Did this alien have Alzheimer's or something? No, wait, that was an exclusively human disease. Still, its memory sure was something. He didn't fail to notice the pauses where she glanced at the little bot; no doubt communicating with it. She passed out in a dumpster and ended up here? Traveled the voids of space in a [i dumpster?] What a resilient species.
"I'm more amazed you survived transit," Neon replied. Looked like killing her quietly was out for now.
She led him on, mumbling to her bot every now and again. Even with his respirator, Neon could tell it wasn't nice breathing. The storm was picking up, and the winds blew in gusts of darker yellow. It was truly gross. He was more glad than ever he was encased in an enviro-suit. Delhi seemed fine with it, though; another testament to her resiliency. He shook his head just a tad. Honestly, it was a little terrifying.
"A plan? I just arrived here, stepped off my ship, got robbed, then got informed I've got a new partner. When did I have time to make a plan? I just found out he's in this joint five minutes ago! I don't know the layout, the patronage, nothing! Look, we'll case the joint tonight, take an opportunity if it presents itself...but honestly, look, we'll just get a feel for things." Since she knew he was going to be there, he had to be a regular, right? Which meant he'd be back again tomorrow. And she, too. Which reminded him, she'd mentioned dust, hadn't she? "Don't get tweaked out, either," he added. "First rule of being my partner is 'don't get high on the job,' alright?"
The badger was even more aggressive than he'd expected, slamming Delhi to the wall as soon as he saw her. Neon listened to their conversation with raised eyebrows, then nodded when the badger gestured him in, glad he had his respirator on so he didn't have to smell it.
"What did you do to him?" he asked her. "Or his wife?" Badgers might be angry little shits, but they didn't get smash-against-the-wall riled up without reason.
"So what got a veteran like you dumped on a planet like this?”
I go to answer with conviction. “I—I…” Shit. “You know what? That’s a good question…I’ve been traveling for a while. A fuckin’ long time, actually. Shit.” I think for a second. Regi quickly reminds me. “Right. I…I think I passed out in a dumpster,” I admit, “Because I just sort of woke up here. I was on Gilian-O8R, you know, just…crashing at a friend’s. Probably did some bad dust, ended up in a dumpster, woke up falling out of the sky into this shit hole.” I grin sheepishly. “Fuck my luck, right?”
There’s a flash of lightning in the distance as the thick, oppressive air lights with electricity. The corrosive rain continues falling, getting heavier. I flip my first pair of eyelids closed and look through them. This stuff is dangerous to normal skin, though mine is a bit more resilient Wouldn’t want to be swimming in the stuff, though.
Convection whips clouds of smog and toxic gas into a rolling frenzy. A massive bout of thunder seems to scare the garbage off the ground—me, too.
‘Barometric pressure decreasing. Air toxicity increasing: 51% methane, 19% nitrogen, 13% Oxygen, 7% sulfur dioxide, 6% nitrus oxide, 3.6% particulate matter and contaminants…’
“Thanks, Regi.” I mumble in response, not paying all too much attention to the report.
‘Artificial respiration recommended.’
“Don’t have a respirator, Regi.”
‘Artificial respiration recommended.’
“Fine! I’ll get a fucking R-pack, alright!? Fuckin' relax!” I roll my eyes and heave a dramatic sigh. Reginald can be so fussy sometimes…But I think it’s just because he cares.
We pass the small terminal, its employees not paying us any particular mind or skepticism. Luckily, the Jamming Badger isn’t far. Most have gone inside because of the storm, but even from a distance I can tell the little place is lively. Music pulsates gently down the street, nondescript and bass-y, warm light pools out onto the sidewalk and is latticed by shadows. Trash floats about in the wind.
“Do you have a plan?” I scoff slightly and narrow my yellow eyes, unable to read his expression beneath the bio suit, “Or are we just gonna ask nicely?”
A few more paces and the bouncer, a huge badger with six black eyes and six balding, well muscled limbs, glances at me sidelong.
My translation function clicks on at his low voice.
“D.” He growls, addressing me.
“Mike!” I put my arm around a single one of his limbs, which is almost my size, “Good to see you, buddy. How’s the wife?” That very same limb slams me mercilessly against the exterior of the building, pinning me there. I think Mike might’ve cracked the concrete. I maintain a wide, if now slightly strained, grin. “She’s that bad, huh?” I wheeze. “Think you might’ve cracked a rib or two that time, Mike.”
“No fuckin’ funny shit, D.” He growls, hot air from his nostrils blowing onto my face. He holds me there for a moment before letting me down. I draw a huge breath of acrid air and cough slightly.
“Right. I’ve repented, Mike. I’m reformed. No funny shit. Not now, not ever again.” I say dutifully.
“Fuck off.” Mike takes a good look at Neon, blinking his six eyes. “Alright. You, too—get the fuck inside. Cause any damn trouble and I’ll be handling it.” The badger snorts and presses the door release.
“Thanks, Mikey!” I smile, waving as I step into the warm light.
“I hope you fall into the sun.” He responds.
Couldn't he tell? Tell what? He didn't even know what it [i was], let alone what its species' sexual markers were. He snorted and let it be.
It was kind of...well, he supposed the only word for it was 'cute.' Like a stuffed animal, or a kid. A pleasant, pale shade, small, thin; honestly, even with the gun he was having a hard time taking her seriously. She gave him a weird, sidelong glance, and he raised eyebrows back at her. What, she have a problem with him? Maybe she should go hijack someone else's ship then. Wait, no one else was coming to this garbage heap.
The door stuck again. It snapped shut a second too late, and he watched with vague disappointment as she abused it to yank her prosthetic through. Almost. He'd almost been home free. It slid open properly once she was through, and he walked out calmly as she tackled a metal cube. His enviro-suit reacted to the rain once more and closed itself off, hood and all, and he crossed his blue-coated arms to watch as she rolled around in the garbage with the cube. Was it some kind of stat-drone? He nodded blankly as she introduced him to it; why bother, if he couldn't communicate with it anyways? An analytics bot, huh? Not that far off from a stat-drone, after all.
"The Jamming Badger?" he asked, a bit disgusted. The smelly, ugly, above-all aggressive creatures bred to murder infantry during land wars that had unfortunately gained sentience had a club here? Then again, where else would they have a club than a literal giant heap of garbage? He shook his head. Just great. They always seemed to have a chip on their shoulder when it came to humans; he'd have to try and pass himself off as not-a-human.
"Alright, alright," he replied. She sure was hyper, for a hundred-plus year old.
"So what got a veteran like you dumped on a planet like this?" he asked conversationally as they walked. That had to be a story. Or not; it might be she was making this all up, but if that were the case, then this was the perfect opportunity to call her out on it.
"Or, well, he or she? Pick one. Feels weird calling someone it.”
“She! What—you can’t tell?” I look down at myself. No…I suppose you can’t. My color shifts and before I notice it I’m back to a light lilac-y shade, the subtle markings on my face and along my arm pronounced in white.
"If you wanna, go ahead, just don't fuck it up or I'll be stuck here with you, and no one wants that. Fix it, and I'll take you with me when I leave.”
I don’t respond to this. It’s taken as a given—but wait. [i I’m] the one with the gun, here. He seems thoroughly…unthreatened. What—I’m not menacing enough? This is ass backwards. He doesn’t fear [i me,] a decorated veteran far superior in regenerative properties, intellect, experience, technical skill, and by all means [i better] than himself? Look at him! He’s a fucking mutt—and his name is [i Neon.] How fuckin’ dumb is that!? I glance sidelong as the light slides over me, granting me access. Good—at least I have that. Man—he’s obviously inferior, but he’s got looks…I swallow and prevent my skin from lightening to pink again. He’s too young for me, I tell myself.
I step into the airlock, which closes begun me. The door opens.
Well…Opens is a bit too strong a word for it.
It opens a fourth of the way, then gets stuck. Great! Fucking great! I slip through, but it springs shut—my mechanical arm grates against the metal, gripping it, the other braces against the door frame. “Fucking shit.” I groan, straining against the mechanism. The piece of shit seems to get the idea and springs open, sending me face first into runway and garbage. I’m greeted by a familiar whir, and quickly peel a space-ramen wrapper off my face.
“Regi!” The little cube hovers by my head. I sit up and hug him close. “Oh Reginald, I’m never letting you out of my sight again…you could’ve died, you bastard!” I sigh a sigh of relief. “Where did we see Phonso, Regi?”
“The Jamming Badger at twenty three hundred hours on—“
“Thanks Reg.” I cut him off. “Hey, Neon!” I call. The name’s still funny. “This is Reginald. He’s a highly advanced analytics bot. You won’t be able to hear him, though—he’s on a private channel set directly to my near-translator. He says Phonso was at the Jamming Badger.” No, not like the earth animal. Like the large, striped, six-legged creature evolved from the earth animal. There was some mutation experiment a while back, and [i those] were created. Now Badger comes across as more of a racial slur than an actual name, but they really aren’t bad guys. Nice to have a drink with, I guess. They play good live music. Can get a bit temperamental, though…
“Come on! His guys get there at around sundown. We should meet them there.” I turn, look at the tracker. Good. Regi follows just behind my shoulder.
Great. The only thing worse than kids were geezers. It didn't look like one, but what did he know? Maybe 127 was middle aged. Maybe its kind of aliens didn't wrinkle. He was experiencing that himself; thirty earth years and some, but skin as tight as a newborn babe's. God only knew how his father's half aged. He sighed out, tired. He hadn't expected it to hand the tracker over, but it would have been awfully nice if it had. Military background, too, wonderful. Meant it'd be tougher to ditch the funny-colored thing. Though then again, could he throw stones?
"You a boy or a girl, sub shop?" he asked it--Deli, whatever. "Or, well, he or she? Pick one. Feels weird calling someone it." Plenty of aliens had no gender, or had no concept of gender, or had hundreds of genders. The proper thing was to be accommodating to whatever they wanted to be called, but he didn't give enough of a shit for that. "Name's Neon."
He didn't quite believe its claims that it could get this heap of spare parts running in a few days, but free labor was free labor. It was a little dangerous, but hey, so was running around with a broken door and a hydraulic meter off the charts. "If you wanna, go ahead, just don't fuck it up or I'll be stuck here with you, and no one wants that. Fix it, and I'll take you with me when I leave." He'd dump the dumb alien at the next space station he saw, but it didn't need to know that.
"Yeah, know him?" he asked. Feeling less and less threatened by the alien's gun, he sat down on his couch, legs wide, head tilted back, arms splayed over the back of the couch. Ugh, this sucked. Why did he have to get stuck with some alien geezer?
He sat up sharply and leveled a finger at the alien. "No killing! He's worth twice as much alive, got it? Dead, and I'm still short on fuel money." Who was Regi? He decided that he didn't care any more. He had no control over his life, might as well just give up at this point. "Ship, temporary register on locale 51, tag name sub shop, permissions: front door, hours oh-eight-hundred to twenty-hundred."
Light glowed from the ceiling over the alien as the system took in her bio-register. It wouldn't be able to open the doors if they were locked, but if they were unlocked, it could; it also meant the ship would recognize it and be able to tell him if it were the alien outside the door.
He stood once it had finished registering to follow it out, batting the gun out of his face when he got close. "Enough with that, you've already got me hostage," he complained, annoyed. He wasn't going to let her or the tracker out of his sight.
"Ah, y'know what, sure. Why the fuck not. I'll be your babysitter. Now just hand that thing back over, alright? And we can get right back on the trail.”
“Seriously? Awesome.” My finger runs lightly over the charge on the Quantum-Pistol, which whirs to life, producing a brightening light. “So first, a couple ground-rules. One: this?” I hold up the tracker. “This is mine. I’m gonna hold onto this for now. Secondly, I’m one hundred and twenty seven Eyo’s.” Eyo, meaning Earth years old. Age is complicated. And a hundred twenty seven is almost twice the average lifespan of my species, a fact on which I pride myself. “I served in the Phaecia-Galaxy Military for years. So if you call me ‘kid’ again, I will maim you.” I smile boldly as I aim the gun at his many eyes, nearing. “…Is that everything? I coulda sworn…” I shake my head, lower the gun. “No, I think that’s it. Anyway, my name's Delhi.” I then replace the gun with an outstretched hand of greeting—and not the mechanical one. Apparently it’s the same of some Earth city; not that I’d care. I’ve never been to Earth and have no particular desire to end up there. Humans are a fragile species. And they come in boring colors.
“If you give me a few days, by the way, I could have this piece of shit running better than the day you bought it.” I mention with a bit of pride. There was something else I was going to do…what was it? I touch the back of my neck in thought. Fuck, this shit’s why I need Regi around…What was it? The bounty, right! I whip out the tracker with a renewed excitement and flip the thing on. Coordinates are shown, and in the upper right is a small picture, which I enlarge.
“Oh!” I crease my brow. “…Oh. Phonso? Phonso Tulf? [i Seriously?] Man—if I’d had the chance or the license, I’d’ve bagged this guy weeks ago! Shit!” I run my hand through my hair, pacing. I gotta remember the name of the place—that place, where he hangs out with his thugs… “Hey, can you let me off? I’ve gotta find Regi and ask him where Phonso is. I can’t remember the name of it…but we can wait for him there, surprise him.” I wait by the airlock, glancing sidelong at the cell. “Do we get to kill this guy, or what?” I lick my lips at that. It’s been a while. Good thing about the Quantum Pistol: it doesn’t run on bullets or cartridges like plasma guns; the thing charges itself. It’s practically an antique at this point…sixty earth years, maybe? But it still works as well as the day I stole it off some guy’s body and it hasn’t left my side since. So the shots are unlimited, not counting charge time. I wish I had something heavier. But I’m traveling light. Traveling, even though I have no idea where I’m going and can barely even remember how I got here.
I look expectantly at the other and wait for the airlock to engage.
No, Lady Luck was never so kind to him. The kid did fine in oxygen. He sighed heavily, disappointed. It was his first good look at the thing, and he wasn't really sure what to make of it. One arm looked...yeah, definitely was cybernetic. Green skin shifted to purple, a mass of white hair, vaguely humanoid for the most part...the yellow eyes were somehow disturbing, just un-human enough to bother him. Not that he could really throw stones, when it came to eyes.
He flipped the kid off at the comment on his parentage. "Still better'n whatever made you," he told the white-haired chameleon. He'd never seen one of...whatever the fuck it was before. And now it was turning pink. God only knew what that meant. He furrowed his brows and watched as the alien poked around his ship, gun wandering around rather than trained on him. "Mind you don't shoot the ship, I'm attached," he warned.
"You like it?" he asked, warming a little as she complimented his ship. "Won it in a hand of poker, off a bitty station somewhere outside Aurbel. Had to take off with it, because everyone knows Aurbellians go back on their bets like it's going out of style...not that he really wanted this piece of shit, the kind of ships he was keeping. She's a clunker but she's mine, you know? I've kept good care of her ever since."
Neon snorted. Like he didn't know. "Yeah, well, if someone wasn't robbing me blind, I could be hunting down my bounty to [i get the money to fix it,]" he replied. "Though I think it's the gauge what's bad, it's been showing red for aeons now and nothing's come of it." It was the door he wanted to fix; it seemed a more immediate threat to his health than some hydraulics gauge.
No, no, he was getting distracted. He edged towards the couch, fingers feeling along the wall behind him for the button that'd arm the traps. He knew he ought to arm them every time he left the ship, but he was just so lazy! It'd take ages if he armed and disarmed every time he went anywhere.
Just before he pressed it, the kid grabbed up his tracking device, and Neon's stomach went ice cold. "Hey, kid, put that down," he said nervously, hands out to his side to calm it. "That's nothing you want. Don't touch it--hey, hey! I said don't touch it! Put it down! Anything else, I can...I have some holodisks, you like holodisks, yeah?"
And then it demanded he bring it along.
Neon sighed out, long and low, and put a hand over his eyes. Was this what it'd come to? "Me, a fuckin' babysitter," he muttered aloud. With a heavy sigh, he wiped his face and looked up, all five eyes staring at the ceiling. No, no, this was fine. He just had to take it along for as long as it held his tracker ransom. The second it put the thing down, he'd snatch it up. It'd have to sleep sometime. And worst came to worst, they'd get into a firefight and the alien would get shot--perfect.
Plan decided, Neon smirked just half an inch. "Ah, y'know what, sure. Why the fuck not. I'll be your babysitter. Now just hand that thing back over, alright? And we can get right back on the trail." He held his hand out hopefully.
Oh boy. That was a mistake. If I’d had any sympathy previously, it waned significantly now.
"You think I'd be here if I had shit worth taking?”
I cackle. “Everyone’s got shit worth taking, buddy.”
The door opens and I step inside the relatively cool space, taking it in. It’s pretty bare. I note the kitchen, the old issue of Chronicles of Uranus vol 26: Tentacle Attack peeking out from under the couch and finally, the cell. It’s gotta be custom—I can see the welding work. It can mean a number of things: he’s law enforcement (unlikely), He’s [i with] law enforcement , He’s some sort of vigilante bounty hunter , or it was just there when he bought it and it was too damn annoying to remove.
The airlock finishes with a hiss and my skin color involuntarily begins to match the room, returning to a purple-gray. Everything stills. Outside noise is abolished and I watch with interest as his suit recedes. The color is most shocking: the clash of pink and orange with the brown of his hair, his eyes placed horribly—are they even functional?—Arms at his knees, his jagged, menacing teeth…
I flip up my second pair of eyelids.
[i He’s beautiful.]
I have to remind myself to keep my business life separate from my personal life, even though my skin is taking on a slightly pinker hue. I draw a breath and center my composure. “Wow. What kind of radio-active creatures had to fuck to make you? You’re fucked up. [i Really] fucked up.”] I say with a bit of humor edging into my voice.
I keep the pistol in my hand but am far less guarded than I was initially. The flashy bits of the cockpit grab hold of my non-existant attention span and I walk over to the area, panning my eyes and fingers over the controls. “Damn. This shit’s old, man, but these things are built to last…It’s an STS Omen, right? These things are fuckin’ awesome…” I place my free hand thoughtfully on the manual steering and grin to myself. Those were the days…
There’s a small digital gauge at the far left of the spread. I regard it with obvious distaste. “The hydraulic pressure is off the charts. You’re basically flying a time bomb.” I cast him a sidelong glare, displeased with his treatment of such a relic. So this thing isn’t really worth stealing. I mean…if I were more desperate, I would, and would fix it myself when I had the chance. But right now my destination is ‘anywhere but here’ and I think i can wait a little longer or figure out some way to stow away on a garbage ship.
Still—I’ve gotta milk this opportunity…I see a small device sitting on the dash above the display. “Do you need this? I’m gonna take this. Thanks.” I wave the gun around dismissively in his direction. I could strip the ship for parts—copper wire, copper pipes, whatever’s left of the energy core—but it feels wrong. Damn. This is when I need Regi here, to tell me to suck it up and stop being so damn sentimental.
I turn the device around in my mechanical palm, briefly looking over the screen, where a complex looking map is displayed, two points of light indicating proximity. It’s a tracker, I think. I tap the destination and a face pops onto the screen. The bounty hunter option isn’t looking so bleak after all.
Suddenly, I get an idea.
“You got bounties?” I ask, “I want in.”
The friendly locals, huh? He didn't buy it for a second, watching the shape approach in infrared. When it got close enough to see without it, he flicked back to normal, but very quickly went back to infrared. Whatever it was had some kind of camouflage adaptation, which made it tough to make out on top of the fog and everything else going on. His hand slid towards his pistol. Nothing good was going to come out of this dump, he knew it already.
"That so," he replied guardedly, watching as the shape came closer yet. Looked slim, small. Like a kid. Not like that meant anything. There were aliens out there barely bigger than a cat who'd slit your throat soon as look at you. Besides which, he already knew that; conveniently, his ship was registered as a garbage ship at the moment. He hadn't paid a whole bounty's worth for the masking chip for nothing. Sucker worked like a charm. He could have any license or registration he wanted to; convenient, when bounty hunters often had to deal with issues of questionable legality. Course, the issue was, anyone came looking instead of just taking a look at the registers on their computer, and they'd instantly notice his clunker was out of place, but a dump like this? He didn't figure on it.
Two bare palms were visible, and Neon relaxed just a hair. It really did look like a kid, no matter what. Didn't mean much that it was holding two hands up when the shitty fly had a whole half dozen, but it was still a peaceful gesture. Maybe it really was just a friendly kid.
And maybe his mom was the Queen of Jupiter.
"Kid, stop right there," he said, reaching for his pistol. His caution came a second too late. Metal pressed against his side and the kid hissed out demands; he sighed heavily. Perfect. Not only was he stuck here on this damn garbage dump until he found his man, but now he was getting robbed by a kid. The day just kept getting better.
"You think I'd be here if I had shit worth taking?" Neon replied, nonetheless turning back to his ship with his hands up. Kid had no idea what it was dealing with, telling a bounty hunter to get back on his ship. He had the thing rigged with traps from stem to stern, to ward off any captured hopeful from getting ideas. "Blew my last credits gettin' here, kid. I'm stranded if I don't get what I came here for. Got just enough fuel to blast off and make it to the nearest fueling station. Dunno what you're looking for, but I ain't got it."
He slapped the panel on the outside of the ship; it registered his bio-signal, and the door opened reluctantly, but fully. Oh, this time it was going to open just fine, huh? It wouldn't stutter the [i one] time he could've used it to give this kid the slip? Well, of course it wouldn't. The universe wasn't that kind to him.
They entered the airlock, and the door hissed shut, atmosphere hissing in and out as it adjusted to what Neon could breathe; Earth-normal, because he wasn't sure what his daddy was to be able to adjust it for whatever his paternal DNA could breathe. He glanced back. He couldn't be so lucky, could he? Oxygen was actually a very caustic chemical, and several species couldn't survive in it. The kid wouldn't just pass out, would it? Because that would just make his day.
At last, the airlock finished filtering with a clunk, and the inner door opened. Relaxed, Neon led the way inside. Good luck to this kid if he could get the ship to run without Neon's bio-signal. The lock was military grade--or it'd better be, what he paid for it. He'd sunk more money into this ship than it deserved, but hey, it was home. He had to take care of it. "See anything that strikes your fancy?" he asked, as the enviro-suit loosened and lowered its hood; he raised his goggles and took in his ship yet again. The kitchenette opened up to the right. To the left was a worn out couch; above it, a cot that folded into the ceiling, or mostly folded into the ceiling; it was cracked open, something wrong in the mechanism that he hadn't figured out yet. It was a bachelor pad, and looked like it. Clothes were strewn about, dirty dishes piled in the sink, a magazine poking out from under the couch that he really should've hidden a bit better the last time he'd resorted to it. The meanger entertainment system was all holographic , which meant it was completely invisible at the moment.
He glanced at the kid, eyebrows raised. Not what it was expecting, was it?
Wow. I’m not sure if this hunk of shit is actually worth robbing. Its make looks familiar…an old STS-Omen with a custom paint job, maybe? Don’t think they make those anymore. Makes me miss my old 3169 SC Millennial. That shit was limited edition…fast, beautiful, and it warped like a motherfucker.
A figure steps out a flips the clunky old thing off.
I cock back my military-issue quantum pistol and almost feel bad for what I’m about to do.
Regi’s mechanical voice buzzes in my head.
“Not now, Reg. Stay here.” A wave of color flits across my skin, subtle greens and blues, and my skin tone takes on the green gray of my surroundings. It’s a pretty useless adaptation, but I’ll take it. It’s aesthetically cool, I guess, and I can sort of control it, which is fun at parties.
I stow the pistol at my side and step out into the open, concealed by fog. The rain is heavily acidic, but that isn’t much of a problem for me either: it fizzles against my skin and clothing without effect.
“Hey!” I call out to the figure and point at a faded sign to my left, “You know you can’t park here, right? Don’t know if you read the language, but this is parking for garbage ships only.” It’s true. I might as well warn them before I rob them. I near the visitor and hold up my palms to show I mean no harm. Garbage ships are parked around, massive, of various makes, but all painted a dull green with a yellow stripe running across the side. Many of them are freckled with large barnacle-like creatures that have rooted into their metal exteriors over time, feeding off bits of waste.
The only others watching would be the drivers and the people in the terminal, who I’m certain are strung out on some thing or another and couldn’t give less of a shit. And who could blame them? Their home is literally trash. Anyone who comes here is either stupid, desperate, or a druggie, anyway.
Once I’m in proximity, I press the pistol near his side. “Sorry about this. Do what I tell you, everything’ll be fine, got it? Awesome. Get back in the ship. I’ll follow. We’re going to re-park this thing, quick and easy, right over there near that wreck.” I point toward a massive ruin: an old military BC Gladiator. There’s a pang of nostalgia as I can almost see the thing animated by an energy core and the five hundred men that were assigned to run it. “You’re gonna land, give me whatever shit you got, and we’ll feel it out from there—deal?” I grin wide, feeling the whir of the quantum pistol beneath my fingers.
It wasn't a big ship, or an expensive one. The paint was mostly gone, stripped to nothing. Here and there the walls had been patched with a different ship, scraps of lurid green still clinging; but mostly it was the color of shipmetal: dull grey. It was a clunker, with all the grace of an outhouse, and once it left this planet, it'd reek like one too; readout said the atmosphere was mostly methane. There was a bed, a kitchenette, a cockpit, storage, and a cell about the size of a large closet. When he brought in the big critters, he had to take out the folding plasma cell and set it up in the airlock, and no one liked that, not him, not the prisoners, not the mechanics and definitely not the safety crew. If he'd had a crew.
The airlock hissed as it drained atmosphere back into its reserves; the air outside wasn't breathable to either of the species Neon belonged to, and atmosphere was precious. The planet's air was blown in to replace the air, filling the space with a noxious yellow smog. Neon grimaced. Perfect. His eyes watered, all five of them, and he lowered his goggles. Better safe than sorry.
His build was mostly human; two legs, two arms, one head. It was the details where things got blurry. Five eyes, three on the right side , two on the left, all piled and crushed in eye sockets not quite big enough for them; arms a tad bit longer than human-normal, lending to the ape-like look without being in any way useful; teeth too sharp to properly chew vegetables and a digestive system that required them; an orange tinge to his skin three shades too vibrant to be spray tan, splattered at random with highlighter pink, vitiligo-style; a splash of bright pink in otherwise unremarkable brown hair--it was those two traits that gave him his name, because his mother's brain was burned out on dust long before she squeezed him out. How he wasn't fucked up in the head, he wasn't sure. Or maybe he was, and just didn't know it.
The airlock clicked and slid open, heavy door sticking halfway. With a groan, Neon pushed against it, slid his body between the door and the wall and just barely slipped through. The door snapped shut the second he was through, and he ran two steps away from it in surprise before he caught himself. "Yeah, fuck you too!" he told his ship, flipping it off. He needed to get that door looked at, it was going to kill someone. Probably him.
The blue enviro-suit, which clashed nicely with his neon highlights, tightened at his neck, wrists and ankles, sealing out the outside air due to some contaminant or another, and he frowned, looking around. Yeah, didn't blame it. There was probably every contaminant known to sentient-kind down here. Rain started to fall, sizzling where it hit, and the enviro-suit reacted as fast as he'd ever seen it react, enveloping head and hands with its coating, the coating sliding around the goggles, goggles suddenly a part of the suit. It was a high-class suit, and he'd gone through a lot of effort to steal it off the prisoner who'd owned it. He couldn't see far through the fog to start out with, and the rain only made things worse. He tapped a button on the side of his goggles, activating infrared mode. Almost every living being gave off heat. Turning slowly, he scanned the heap.
“No, Regi. It was a three year warranty, not a five year one.”
Regi doesn’t answer.
“Earth years, I mean.” I think for a second. “Wait—if it’s an intergalactic company, do they still use Earth years? Maybe they use Philo years…Regi, do the math, will you?”
“From the date of purchase, it has been forty Earth years and twenty three Earth days, which is Five Philo years and two hundred twenty seven days, which is Seven hundred twenty years on X22748—“
“Shit—but…if it’s a three year warranty, will they still—Shit! But what if—what if they don’ t…what if they don’t fix you, Regi? What will I do without you?” I glance around quickly. I killed him…What if I killed him!? “Don’t die on me, Regi! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to—I just—“
“The damage is only cosmetic and will not impact my functionality. The dent is four by seven point twenty three millimeters and barely perceptible to the naked eye.”
I listen to his reasoning and sigh with relief. It’s gonna be okay. Regi is fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine and dandy in this landfill. For the sake of concision and simplicity, I’ll convert all lengths of time to that of Earth, which is the universally accepted method of timekeeping. It’s a lot of convoluted math—distance and velocity calculations, you know—you’re welcome. So I’ve been here for…three weeks, and haven’t eaten for two. It’s not a huge deal, I’ve gone longer, but it’s miserable here and smells like garbage. Because there is garbage. Breathing isn’t an issue for me here; the atmosphere is full of smog and methane, which I can process just fine, but I sort of [i wish] I need a respirator so I didn’t have to deal with the smell. You’d think you get used to it.
Anyway, I’ve been waiting here for a ship for the past three weeks, but it seems no one is dumb enough to go in or out besides the garbage ships. I’ve already tried those—twice, actually—didn’t work. So the roar as the civilian ship emerges from the smog is music to my ears. It starts to rain. I close my second pair of eyelids over my bright yellow eyes and keep my gaze tilted toward the sky despite the rain.
“Well, Reg, you remember the plan? If it’s not civilian, we rob them blind. If it [i is] civilian, we rob them blind [i and] steal the ship. Be ready to book it.” The small bot hovers over my shoulder with a comforting whir. To those around, his—technically its, but I call it him—voice is silent, sent to me through a small neurotransmitter hooked up to my translator and external neuro-hard drive. Its embedded somewhere at the back of my head in the lilac skin there, covered by my white hair and ultimately imperceptible. I’m wearing sleeves, and my right arm [i almost] looks like a real one, save for the fiber-glass fingers that peek out occasionally. The thing’s old, but works great with some oiling here and there.
The ship lands. I wait just outside the planet’s small terminal for someone to step out, preparing to make judgement and quick action.
He leaned against the bar, nursing some water. Water, because it was free. No jobs for months, what the fuck did they think he was? Space fleas? If he didn't get something soon, he wouldn't have the money to leave this shitty little station.
"Hey monkey, one of your kind at that place across the way," the bartender alerted him; it was some kind of bug creature that couldn't possibly make the sounds of any human language, but the universal translator in his head took care of that. "Your kind likes coapulating, yeah?"
Neon turned, then frowned. "You comprehend gender, yeah? That's a male. Like me."
The bug creature laughed, an oddly jittery sound even through the translator. "Never stopped you before," it said.
Neon flipped it off. "Fuck off," he said. Got lonely in a huge galaxy when there were only a couple billion of your kind. Must've been why his mom fucked whatever she did to make him. At least pregnancy wouldn't be a problem with a mule like him, though that was assuming he ever found a woman, first. If only he got a real, nice, big, meaty job, he'd have the money to buy the fuel to sail to Earth and find one. But Earth was an expensive place to visit. Wasn't just any job that'd give him the fuel money to get there.
The fly buzzed its wings, amused. "Always gets me when you say that. Coapulating is very pleasurable, I just might."
Neon narrowed his eyes. He still didn't have any idea why the fly thought the word "fuck" was so hilarious, and honestly, he didn't want to know.
The fly gestured. "Word is Zihjdo has a job," it buzzed, and Neon winced at the mental click as it opened a private channel.
"Why...?" he asked. Information like that was valuable, usually. Why would the fly just hand it out? Especially to a freeloader like him?
"I want you out of my coapulating shop," the fly said, then buzzed its wings again, pleased with itself. Neon flipped it off again and headed over to the creature the fly had pointed out. Job was a job, and he was too broke to worry about details right now.
He was never letting that damn fly trick him again. This world was a dump if he'd ever seen one. Literally a dump, actually. It was a garbage dump for a galaxy, except someone hadn't told the locals, and so there were shitty little cities spotted all over the planet, cropping up like fungus on the garbage. And his man was somewhere down there.
He frowned at the tracker in his hand. No mistaking it, the guy was here. No wonder everyone else had turned this down. But if he didn't do this job, he wouldn't be able to buy the fuel to go back to the station and bash that fly against the wall.
With one last sigh, he raised his respirator and stepped out into the surface of the planet.
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