A stranger is wandering loose in my ship! I’ll skin his ass!
What was that I just heard back there a bang! Did something break? What?
I am unpleasantly reminded of the reason why I don’t fly self-loading baggage aboard any of my ships. Someone please put a bullet through my head if I ever get the insane notion to try hauling passengers for easy money.
All I can hear is the ‘clonk clonk clonk’ of mag-boots staggering up and down the corridor outside the bridge. Every now and then it’ll fade into the distance, only to return less than a minute later. It echoes straight into my soul.
The sound is driving me a little batty. What is my disoriented rescuee doing back there? Is he touching anything? He better not be touching anything. I nearly hit another ship in supercruise just now because I keep trying to twist around in my seat to see what is going on behind me.
Clonk clonk clonk. Christ. This is worse than that time Kilmartin convinced me to babysit all those guard dogs for her while she tried to set up a used shipyard out in HIP 17692. For two nights I endured the nonstop TIKKATIKKATIKKA of clawed feet pacing across my hardwood floors, then the chaotic eruption of a pack of animals going berserk all at once whenever someone walked past in the park below.
Man. I’m losing it. I’ll scoop this last star and then drag my guest back into the cockpit.
Harmony is restored to the world. My guest is belted into the jumpseat and we’re a jump away from Delphi. I am getting verbal abuse hurled at me, but I can live with a one-star review of my passenger service if it means I don’t have to fret over strange people walking through my ship and touching things in my ship and generally just breathing the same scrubbed air as me.
Wow. I used to be social once. And calm, and steady. Whatever happened to that Simon Falx? Oh right, the torture.
My scowling guest is sulking in the jumpseat. Good for him.
His sullen distraction has given me the opportunity to size him up from the corner of my eye. He can’t be any older than twenty-five. Black hair, heavily shadowed green eyes, and a little on the pale and scrawny side. He looks exhausted. There’s a massive bruise on the left side of his face that runs all the way down his neck and into his jacket, like he got thrown into a bulkhead really hard. Ouch.
He’s got his thermal jacket zipped to his throat with the thick collar turned up high, like he’s trying to hide in it. He refuses to look me in the eye. I can’t see a Pilot Federation badge or any other marks of identification on his shoulder, not even for Cooper Research. There’s a tattoo of something on his left wrist, but it’s mostly hidden by the cuff of his jacket. Hm.
It’s all a bit odd. My suspicious bastard senses are tingling. I’m freelance, but even I run basic PF marks with all my IDs. It makes getting contract work a hell of a lot easier for starters.
Hmm. Out of a lack of anything better to do, I said, “We’ll be in Delphi shortly.”
“I’ll drop you off at the Cooper office on the Oracle. I suggest getting checked out at a clinic after that. Escape pod ejections can be rough on your everything.”
My guest stubbornly glared straight ahead.
“What’s your name?”
His eyes darted all over the place. Yes, not at all suspicious. So I said in my most jovial voice, “I’m pretty sure I could physically throw you out of an airlock.”
“All right, fine! I’m- Patrick.”
“Uh huh. I’m Simon. Were you flying that Cobra I found crashed in Merope?”
“I was hired to recover the cargo from that ship.”
“Cooper Research gave me its full manifest. Why aren’t you listed as the pilot for that flight? Who was a woman, by the way.”
Still the kid said nothing. I think he was holding his breath.
“Fess up. Were you actually flying that thing? Or were you flying as freight?”
Patrick slouched down further into his jacket. I was beginning to think I should have shone a light into the Cobra’s shattered cockpit and looked for a corpse. I’d only found one escape pod after all.
“Picked the wrong ship to stow away on, huh?” I said.
The kid mumbled something.
“What was that?”
“I said, it’s none of your business!”
“That was compete bullshit about the manifest, by the way.”
Now I had his full and outraged attention. I advanced the throttle for the final jump.
“Let me give you a word of advice,” I said. “Don’t even dream of trying to slip back aboard this ship after we get to the Oracle. I don’t know where you’re trying to get to, and I don’t care. I am however armed and trained in some sort of deadly martial art. Also I keep wild dogs in the cargo hold?”
The kid didn’t even crack a smirk at my half-hearted threat. He just sat and stonily watched the wheeling starfield ahead of us. Tough audience. But I think my point was made.
Next stop: Delphi.
I pulled up the comm panel and dialled Cooper Research the instant my engines spooled down upon touchdown on the landing pad at the Oracle. I’m not desperate for cash, but something about the collection of a fee after an everyday salvage job has a comforting sense of routine about it. I made seven-hundred grand, and the galaxy keeps spinning. That sort of thing.
The local Cooper representative seemed pleased about the recovered liquor too. I was itching to ask him about the escape pod and it’s dodgy occupant, but something about the way the kid shrank back into the jumpseat like he was trying to lean out of sight made me hold my tongue.
The Cooper man didn’t even ask once about the fate of the pilot. I sat back with crossed arms and thought about that for a while as automechs unloaded the damaged canisters from my cargo hold. Something didn’t add up.
The puzzled feeling persisted even when I deployed the ramp down to the landing pad. Pat shadowed me through the ship at a wary distance, like he really thought I was going to fly kick him in the throat at any moment. I just laughed out loud at that mental image, and he spooked. Skittish kid.
It was a busy evening at the Oracle. Ships roared overhead. The air stank of fumes. Lots of light and noise and clamour. I stood at the top of the ramp to let my eyes and ears adjust to the confusion.
Pat had other ideas. He pushed past me and took a flying leap off the bottom of the ramp and hurried off across the landing pad with his head down and his hands stuffed into his pockets. Not a word of thanks for the save or for the ride. I gave him a disgusted look before I followed him down much more slowly on my stiff knees.
One of the fuellers watched him go. “Does that belong to you?”
“Nope, it’s running wild and free as god intended.”
The fueller laughed. I sighed and rubbed my hand through my hair. Kind of tired. It’s been a long day. Think I’ll grab some fuel and then head back to my apartment for the rest of the evening.
Ahh, back at Artemis. A Cutter pilot on the pad adjacent to mine is screaming at the ground crew - something about jet blast and artificial tree pollen. Home sweet snooty home.
It’s dark out. Well, as dark as nights can get aboard a climate controlled space station. My apartment is dimmed and all the blinds are shuttered. The only light I have to see by as I wander the living room is whatever slip glows through the bottom edge of the blinds.
Ow, fuck! Just walked straight into the corner of the coffee table. Sitting down on the sofa to spare my other shin.
Can’t sleep. Been feeling weird and restless all evening for some reason, a feeling my usual horse pills can’t take the edge off of. Don’t really know what set this off. Maybe it was that kid I picked up. That wary, hunted face.
Kinda sense it’s gonna be a rough night. There are good nights and bad nights these days.
Think I’ll call Claire.
Just got soundly told off by my tired, grumpy girlfriend. Her exact words were, “It’s four am here, Simon! I have patrols in the morning! Go to sleep, you shit! I love you!”
Yeah, I kind of love her too.