by Glor Bee
Can a human and cyborg work together to make it to safety?
| He could hear the moaning more loudly now with a grunt he shoved aside the last piece of debris. Instinctively he reached for the missing gun from his belt upon seeing the metallic arm. The cyborg rolled blocking his view of the metal limb.
“Your logic in freeing me is flawed.” The voice was almost female, a little deeper than normal and with a distinctive generated sound. It made no more attempts to move.
“Maybe but you don’t seem to be in much better shape than me.” He sat back tired from the exertion and surveyed the mangled remains of the ship. It was hard to tell if this was the remains of a human or cyborg ship.
“It is both, the ships collided.” The cyborg lurched up into a sitting position before collapsing back into the debris. Tired after freeing it he sat and let his eyes drop shut. There had to be a way out of this war zone to a human settlement. How he would ever get there without food and water he wasn’t sure. He dozed for some time aware at times of distant sounds of fighting. Still tired but aware that if he didn’t get moving he might not get any further he forced his eyes to open. Across from him the cyborg was still there, sitting up head twisting about. Above them a deep rumble sounded across the sky. “We will get wet here, further in is better shelter based on my scan it is possible we will find some food items further in as well.”
“You actually want to help me.”
“I have damaged components without assistance both our survival is in peril.” He stood and walked further into the ship. The thunder became more muffled as he entered the less damaged portion of the ship. In places he saw cyborgs and humans half buried and dead in the debris he’d seen enough of it to ignore it. He would have ignored the cyborg out there except for the call of help it had given...and the human hand it had moved. Behind a half open door he found a room that had likely been a mess room. Further investigation confirmed it but he had no idea how to access the food if there was any. As he left the room and made his way back the deep rumbling added a lighter ping as the rain started. The cyborg had made some progress toward the safer portion of the ship.
“Which ship is this?” The cyborg tilted its head back to look at him.
“Based on the structural qualities it has a 60% chance of being cyborg.” Well that about guaranteed he would need its help. He bent and got an arm under its arms.
“My earlier assessment was correct.”
“Unfortunately.” He muttered under his breath and helped it out of the intensifying rain through the ship to the mess hall.
“The structure has survived well.”
“I'm more interested in food.” He lowered it to the floor and it twisted its head around surveying the place. After a couple moments it pointed to the close wall.
“There should be a recess along this wall. Find it while I locate something for prying.” Not having many other choices he moved along the wall allowing his fingers to do most of the work. A dim light came on and he heard the cyborg make a noise that he would assume had to do with being happy about it. While it was nice it wasn’t terribly helpful in locating the recess. An empty space greeted his fingertips and he knelt to better explore it, almost rectangle with smooth edges and a slide like back.
“I think I found it.” He jumped as he felt the cyborg at his side. It didn’t say anything just leaned against the wall examining the surface above his head. With a grunt and creak the panel above him slid open and packets tumbled out onto him. The cyborg grabbed one and sank to the floor. Selecting one he shook the other packets off and sat on the opposite side of the pile. Outside the downpour continued, the sounds of thunder had died out leaving only the rain to drown out the sound in their cocoon.
With a start he jerked awake. There was no sound and the light was dim barely able to illuminate the space he was in. Getting to his feet he heard a squeak.
“Don’t do things in halves do you.” Looking down he watched the cyborg rub a hand over its face. It’s voice seemed different from yesterday, hoarse like it wasn’t used much.
“I would think your sensors could tell you I was waking up.”
“I am not a robot...I’m doing a diagnostic.” It was quiet more of a mutter than a statement. His own mouth and throat felt like a dry sponge.
“Any water around here?”
“Should be some in the packets.” After some searching he was able to find them and separated them from what he assumed were the food packets. Outside it sounded like the storm had eased, wind whistled through the ship but didn’t find its way into the mess hall. He stood sipping at what he assumed was water although given cyborg’s way of being efficient probably wasn’t just water. His throat felt better and he walked back through the ship to the outside. The skies remained an angry grey. The search for a human settlement would have to wait a little longer. Returning to the ship he poked into the other areas looking for anything that would be useful or small enough that he could carry with him for trading. Cyborg parts would get the most but to dismantle the remains of cyborgs was beyond his skills. Finding a few small items he carried them back to the mess hall. The cyborg was where he’d left it, it didn’t ask him anything and he didn’t say anything in greeting. In the light he could see he had a miniature motor, probably a cyborg part, a couple weapons parts nothing useful for the trek to civilization but worthwhile trades. There were no chairs in any condition to be sat on so he took a seat next to the packets of food.
“I surmise that you are missing your weapon or I would be dead.” The voice hadn’t changed much in the time he’d been gone. It could just be that the voice from yesterday was an oddity. Without a clock he might not have been gone for that long either. “You could try, it's not like its easy for me.”
“Really.” It was silent. Better that they just be silent, it was the enemy and if he was caught he’d be turned into one without a second thought. There was a clinking of metal as the cyborg moved some things beside it. He needed the sun or stars to get his bearings so he didn’t walk closer to cyborg territory, he was essentially trapped with the cyborg until the skies cleared.
“What’s your name?”
“I am designated T1363.”
“That’s not a name.”
“It is how I am referred to.” It felt like referring to a part, a machine, a ship even at least it wasn’t a personalized thing. “What is your designated name?” That was an interesting way to ask the question.
“Well Everett, if you come across any tool bags bring them back with you.”
“If I manage to recognize one.” He conceded.
There was no way to know how long they sat in silence, nothing to tell them it was meal time except a hungry stomach, no stars to tell that it was time for bed. It could have been a day or a week. He slept, ate, checked for clear skies, scoured the ship for items on a schedule all its own. He had found a bag of what he assumed were tools, the cyborg had certainly been happy to see them. It’s voice had reverted to the generated sound that it had first used and now spent most of its time working on its various limbs. At times he worried if it was wise to allow the cyborg to fix itself but he hoped the weather would clear before it finished its repairs. Returning to the mess hall he found the cyborg standing near the light controls.
“Not much to do.” He took a seat in his usual spot and watched the cyborg move around. There was a sluggishness to the mechanical parts missing from the human side. He was getting tired of the lack of human conversation.
“Have you seen any cyborgs with intact legs?”
“A couple.” So far the cyborg hadn’t ventured far from the mess hall, he could only assume it was a mobility issue. The cyborg walked over and picked up the bag of tools he’d brought it.
“Take me.” There was no good reason to object and he wasn’t tired so it would provide at the very least a distraction. Pushing himself to his feet he led the way from the dim mess hall out into the darker hall, after a couple turns and sliding past a couple mangled beams he pointed out the cyborgs he’d seen. The cyborg limped past him and knelt beside one. It probably had better vision than he did with all its enhancements. It examined first one and then the other, pulled some tools out and worked for a few minutes before lurching to its feet and picking up the bag. He led the way back out of the space and to the mess hall. The cyborg sat in its usual spot examining the item it had in its hand. He took a seat and pulled open a packet of food nibbling at the mostly unflavourful bar, it was at least not dry like some of the packaged rations he’d eaten but some flavour would be nice. Finishing he tossed the package into the garbage corner and looked at the cyborg. It appeared to be asleep, at least both its eyes were shut. How long until a cyborg ship arrived and he was in an even bigger mess?
“I’m not connected to the network.” It was the hoarse voice, it seemed a little stronger this time.
“Is that what you think I’m worried about.”
“Your heart rate increased suddenly, you were looking at me.”
“Thought you were asleep.” He muttered to himself and drew a leg up to rest his arm on.
“I’m resting.” Resting, sometimes the cyborg used such human terms it was hard to keep it at arms length. “I’m not a robot.” For as many times as it asserted the statement he found it hard to believe. It ate and slept but somehow he still didn’t feel like it was human. Leaning his head back against the wall he felt the weariness of the day pull on him.
“You are wanting to get back to a human settlement.” He didn’t quite believe that the cyborg had come up with this plan and then sprung it on him first thing in the morning.
“Not with you.” The cyborg took a bite of food and chewed it. He had considered it at least once but dismissed it. He didn’t want to travel even a little while with the enemy. The cyborg tossed the wrapper into the garbage corner and stood. Since it had done a repair on its leg it was moving much better.
“You should try calling me T1363, I use your designation.” It did, when it chose to address him with his name, about as often as he used its designation. “I am in need of one more complete component replacement but I haven’t found an undamaged one on this ship. If I travel for a short time with you it raises the odds of survival by ten percent.”
“I’ll think about it.” Walking out of the mess hall he stuffed his hands in his pockets. He already liked the companionship that it offered and he didn’t like the idea of getting any more attached to it. On the other hand a live cyborg with its components was a great trade item provided he could get it close enough and acquire support for catching it. Outside the sky seemed less grey than last time he’d been out. Maybe another day and he could go by himself. Hearing footsteps he turned to look over his shoulder. It had followed him out.
“The nearest settlement is that way.” It pointed in what he hoped was a northeast direction.
“I haven’t decided to go with you.” It walked past him, poking at mangled pieces of ship. By the time he got back his military contract would be up, provided he hadn’t been listed as dead. Do some salvage work make a bit; retire happy and in one piece.
“Everett does this interest you?” It extended a hand offering a set of dog tags. He took them running his fingers over the embossed metal. Someone would receive good news, missing in action usually meant they were a cyborg at least in death they remained human. The cyborg left him alone and he sighed. He’d avoided the human bodies as much as he could, for families to know their loved one hadn’t become the enemy he should gather as much about this crew as he could. It wasn’t a task he wanted to do.
“Hey!” The cyborg didn’t stop its searching. “T1363!” It turned and came closer. “I’ll travel with you if you get me dog tags or descriptions of all the human crew.” It stared into the distance likely calculating or some other machine thinking.
“All that I can find.”
“Deal.” And if it couldn’t by the time the sky cleared he could leave on his own. Going into the debris he searched for a blanket or bag or anything he could use to carry supplies. Everything he spotted seemed to be too torn or full of holes to accomplish the task. If only he’d had his kit when the ship went down even if it all hadn’t made it a needle and thread would be helpful. The sky grew darker and he abandoned his search to get some food and get into the little light they had. The cyborg was out longer than him returning to eat then gone for another period, though he could hear it banging around in the ship.
It had been two sleeps since he’d made the agreement with the cyborg. He could now tell by the way the sky brightened the rough direction of the sun’s movement. It frustratingly confirmed that the cyborg hadn’t been lying when it had pointed out the direction. Finding a duffel in not terrible condition he packed food and water packets tested the weight then selected a few of the components he’d found to take. Now if he could just sneak past the cyborg. It was coming back just as he entered the hallway.
“You are ready just in time.” It lifted a hand to show him a cord full of dog tags. “My calculations indicate this is less weight than having them on individual cords.”
“Yay.” He took them and added them to the duffel. The last thing he had really wanted was further travel with it.
“You aren’t happy Everett?” Especially since it seemed to be trying even harder to use his name.
“I’m going, if you keep up you can travel with me.” He pushed past it and headed out. By the time he reached the ground the cyborg was only a few feet behind him. So much for moving faster than it. The entire day was spent walking in silence. Sometimes the cyborg would move off and he would quicken his pace hoping that it wouldn’t return if he could get far enough ahead to little avail as it always made its way back. As the sky darkened he found shelter under a metal overhang and settled in for the night. The cyborg joined him sitting on the far side of the shelter sorting through its bag and examining different items in the dimming light. After a little tinkering a light came on and it set it down. He pulled out a food packet and nibbled at the edge of the bar. The cyborg lay down, shutting at least its human eye. This was going to be a long walk. Finishing his food and laying down he for the very first time wished that the cyborg would fix itself and leave.
This ship had at least made it closer to civilization before crashing, he searched through the nearly intact rooms for useful items. An exclamation from the corridor brought him out of the room. T1363 was holding its human arm glaring at the wall.
“Well some of the systems are intact then.” Although with only a scratch it meant T1363 was faster than the defense system. He joined it and offered a hand. “How bad is it?” It lifted its hand to reveal a cut a little deeper than he had first thought. “Stay here I’ll find the med center.” it retreated to the outdoors while he returned to his previous search. In the three days they’d been traveling he had determined that other than basic needs T1363 was unable to care for the human side of it. It didn’t seem to think much of cuts and scratches, meaning it was frequently covered in them as it searched through debris for the component it wanted. The med center had obviously been used before the crew had abandoned the ship so he extended his search into the other areas looking for an emergency kit. A new duffel bag, some blankets, the nights were starting to get cold enough for frost to form on the tips of his hair, just as he decided that a blanket pulled into strips could serve as a temporary bandage he spotted the bright red kit he had been searching for. Returning to the outdoors he joined T1363 on the ground.
“You located the items you wanted?”
“Yes. Arm please.” T1363 extended its arm and he took it, using some of the sterile water to wash the cut then butterfly strips to close it and finally a gauze bandage to protect it. If he didn’t look at it he could almost imagine he was helping a cute girl or a guy who’d pulled some stupid move.
“Does it help to know I am female?” It had also seemed particularly aware of the fact he rarely used any pronouns or names the few times he chose to address it and had been working on it like a problem that could be easily fixed.
“No.” A little. Finished he released her...its arm. She...it stood stalking away. He got up and went back in the ship. It was already late in the day and an actual bed sounded like heaven. Settling in he opened the duffel to count food packets and water packets, he’d rationed himself to two meals a day and two water packets a day. If he could maintain it, he had another weeks worth. T1363 had brought its own. Stretching out on the bed he stared up at the bunk above him. Just had to keep reminding himself that a cyborg wasn’t a human no matter how often it used human terms.
He woke disoriented and sleepy. There was the sound of light rain tinkling against the hull, scurrying of small animals. Rubbing a hand over his eyes to wake more fully he tried to identify what was out of place. There was no light, T1363 had it in its bag. Sitting up to look over the room confirmed that it was nowhere to be seen. He lay back down and rolled over. Then tried the other side. It was a cyborg. He lay on his back. It was a girl. That was really bad at taking care of herself. He got up and went outside. The rain was light more of a drizzle than a pour. The cyborg wasn’t to be seen.
“T1363!” His call seemed to carry for miles in this desolate place. Should have looked for a jacket passed briefly through his mind as he headed out onto the churned up dirt. “T1363!” Why was he even looking for her? The rain was cold and he didn’t want to catch a cold, T1363 wasn’t worth that for sure. “T1363!”
“Yes Everett.” She emerged from an opening in the side of a wing.
“Nothing.” She dropped to the ground tilting her head to the side as though trying to understand his response better. “I’m going soon.”
“Very well.” So much for worrying about her...it, obviously it had been fine on its own. Using a blanket as a towel to dry his face, he wadded it up. What had he been thinking? That she was a girl and in need of saving. Stupid, stupid. Slinging the duffel over his shoulder he went back outside. It wasn’t to be seen and he tightened his grip on the duffel as he walked forward. He needed human interaction that much was obvious. How else could he explain the attachment to a cyborg. It ran up to him and fell into step. Civilization could not show up soon enough.
“You need a name.”
“My designation is…” He held up a hand to stop her.
“T1363 doesn’t roll off the tongue and it's a part number not a name.”
“I don’t have a database of names.” Well that made it harder. He dropped the duffel and pulled out a packet of water. In spite of the cool almost cold nights the sun had finally come out during the day and was making it hot for walking at midday.
“I’m not sure why your still with me.” She had also pulled out some water and sipped at it.
“Connected to the network.” At least it proved they had been listening to each other. If he wanted her to have a name he was going to come up with it. Folding over the top of the packet he tucked it away and started walking again. She followed suit and he tried to think of girl names. “Lucy?”
“That seems odd.” If she was going to decide whether she liked the name or not he was in a lot more trouble. Climbing over a hump of ground he wondered what name wouldn’t seem odd to her. Her designation was a letter and numbers.
“Nancy?” She seemed dubious. So not Nancy. He continued to try for the rest of the day. There was very few names she seemed to be even remotely interested in. As the sun set they came upon a cyborg ship. It was a little odd to see one this far from the main battlefield. While he walked the edge to find a spot to sleep she went inside. It was surprisingly intact for being so far from the battlefield. Maybe a salvager was harder than he thought. Ducking beneath a wing he pulled out a couple blankets spreading them on the ground then took a seat. A slim rod lay on the ground, scooping it up he drew on the ground. T1363. She arrived and took a seat on the second blanket. Pulling out some of the tools she lifted a small screwdriver.
“Give me a hand?”
“Sure. She handed him the screwdriver then lifted her hand to her neck.
“I need you to access my external memory systems to replace one.”
“Umm.” She patted the ground behind her.
“It's easy.” He moved behind her and knelt. Her fingers opened the area and pointed into the deeper area.
“Light.” She handed it over, already turned on. Leaning in close he gently inserted the screwdriver opening a smaller panel. It felt like he was reaching through her. “Okay there’s a couple slots here.” She lifted a hand holding a small flat item in them.
“Top slot replace it. Gentle push and it should come out.” He followed her instruction noting that there was a visible slump in her robotic shoulder as he removed it. Taking the new one he slid it in and closed the area again. Her human hand came up, fingers brushing against his hand as she shut the area.
“What was that?”
“Movement memory.” It was the voice he heard every time she ran diagnostics or was doing something else with her robotic side.
“You can’t do that with your brain?”
“It requires a little more effort.” He frowned as he tried to understand exactly how she worked. “What is it?”
“I just don’t understand how you work.”
“I don’t understand.” He leaned back and sighed.
“This voice thing.” She stared at him blankly. “Your voice is different when your robotic side is...busy.”
“My voice is normally generated through a device attached in my throat when running diagnostics or rebooting my voice functions as a normal human voice.” He nodded slowly. So she was only human at the moment. That meant there really was a very vulnerable time for cyborgs.
“Some data is stored on external cards in order to not take up space on the main processor. I mostly store repair data there.”
“I am a Technical Mechanic, thus my designation.” Oh the T was for technical then.
“That makes some sense then.”
“It’s logical.” Her robotic side shifted and she rotated her shoulder and stood. “I will return.” Nodding absently he didn’t really notice the direction she took. So if her designation actually stood for something her human side could be attached to it in a similar fashion to his own attachment to his name. He needed some way to allow her cyborg designation to be incorporated into her name. Getting out his supper he scribbled in the dirt trying to think of something appropriate. T1363 returned after the sun had set and the darkness had gotten deeper.
“How about Tiegen? For a name.” He clarified when she didn’t respond right away. “Its essentially your designation but in letters.” She took a seat and seemed to be in deep thought about it.
“Your logic seems good, Everett.”
“Just Rett, it's what my friends call me.”
“Very well.” He lay down as she rummaged in her bag for some food. Well it was official they were now friends.
“Salvaging is good business?”
“Yeah. More fun, more reward for the danger.” Tiegen frowned at him as he removed the gauze from her cut and checked it over. It was healing very well and in a couple days he could probably leave it open.
“Military operations are not rewarding?”
“It's a complicated human thing.” He wasn’t sure exactly how to explain it to her that would seem logical. Putting new gauze on the wound and securing it he found it hard to not look closer at the robotic parts, some of the parts in her hand seemed far too delicate to leave exposed.
“Some items are more valuable salvage?”
“Cyborg parts if you can get them undamaged, ship parts.” She folded her blanket and handed it over to him. It was nice to have some comradery. He felt like he was already starting to understand her better. He wasn’t about to run off and live with cyborgs but he could hang out with one.
“Why cyborg parts?” He lifted a shoulder.
“They get used in a lot of stuff I think.” As they walked out into the sun the warmth sent a little shiver through him. Scanning the horizon for any signs of human settlement all he could see was the hills that seemed to be forever in front of them. She was going to ask him which parts. “Seems like any of them, there’s one I’ve heard them call a core that’s particularly of value.”
“Interesting.” She pointed out toward hills again. “That way.” They began the daily trudge in silence, they were past the worst of the war zones you could see it in the grasses and low shrubs that were growing. It gave the area less of a ripped apart feel. He glanced at Tiegen, she was looking around though whether it was at the grass and shrubs he couldn’t tell. Did she know what any of that looked like, all the rumors he’d heard about the cyborg inhabited places was that they were devoid of natural life. The same rumors also talked about cyborg’s being purely analytical which Tiegen didn’t reflect.
“Would you like a core?” The question was odd and he stopped walking to look at Tiegen. She pointed off to the left. “My sensors indicate an intact core that way twenty feet.”
“I could probably trade it for a ship.” That was about all the answer she needed as she turned and headed in the direction she’d indicated. He followed, so far her sensors had kept them on a path that kept them on a path to human settlement. After just five minutes of walking they came upon the almost buried remains of a cyborg. Tiegen knelt and set her bag down. He took a seat a little way from her and surveyed the horizon again, anything to indicate humanity would be a welcome sight although if it was an outpost he understood if they tried to keep their footprint as small as possible. Laying down on the duffel, sun warming his face he felt as relaxed as if he was in a backyard at home. It was hard to tell how long he had lain there before the shadow fell across him.
“This?” He opened his eyes then stood to look at the item she was holding.
“Yeah, matches the descriptions.”
“It is a central power storage device.” He took it from her and tucked it carefully into the top of the duffel. “The miniature power providers would be a more logical item of value.”
“Maybe they haven’t figured out how to use them?”
“That seems the most logical answer.” She must have already thought it through and come to the same conclusion.
“So would you be the technical mechanic on my ship?” Tiegen was quiet as she turned and picked up her bag.
“On a human ship?” He tried not to feel too hurt about the way she said it.
“You could add whatever cyborg stuff you wanted.” As they began to walk back toward their original route he waited for her answer. If she could get undamaged cyborg parts the risk of her being discovered was on par with what he could make if she were around.
“For a little.” He extended a hand.
“Shake on it?” Her robotic hand slid into his, the metal cool against his skin.
“You good to wait here?” It was probably the sixth time he’d asked. They had finally come across a human settlement and he was going to leave her out by herself while he went in to negotiate for a ship, get some fresh clothing, check his military status. It would keep him away until the evening at the very earliest unless he had to stay longer.
“I will be safe in this location.” He nodded and gripped the duffel bag a little tighter as he left. She had the blankets and the last of the packets he’d carried, they had found a natural cave for her to stay in. According to her there was little sign of human activity outside the walls. Just ships coming and going and the odd land arrival, none of which came close to her location. He took the route she’d recommended, approaching the settlement along the barely visible dirt tracks. walking through the gate he stopped to get scanned, his bag was checked but the small parts he’d brought didn’t interest any of the guards and he was allowed through with no questions. The first stop was to a trader, who took the parts, paying him a decent amount for them. The only comment made was that he must be crazy to do it without a ship. His second stop was to a store for new clothes then a public bath to get cleaned up and feel a little more like a human. The third stop was a little harder to find but he finally located a small library that had computers he could access. He confirmed that his military contract was up and that he was listed as missing and not killed then completed a contact form confirming his refusal to sign another contract then returned to the trader for the toughest part of this trip.
“Well you still look scruffy but at least you smell better!” The trader had a jovial face like he was constantly laughing.
“I did my best for now. I uh actually had a question for you. I want to get into the salvage business you know anyone around with a ship?”
“Oh there’s a couple but how you going to pay?” He glanced around the shop to confirm that there wasn’t anyone else in and leaned closer.
“I have a core stashed someplace safe.” The trader’s face grew serious and he leaned in close.
“Intact?” He nodded. According to Tiegen is was almost in perfect order and she was going to fix it while he arranged the trade. The trader rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That’ll probably get you a ship. Let me do some inquiries for you.”
“As long as it doesn’t cost me too much.” The grin of the trader came back in its full force.
“I keep my fee reasonable.” Until he finalized the trade he wouldn’t have to pay it.
“I’ll be in tomorrow.” The trader nodded and he left, he heard the sound of the phone being picked up as he opened the door. The evening light was starting to fall across the streets in golden rays. It would be best to stay away from Tiegen as much as possible. He didn’t want to pick up a tail too early and have his movements tracked. Going across town he found a quiet inn that had reasonable rates and empty rooms. The woman at the desk seemed more motherly than an innkeeper but she kept her questions to the less intrusive ones as she checked him in.
“And all on foot. I don’t think I’ll do it again if I can avoid it.”
“Well you’ll find our beds to be some of the nicest in town.”He didn’t bother to say that it would likely beat sleeping in the open with frost forming on your toes. “Here you go. Need any recommendations on an evening on the town?”
“Not tonight.” He took the key she offered and followed her directions to a small suite at the end of the hall. None of the buildings in town were above a two story, some like this inn were built on the short side anyone taller than six feet would start to feel claustrophobic. he collapsed on the bed and kicked his shoes off. He’d have to stay a couple nights to find out if the beds were as wonderful as they felt right now.
“Mr. Towns, Mr. Leeds and Mr. Ricardo. They’ll have a decent ship they might be willing to trade.” He nodded and scribbled the names on the paper pad from the inn. “I took the liberty of setting up some meetings for you.”
“And when should we talk about your fee?”
“I would happily take a couple more of those parts you brought.”
“Provided I get a ship and can come back in one piece. I’ll give you first pick.” He took the sheet of paper offered and left the shop. The trader, Thompson, had set up all the appointments for this morning. The lure of a cyborg core had probably helped to fast track it. His first meeting was with Mr. Ricardo at the Dead Cyborg.
The bar was probably more lively at night than at ten in the morning, the only people there was a cook and a single waitress cleaning up from the previous night's festivities. He was greeted with a tired hello from the waitress.
“I’m to meet Mr. Ricardo.” She nodded and waved for him to follow her to the backroom. He nodded his thanks and walked in. Mr. Ricardo was sitting at the table, sharp black eyes assessing him as he took a seat.
“Rett, I am to assume?”
“I’ll see the core before we talk further.” He smiled and shook his head.
“I’m smart enough to know the value it’s not something I plan to carry until I’m handing it over.” Mr. Ricardo frowned deeply nostrils flaring. This was not a man to toy with that was certain, he didn’t plan to toy with him so that should keep them on an even footing if they could live with each other. “So are you interested in negotiating a trade?”
“Not of this magnitude without seeing evidence you actually have a core.” He shrugged and got up.
“I know it’s an odd way of doing business but I have my things to protect.” It felt like he was with his grandfather again though without the experience of the elder. Never give in to a trade unless you have the right feeling in your gut about the other party he had always warned. And the other great bit of advice to never let your exhilaration get the better of you. Checking the other appointment it was with Mr. Towns at eleven. He really hoped Tiegen was doing alright. He had slept like a dead man last night and while he needed it he couldn’t imagine that her sleep had been that well. He wandered the town, there wasn’t much exciting a couple different traders, the port, two inns, one two story motel, what passed as the library, and about fifteen different bars or taverns. It didn’t surprise him that there were so many, salvage crews didn’t always have a long life if they got too daring and they had enough money to keep them partying as long as they were in port. There was a low building that had the words Municipal Government written across it, though it was probably more of a facade of government than anything with any teeth. The further the settlement was from the protected zone the less hold the government held over anything. His second meeting was to be at The Last Great Party and he made his way to it. Again there wasn’t many people in it, though it held a couple people nibbling at an early lunch. The waitress showed him to a back table and left him with a menu to peruse while he waited for Mr. Towns. Given the bar that he had eaten from the cyborg food stores he wondered if Tiegen had eaten anything with flavour. What would she think of any of it. He tried uselessly to imagine her eating anything on the menu.
“Just Rett. Mr. Towns I assume.” He stood and shook the man’s hand. He was dressed well and clean shaven, a potential skunk as his grandfather usually said. A well dressed man just meant he was good at dealing.
“That’s correct. Thompson said you had a core you were interested in trading for a ship. You must be well connected to know the value of an item like that.”
“I have an interest in salvage, it’s made the most sense to keep an eye on how things are trading.” Mr. Towns accepted a cup of coffee from the waitress.
“Would you like anything?”
“A coffee and the lunch special.” She nodded, took the menu and left them alone.
“You seem to have had rough time.” He gave a small nod of acknowledgement. “Thompson says the parts you brought in were in good shape, he seems to trust your claim of the core being intact.”
“You’ll have to take my word on it. I’m not handing it over until we’ve come to an agreement.” Mr. Towns covered over his disappointment better than Mr. Ricardo had, with only the slightest downturn of his lips indicating his displeasure.
“If that’s where we’re starting it makes negotiations tough.”
“I’ll stand behind my item.” Mr. Towns rubbed his chin as the waitress delivered his order. He dug into the plate of rice and cabbage, not his favorite dish growing up but it tasted delicious.
“Well I’ll exercise the risk of letting you squirm.” He inclined his head agreeably.
“By all means. I’ll be around until I make a trade.” Mr. Towns got up and walked out. Well two meetings down and they were interested but not ready to commit to his terms. It would be nice if he had a way to contact Tiegen if for no other reason than to find out if she had managed the repair. He took his time finishing his food turning his thoughts to planning how he would return to Tiegen without being followed. Both men he’d met had the resources to have him followed and in a town like this they would have their choice of people to choose from. He would follow the road out and hopefully use it to discover if he was being followed. Assuming he wasn’t followed he would go straight to the cave. If he was, he would need to take the second hill and use the straggly trees for some cover to try to through them off and double back. If he was in better shape he’d attempt to overpower a follower and tie them up but he doubted he was in any condition to do it in the next couple days.
“Rett?” He looked up from his coffee at an older man. His clothing resembled that of a worker, though much cleaner.
“Yes.” The man extended a hand.
“Mr. Leeds. I asked Thompson where I could find you, haven’t settled on a trade yet?” He shook his head and waved to the chair. “Good, your a smart man then. Not keeping it close?”
“Sometimes you have to leave your valuables in a safe location.” This elicited a smile from Mr. Leeds revealing a missing canine tooth.
“Would you like to see what I’m offering?” Nodding he downed his coffee and got up. Mr. Leeds led him toward the port. As they entered the cool interior of the breezeway between the outside and the mooring docks it became obvious Mr. Leeds was a respected man. Crews waved to him, dock workers called out greetings. “Now I know I’m not the usual trader but something like this...ah it seems worth the effort.”
“It certainly is.” Turning in at dock six Mr. Leeds unlocked the gate and it rose to reveal a cargo cruiser. Its hull was a little tattered but intact.
“I know she’s not that pretty but she’s reliable.” Mr. Leeds continued to talk about the type of engine, navigation system, crew quarters as they walked first around it to look at the exterior then up into the ship itself. The cargo area was a decent size for hauling in larger pieces and still have room for the salvage equipment, the crew area needed some fabric repairs and a little upgrading for aesthetics, there were six crew rooms, a more spacious captain’s quarters, the bridge was a standard layout; navigation to the left, ship controls on the right, helm in the center. “What do you think?”
“It's the nicest I’ve been shown.” Mr. Leeds chuckled.
“Probably the nicest you will see unless you produce the core for testing.” He leaned against the navigation console and nodded.
“So you’re willing to chance my word.”
“I can’t keep two ships going, I don’t lose too much.” So that meant this one might be reliable but not quite cut out for salvage. It would be nice to get Tiegen’s opinion on it.
“That’s the look of someone in deep thought.”
“I have a mechanic lined up but they didn’t want to join me, a little sensitive about…” He gestured to his face and Mr. Leeds nodded sympathetically. There were two types of people with war injuries those that flaunted it and those that hid it. It was unspoken that you didn’t ask about scars. As they left the ship he racked his brain for a way to get Tiegen close enough to give it a once over.
“You know. I couldn’t do a trade for a ship that you don’t even know will get into the air. Let’s say this, you can take it out but no official hand over until I look at that core.”
“Seems reasonable.” He offered a hand and the grin on Mr. Leeds face widened.
“I like men like you.”
They had agreed he had to stay within eyesight of the wall which put the cave on the outside radius. It flew nicely but had a hum to its engine’s that he didn’t like. It landed smoothly a safe distance from the cave. As the gangplank lowered he was greeted with Tiegen’s raised eyebrow.
“You came out.”
“Statistically it was an 83.2 percent chance it was you.” He stood beside her and looked up at the ship.
“What do you think?”
“It should be scrapped and rebuilt.”
“Other than that part.” She didn’t respond just went up into the ship, he followed at a more sedate pace letting her poke around beneath access panels and the engine without interference. There was little doubt his landing here had been noted by more than just Mr. Leeds, while the man had reassured him that he trusted his word he was a fool if he didn’t have the flight monitored. Tiegen finished her poking and came to join him.
“It’s engine’s need repair, some modification would increase its capacity by…”
“Don’t worry about the percentage. How’d the repair go?”
“Finished it’s working within parameters.”
“So the trade seems reasonable?”
“Not knowing the values I can’t say.” He grinned and nodded.
“Okay. If you bring me the core I’ll finalize it.” She left returning in minutes with the core, carefully wrapped in a blanket. “You want to smuggle in on the ship?” It was going to happen now or later, he wasn’t about to let her stay outside the town everytime they came in. She lifted her other hand to display the bag of her tools.
“Just stay out of sight until I’ve got possession.” They boarded and he piloted it back. Landing it back in dock six, Mr. Leeds was standing at the door and grinning as he exited.
“Well what do you think?” He lifted the wrapped core as he descended.
“Let’s do business.” He could see the eyes light up as they were escorted out of the port by a couple dock workers. Once they were safely ensconced in Mr. Leeds office with Thompson next to the port he placed the blanket on the desk and gently opened it. Mr. Leeds and Thompson leaned in and he heard them suck in their breath.
“Anyone who doesn’t do business with you is crazy.”
“Go ahead. I had time to check your item.” Thompson being the official trader he gingerly picked up the core to examine it. He sat back allowing the two men to converse quietly with no interference from him. It was obvious from their first reaction that it was in better shape than they normally saw.
“Well Rett. You have a ship.” Mr. Leeds pulled papers from his desk and signed them before handing it over to him for a signature.