Not my characters, but I think we all know that by now; if Harper were mine, he'd never see the light of day again. The title is a song by the Pogues.
I started writing this before "Be All My Sins Remembered" aired, before I learned there was going to be an Official Back Story(tm). Then I watched BAMSR, and it pretty much sucked. So I have no qualms about my alternate universe. Go me!
Thanks to Lavonne Parks for the opening quote, and to her and Viridian5 for help and feedback and general all-round support and coolness.
Boy From the County Hell
by Maya Tawi
"Friendship, like the immortality of the soul, is too good to be believed."
Ships don't land very often on Earth.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Nietzschean ships come and go all freaking day, carrying food, supplies, new batches of slaves, bigger and bigger guns- basically all the important things, tools to keep the natives oppressed and uneaten. Sometimes they even come by the machine shop for repairs. Not that a kludge like me's ever let anywhere near those marvels of modern technology.
What we never see is any ship that's not Nietzschean. Mainly because no non-Nietzschean in their right mind would ever want to land on Earth. Unless they're Magog, of course, and that's entirely another matter.
So when Gaireth kicked me awake-
-more on that in a minute-
-the last thing I expected to see was the pile of junk and spare parts currently maneuvering its bad self into the hangar.
I glared up at Gaireth, grumbled something obscene, and rolled over to go back to sleep. Scrap salvage could wait for me to finish my beauty sleep.
The next kick sent me scurrying to my feet and up against the nearest wall. Apparently Gaireth didn't agree.
"Crude," I observed, when my mind unfogged enough for me to form coherent thoughts. "Effective, but crude. Did you ever consider investing in a simple alarm clock?" I rubbed my side as I spoke; Gaireth doesn't pull his punches.
He wasn't amused. He seldom is. Some people just have no sense of humor.
"Get to work," he growled, aiming another kick. "You're not paid to sleep all day."
I skipped aside nimbly and sauntered past him. Big but slow, the lot of 'em. "I'm not paid full stop," I muttered once I was out of earshot. The few crumbs Gaireth throws my way are just enough to get by without starving. And that's when he's feeling generous.
Rubbing my eyes, I peered blearily out the window as I passed. The sky was still dark, a faint orange-purple line on the horizon the only indication that the sun planned to rise any time soon.
Sleep all day my ass.
Gaireth's one of many enforcer-types in the local neighborhood "protection society", the big dumb ones who get more rations per month for their trouble. I fix stuff and run errands and basically do all the scut work they wouldn’t dream of dirtying their hands with. You've heard of those heartwarming, nurturing relationships between master and apprentice, where they both learn important life lessons from one another?
We don't have one of those.
He lets me sleep in the hangar, granted, in the dirtiest corner that's never used by anything with less than four legs. It's the kind of place where the cockroaches chase out the rats. In return he seems to think he gets to kick my ass around twenty-four hours a day.
I put up with it though. Truth told, it's the best situation I've been in so far in a pretty miserable life, and way better than what most refugees end up doing. For one thing, I get to play around with all those lovely technical toys when Gaireth's not around. Give me a nanowelder and a pile of scrap metal and I'm happy as a Magog in an orphanage. I'd be making a fortune by now with everything I've put together, too, if only there was a market for it; unfortunately, the other street rats like me don't have much use for handheld matter accelerators. And just try convincing a Nietzschean to pay good money for a kludge's inventions.
Nobody shares my vision.
The ship had finished docking and was powering down. At second look it was even worse than I'd thought- old washers hammered together with spare parts and falling apart at the seams. One of the rear thrusters was hanging off the back, just barely still attached.
I pushed my hair back from my face and winced; it needed a wash. Or maybe a cleansing by fire.
"I can scrap it in a couple hours," I decided. "You want me just to melt it down, or dig for any functioning parts?"
That was when she spoke.
"You scratch just one of the Maru's bolts and you'll be sucking your dinner through a straw."
Voice of an angel.
I looked up... and up... to where the rusted doors had jolted to life and were now standing half open. My jaw dropped. I think I drooled.
The lovely lady in leather narrowed her eyes at me and raised one eyebrow speculatively. She didn't miss a trick.
Then Gaireth came up behind me with a smack that set my ears ringing and elicited a distinctly undignified yelp. "Hey! Watch the merchandise!"
"We're not scrapping it, you moron," he growled, ignoring me. As he so often did. "We're fixing it."
"Fixing it," I echoed dubiously.
The chick scowled as she looked around the hangar and folded her arms across her chest. Her very attractive chest. "This is definitely the last time I do a cargo run to Earth. Do you people always try to shoot down your own deliveries?"
Obviously the lady had no idea how the world worked. "Only on slow days. We make our own fun down here." I flashed her a charming smile. She stared down at me, unimpressed. Crushed again. "Besides, we're not with the big guys, rich and priveleged as I may appear."
She gave me a slow, head-to-toe inspection, and I took the opportunity to return the favor. Sugarplums and black leather, oh my: the chick was a vision in kinky. A wide mouth, arctic blue eyes, and wild burgundy hair certainly didn't hurt.
Judging from her expression, I didn't meet with quite as much approval. Well, wait'll she saw me all cleaned up. She'd change her tune.
Gaireth pushed me out of the way, and I bared my teeth at him. He was fairly salivating- whether at Leather Babe's curves or at the prospect of the repair bill for her rust bucket, the world would never know. "And how will you be paying?" he inquired pleasantly. You know, that tone of voice he never, ever uses with me.
Leather Babe smirked and whipped out a flexi. "I won't."
Gaireth grabbed it and inspected it; his eyes were like beach balls. Even I was impressed. "You talked the Niets into free repairs?" I asked incredulously.
She shrugged. "Hey, I was just doing the job they paid me to do. They get trigger-happy, they foot the bill."
Or rather, the kludges in the machine shop do. I felt my grin fade as the implications of that fact sunk in. No way were the Niets planning to reimburse us for this. This would be unpaid time, labor, and parts- money coming out of Gaireth's pockets. And, by extension, mine.
Well, you don't survive two decades on Earth without knowing how to look out for yourself. There had to be some profit to be made from this. And if anyone could find it, it was none other than Seamus Zelazny Harper.
"So come on," the chick was saying, blissfully unaware of the consequences of her free repair job. Or, more likely, just not caring. "Fix my baby up so we can get the hell out of this trash pit."
Cue Charming Grin, take two. Full wattage. "What's the rush, huh? Maybe you and me, we could get to know each other, I can show you-" What? The best trash cans to scavenge food from? The best places to get shot by Niets?
Not that it mattered. Before I could come up with an enticing ending to that sentence, someone stepped up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist, rested his chin on his shoulder, and nipped at her earlobe. Someone who, unfortunately, wasn't me. She closed her eyes and leaned back against him as he murmured, "Gravity getting to you, babe?"
My smile disappeared faster than a Nietzschean from a fair fight. Leather Babe was spoken for. Just my luck.
Then he lifted his head and stared directly at me, and the full force of his glare made me take an automatic step back. I know psychos when I see 'em. I also know to stay the hell away.
"On second thought," I said quickly, "I'm sure you've got a tight schedule. Hate to see you go."
Leather Babe looked up again and cracked one eye open. "Get to it then," she said mildly. "Bobby and I'll be around." She smiled slightly then, and practically purred, "We'll be... getting acquainted with the area."
Exit Leather Babe and Psycho Bobby, stage left.
I stared after them, feeling my face harden, my good mood dissipate like smoke. Not a care in the world for those two. Just like two rich kids, wandering through space and leaving a trail of wreckage in their wake. Oh, that mess? Don't worry, the servants'll clean it up....
Screw 'em. One way or another, I was going to take them for everything they had.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Epilogue