Friend Ship

Once upon a time, there was a Friend Ship.  Long ago, it was just a raft.  The rudder was vague, the sail was thin, the deck was easily swamped.  The ship grew over time, piece by piece.  First, a strong hull developed after they found a shared passion.  Next, a wide deck sprung up after they supported one another through a hard time.  Finally, a powerful diesel engine rumbled into life after they shared more and more experiences.  Now, the Friend Ship could weather any storm.

Years passed while the Friend Ship floated at the dock.  They didn’t use it anymore, not like they once had.  Its hull rusted, its deck splintered, its engine seized.

Eventually, they came back to try again.  They dusted off the controls, repainted the cabins, and hung a new flag.  Together, they rounded the island just like they used to.

The Friend Ship thundered through the choppy surf, but then, the winds got stronger.  A powerful gale swept into the Friend Ship.  Despite the quick cleaning, the Friend Ship hadn’t been in a storm for a long time.  Its hull started leaking, before long, it changed back into a humble raft.  When the raft sank, they found themselves separated at sea.

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No Need To Worry

Viktoria was a woman.  Neither tall nor short.  Neither light nor dark.  Her hair was brownish, longish, and cleanish.  Her eyes were greenish, clearish, and sharpish.  She was the perfect assistant manager at Legendary Weaponry.  Viktoria thrived in a commission-based sales environment and the customers weren’t afraid of her.  She wasn’t afraid of them either.

Legendary Weaponry never closed.  They did once, during the Nexus War, but only to resupply.  If there’s one thing the warring factions agreed upon, it was their need for an overpowered offensive.  The acquisitions department spent four hours looting corpses, the reconditioning bureau spent two hours cleaning the new inventory, the doors opened as soon as the blades touched the shelves.  The Nexus is the intersection between every plane of existence.  As a result, there’s never a shortage of demand, endless war and all that.  Any old shop can sell iron daggers, Legendary Weaponry specializes in unfathomably powerful weapons from every realm.  They have a shard of Narsil, a hydrogen bomb, Masamune, the Vorpal Sword, and the Golden Gun.  They have weapons forged from mithril, unobtainium, and valyrian steel.  They have several iterations of the Ultima Weapon, the BFG 9000, the Buster Sword, and one of Zeus’ lightning bolts.  They have three blue shells, the Biggoron’s Sword, and Mjolnir.  The owner is negotiating for the Death Star blueprints.  Prices are available upon request.

Viktoria’s day started well.  She said ‘good morning’ to the store leader, Tarron, and nodded to Luronk and Marlie, the two apprentices.  “Morning” was a misnomer in The Nexus since the day-star perpetually hung overhead.  This made scheduling deliveries from every corner of the multi-verse difficult.  Fortunately, everyone understood two timeframes: Now and Soon.

“Plenty of traffic, but no buyers yet,” Tarron said.  “Alexander is downstairs with two potentials.  They wanted to test Excalibur against the acid shotgun.”  He leaned against the scratched counter.  “I told them they were wasting their time, but,” he shrugged, “kids.”

They weren’t kids, but everyone seems young to the Elves.  “Corrosive ammunition isn’t free,” Viktoria said.  “Alexander’s down there?”

“Affirmative, no need to worry.”

The guard, Alexander, stood over 2.5 meters tall and weighed nearly 200 kilograms.  His superlative endurance and strength made him the ideal trouble buster.  If he couldn’t stop someone, no one could.

Viktoria had no luck convincing a dwarf that he needed a concealable or ranged weapon, he insisted on purchasing two axes.  She didn’t try too hard to dissuade him.  Luronk stood at the display case and explained to a hostile specter that the black arrows and launcher were sold separately when the yellow alarm beeped.  Tarron rushed below to the shielded sparring arena, green fog crept from the open door.  He returned moments later, clutching Excalibur and a large feline customer.  Alexander followed with another Khajiit, still holding the blunderbuss.

“What happened?” Marlie squeaked, despite the petrified customers scattered across the sales floor.

“Just a misfire, no need to worry.”  Tarron hustled toward the main door.  He sure loves that phrase, Viktoria thought as she followed them outside.

Tarron brusquely reminded the Khajiit duo of the waiver they signed and sent them on their way.  Alexander opened his smoldering jacket, revealed a frothing spatter, and doubled over in agony.  Viktoria dashed into the storeroom, ran back outside, and threw a handful of chalky stabilizer onto the acid.  Alexander’s thanks squeezed between gritted teeth before he explained what went wrong.

“It was a misfire.  Excalibur absorbed most of the damage for her,” he waved toward the retreating Khajiits.  “I got hit with the acid shot and set off the alarm.”  He limped toward his post just inside the door.  “I’ll be fine, just give me a minute.”

“No,” Tarron declared.  “Absolutely not, you need the Healers.”  Alexander protested, Tarron pressed onward.  “Viktoria, I need you to take him.”

“Of course,” she held Alexander’s arm and pulled him down the street.  People stepped aside for the lumbering slab of sinew supported by the straining shopkeeper.  They trudged along, block by block, in relative silence.  He, more injured than he cared to admit.  She, focused on keeping both of them from falling over.

“One more scar for your collection!” Viktoria grinned.

Alexander smiled in response.  “This acid is-” he winced “strong.”

“How are you still alive?  That spray is supposed to incapacitate on contact.”

“My jacket helped.  Dragon scales aren’t cheap, so I’ll send the bill to those damn cats.”

A tall white building with a glowing green triangle stood before them.  The Order of Healers only cared for the sick and injured; they didn’t allow any healthy beings inside their centers.

“Good luck,” Viktoria stepped back and let him march stoically into the antiseptic lobby.

“Thanks again Vik, I wouldn’t have made it here on my own.”

The doors hissed closed.

Viktoria shuffled back to work, she was in no hurry.  Even though it was early, she bought a watercress sandwich and a cup of gumbo from a vendor and ate in Memorial Park.  The War was ages ago, but the monument looked as stalwart as ever.  Constructing a monument to a war spanning the multi-verse was no easy task, so the Council commissioned a pillar.  It was the tallest structure in The Nexus, covered in small vertical lines.  The inscription claimed the pillar meant they were all stronger together.

The repairs were completed before Viktoria returned.  Tarron kept a supply of programmable nano-machines for all cleanup tasks.  They were expensive, but the little bots fixed damaged property at a molecular level.  They even neutralized the remaining acid in the sparring room.

“How is he?” Tarron asked.

“Hurt, but the Healers will take care of it.  I’m sure they’ve seen worse.”  Viktoria looked at a grayish blur rolling over the floor.  “Everything alright here?”

“Yes,” he replied.  “These nanos pay for themselves.”

“They certainly stay busy, thanks to our careless customers.”

Hours passed, buyers flaunted their obscene wealth, nothing happened.  Three country boys tried out a four person flying mech suit, using an AI for the fourth set of controls.  The Nexus accessed every reality, anyone whose home system hadn’t standardized running water was from the country, it’s as simple as that.  Viktoria knew they had no business with a mech, but they were welcome to buy the monstrous assault unit if they had the funds.  The tallest one, with long hair and no nose, sent Marlie away with his assurances that he’d be careful.  His team piled into the Mictlantecuhtli’s torso and fired up the reactor.  Viktoria was in the stockroom when they lifted off the ground, spun, and knocked another client through the wall across the room.

“Stop,” Tarron commanded, “power down now!”

A high-pitched whine preceded a hail of gunfire.  None of the display weapons were loaded, these ‘country’ boys must have brought their own ammunition.  Machine guns spat in four directions at a combined 80 rounds per second.  Viktoria laid flat between shelves crowded with counter-attacking swords and hoped the shielded doors withstood the pounding.  The Mictlantecuhtli fired missiles and hovered toward the exit.  Every robbery in The Nexus was a daring daylight crime.  These perpetrators were not just willing, but eager to fly over a pile of corpses to secure their prize.

Tarron smacked the red button under the counter, Legendary Weaponry’s AOE kill switch.  The final security measure shutdown every artificial power source within 100 meters.  It might also kill androids, luckily there weren’t any within range.  The Mictlantecuhtli listed to port and dropped like a proverbial two ton machine onto the sales counter.

Viktoria screamed “Tarron!”

The three orchestrators of destruction crawled out of the debris.  Luronk heaved a massive mace and one of them crumpled with a crash, the other two promptly surrendered.  Customers and passer-by helped claw through the rubble, Marlie found Tarron’s foot.  He looked like a battered ghost, covered in gray dust and wood fragments.  The Mictlantecuhtli had crushed him.  Bits of bone poked through his cloak.  Marlie cried.  No one knew what to do.

“As acting leader of Legendary Weaponry I have prosecutory powers,” Viktoria faced the miscreants.  “You are under arrest.”  At once, shackles materialized and bound them.  One spat at her, Luronk’s reply sent him staggering.

“For your actions here today, resulting in the death of Tarron Cyherion, you are banished from The Nexus.  Further punishment will be meted out by The Council.  Go.”  Their chains glowed blue, rose into the air, and pulled them through the streets to the portal.  They would be ejected from The Nexus and returned whence they came.

Eight cycles later, Viktoria stood in front of her store.  After Tarron’s body was returned to his people, after the damage was repaired, after tears were shed and kind words were said, life normalized.  There had been mishaps and robberies at Legendary Weaponry before, but nothing like this.  Alexander blamed himself for not being there, but no one else held him responsible.  He had already been injured once that day.

The surviving workers accepted a generous settlement for the trauma they had experienced.  In addition, each of them received a single weapon for their own protection.  Viktoria chose the Ultima Weapon Keyblade.

She sat in the plaza for hours and watched everyone come and go.  Humans, Elves, Orcs, Dwarves, beings from every corner of existence, each making their own way.  Viktoria realized that she didn’t want to die in a shop.  She didn’t want to die at all, not really, but certainly not pandering to customers.  Legendary Weaponry’s leader shouldered her pack and gripped her Keyblade.  She would get used to the weight soon enough.  Viktoria walked to the row of circular portals, transporting people to and from their own worlds, and took her place in line.  She stepped forward, selected Random on the display, and passed through the horizon.

Set The Hook

Jacquelyn’s drink wasn’t perspiring, but she was.  The conversation had turned, as they always do, to felonious stories.  Her friends weren’t competing, they weren’t even her friends, not yet, but each of them tried to outdo the others.

One bragged about scraping under a toll-booth bar at over 300kph.  Another claimed she burned down her business for the insurance, and successfully avoided prosecution.  Three somewhat suspicious soliloquies and three mostly mollifying martinis later, it was Jacquelyn’s turn.  The group sat, slumped, and sprawled around a table at the back of the room.  Club music thumped their glasses like a dinosaur was learning to breakdance downstairs.

Her little black dress wasn’t.  It was a floor-length ivory evening gown, not expertly tailored, but close enough in the dim lighting.  Jacquelyn’s ebony complexion nearly disappeared into the velvet seat-back.

“I once robbed a bank,” she grinned wolfishly, “or at least, played my part.”

The music seemed to fade.

“I didn’t want to hold the gun you see, I have no intentions of returning to prison in this life.  So Hector pointed the .38 at the teller and didn’t say a word.  He didn’t have to, everyone’s seen a movie about a bank getting robbed, she knew the drill, probably the most exciting day of her life.

“The teller girl put some bundles of cash into a bag and placed it on the counter.  Meanwhile, my job was to distract the security guard.  Not kill him, not seduce him, not flirt with him, just distract him.  I threw my hair over my shoulder, kept glancing back at him and smiling before turning away.  He kept his eyes on me until Hector walked out the door.  I followed him 60 seconds later, and waved to Paul the rent-a-cop on my way.

“Of course the money was tagged so we couldn’t keep it, just left the bag around the corner.”

Jacquelyn liked to think of herself as a young woman, but the fact is, she wasn’t.  She had to be interesting.  More interesting than these teenyboppers.  More interesting than high speed chases.  More interesting than snorting cocaine in the DEA bathroom.  More interesting than anyone else.

Her story was a lie of course, just like her name.  But it wasn’t about truth, it was about confidence.  With enough confidence, she could arrive alone and depart accompanied.

To Elizabeth, From Anne [Part 3 of 3]

Twenty-seventh of May, Seventeen Fifty Three

Liz, I am unsure if you received my previous letter.  The watchman, Thomas, spied a column of troops marching into town.  They veered toward the house and two of them broke through a window, the monsters nearly followed them into the dining room.  At this point, only three windows remain intact, all on the second story.

The two fresh-faced young men reported that the town was overrun.  They had been ordered to “secure the area” and keep the beasts from attacking the outlying estates, such as ours.  Louis laughed, desperately, for the first time in weeks as he gestured to the decaying arms clawing through the space previously filled with crystal clear glass.  The soldiers looked somewhat abashed and admitted that command underestimated the “re-animation threat.”

I gave them the letter I wrote, the shorter one promised to post it straightaway.  The taller one assured us that help was en-route.  Another battalion would bring weapons, food, and water before the end of the week.

He lied.  Perhaps that is unfair, perhaps something went wrong, perhaps he was unable to send my letter to you.  Perhaps perhaps perhaps.  Nothing is certain anymore.  Apart from those soldiers, we have had no contact with anyone since this debacle began.  If the town is destroyed, how much longer do we have left?

Elizabeth, something happened.  Shouts and shots echoed down to the cellar, which almost feels like home.  The men had all the muskets, so we took a few kitchen knives and rushed upstairs.  The beast-men filled the house, reeking and howling in every room.  The shrieks had ceased, sounds of ripping and tearing took their place.  A cook and a maid, Isobel and Marie, stabbed one of the attackers.  Another shambled forward and bit Isobel’s neck.  It bit her like a toffee and chewed.  I— I tremble to think about it.  Her screams were horrible.  We ran back into the cellar and barred the door.  That was four days ago, we can still see shadows moving around the kitchen through the gap along the floor.  They moan and bang against the door, the bar has held thus far.

The lantern was smashed in all the confusion, so it is quite dark down here.  But after all this time, I know the cellar better than I remember my old rooms.  Sometimes, light peeks under the door, but the tiles are covered in blood, so no one wants to spend much time at the top of the stairs.  That is where I write to you.

I pray that the situation in Warwickshire is preferable to this.  Stay safe.

The water is gone.  We tried choking down the dry cornmeal, but it was impossible, and decidedly unladylike, not that it matters anymore.  My mouth is so dry.  Victoria cannot stop coughing and the beasts have started hammering on the remains of the door.  We set a guard at the top of the stairs, to cut down any of them that break through.  There is black blood all over the steps, I

[The enclosed document was recovered from the Carter Estate outside Halstead, Essex on the fourteenth of June, 1753 by the Colchester Garrison.]

To Elizabeth, From Anne [Part 2 of 3]

Third of May, Seventeen Fifty Three

Elizabeth, I write to you now from my new quarters; a tidy, albeit dank, corner of the cellar.  The ladies of the house, including the servants of course, moved down here ten days hence.  I apologize for the state of this letter, my nerves are too jangled for proper penwomanship.

I suppose it would be proper for me to begin at the beginning.  You remember how travelers had vanished?  A messenger delivered a bulletin two weeks ago.  The newsletter proclaimed that a horde of feral men were approaching from every corner of Essex.  Families with other estates immediately dispatched carriages, either to fetch their kinsmen, or hide them.  The townspeople barricaded the roads, but that later proved futile.  Louis and the men nailed stout boards over all the lower windows and locked the front gate.  They trampled all my flowers in the process.  Louis snapped and shouted that we had more pressing concerns to tend to than my “womanly whims.”

The mob arrived that night.  Is mob the right term?  I saw shapes through the wooden slats, heard them clawing and howling at the brickwork.  Oh God, Elizabeth, the ceaseless howling!  It is quieter in the cellar, I could not sleep upstairs in the suite.  All through the night, groaning and banging.

The stable-boys fire our muskets from the roof.  The cooks say we are nearly out of provisions.  More than enough tea, of course, but insufficient meat and potatoes.  The well is outside, I can hardly glimpse it through the roiling mass of filthy shuffling bodies.

What are they?  I know it is proper to ask “who,” but we have tried reasoning with them, shouting over their incessant clamor, but they pay us no heed.  They have no leader, not that I can discern.  They follow no battle plan or tactic, beyond trying to knock down the walls.  I am at a loss.

The ladies and I make bandages.  I fear we will need to use them soon.  Proper decorum has fled the premises.  All day, I sit with the other women around the lantern in the center of the stone floor.  The maids tell the most bawdy jokes!  I hesitate to laugh, since I must maintain an illusion of propriety, hunched on the dirty floor, but they brighten the day.  They are lovely girls, but after so long, I grow weary of their company.  At least their laughter drowns out the sound of black powder, thumping footsteps, and gnashing teeth.

Three days ago the monsters broke through the East drawing room window.  Splinters and glass covered the distressingly filthy carpet.  Bony arms stretched into the room.  The footman pulled me from the threshold and shot at one who bled black on the chaise.  My ears rang until I stumbled down the treacherous cellar steps.  There were too many shots to count, but eventually they blocked the shattered window with the oak bookcase.

Is this happening everywhere?  How is Warwickshire?  Are you safe?  Is the town overrun?  Are we the last ones left alive in Essex?  I do not know.  I pray that you are doing well.  I fear for Louis.  He jumps into every surge, every breach like a general astride a fiery stallion.  As if he will save us all through his own strength.  I hope he can.  I hope the food and water lasts.  I hope everything gets back to normal soon.

-Anne

To Elizabeth, From Anne [Part 1 of 3]

Twelfth of April, Seventeen Fifty Three

My Dear Elizabeth, the news of your springtime escapades never ceases to thrill me.  I read your latest missive just this morning, my peals of laughter startled the gardener who was shaping a nearby hedge.  When he jumped, his shears closed on his thumb.  I do hope he is alright.

As for the current Essex fashions, many ladies of respectable lineage have taken to wearing more elaborate hats.  Even the simplest pieces now have three or even four layers of embroidering or lace.  The milliners must be terribly busy.  One of the local ladies, Georgiana, commissioned the most intricate formal hat I have ever laid eyes upon.  Pale blue, trimmed in textured silk and satin, with an entire bouquet circling the brim.  She says they are real flowers grown especially for the purpose, but I believe they are carefully wrought out of fabric.

It is such a shame that you and the family could not join us at the Vernal Ball.  Louis and I had a marvelous time.  As you well know, I am not fond of dancing.  Nevertheless, I found myself positively transported by the music.  The orchestra boomed and sang across the hall, we have not danced like that in years.  I wish you had been able to attend, I fear long-distance travel has become increasingly perilous this past fortnight.  Several prominent guests, who never miss an event of this scale, were absent.  Trouble on the road I suppose.

Elizabeth, I hesitate to mention this, as I write, there are birds chirping on the grounds, it all seems so ridiculous.  I saw the constable in town this past Tuesday, and he was not his usual chipper self.  I did not mean to pry, but I asked him if he was quite alright.  He hastily grinned and walked down the boulevard.  “Everything in order madam,” he harrumphed, “nothing for you to worry about.”

Later that afternoon I spoke with Mary.  Her sister said that the patrolmen barricaded some of the western roads and would not allow travelers or merchants on the lane.  I confess, I did not understand at first.  I thought perhaps it was some social movement going on.  Rumors have spread quickly over the past few days, stories of an attack.  They speak of feral beasts waylaying anyone caught on the road, day or night.  Even well armed caravans have disappeared.

There may not be any substance to this.  It is a tragedy, but people get lost in the wilderness and carriages break at the worst possible time.  At any rate, Louis wanted me to tell you that we will not be able to see you in Warwickshire before June.  He says it has to do with the shipping schedule, but I think he is concerned about what might be happening in the North.  It pains me not to see you, and the children, but it might be for the best.  If there is any unrest in the countryside, Louis wants us to stay safe at home.

The footman just informed me that my presence has been requested in the foyer.  I do hope it is not Georgiana again, that woman, or her hat, will be the death of me.  I wish you all the best, take care of yourself.

-Anne

Crossed Wrenches- Part 3

The stern hanger was gone, a gaping chasm yawned in its place.  Bulkhead doors had shut with the alarms a few minutes ago, in an attempt to keep some oxygen inside the Dreadnaught.  Most of the crew was dead, most of the systems were down, most of Marta’s body hurt.

She dialed Lorenzo on her wrist-mounted communicator but only got static.  Since her ship was gone, she would die on this Flemish wreck unless she found another way back to Oaxaca.

They must have escape pods, Marta hoped, but where are they?

The dark corridors were almost empty.  Wounded crew members floated and groaned.  Sector Defense Administration torpedoes banged into the Bergen, not that it made much difference at this point.

Marta swung into an open semi-circle room, 20 lit circles ran along the outer wall, most were dim.  She saw a group of people, wearing spacesuits, crowded into one of the bright circles.  A series of three beeps sounded as the circle shrunk.

“Wait!” Marta shouted, “I’m coming!”  She kicked off the wall and shot across the room, the pod door closed.

“¡Mierda!” she swore and pounded on the hatch, “¡Hijo de puta!”

“Hey,” a voice called, “hurry up!”

One escape pod remained, Marta floated onboard and joined the last survivors.  There were no controls, so the man at the front hit the button to disengage and launch toward the nearest landmass.

The Liso Ship Repairs service shuttle was old, dilapidated, and rattled a lot.  It had a slow pressure leak, and nothing had been replaced or updated in over five years.  Lorenzo didn’t put money into that thing, so long as it flew the mechanic to the next job, it was fine.

The Dreadnaught Bergen’s escape pod was bare, uncomfortable, and cramped.  But that’s what happens when nine people pack into a pod built for six.  The Flemish invested as little as legally required into their escape pods.  They didn’t want to admit that they might need them someday.

The SDA had won the battle, but they were not gracious victors.  The navigation screen showed three escape pods already near Oaxaca and two in the ongoing firestorm.  All the others were shot down or captured.

A piece of debris from one of the fighters clipped their hull as the pod sped toward the ground.  More alarms sounded, more red lights flashed.  Marta and the other two latecomers had no seats or harnesses.

Entry was turbulent, luckily, Oaxaca has a thin atmosphere.  The unsecured passengers bounced around the pod. Marta curled into a ball and tried to protect her bleeding head from any more knocks.

Their damaged escape pod, with only inertial dampers, no reverse thrusters, no airbrake, no chute, struck the moon at an unreasonable velocity.  The entire front panel caved in and the pod itself broke apart upon landing.  Marta slept through the last bit of this ordeal, what with the blood loss and all.

She awoke to the hot Oaxaca sun with a large shadow crouched over her.  The shadow turned and made some noise.  Another shadow crouched over her.  The shadows melted together into darkness.

She awoke to the hot Oaxaca sun, this time, her eyes focused.  “We landed?” Marta asked the group of injured Flemish constructing a little tower.

“Yeah,” one of them replied, “we’re on some moon.  The locals call it… I don’t know, something that starts with ‘O.’”

“Oaxaca.”

“That’s it.”

“What are you doing?” Marta sat up and clutched her bandaged head.

“Setting up the distress beacon.  We should have some ships left up there, maybe they’ll come and get us.”

Marta stood up and leaned against the warm escape pod.  Seven of them milled around the beacon, one was off to the side, covered in a foil blanket.  “Only one fatality?”

“Edgar,” someone said.  “My brother.”

“Sorry.”

“We’re lucky, after that landing, we should all be dead.”

Marta looked around and got her bearings, they weren’t that far from town.  “Thanks for the ride, but I’m headed back to work.”

“Work?”

“Yeah, I was on the Bergen to fix the engine, I live down here.”

“Oh, well, alright then.  Are you sure you can walk?”

Marta started shuffling toward the horizon.  “I’ll manage.”

It was just after noon, she still had to fix that turbine.


The End

Crossed Wrenches- Part 2

Marta piloted the service ship directly toward the Dreadnaught Bergen.  She even broadcast her trajectory to other vessels within firing range, so no one could say they “accidentally” shot her down.  Seven harrowing minutes later, Marta hailed the client.

“Liso Ship Repairs on approach to fix the starboard engine, requesting permission to dock.”

A curt voice replied, “Permission granted, enter the stern fighter hanger.”

“Copy that.”

Marta retied her hair, which had fallen in a tangle, and landed as instructed.  She opened the door and looked down the barrels of four plasma rifles and one stunner.

“I’m sure you understand,” the one with the stunner tried to look sympathetic, “but we need to confirm your identity.”

“Of course,” Marta fumbled in her coverall pockets for her work ID badge and held her wrist up to the security scanner.  The little light turned green and the men all holstered their weapons.  She exhaled and realized she’d been holding her breath.  “I’m looking for Sergeant McGregor.”

A tall man with short black hair, rolled-up sleeves, and a frantic voice approached them.  “That’s me, the engine is this way.”  Without waiting for a response, he turned around and walked back the way he came.  Marta jogged to catch up, the security team found something else to do.

“So what happened to the engine?”

“SDA cannons hit us, you may have noticed we’re in a battle.”

Marta’s lower lip twitched, but she avoided rolling her eyes.  “Anything else to help my diagnosis?”

“Extensive damage to the fuel system, we had to shut off the supply before it all burned.”  The barrage echoed as they hurried down the corridor.  “Just through here.”

Marta turned the corner into the engineering department and her eyes widened.  Sparking wires, billowing smoke, rising steam, and melting insulation stopped her momentum.  Mechanics ran up and down the 20 meter engine, pouring coolant, siphoning fuel, and panicking.

“We cannot maneuver without this engine,” McGregor claimed.  “The thrusters are useless, so we just turn.”

Marta inspected the damage, but she knew right away it was hopeless.  “It cannot be repaired.  Well, it could, but it would take days to replace all the parts and test it.”

“We don’t have days.”

She rolled her eyes this time.  “I know, but if you point the port engine outward, your heading should stabilize.  It won’t be the same as two operational engines, but at least you’ll fly straighter.”

“We’ve already adjusted the thrust as far as possible.”

“And you’re still turning in circles?”

McGregor nodded.

“Then we’ll have to adjust it more.”

Marta commissioned a hydraulic jack, a concussive grenade, and every available crew member to reposition the port engine.  The exhaust ignited the rear fairings and destroyed one of the observatory decks, but navigation confirmed they were flying true.

She held the invoice tablet out for McGregor’s signature.

“You didn’t fix the engine,” he argued, “and you caused quite a lot of additional damage.”

“I saved the ship,” Marta countered.

The Sergeant signed the screen and transferred the second half of his payment.

“If you win,” Marta said as she tucked the tablet into her bag and started back to her ship, “come by the shop and I’ll see about that engine.”

A massive explosion rocked the Dreadnaught and Marta slammed into the wall.  Red lights flashed and alarms rang.  The noise was unbearable.  She staggered to her feet and ran three steps before a second blast sent the floor racing up to meet her face.  Marta wiped the blood from her forehead and tried to refocus her vision.  She didn’t even notice that the alarms had stopped, the lights went out, and she was floating.

Crossed Wrenches- Part 1

Marta choked down the last of her NutriPack and dropped the wrapper into the recycler.  She looked around her place, a small dormitory cramped among thousands of others, and grabbed her bag from its hook in the closet.  She walked to work and didn’t lock the door behind her.  No one in the barrio locked their doors.  Not because it was a safe area, street crime was high on Oaxaca, even though the residents of the barren moon didn’t have much to steal.  So she didn’t bother, after all, what were they going to take?  Besides, a locked door suggested the owner had something to protect, and Marta didn’t want to replace another splintered door frame.

Her twisting route to Liso Ship Repairs was a grey and brown blur.  After 20 years, one row of dirty buildings looked much like the next, and the next.  Marta hugged herself to keep warm.  Before sunrise Oaxaca was frigid, at midday it was hot.  Very hot.  A few vendors pushed their hover-carts to market, they nodded, Marta waved as she passed.

Oaxaca was the most populous moon in this quadrant.  If the supply ships were two weeks late, half the population would starve.  After three weeks, the supplies wouldn’t be necessary at all.  Oaxaca only had one redeeming feature to draw settlers, craftsmen, and traders: its location.  The moon orbited through two sectors, five superpowers, and innumerable thieving bandits.  Weapon fire lit the night sky far brighter than the stars.

Constant battling, especially between well-funded armies, fed the industries on the ground.  Need a place to dock and set an ambush?  Want live positioning data from your enemies’ ships?  Want to celebrate after a hard-won victory?  Or buy more ammunition?  Or have your ruined ship repaired at reasonable rates?  Then Oaxaca was the place for you, and your men, and anyone else willing to pay.  Marta had worked as a mechanic for six years, after four more she could retire here, after 14 more she could retire somewhere decent.

The sign in front of Liso Ship Repairs read:

Maintenance, Reconstruction, Null-G Emergency Services

Guild licensed since 274

“Morning Lorenzo,” Marta punched the time clock and set her bag down on her workbench, “any news?”

“Nothing yet,” he replied, eyes fixed on the main computer, “the Flemish and the SDA are still maneuvering.”

“No contracts yet?”

“No, but these repeat clients might both call for help.”

She rolled her stool closer to the turbine she’d been working on yesterday.  Somehow, a shot punched through the shield and outer casing, cut a coolant line, and overheated the system.  Temperatures soared and the damn thing locked up.  Fused metal wasn’t easily manipulated, so Marta had to replace a lot of parts.  But it was a big job, and you don’t complain about big jobs, they keep the shop in business.

Three hours later, Lorenzo’s squinty eyes widened.  “We have contact!” he called to the mechanics behind his office in the open hangar, “they’re tearing into each other too…”

Marta washed her greasy hands as the phone rang.  Lorenzo took the call so fast his chin wobbled and his modified chair squealed.  Seconds later, he slammed the receiver down and flicked on the speakers.

“That was the chief engineer of the Flemish Dreadnaught Bergen, their starboard engine blew.  It’s still hot up there, but they contracted one emergency mechanic for immediate repairs.  Marta, prep for launch.”

“I’m still working on this turbine,” she objected.

“Now Marta, they’ve already paid the first half, if they get shot down we’ll never get the rest of their credits.”

Fine, she pulled her short black hair into an untidy knot, “I’m on my way” and my cut had better be worth it.

Marta leapt into the service ship, checked the instrument readouts, and secured the cargo bins.  The white exterior and red pair of crossed wrenches supposedly guaranteed safe passage to and from the client’s ship.  The laser burns and shrapnel dents proved that wasn’t always the case.

“This is Marta,” she called through the shop’s radio channel, “all systems green.”

“You’re looking for the Dreadnaught Bergen.  It’s the big grey one, lots of smoke and flames coming from the starboard engine,” Lorenzo said.  “Coordinates should be on your screen.”

She checked, the blue dot was right in the middle of the battle.  “We still need to talk about that raise you promised.”

“Very funny chica.  Once you dock, find Sergeant McGregor, he’s our point of contact on this job.  You’re clear for launch, don’t hurt my ship.”

Just take it out of my pay like everything else, Marta hit the big red button and flew into the fray.

“Perfectly Pristine Or Your Money Back!”

Business was good at the Robot Wash.  All shapes and sizes were welcome, from the micro-dots to the full metal suits.  If the machine was too big or too small to fit in the automated bay, Robot Wash’s trained detailers and metalworkers would clean your investment by hand.

Their customer retention secret caused some trouble when the RW5 compound was publicized.  Lauded as the best finishing wax in the galaxy, it actually contained a mild corrosive.  Over time, the compound would eat through the burnished metal, oxidize at a terrific rate, and work its way deeper into the robot’s chassis.

Customers tried everything from patching over the damaged areas to re-welding entire panels.  It was no use.  Once applied, nothing counteracted the RW5.  Except RW6, which Robot Wash’s entire franchise operation used in their “Basic Wash” package, on every customer’s bot.  This neutralized and repaired the damage caused by the RW5 during the bot’s last cleaning.

Of course, they sprayed a fresh coat of RW5 on as the robot flew, walked, or rumbled away.

The robots looked like new again, ratings skyrocketed, and business boomed.  Until it all came crashing down when their staff chemist published his memoir.