Boy From the County Hell
by Maya Tawi

part six

I left quietly just before dawn, while Brendan and the others were still sleeping. Sentimentality only goes so far.

Beka was waiting for me in the alley, one of many anonymous corridors across the city that led to nowhere. I was pretty sure I'd mugged someone there at least once, before I'd settled into my cozy situation... former.

Ah, happy memories. Was that a tear?

As I slunk towards her- inconspicuous is my other middle name- she thrust a handful of clothes at me. "Put these on."

I shook out the largest item, held it up, and frowned. It looked suspiciously dress-like.

"Question," I said after a moment. "Is this an actual part of the plan, or just an excuse to get me in drag?"

Beka arched one perfectly shaped eyebrow in response. Her burgundy hair was pulled back tightly from her face, a startling contrast to the wild 'n' wacky style she'd sported the last couple days; her eyes were rimmed in black, her lips unpainted. A holstered gun rode conspicuously on one leather-clad hip. She looked all done up for war, and I wasn't sure whether to be reassured or extremely frightened.

"You said you didn't want to be recognized," she pointed out. "I wouldn't recognize you."

I smoothed the dress across my front. "That's just 'cause it'll hide my slim girlish figure."

"Whatever makes you happy, Harper." She fixed me with an impatient, get-on-with-it look. Resigned, I sighed and pulled the dress quickly over my head.

"So come on," I said, as soon as my mouth was free of the fabric. "I was fishing there. Plan?" I pressed, when she gave me a blank look. "You've got one? Enlighten the Earthling?"

Beka grinned. "Plan?"

My fingers froze in the middle of buttoning. "Please tell me you have a plan."

"We," Beka said solemnly, "have many, many ideas."

I just stared at her. "I'm dead."

"You need to lighten up, Harper," she chided. "Go with the flow a little. We'll get off this decrepit rock, you know? We've got an appointment at the Kaziykan trading post, and we've never missed a money-making opportunity yet."

I snorted and started buttoning again, ignoring the thrill of anticipation that her words sparked in me; it wasn't a done deal yet. "Your race originated on this decrepit rock, in case you didn't know-"

"Yeah, and got the hell away from it none too soon."

I stuck my tongue out at her. "Whatever, Miss I'm-Too-Sexy-For-Your-Planet. And yeah, I feel real confident leaving everything up to you and Bobby and, hey, how'd the boy wonder take the news?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?" She hesitated, glanced away, then looked back at me, her face serious enough to give me pause.

"You know," she said after a moment, "Bobby's a lot smarter than you give him credit for. Not to mention a hell of a lot more dangerous. I'd be more careful around him if I were you."

"Hey, no worries. You got my back, right?"

Beka didn't answer right away, and I realized suddenly that I was making a lot of assumptions based on insta-camraderie and some good chemistry. It's always been my one failing; I see a pretty face and my logic center short-circuits.

"Never mind," I said quickly, before she could say something utterly demoralizing. "I'll stay out of the way. You guys won't even know I'm there-"

"Harper," Beka interrupted quietly, "it's complicated. I mean, I know what you think, but I don't have a leash on Bobby. No one does. If he really, seriously decided you were more trouble than you're worth, you'd be out on your ass by the next station, and that's only if you're lucky and he doesn't decide to space you first." She paused. "I'm not trying to scare you off or anything. I like you, and I want you to stick around. So think of it as a survival tip."

I snorted again as I did up the last of the buttons- there had to be a hundred of 'em, from the entire ankle-length of the skirt all the way up to my neck. "Look, lady," I said, settling a ratty broad-brimmed hat on my head, "I may not look it in my current ensemble, but I've survived Nietzscheans, Magog raids, mutant flea infestations- hell, I survived two whole decades in this armpit I lovingly call home. So forgive me if I'm not intimidated by your wannabe-killer-thug boyfriend, okay? Thanks bunches."

Beka folded her arms impatiently. "You done?" she demanded.

"Pretty much, yeah."

"Yeah, well, that's all in the then, Harper. It's a different world out there-" She jerked her head skyward- "and paying attention to people's politics can keep you from getting killed."

"Thinking you're a badass counts as politics? This is one wacky universe you guys got, Beka."

She raised one eyebrow and the other side of her mouth, in a perfectly coordinated look of disdain. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah," I agreed, "and I think it's full of shit. But thanks for the effort."

Beka sighed and raised her hands in a mini-gesture of surrender. "Whatever, pal. Just remember, it may be your neck, but it's my ship."

Always the tough chick. "Listen," I said, suddenly awkward, "I got something for you."

"For me?" A twisted smile crossed her lips. "You shouldn't have."

"Yeah, shut up." I hiked up the skirt around my waist, pointedly ignoring her wolf whistle, and fished in my pockets for a while before I found what I was looking for- two long metal cylinders. Kinda like tin whistles.

Beka studied them skeptically. "I don't need any more sex toys, Harper."

I nearly choked at that, but seeing as she was keeping so blase, I did my valiant best to follow suit. "They're shrillers," I said repressively. "Whistles," I added, when she gave me a blank look. "Ultrasonic, to screw with the Niets' hearing. If you're in a tight spot, just blow on one of 'em and watch the scamps run."

She shrugged, tucking the shrillers into her belt next to her gun. "Usually I just shoot 'em, but what the hell. Couldn't hurt. Thanks, Harper."

With that, she turned on her heel and sauntered away, hand resting oh-so-casually on her gun.

I sighed as I watched her go. No human being has the right to be that cool.

This was definitely love.

It didn't take me long to realize that Beka was right about the dress. I was used to cutting a suspicious figure as I walked the streets, so much so that I felt distinctly paranoid without the usual watchful eyes boring into my back. A scruffy male kid attracts attention; an old street lady is as good as invisible.

I had to get out of that dress. I was starting to like it way too much.

Before I completely abandoned the life of a queen, however, I took advantage of my invisibility to scavenge the scrap heaps behind some nearby machine shops. I had some ideas I wanted to try out on the Maru; having a whole ship to tinker with was gonna be a...

...dream come true....

I stared blankly at the broken relay transmitter in my hands, overcome by a sudden paralyzing swell of disbelief. Everything was happening just too damn fast. Beka had offered me freedom not fifteen hours ago; it seemed like a lifetime had passed.

I had a ticket off planet. Which I'd prayed for every single night since the Magog turned my baby cousins into human incubators.

I'd been offered an engineering position on a ship. An experimental ship, with plenty of hardware to keep me busy, and an open invitation to play around with it any time I wanted.

I was going to be chief engineer on a salvage ship in space. Look out, FTA; Seamus Harper's joining the ranks of the space pirates. The boy from Boston makes good.

It was a dream come true.

And it was terrifying. Because it was never supposed to happen like this.

My hands started to shake uncontrollably, and I dropped the transmitter and fumbled for my pockets. Only the dress didn't have any pockets, so I shoved my hands into my armpits and sank, trembling, to my knees.

I'd often said flippantly to Brendan that I wouldn't know how to act if I wasn't in trouble, usually just after we'd pulled off a successful raid and were stumbling back to the tunnels together, laughing and hanging on to each other for support. When we weren't successful, no one said anything. Success, of course, being defined as all of us getting away in one piece.

It worked another way, too; I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I wasn't fighting for my life.

I had absolutely no concept of life in space, or of what the hell I'd do once I got there. I'd always known about it; it was just never an option for me. Never something that happened to a scruffy street kid on Dragan-occupied Earth.

All I knew for sure was that anything had to be better than this, on my knees in a scrap heap in someone else's rags.

It was like a fairy godmother had swooped down and offered me everything I'd always ever wanted. But I'm a cynic. I don't believe in fairies.

I don't even believe in God.

At that moment a sixth sense, an awareness of being watched, jerked me back to reality. There was a Niet guard staring at me from the opposite end of the road; apparently I wasn't as invisible as I'd thought.

I climbed shakily to my feet. The nerves could come later. I couldn't afford them now.

Now I had to concentrate on getting off the blood-soaked soil of the only home I'd ever known.

The shop was deserted by the time I got there. Not that it was ever a hotbed of fiscal activity, but this was a particularly eerie silence.

This could either be a good sign or a very, very bad one.

I shucked off the dress and wrapped it carefully around the goodies I'd scavenged, brushing off my regular clothes with the gloomy certainty that I'd picked up some extra fleas from Beka's fashion faux pas. Then I stashed the bundle behind the back door and edged carefully inside.

The lights were off and Gaireth's office was empty. A scrap ship was on the working floor, abandoned in mid-dismantle, tools and parts strewn across the cement like a hardware store had just moseyed into the hangar and exploded.

I licked my lips, found my voice, and risked using it.

"Beka?" I called softly.

Her reply was immediate, deafening, and overwhelmingly vicious.

"Seamus, get the fuck out!"

Illogical as it seems, my first response was pure, blind anger. The very worst I'd envisioned was that we'd be caught escaping. I never imagined she'd back out on her offer. Yet that was the first thing that came to my mind.

I opened my mouth to retort, then immediately snapped it shut. Two reasons.

One: it wasn't just fury I'd heard in her voice; she'd sounded more panicked in that moment than I'd ever imagined she could.

Two: I'd never told her my first name.

"Fuck no," I hissed, and turned to run.

I didn't get very far; the shop was suddenly filled with Nietzschean guns, held by Nietzschean hands attached to Nietzschean arms attached to huge fucking Niet bodies. I ran smack into one's chest and others crowded around me, grabbing my arms and wrenching me back. I heard sounds of a struggle from the next room, but they didn't give me a chance to dwell on it. They held me and I fought back as hard as I could, insane with fear, kicking blindly until they grabbed my legs, until I couldn't move at all, screaming furiously the whole time.

It wasn't Gaireth's shop I was seeing. It was my parents, gunned down as they tried to protect me from the same fate I was being carried off to now. It was the utter pointlessness of their deaths.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I registered the sound of a shriller, and the yells of the Nietzscheans, but the hands holding me didn't loosen their grip. Then I was being shoved out the door, and a hand snaked around to grab my head, and I bit it, and then something heavy exploded in the back of my head and unconsciousness took over, and I was finally gone.

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


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