Elliot Cooper © 2016
All Rights Reserved
I fiddled with the controls on my binocular goggles, one of my own handy creations, and panned the tree line beyond the open, greenery-filled expanse stretching out on the other side of the road. Nothing caught my eye, even at higher magnification. I went left, following the road, jetbike blowing dirt and gravel up into a chalky cloud behind me.
The road curved around a section of deep, dark forest, and I saw my savior. Like a beacon of rusting hope, the hulking bodies of old ships, bikes, boats, and wheeled vehicles hunkered in a huge, fencedff ring at the end of the road.
It was the most beautiful pile of junk I’d ever seen.
A lone figure moved among the wreckage, and I knew I had no time to lose. If I played this right, I could cut a deal, get some parts to work with, and be back to old Lemon before sunset. The bug-eyed critters liked to ease out of the forests, slow and sloth-like, as soon as the light began to fade. No way did I want to figure out why they made those creepy chittering, gnashing noises all night.
I parked my bike and hopped off near the gate, flipping my goggles up and wiping my forehead with my sleeve as I went. It was never a good idea to sneak up on someone who was openly armed, and I definitely wanted the guy’s full attention. I waved in greeting and smiled with all the warmth and excitement I could muster.
“Hey! Hi! You there! With the gun!”
He marched over—huge, bald, and muscled—the brown coveralls tied at his waist and his tight tank top leaving very little to the imagination. It looked like he’d been given hand-me-downs from a scrawnier brother.
“State your business,” he demanded in a rich voice, his rifle in sight but lowered. Half of the hand beside the trigger was polished silver metal.
“I’m interested in buying some parts. Are you the owner?” His expression turned quizzical. Armed guard, then. “D’you guys take universal credits? Please say you take them.” I didn’t have anything else. I hadn’t intended to take a side trip to a backwater thieves’ den that didn’t even seem to have any thieves in it. But here was captain beefcake, potential business partner, hero, and temporary social life. If he didn’t shoot me.
“Nothing’s for sale. Move along.” He gestured with his gun.
“I can’t interest you in a barter? Something?”
He stood there like a human wall. He didn’t even blink.
“Look, I crashed on the beach. I just want to get what I need and… well, go away. From this whole weird planet. But to do that, I need some parts. Please.”
“In ten seconds, if you’re still standing there, I’ll shoot.” The cyborg raised his rifle and peered down the sight.
I wondered if he had bionic eyes, too. I wondered if the fence was electrified. I wondered what I could say to change his mind. Whatever it was, it’d take more than ten seconds to work out.
My hands up defensively, I motioned—thoughts working the gun’s barrel up at a ninety-degree angle with a loud creak. The cyborg jerked his head up and stared at the gun, then at me.
“I’m sure we can work out a deal, mister,” I said and put on another of my charming smiles. It usually worked, but this guy was a tough nut to crack. “You have to need something. Everybody needs something or other.”
“Another junk mage.” His brows furrowed over his deep set eyes. It wasn’t a good look for him. His face went impassive again as he tossed his rifle aside and reached behind his back with one hand. There had to be a pistol or some other weapon tucked into his coveralls, but he was smart enough to know if I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t easily ruin it.
“Huh. I’ve never been called that before,” I told him, even though he’d been talking to himself. Maybe that’d get Ry to crack a smile on our next call. Quillian Defote: junk mage extraordinaire. “Is your boss a technomancer? Can I talk to them? Mage to mage?”
“She doesn’t like strangers I don’t shoot.”