Slixt and their defenders with ferocity. It was hard to tell who was on which side through all the smoke and bright streaks of blaster-fire. But the worst of the carnage was happening on the ground around us, oblivious to the larger struggle against the Slixt.

Not far away, I saw a terrifically large Jinzurk rearing up. It grabbed a screaming alien with two of its arms and ripped it in half, before grabbing another passing alien and stuffing it into its mouth. I saw Blerzons shooting at Nerfnerks. Rupricans disemboweling Zligs. Many were using the chaos to unleash untold years of speciesial enmity and long repressed hatred. I’d never seen so many bodies in my life. Not in movies, and not on TV. But no matter how many fell, there seemed to be another one firing a weapon at someone else.

To say that I’d been naïve would have been the understatement of the millennium. Even with all of the evidence to the contrary, I’d somehow expected the revolution to proceed in a short and orderly fashion, resulting in some sort of truce.

Nothing had prepared me for the sheer loss of life which was now taking place. I had actually pictured myself just waltzing into the melee and capturing Jane and John – with the idea that I could use them as bargaining chips with the Slixt to negotiate peace.

What the ( curse ) had I been thinking?

Jerkface pulled me back as another explosion tore a hole in the building next to us, and then he was screaming into my ear, ‘You have any more bright ideas?’

I didn’t, but knew that we couldn’t stay where we were and pointed down the alleyway. So we ran for our lives while the city burned around us. And then we discovered that Wheezy had been successful in their mission – but it wasn’t something we were prepared for. Even though we knew it might be coming, there was no way we could know when it would happen, so we were just as surprised as everyone else when the gravity cut out.

One second we were bursting out the alley and into a side-street, and the next our pumping legs were propelling us high into the air. I was overcome by the sudden shift to zero-gravity and dropped my weapon, which spun slowly back down toward the ground.

Jerkface was flailing right beside me as another explosion deafened me to whatever it was he was trying to say. I thought it might have been about Wheezy, who we’d sent down to see the Groazl. After all, the creature had granted me this favor, which at the time felt like a solid plan.

I thought that shutting down the gravity-fields in the city might bring an end to the fighting, or at least slow it down, but I was as wrong about that as everything else.

The sky immediately filled with the hot-red streaks of blaster fire, twirling rockets, smoke, dust, floating screaming people, and more noise.

I tumbled higher and higher into the air, realizing with dread that I could no longer see where Jerkface had floated off to, and could only hope that he’d make it out alive.

(When the gravity kicked back in it would be a real crapshow.)

(I guess I didn’t think that through either.)

The blast from a nearby Slixt weapons battery alerted me to the danger I was in a split-second before green bolts of death scythed through the air, zeroing in on my position.


Day 216, avenging angel:

The spinning and weightlessness was quickly overwhelming me, my vision blurring. Dark shapes whizzed past and I could no longer tell up from down and left from right.

More flashes of light. Short bursts. Angry streaks. Twin swirling lines and the distant blips of exploding ordnance. Above the general din, I felt, or heard, what sounded like a hundred angry bees surrounding me as I tumbled though the sky, eyes stinging. My head rang as the green Slixt energy rounds pierced the air like lightning and thundered into the roof overhead. But the barrage didn’t slow down, sweeping past me, again and again.

(If the ship’s hull got breached we’d all have a much bigger problem to deal with. Albeit briefly.)

The buzzing intensified. Then something latched onto me, gripping me in its powerful force. Strong and tight. And I wondered if I’d been hit by a Slixt weapon of some sort, but that didn’t make any sense.

Then I saw it… a glowing-red angel. A beautiful winged creature not born of heaven or hell… possibly the creation of both, though I’d never know for sure. Its skin was a deep mahogany red, burnished by some internal flame, as if lit from behind by smoldering coals, and it had rapidly beating wings, almost like a dragonfly.

Tears were leaking from my eyes, messing with my returning vision as I floated weightless. And then I cupped my hands around the creature’s face and cried, ‘Nixa!’

Somehow, she was there. In the flesh. Like I’d never seen her before, and literally radiant. So beautiful and so alive and so Nixa.

She squeezed me hard enough that I thought I might pop.

Burying my face in her neck, I sobbed. ‘How? They told me you were dead! They saw your funeral! They burned your body!’

Nixa held me a little away from herself and said, ‘There were times when I wished that the process killed me… I’m sorry that I hurt you, but you can’t be the only one who gets to do stupid things.’

It was then that I saw Nixa’s people surrounding us, long twin streams of energy propelling them via their jump-packs. The closest ones bore long, slender, lance-like, black swords that reminded me of stingers. Others carried projectile weapons which they were using to deliver the good news to the Slixt gun-batteries down below and anyone else who felt like they might take a shot at us. A few were firing energy beams or slender rockets down into the battlefield and, whenever they were shot back at, would scatter in all directions, then swarm up again into a new battle formation and spin through the air as they rained destruction down onto the Slixt below.

I laughed through my tears. ‘You injected the stuff… the… er… the stuff that would make you into a Queen, right? I remember! But that almost killed you the last time! I know you know that, obviously, but you’re insane! Right? Just bonkers! But I can’t believe you’re alive! I love that you’re alive! And why the hell didn’t you tell me! … You’re a Queen… for real?’ I could see the disapproval hovering behind her joyful face as green beams flashed past in the distance and the fighting raged on around us.

Then the gravity suddenly came back and everyone who wasn’t flying fell back to the ground with sickening crunches or wet thuds, rockets veering off at crazy angles and exploding against distant walls or people’s homes.

Suddenly, all too aware of where we were, the return of gravity directed my gaze downward and that’s when I saw them on the ground, close to the Slixt front-lines.

And it looked like they were winning…

A circle of death advanced toward the Slixt command citadel. I saw Jinzurk fighting beside a dozen other very nasty kinds of aliens, and the small figures of Jane and John were with them, accompanied by a phalanx of Blixans, Moglogs, and maybe a Sikleep or two… it was hard to tell.

Nixa followed my gaze and asked me, ‘Have you finally figured out what you want?’

I thought that I almost definitely did. ‘I want this to end!’

Nixa let out a piercing battle-cry that nearly split my head into two and her people rallied around her in a black buzzing swarm. She issued rapid orders. I could see that they didn’t like what she was demanding (and probably resented it) but her clicking was ( cursing ) fierce.

In the end, they obeyed her. Queens had their privileges, after all.


Day 216, Nixa’s revenge:

We swooped down through the maelstrom toward where Jane and John were fighting, but then we suddenly pulled up short. Nixa clicked at some of her followers, and the next thing I knew she was dropping me gently onto a nearby rooftop and shooting back up into the sky.

‘Hey!’ I yelled. ‘You can’t just run off like that!’

Nixa swooped down and clicked at me, ‘I can’t risk anything happening to you. Leave this to me.’

Before I had the chance to reply, she let out another battle cry, her carapace glowing redder, the beat of her wings like war-drums as I tried to squint through the downdraft. A half dozen Cht’xst’tk-ian warriors swooped down while the others swarmed into new formations. One of them tossed Nixa a long black sword which she caught easily in her clawed hand, and then they were speeding toward the heaviest fighting in the city while all I could do was sit there and watch.

At first, the Slixt and the rebels were so busy fighting each other that they didn’t see Nixa’s people coming. Moments later they were in a three-way battle.

Between the smoke and the explosions, I tried to follow Nixa’s burning form, but it was often obscured by blasts of energy or the pall of battle. As far as I could tell, everyone was losing.

Cht’xst’tk-ians fell from the sky. Slixt oozed into the puddle-like form that signaled their death, and the alien rebels rallied and then too began to fall back as their numbers rapidly diminished. I thought I saw Nixa on the ground, fighting the towering Jinzurk single handedly with rapid slashes of her sword and powerful leaps and thrusts, but soon lost sight of her again.

I debated whether I should run over and try to help, but Nixa wouldn’t want me to. The continuing explosions and automatic weapons fire did the rest of the convincing. Besides, I might as well listen to her for once. It wouldn’t do any good for me to die just when she’d gone through all the trouble of coming back to life herself.


Day 216, I contributed nothing:

As the minutes ticked by, I could see less and less of the battlefield – the gravity-caught mists already returning to ground level. Between the smoke and everything else, all I could do was lie down on the rooftop, looking out over a battlefield that was all but invisible.

By the next hour I was dreading the worst, and by the hour after that, I was becoming certain of it. When the furious buzzing returned I jumped to my feet. Nixa’s glowing form gracefully spiraled down out of the sky, picked me up, spun me around, and nearly crushed me.

‘We did it!’ she whispered into my ear, and then let me go.

A moment later, a couple of Cht’xst’tk-ian warriors deposited Jane and John, bound and tied in a heap beside us on the roof.

I pulled my old tablet out of my pocket, the one that Nixa had given me, and the one that I knew the Slixt were probably tracking. I turned it on and sent P’shush’t a message:

“We have them.”



***




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