Boy From the County Hell
by Maya Tawi

part two

"Junk, junk, and more junk. Come on, you guys, you've got to have something valuable in here. Whatever happened to professional courtesy? You'd think they didn't want to be robbed...."

I paused in my rifling and my running commentary just long enough to take a quick, wary glance out into the hangar. As soon as Bobby and the Babe finished getting "acquainted", they'd want their ship back, presumably sans mudfoot. And that could be any time.

Luckily the place was still empty. Gaireth was somewhere in the shop, finishing up back orders on propulsion parts. As far as he was concerned, I was off in the garbage pits making a salvage run.


I slammed the metal cabinet shut in disgust and gave it a kick for good measure. I'd been through the command bridge, the cargo bay, the mess, and three crew quarters the size of closets, and nothing for the taking. Unless your taste ran to dancing dashboard hula girls and pink fuzzy dice.

I'd pocketed the hula girl, of course. Along with a month's supply of food from the mess, so it wasn't a total strike; it just wasn't what I'd had in mind.

Time to get organized. I exhaled and rubbed my temples, trying to think. After I finished with the crew quarters, that left storage, drive room, and engine room. I'd been sure I'd find something in cargo, at least, but it was empty. Bone dry. Picked clean. Earth was either their last or their only stop.

On the up side, I had food and a kitschy dashboard ornament.

I quickly bypassed the locks on the last of the crew quarters and slipped inside. The Babe had pretty good security, I'd grant her that, but no security system stands a chance against the Harper. That's just how things work.

I shut the door behind me, then turned. Then stood for a moment and stared.

"Oh, give me a break," I said finally, irritated.

I'd found Babe and Bobby's love nest.

After a moment, I edged forward, kicking scattered clothes and various other debris out of the way. It actually wasn't that disastrous, considering; with rooms as small as they were, there just wasn't space inside for a mess.

A creaking sound from outside made my heart skip a beat, but it was just the ship's weight settling. Piece of junk.

No, that's not really fair. It really wasn't as bad inside as it looked. There was actually something elegant about the economy of space; all the parts and wires fitted together perfectly, without a single wasted cubit. Whoever had built it definitely knew what he was doing. At a glance, I was willing to bet Psycho Bobby wasn't it.

The problem was, the ship looked homemade.

Another creak- I was actually getting used to them now- and I started going through drawers. There were flexis and data chips, presumably some light bedtime reading; a few cheap metal armbands, which I pocketed; a few things I didn't particularly want to touch; a fairly well-crafted knife- now I was getting somewhere. Some pretty revealing pictures of the Babe- ah, this must be Bobby's side of the bed. I whistled my appreciation and moved to the next bank of drawers.

Babe's side was rather more productive; she had some nice looking jewelry, a retractable blade, a full money purse, and a picture frame that looked like real silver. I slipped the original picture out of it, only glancing quickly at it before dropping it back in the drawer face-down.

Kids. I have a problem with kids.

For one thing, bad memories. I never got to be one.

Growing up, I didn't even have the luxury of not knowing there was anything else. Oh yeah, I knew- somewhere in the universe, life was better. It wasn't perfect, granted- I knew that much- but somewhere people still grew up without worrying every day that they'd be beaten, shot, tortured, turned into breakfast, or... worse. People like Bobby and the Babe.

So I knew there was a better life beyond Earth. I was just never gonna see it.

I slammed the drawer shut and stood, giving the room one last once-over. A metal storage cabinet lined the far wall; I popped the lock and started rooting around. Clothes, boots, weapon straps and belts, a box with some kind of-


I felt my eyes bugging as I stared at the contents of the box. I reached down and touched one of them, almost reverently.

Discs. Pure gold.

Discs are used a lot for storing data- we're low tech down here on the home planet, and us plebes can't get our hands on serious data chips. Even discs, relics that they are, are in short supply. And then there's the hard core collectors, people with an inexplicable yen for old music with crappy resolution. Personally, if I can't eat it, wear it, or sell it, I don't see the point, but then there's plenty folks don't understand about me; whatever the use, I knew there were people- people like Gaireth and the guys he answered to, one step up on the privelege ladder and several below on evolution- who'd pay serious cash and goods for this little collection.

And judging by the size of the box, that collection would last me a long, long time.

I don't know how long I stayed there, going through the cases, reading the actual English titles- Clash, Stones, Pogues, Waits- and probably grinning like an idiot. Which was fitting, as it turned out, because only idiots stop to gloat. I should've just taken the goods and ran.

Because when I did finally wise up and open the door to leave, my face slammed into Psycho Bobby's fist.

I stumbled back, dropping the box like a hot potato and clutching my nose. The box landed on its side; discs spilled across the floor with a loud clatter. Bobby followed me back into the room. He didn't look happy. As if I couldn't tell that by his enthusiastic hello.

When in doubt, start talking. "Hey! How ya doin'? Listen, I know what this looks like, but I was just making a few last-minute repairs. That box was in the way, I was just trying to get to the, uh- the...."

I trailed off under the full force of his Psycho Glare, and cringed and waited to die.

Psycho Bobby didn't disappoint. He lunged for me, grabbing for my throat. At the last possible second, I dove to the side and scrambled past him to the door. He recovered faster than I expected; I was halfway through when a hand wrapped around my ankle, and I went down.

I yelled and squirmed and kicked and bit and basically fought for every second he wasn't killing me. Fighting's not dignified. Not the way I do it. It's what you do when you can't outtalk, outthink, or outrun any more, and if it gets that far you're really freaking desperate and you've got nothing left to lose.

I don't think Psycho Bobby was fully prepared for the dementia that is my fighting style, or else he just wasn't as good as he looked. Either way, we were still struggling when a pair of heavy black boots planted themselves in front of my nose and a familiar voice said, "Both of you. Get up."

Psycho Bobby froze, and I took the opportunity to throw him off and scramble to my feet. Then I froze too, because Leather Babe was pointing a big freaking gun at me, and man did she look pissed.

I said the first thing that came into my mind. "He started it."

I could swear, she almost smiled.

"What's the damage?" Psycho Bobby growled, climbing to his feet.

Leather Babe went serious again. "He didn't take much. Just some food from the mess." Then her eyes narrowed, and her lips curled up in a scowl. "And my hula girl."

I snickered.

Not smart, I know, but I couldn't help it. When you've survived Magog and Nietzscheans only to be killed by a purple-haired dominatrix with a kitsch fetish, everything else just seems really funny.

Her mouth twitched again, and I felt a sudden surge of hope. She didn't seem too pissed. Maybe she wouldn't kill me. Maybe she'd only bruise me.

I decided to try reason. "Look, I- I'm sorry I got into your stuff, all right? Just let me go, and don't tell Gaireth or anyone. I can make it worth it to you."

Psycho Bobby sneered at me. "What could you possibly offer us?"

Leather Babe gestured with the gun. "A fair question. Answer the man."

"Upgrades," I said quickly. My eyes were glued to the gun. Did I mention it was big? "All your hardware's at least ten years out of date, and it's wearing out to boot. Give me two days and I'll have this baby running faster, tougher, and more maneuverable than you ever dreamed of, all for the magnificent sum of nothing at all."

"And we're supposed to believe you can do all that?" Psycho Bobby again.

I glared at him. "Private conversation, pal. No one's talking to you."

Leather Babe actually smiled. It was brief, but it boded well.

"Empty your pockets," she ordered.

Reluctantly I dug my hands in my pockets and let the jewelry, the two blades, and the picture frame fall to the floor.

She raised one eyebrow. "You guys must have a different definition of empty down here."

I gritted my teeth together, and the money purse joined the pile. Then I tossed her the hula girl, along with Charming Smile, take three. "Take good care of that little lady for me, would ya? The two of us really bonded during our short time together."

She caught the hula girl one-handed and grinned back.

"Oh, please just let me kill him," Psycho Bobby said, glowering. I returned the expression with interest.

"Hey, you wanna 'get acquainted' with one of our quaint Earth customs? Four words, pal: steak sauce, Magog camp. That's all we can tell you till after the initiation-"

Bobby opened his mouth. Leather Babe interrupted us both.

"Stow it, Bobby. You- mechanic guy-"

"Harper," I supplied. "You can call me anything you want, baby, but we'll have to ditch this evolutionary misstep first."

Psycho Bobby growled ominously. I wondered how long I could bait him before his leash snapped.

"Harper," the Babe echoed. "I'm Beka. You're going to fix my ship. And if you're screwing with me in any way, you're dead, plain and simple."

I grinned. "All you had to do was ask."

Then I got the hell off their ship.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Epilogue


More fic?