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Chapter 3 Part 2- Continue Meeting the Girl by nightfire08
They walked silently for a minute, people watching. Which is actually dangerous to do in spaceports for too long; you risk sensory overload.
Suddenly, Rex turned to Bay and blurted, “I didn’t mean to get on you about the girls back on Sceratone, by the way.”
Bay looked at him in genuine surprise.
“No, well, I did,” he amended. “It’s just that…I…” and then trailed off.
Bay waited for him to continue, almost bumped into a crotch-high streetcleaner droid, and quickly lost the battle with his patience. “Yes? What is it just?”
“It’s just that…” Rex began again, then looked uneasily at Bay, “I don’t presume to tell you how to do your job,” (Bay grimaced, because he was pretty sure that was EXACTLY what Rex was about to presume to do) “And I concede that you’re entirely much more experienced and successful than I am at this…but it seems as if we spend a lot of time…you know…faffing about.”
He blushed a deep crimson and turned his face to the ground like a child who’s broken something expensive. Bay stared at him in shock.
“Faffing?” Bay asked, more confused by the use of “faffing” than by what Rex had said.
“Yes faffing,” Rex said, “I can certainly see the appeal in the lifestyle…believe me, some of these women…” he blushed an even deeper crimson, but struggled on, “it’s just, I tend to feel…”
“Anxious?” Bay ventured.
“Yes! Exactly right! How did you know?”
“Anxious, spending so much time…” Rex looked into Bay’s eyes searchingly. Bay gazed back at him, squinting slightly.
“You know, forget I said anything.” He finished, and studied his shoes.
“No, I think I get it,” said Bay lightly.
“Are you sure?” Rex breathed, “because I’d never want you to think I was insulting you…”
“Oh,” said Bay, battling very hard to repress a horrible little grin, “I wouldn’t worry about it. Do you think I’m hurting anyone by enjoying the fruits of my successes?”
Rex paused, objections thundering in from all angles. “No, but-“
“And how would you describe our job as Consultants?” Bay said.
Rex opened his mouth, then shut it. “You mean the code?” He finally asked.
“Eh,” Bay said, his eyes doing that sharpening thing that made Rex both afraid and jealous at the same time, “just do it in your own words. If you had to describe our job to someone who’d never heard of us before, how would you do it?”
“Well-“ Rex began, obviously frustrated, “I suppose I’d say our job was to fix things, well, situations, so that they worked out the best for everyone.”
Bay grinned and nodded. “Everyone?” he asked impishly.
“But!” Rex jumped, aware he’d just barely missed the mark. “All GAF taxpaying citizens.”
“Fair,” Bay said, “Now, you know what I think, but do you consider yourself…no one?”
“Well, of course not!” Rex snapped
Bay frowned and raised his eyebrows at him as if to say, was that so hard?
“I’m not sure…” Rex said.
“How much good have you done for the Universe recently?” Bay asked imperiously.
Rex paused for a moment, then answered truthfully, “I mean, none directly, if you want to get technical...”
Bay nodded. “So, I guess YOU HAVE been foffing, or whatever the hell you said.”
Rex stared at him, started to get mad, stopped, looked concerned, opened his mouth, shut it, the got mad again and asked, “Can I do the next one then?”
Bay stopped, and turned towards Rex, and was grinning that very upsetting lopsided grin he did right before something bad was about to happen.
“Absolutely!” he said, looking honestly pleased, “Glad you asked!” then turned on his heel and stepped between two bright red cepholopods haggling over a pile of crystal storage chips. Rex watched him go, feeling very strange, until a huge, very unexpected smile overtook his face and he loped excitedly after Bay.
He almost ran right past him, as Bay had stopped just beyond the cephalopods, and was staring up, looking mildly concerned.
Rex followed his gaze.
About sixty or seventy feet above them, what looked to be a giant rat with a blue-glowing mouth in a trench coat, was scuttling quickly along the parabola of a power cable between two rooftops.
Behind him, seemingly skating on thin air, was a very frustrated looking girl with high, arched eyebrows and green flaming boots.
“Weird” Bay said. Rex nodded in agreement.
The shifter stopped, balancing tenuously on the wire, holding the little blue box between its fangs. The blue ghost-light pulsed distressedly.
Erie slowed, approaching it, masterfully moving her feet in figure eights to maintain balance. The boots were heating up from the effort of maintained levitation. She glanced at the gauges on her toes—she only had about thirty seconds left in either of them.
She took a deep breath. Okay.
The shifter was at the nadir of the wildly wobbling wire, perched on two legs, the other two stuck straight out in the air, tail straight out, twitching to maintain position.
The thing was breathing very hard, and sweating, and holding the blue box between it’s very sharp teeth. It glanced back at her nervously.
She hovered closer.
“Hey there,” she said as gently as she could, “No reason to be afraid now…”
She glanced down and noticed they’d acquired an audience. Great.
She looked back at the quivering shifter.
“Wants it!” It said around the box, dripping spittle.
“Okay,” she said appeasingly, hovering within arm’s length. She waited till its eyes flicked away for balance and quickly snatched the heavy coin from her pocket, palming it.
The thing’s wild eyes flicked back to her.
“Mine!” It screeched, and tried to take a step forward. Erie’s heart leapt as the wire swung wildly.
Down below the audience was taking bets.
Rex was debating weather or not he could catch the girl if she fell. Bay had already decided that was stupid and was scanning the crowd for a squishy looking service droid.
Erie’s boots began to beep in warning. She tried to settle her shaking hands.
“Look,” she said, speaking very softly and slowly, “I’m sure we can work out some sort of arrangement.”
The beeping on her boots rose in pitch and doubled in tempo.
She tried to keep her voice steady.
“I can pay you…” she said.
“Don’t want your money!” the thing rasped, “Mine! Want the…TASTY!!!”
And with that it took an ill fated step forward, swung below the wire, dangled by three ragged fingers for a second, before tumbling downward, screaming and shifting wildly.
Below, money changed hands.
Bay saw the gleam of something blue float away from the screaming shifter’s mouth before he grabbed a little cleaner droid, which was very confused by all this, and spun it under where he thought the thing would land. Shoving bodies aside, he reached for another droid for the girl, who would probably follow.
Erie watched in horror as the thing tumbled down towards the crowd. Without hesitation she flipped face down, flared her boots, and exploded toward the ground with a burst of speed. Her stomach lurched and the air screamed around her, but she drew the coin from her jacket pocket.
Rex, unsure of what else to do, moved beneath the quickly falling girl and extended his arms. The screaming shifter smashed into the service droid and Rex jumped back, yelping.
The air howled around Erie’s head. She saw the shifter hit, saw the faces of the crowd grow larger… saw a service droid spin out just where she was going to land, dodged it, and just a second before impact whipped her legs down and hit the ground in a burst of green flame.
Her spent boots powered down. She stood in a cloud of clearing smoke. A few of the crowd clapped.
The shifter, regaining consciousness, saw her, panicked, and started to struggle to free itself of the wrecked service droid (rest in peace, XR301).
She flicked the heavy coin over in her hand and it expanded a full three feet into a heavy lead pipe, pounced on the shifter, and smashed his head with it.
The crowd gasped.
“Stupid! Shifter!” she yelled, trembling (the exclamation points, in this case, indicating strikes with the pipe), “This! Is! Not! For! YOU!” The rat writhed and hissed and began switching rapidly between many different skin tones and textures.
“Don’t! You! E! Ven! Know! What! This! IS?!?” She finished finally, dropping the pipe with a clank in exhaustion.
The trench-coated thing on the ground up at her as if he was surprised she was finished.
She grabbed his legs and held him upside down for a second, shaking him.
“Now where is it?!” she screamed, eyes wild, trying desperately to quell pulse of the adrenaline in her veins.
There! She saw the small black box on the ground behind the wrecked droid. She dropped the shifter back on the droid and snatched it up, shoving it violently into her pocket and zipping the damn thing closed.
The shifted hissed weakly at her once more, defeated.
She regarded him grimly for a moment, breathing hard, then screamed, “Now, GET!” and thumped a heavy boot into his ribs just to show she was serious.
The rat gave one final hiss and flashed yellow teeth at her, then scurried between legs of the crowd and out of sight.
“HELL!” she yelled, put her hands on her knees, shook the sweat from her brow and tried to catch her breath.
“You okay?” she heard a level, confident voice ask.
She stood. The rest of the crowd had moved on- two men stood watching her.
“Yeah,” she said, still struggling to catch her breath. “Although that’s the fourth shifter in as many hours that’s tried to steal my…property. Apparently there’s a market for anything stolen off-world or something.”
She looked up at the two men. The shorter one in the flowered shirt, standing with his legs a little too far apart nodded sympathetically. The taller nervously cleared his throat.
“You know, because of the fluidity of their endoskeletal supports, physical violence isn’t that effective against most humanoid shifters. You might wanna try a non-lethal directed energy weapon next time. I mean, if you want,” Rex said, sounding much more like he was reading a textbook than he could have possibly intended.
She nodded, “Thanks. Good to know.”
“Would you like an escort back to your ship?” Bay asked.
She considered this for a moment.
“Well, being as currently you’re two friendly strangers on a strange rock who apparently have a penchant for effective methods of incapacitating shifters, I’d probably have to ask who the hell you are, first,” she said.
Bay nodded and stepped forward fluidly, flicking on his identi-patch. He handed her a silvery card, which glimmered. That invention of that effect had cost GAF the equivalent of two star cruisers, and he was very proud of it.
“I’m Bay, and we’re the GC’s,” he said, smiling his winningest smile, “Maybe you’ve heard of us?” He was concentrating on smiling at her so much that he even forgot to do the ‘The Duke’ thing.
She looked at the card, and her eyebrows raised and her mouth dropped open slightly. She’d heard of them.
Rex bounded up next to Bay, bobbing up and down excitedly.
“I have cards too,” He said, “I just give so many out that the new batch is in the mail.”
Bay glanced at him, trying, as he often did, to light Rex on fire with his eyes. Rex continued to bounce nervously and refused to combust. Bay sighed. One could dream.
“Wow!” She was saying, glancing between them, face bright. “Imagine that! Yeah, I recognize you (indicating Bay) from the hyper-casts! This is so cool!”
Bay nodded, very convincingly gracious.
“I was on one too,” Rex said, bobbing faster, “I mean a couple. You might not of seen them.”
“Then Hell yeah you can walk me back to my ship!” She said, grinning madly. What a hell of a day. “What are the odds!?” She bent to pick up her pipe.
“I can carry that-“ Rex began.
“No, it’s fine,” she said, and pressed a small, square button inlaid on the rounded surface. The pipe shrunk itself flat like a coin and fell to the ground with a plink. She picked it up.
“Cool,” Bay said, “Is that a mass transference mechanic?”
“Built it myself,” she beamed, unzipped a pocket and dropped the coin inside. A ghostly blue light played across her face.
“I thought MY job was hard,” Bay grinned as they turned to walk out into the crowd.
“I’m sure it is,” she said, wiping the sweat from her brow.
“No it’s not!” Rex yelped, “I mean, it is for me! I mean, it’s—DAMN! Harder for him than me!”
“What brings you out here?” Bay asked.
“Oh, just work,” she lied, rolling her eyes. “I’m a mechanic. On a clunker that takes forever to scrub out. I’m in charge of stewarding the ship until it leaves and I transfer.”
“Sounds fun. Which way?” asked Bay.
Rex bobbed and wove along behind them, very upset because they were doing that thing that he hated where two people walked side by side and didn’t leave room for the third who very obviously wanted to be part of the conversation.
“Sector B,” she said, “Thanks again.” They turned. She grinned mischievously.
“Yeah, freelancing’s great. I’m quitting soon. My agent works out of the Zix system, and you know how they can be.”
Bay nodded knowingly. They could be, and almost always did be, very pugnacious.
“Show him the color yellow,” he said.
She gave him an odd look, which accented her eyebrows nicely.
“No, seriously!” he said, “I stopped a war there that way. Big yellow flags. Triggers endorphins. I think their sun changed color at some point- that’s why they’re all like that.”
Her eyebrows went up even further and she laughed like crystal shattering.
“Good to know,” She said.
“I know just as much as he does!” Rex managed, then ran shin-first into a street cleaner droid and hopped around, cursing.
“So what about you?” She asked. “Your ship need a mechanic? Or does your boss just not like you either?”
“Believe it or not,” he said, “We fly coach.”
“No way. The GC’s fly coach?”
“Seriously. Your taxdollars at work.”
Just then, the speaker system blared, “Last call, The BatFilly Seven, making all stops to the eastern clusters, last call!”
“Hell!” She said, and spun around towards the source of the sound.
The box in her jacket pocket swung up and arched through the air, leaking blue. She had just enough time to see a hand reach for it before she whipped out her pipe, expanded it to its full length and CLONKED the head attached to the hand—
Rex’s head snapped to the right, back center for a second looking very, very upset, and then he fell in a heap.
She gasped and dropped the pipe again, which clanked again.
She looked toward Bay, who was wearing a surprised expression that didn’t quite seem to fit his face.
“Whoops,” he said.
“Oh my God!” she said, “It…force of habit! I didn’t mean to!”
“No! Of course not,” Bay said, which was followed by one of the few awkward silences he’d ever experienced as they both stared down at the man on the floor.
Rex’s head was turning purple. Bay didn’t know if that was normal for his race.
She was becoming visibly upset.
“It’s really alright.” He said.
“Are you sure?” She said, “Because I’d feel really awful if—“
“Naw. He’ll be fine.” He said reassuringly. “Happens more than you’d think.”
“Really?” She asked.
He shrugged. “Actually yes.”
A small clearing was forming; all manner of necks were beginning to rubber at them. For the second time in one horrible day.
“****!,” she said. “This looks really bad, but I gotta go! If I don’t get back to my ship before it goes, I…uh…could lose my license…”
“Oh.” Said Bay. He looked down at Rex.
“I’m really, really sorry” she said, “Tell him I’m sorry?”
“Yeah, okay,” Bay said.
“Will you?” She said. “I’m SO sorry.”
Bay sighed a bit. “Yeah, it’s fine.”
“Okay.” she said, “Thank you! Well, it was nice meeting you! Sorry!!!”
And with that she snatched the box off the ground and darted off into the crowd. It took Bay a full minute more than it would have normally to realize he hadn’t gotten her tec-com frequency, which was really too bad.
She was already too far away. He could barely make out the back of her head bobbing and weaving through the crowd. Ah, well.
After a moment, he looked down at Rex, and sighed a final time. Rex looked heavy. AND he’s just eaten.
With a grunt Bay hefted him up onto his shoulders, swaying a bit under the weight.
Rex’d be fine. The GAF nano-mites in his blood were rebuilding anything broken almost as fast as the damage had been done. He didn’t envy Rex the headache he’d have though. On the bright side, he was no longer talking.
He staggered for about five feet, then said to himself, “Nope, not today,” and dumped Rex on another one of the streetcleaner droids, reprogrammed it to follow him, and led the struggling little thing back to the transport.
Rex woke up an hour into subspace, with one of the worst headaches of his life. Bay was sitting next to him, jacked into the ship’s Gali-Net and bobbing his head to Neurotica third album, which actually wasn’t that bad for solar punk.
Rex tried to say something and was instantly assaulted by several different varietys of pain-and-white-flashy thing. His shaking and foaming at the mouth caught Bay’s attention. Bay removed his headphones.
“You alright?” Bay said, already knowing the answer.
“No,” said Rex, hating Bay for making him speak because he was pretty sure Bay already knew he wasn’t alright.
Rex passed out again.
Bay cracked his thumbs and let his head loll back on the dampish, slightly sticky PlastiSkin headrest, rested his arms on the dampish, slightly sticky PlastiFrim armrests, and tried to tune out the hum of the subspace engines tuning up outside, though even they seemed to endlessly drone “GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY”.
He hadn’t noticed it previously, but everything on government vehicles was grey. Very officially non-committal. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone with…well, interesting pallet choices or anything. On a certain level Bay understood. He had seen riots and worse (the Zix system, for instance) started over less.
The ship was still mostly empty, with only a few army grubs sitting in a tight group in the back, and a couple of long-haired, half-crazed GAF postal workers smattered throughout the rest of the cabin gibbering softly to themselves and clutching their mailbags.
Bay could finally feel the sun and sand (and sex) seeping from his bones, leaving a considerably lighter (though desperately less entertaining) desire and readiness to go consulting.
As if on queue, his tec-com lit up with the face of the GAF high commander like a Sceratonian sunset.
Chapter four: http://thegcs.blogspot.com/2011_05_04_archive.html
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