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#a37 :: Urchin

March 21, 2008

0321081.jpgThe alarm whirred her up from a dead, erectile dreamless, this web liquid-black sleep.

Solo Salvage. Fuck. She was supposed to be an interceptor pilot.

Not rifling vacked hulks for osmosis pods and pocket jewels.

Not jerking awake from cryo every two weeks, hung-over and disoriented, 19 light years from the outer spiral rim of nevermind, over and over and over again.

Not subsisting on year-old hypercast signals and stale V-mails and MREs and Emo-Stat patches.

Not. Fucking. Salvage …

She dragged herself awake. Stripped the backing film off a patch and slapped it on the shaven spot behind her ear, below the data-jack. She grabbed the handhold and twisted herself to ship’s-vertical – and banged her already bruised left knee on that same goddamn stanchion. Again.

And why did her back hurt so much every time she awoke?

Fucking fucking fuck fucking salvage. Time to get to work.

The bitter refrain played in her ears now as it had virtually every living moment in the 5 months since the examining officer had slapped her awake and realigned her torqued spine after her extravagantly failed centrifuge test.

“Well, shit, darlin’,” he had snickerdrawled, pulling chunks of half-digested Go-Bar out of her hair. “Your breakfast looked better in ya than on ya.”

And that – coupled with the low psych rating she earned by trying to goon her way to a 4F and freedom from the draft with her bad imitation of an Asperger’s kid – had been that.

The bankrupt war effort needed materiel and linguists as badly as gyro-stable pilots, and she had barely mastered Spanish and Mandarin, let alone the throat-punishing dialect of the enemy.

So cowboy the fuck up, grab that toolbox, hop on up into that there cryobed and get comfy because the Scavenger knows where to look and will wake ya up when it gets ya there.

Your planet needs you, engineer – Godspeed and just don’t puke up because the latest Spongebots have a nasty habit of breaking down and like we always say in salvage: beware, take care, no spares out there in no-air, nowhere.

The docking cycle chimed her out of her funk. She had dressed robotically, pulled on fresh pairs of soleskins and palmskins, slung the toolpack onto her shoulders and punched the “Grapple” button without deigning to give it a shred of thought.

She felt the suck-tunnel’s magnetic mouth lock her Scavenger onto the wreck, remora-like.

Plasma-cutters ringing the tunnel’s maw chewed a 3-meter hole through the derelict’s hull.

With a thump and a hiss, the tunnel’s outboard claws jettisoned the cut plug and equalized the pressure. Wreck-air mingled with her own.

When the bio-screen cycled and greenlit her, she clapped an airmask onto her nose, kicked off and drifted through the tunnel into the wreck.

The usual shit hung in the ruined starliner’s lounge: poker chips, sip-bulbs, starved-to-death corpses and a flock of gold-paper napkins, which eddied in an air-circ feedback loop, trapped between the airvents and the scrubber return valve, fluttering like logo’ed starlings.

Rich crowd. Nice clothes. So what.

She pushed a former fat man aside. Mercifully he stayed in one piece as he spun off toward the roulette wheel, his dessicated flaps of bellyskin poking his tentlike suit of bespoke shahtoosh into sickly planes and angles like a cubist blimp.

She worked her way aft, overriding tripped airlocks and gibboning down gangways toward the engine bay, the weight of the toolpack cupping her spine and sustaining her inertia.

This was maybe the only joy she got from the assignment – the sheer, gymnastic pleasure of getting from A to B. To where the real work was – the quota of salvage targets that would eventually earn her the right to return planetside full-time.

The osmosis pod clung to its post there in the drivetrain, a stupidly loyal soldier.

She worked on freeing it.

Spanners on its mounting bolts cut into her hands so hard as she wrenched that she dreaded suddenly launching her skull into a bulkhead if the bolts broke loose and freed her captive inertia like last time. Two weeks on a medship, half pay, and a legacy of blinding migraines. No thanks.

She found the dismount panel and tripped it. Explosive bolts severed the pod’s couplings from the drivetrain with little inward-directed pops, and it came loose – a billion dollars worth of irreplaceable, indestructable Zbai-Lur mystery-hardware, the legacy of a now-ruined trading relationship and the only gear in known space that could enable faster-than-light travel through known space.

Let the refurb crews wrench off the now-thrashed mounting collar. At least they got fresh air, conversation and kisses every now and then.

Thirty days and a wakeup, then 10 days liberty before the next mission. Seven months to go until … Shut … up.

She bungied the osmosis pod to the sledge-like frame of her toolpack, carabinered the rig to her right wrist with two meters of shock cord and kicked off for where she guessed the bridge was.

She muttered, Ho de do. Ho de do. I love the Marine Co’.

Then she sang it aloud as she slung from one compartment to the next.

Then she began bellowing it like a drill sergeant, and she stopped, making a sudden grab at the nearest bulkhead to halt her momentum.

Something in the onward flow of corridors and debris and corpses had snagged her eye.

Half a second later, the pod-laden sledge slammed into her ass, and bowled her forward into the cabin.

Cursing, disentangling herself from the sledge and leash, she looked again at the cabin’s interior.

There in its heart hung a cloud of shoes.

A spherical shoe-cloud. All kinds: pumps, high heels, sneakers, uniform boots – even four or five pairs of soleskins just like the ones she wore for null-grav work – all parked sole-out around a core of … what was that thing at the very center?

Nubbly, fist-sized – it looked like a seashell of some kind, except for the fact that it was greenish-white and … sizzling slightly.

She drifted closer.

What. The. Fuck.

Something dark beckoned from the hole at the very apex of its knobbed dome. Really dark. Like the very opposite of control-panel glow, a sort of anti-glow, liquid, pulsing and deeper than infra-red black.

Why was it attracting shoes?

She needed to touch it. To understand it. Maybe it was valuable.

She unholstered a spanner and reached out to tap it. It grabbed the spanner, then sucked in her arm, and by the time it had begun swallowing her head and chest a flood of mirth washed over her, like everything looked sunny and …

green and …

hilarious and …

The alarm whirred her up from a dead, dreamless, liquid-black sleep.

Solo Salvage. Fuck. She was supposed to be an interceptor pilot.

Not rifling vacked hulks for osmosis pods and pocket jewels.

Not jerking awake from cryo every two weeks, hung-over and disoriented, 19 light years from the outer spiral rim of nevermind, over and over and over again.

Not subsisting on year-old hypercast signals and stale V-mails and MREs and Emo-Stat patches.

Not. Fucking. Salvage.

She dragged herself awake. Stripped the backing film off a patch and slapped it on the shaven spot behind her ear, below the data-jack. She grabbed the handhold and twisted herself to ship’s-vertical – and banged her already bruised left knee on that same goddamn stanchion. Again.

And why did her back hurt so much every time she awoke?

Fucking fucking fuck fucking salvage. Time to get to work …

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