(Thought I’d do a one-off piece of writing. Tell me which universe I’m riffing on in the Comments)
Way I saw it, it was just another day at the office. Or it would have been, if my ship hadn’t have gone to shit. It was on the last job. The bounty was good, but the prey was smart. Guess that’s why the price was so high. They knew that I was coming, and they hid in an asteroid field. I knew that it was a trap, but that didn’t stop them from having laid it. Thought I could outwit them with some clever use of cameras. Little robotic ones, so I could track the enemy’s movement. Should have known that this enemy was smart. An EMP blew out most of my cameras, and then it was cat-and-mouse through the asteroids until they caught me off-guard. Felt like a rank amateur in that moment. Still, it was a good hunt. And I’ll get another shot at her.
So here I was, having to take a cargo transport down to Earth. Yeah, rank amateur. But I was still in one piece. Guess that was worth something, right? Rode the ship down to the surface, had my craft docked, and loaded onto a truck. This was all money that I hated to spend. But there was nothing to be done about it. Only one mechanic in the entire system that I trusted to repair my ship. The one I bought it from. Sullivan Graham. Best old racer in all the system. The man knew more about starships than most of us would learn in three lifetimes. He spent as much time tinkering on his ship as he did pilot it. I remember watching his races when I was a kid. Me and the old man were in love with them. Back when the space age was at its peak. Been a long time since those days. Which is what led me here.
Pulling up to the entrance, I could already see the vast ocean of ship parts. There were hulks from old ships that he would strip for parts. This guy could find parts that were 20 years out of style. Then there were the ships that he was working on. It wasn’t a large crew here. Last I heard, it was him, his assistant, and a young apprentice. Just three people, fixing starships. Crazy, right? Well, they didn’t fix the huge stuff. Largest they would go is the old big-rig I used to pilot, back when I was a younger man.
The desert air was hot as hell. Dry as sand. Felt kind of nice.. A steady breeze was blowing. Hell, it always blows here. Always. There has never not been a point where it blows. Part of why I like this place. Hadn’t been here since I bought my ship. Hadn’t told him why I was buying the ship off him. Got rid of ten years of savings in order to purchase it. I didn’t need it anymore. Didn’t need the place I had left behind, either. It was all just a memory, of another life.
I parked the trailer with my ship on it in the lot. I knew that Sully would notice it, sooner or later. There was the sound of yelling from inside one of the hangars. A smile came to my face. That old codger never changed. He was giving shit to his people, because they had screwed something up. As I started to make my way over, there was a voice from behind me.
“Hey, that’s the Nightingale! I’d recognize that ship anywhere!”
I turned to see a girl, with short red hair. Late teens, by my estimation. She had a jumpsuit on, with splotches of grease and other fluids on it.
“You must be Sully’s newest protege,” I remarked with a coy smile. “He never keeps the same one for more than a year or two.”
Her face went pouty. “Hey, I’ve been here for almost two years! Ain’t my fault the cranky old coon can’t get rid of me.”
“Who are you calling a cranky old coon?” Standing there was Sullivan, with the same dour expression that he always had. Even when he was in a good mood, he looked cranky. Lines on his face from years of getting old. Though, I get the feeling that he got some of those lines when he was my age. If not younger. Was getting a few lines myself.
She immediately go awkward. “Nobody, boss-man.”
“Good! Got get my kit. We have a ship to diagnose.”
“Right away…” The girl sulked off.
My smile grew. “She can handle your BS for almost two years. Now that’s impressive!”
A grunt. “Kid’s got gumption, I’ll give her that. So, what on Earth brings you back here? Thought you’d be living big somewhere. You had enough money for the Nightingale, after all. Why would you need to bring the ship back? If my old girl had been racing again, I’d know about it. So what brings you here?”
“Got some coffee?”
He frowned at me. “Yeah.”
“Well, let’s get some and I’ll tell you all about it.”
This place’s coffee was like turpentine. Strong as fuck, too. But it was something to drink, so I took that for what it was.
“So, a bounty hunter, eh? Never would have pegged that for you.”
Looking out the window, I nodded. “Well, it wasn’t exactly something I looked for. I just kind of found it, you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“After the incident with my rig, I didn’t have much else to do. My operator’s license was dead. If I couldn’t fly, then what was I supposed to do? So, I got a friend to forge me a new license, under an old alias I had back during my smuggling days. Never looked back.”
That sentence hung in the air as I took another drink. The sound of Sully’s people talking about my ship coming up from the hangar.
“What about your girl? Didn’t she…”
“B wasn’t around to stop me. She left long before then.”
Another long pause. A baseball game was playing on the radio. Heard the assistant cheering, because his team was up to bat and had just hit a drive out to center-field. A good play.
“I see. Heard from her since?”
Shook my head. “No. Not for a long time.” My mind harkened back to days long gone by. Better days…
It was long before morning. I closed the door as quietly as I could. Slipped off my shoes and coat. Hung my hat on the rack, and headed toward the bedroom. She wouldn’t be up this early. Never was. So I’d get to have some snuggle-time before she went to work. After a mission this long, it was good to be back home. I had plenty of time off. Pulled a triple. My pay was a small fortune, so I would get to spend the Solstice with her. When I told her about it, she was very happy. At least, part of her sounded that way. But I could hear this other part. A part that sounded like we were going to have an exchange of words, when I got back.
Got up to the bedroom and opened the door. The curtains were drawn. Sunlight always drifted in through the window, so she would close the curtains. Had fond memories of her grumpy face as I would open them some mornings, to compel her to get her lazy ass out of bed. Cute girl. I slipped off my shirt and pants, gently sliding into bed behind her. I pulled the covers over, and slipped my arm around her waist. The girl suddenly took notice. An adorable little moan as she was coming too.
“You’re home!” That voice could make stone melt. So cute!
“That’s right! Not going anywhere for another three weeks! We got all the time in the world!”
She turned to face me, giving me a gentle kiss. “I missed you.”
“I know, babe. I’m so sorry. But working this many shifts was worth it. Got a fortune that’s coming in! We’re set for months. Maybe can even make a down payment on a house!”
There was this weird dichotomy in her look, between hope and incredulity. Don’t suppose any married guys will get where I’m coming from here?
“I want us to get off Ganymede, B. For us to move to Mars and start actually living. The way we always talked about. No more of this getting by. Security, a good wage for us, and somewhere that we can raise a family. I don’t want to raise a kid this far out in the middle of nowhere. I want our kid to grow up somewhere nice, you know?”
Her little smile. “You thinking about kids, now?”
I grunted. “Hell no. But someday, you know? When we’re all nice and settled and the two of us aren’t worried about how we’ll get by long-term. At least keeping the option open, right?”
Another soft kiss. The warmth of her sleepy body, it felt so good. I could be like this forever. We melted together, and I could suddenly feel some tension.
“What’s wrong, B?”
She pulled back a bit. “I read another story in the news, about a cargo truck being attacked on route to TJ. That’s the third on this month. Elliot, I don’t like knowing that you’re out there, doing cargo runs. I hate knowing that there might come a day when you won’t be coming back!”
I wrapped my arms tighter around her. “Listen, B, I’m okay. The rig that was attacked was off the main traffic lanes. I’m not that kind of pilot. I’m not looking to get extra pay by getting cargo somewhere quicker. I can take the wage I get. Trust me, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Looking me right in the eye. “Promise?”
“Okay. Can we cuddle for a while?”
“I got all the time in the world, babe.”
Those days were the happiest ones that I could possibly remember.
But then there were other memories that filtered through the ether. Like the last day I was at that apartment.
Coming home was difficult. I would have a lot of explaining to do. She wasn’t going to like this. All of the plans we had made, they were all falling apart in front of me. It had been a stupid accident. I had lied to her. I used shortcuts all the time. But I was careful. Not to mention since I had a history of smuggling, most of the pirates left me alone. Sometimes they would take a cut, but I still went home with a full wallet. But it all went to shit. I had been caught in the middle of an attack on another rig. Rather than stay and help, I cut and run. But then I got attacked by the same pirates, who didn’t realize that I had immunity. Now my rig was busted up, and I was out of a job.
So here I was, now having to find a new way to make money. I had one. A friend of mine made me an offer. We use my connections to get a new ID and pilot’s license, and I work with her as a bounty hunter. It was grunge work in the extreme. This wasn’t the kind of work that we were going to be living large on. Instead, it was the kind of work where I would have to sell the apartment. Wouldn’t be able to stay in one place for too long. You gotta live by chasing the bounty heads. It was the life. I knew it. Had even been involved in a bit of it, when I was in the ISSP. Felt like a million years ago.
Would she stay? Would she hate me? What would she do? A thousand and one different ways that this could play out running through my head, and none of it felt like something that I wanted. But this was where I was at. Nothing to do but to bit down on the bullet and live with the consequences. Falling on the sword, as it were.
It was dark when I arrived back home. There was a stillness in the air. The lights were off at my place. That was odd. B should have been home from work by now. Did she turn in early? Something was up, and I didn’t like it.
The door was locked. Why? If she was home, it should be open. I opened the door and stepped inside. The stillness was ominous.
“B?” I called out. No answer. Shutting the door, I turned on the light. Everything was just like it had been when I had left this morning. Did something happen to her? I hurried upstairs, calling out to her. No answer. When I opened the door to the bedroom, the truth became clear. The closet door was open, and empty. The drawers where her clothes had been were empty too. On the bed was a letter, and on top of it was her engagement ring and wedding band.
After opening the envelope, I read the letter.
That had been almost ten years ago. I was old enough that gray hair was on the horizon. Listening to the game on the radio, I let the thoughts go to the side. That’s when I looked at the wall where Sully had a ton of pictures. One of them was Bailey, in her jumpsuit, a big smile on her face, next to a younger Sully, who also had a warm smile on his face. That’s when I remembered – this man probably hates my guts.
Until next time, a quote,
“Whatever happens, happens.”