SUNSWEPT

Chapter 2 "Mates"

Lost in her thoughts, Meyan stepped quietly from the lift as the doors opened and turned down the corridor. A few weeks had gone by with little luck in the employment area. As frustrating as it was, even her stalling career had taken a backseat in her mind of late. The hue of her skin had increased, bringing with it a strange itching sensation. Not painful, but certainly enough to make concentration an absolute task. She had taken to wearing long sleeves and even gloves to avoid questions which she didn't feel safe answering. She was becoming more self-conscious, almost too aware of others around, and she hated that.

Two women, starship crew by their gear, capsuleer crew by their swagger, passed by on her left, snip-its of their conversation reaching her only peripherally. Upgrades to Indigo Station, increase in Sleeper activity, conflicts with angels? Whatever it was; it was lost on ears slowly turning grayish-green. Only one thought from the encounter played in her thoughts: did they notice?

It was silly; ridiculous. What was happening to her? Was it some sort of side-effect? She hugged her data pads closer to her chest and hurried around the corner - right into a massive beast of a man running full out.

"Oy! 'et tha 'ole?" As large as the collision was, it was Meyan who retained all of the momentum of the impact... in almost exactly the opposite direction she was moving. Sprawling to catch her balance, her data pads flew into the air. She hit the floor with a grunt, still unsure as to what she had actually hit; a bulkhead perhaps?

A large hand appeared to her side and she took it, letting him hoist her back up and around to her feet.


"'m sorry 'am, but I 'e needin' to go. Ship 'ight go wit'out me!" Without even a glance for her scattered data pads, he was off and running down the hall before she could even respond.

Turning her eyes to her files now scattered about the passage, she thanked whatever deity had given her this day and began to reassemble her stack. It took a few minutes but there were no further interruptions. With her files once more in her arms, she stepped off, a little slower this time, around the corner and onward to the next lab on her trip.

Meyan stepped cautiously through doors that appeared to have been jammed open and looked around at an empty, unfinished lobby. From somewhere in the back she could hear someone excitedly shouting what sounded like directions. The voice paused then continued but moving closer. ..."Oy I siad left, to the left! Oh... No... I'll get-" A striking young man, lean with sandy hair and just a bit of stubble came around the corner and cut off at seeing her.

"I'd only just seen your name come up in the registry... I didn't realize you weren't open yet." She gave it half as an apology and just as much to fill the sudden confusing silence.

"We ain't" He moved behind a counter, she could make out the name VaskTech beneath protective film set in stone upon the counter face. "Open that is.. at least not yet... You looking for...." He trailed off, unsure what sort of customer to place her as.

"Work"

"Work?"

"Work; labwork?"

"Oh, nope."

"Nope?"

"Yeah"

"What?"

"Work"

"Yeah, don't got it."

"No work?" She was becoming suddenly confused in the melee of his responsive manner.

"No work, just me is all.. well, and those two gas heads in there.." He turned in response to something dragging in the back. "Oy, don't ya be moving it now, I'll be right back there!" Back to her; "So yeah, nope, no work."

'I, uh, thanks...' She just stood there, files clasped to her chest, unsure what to do next. She'd never encountered such a response since starting her search. Oh, there had been plenty of 'We'll contact you' or 'Let us take a look and we'll get back to you' but never such an abrupt and straight forward 'Nope'.

"Look, I'm sorry for the news, an' I'll be sure to let the boss know that you stopped by, maybe he's got something at one of his other shops... but there really ain't much 'lab' going on here, sorry."

She looked once more at her files and saw written there on the screen; 'VaskTech Laboratories' listed on the map. Still confused but not wishing to lose even the reference she started to slowly back out. "Um, thank you anyway."

"You bet, mate" He was already heading back around into the back.

She turned to leave, then paused as she remembered that she had brought her CV on a separate pad. It was a long shot but she stepped back over to the counter and deposited the pad with her credentials upon it. Turning again she took the few steps to the door and stepped back into the hall, paused to confirm the address, then shook her head and moved on. That's what she got for jumping at anything these days. As she quickly found the route back to her rooms, she promised herself two things: She was going to get a nice long refresher after this, and she was never scouting out a job based on new address listings again.


*******


He arrived early to The Spot, as usual. The Kinderhaus keepers had long ago given up attempts to prevent his coming and going. Where he had once been kept from leaving and given only 'Mein kleinehase, but we fear for you out there, you are safer here' as reasoning, now they didn't even seem to notice. Mistress Sdint, who had told him such, was always his favorite. But he needed to survive and that meant Isk. They had once tried locking all the entry ways, even the waste chute. Almost unconsciously he pulled out a small nanostraw; his only possession from before... well before the Kinderhaus. He fought back any inkling of memory from before. That was a black hole he couldn't shake though he'd convinced himself he would. Just as quickly he slipped the nanostraw back into the scar on his leg. Once the home of an infant tracker, the scar was his most precious secret, and a constant reminder of what once was. His mind started once more into the memories; this time he wasn't fast enough to quash them. Flashes of another life came to him; his mom touching the implant, telling him that she would always find him as she kissed his freshly washed hair; later, older, he stands behind her, helping her zip her suit seal for her. She turns to show off. 'You like it!?' Her new crew suit. He'd never known, he wasn't old enough to understand what the new crew suit had meant, or what she meant by backed up but it had made her so happy, and thus it had made him happy with her. Another flash; she returned to their flat exhausted, but beaming. He was suddenly in her arms as she hugged him, spinning him...

A tear threatened to break free from his eye as he clamped down hard on the memories; the next ones got bad and he didn't have time for such baby stuff. No, the Kinderhaus keepers were probably happy they didn't have to worry about him much, they were so busy these days. He glanced around from his perch just inside one of the alcove lights. Dawn had broken and the lamp he was hidden behind would soon dim out, exposing him. The Boss was never late and he'd be gone from his spot before he had to worry. Celery had arrived. He could see movement in her typical vent. He wondered as to how anyone with such bright green hair could hide at all, or as to what her name meant anyway. Lips had also arrived, he could see the very edge of the younger boy's shoes poking out from under the discarded stasis unit at the end of the alcove known to some as 'The Spot'. Various other kids began to arrive, each to their own hiding spot, each so painfully obvious to KipTop who once more congratulated himself on his covert acumen.

The alcove light power transfer began to lower pitch signaling its shutdown and Kip quickly slipped back into the power conduit he had widened and began his way through the power shaft down to street level. He waited for Coal to vacate the power conduit access point before he followed the younger girl out into the street, both of them staying to the shadows.

"Fed'sex Kip, the 'hole you come from?" She turned suddenly, so close that her black matted hair almost wiped him in the neck.

It wasn't the first time he'd let himself be seen by her. Strange, maybe he just remembered when the power access point had been his hiding spot. Felt for her, ya know? "Black one."

She leveled him with her best 'not amused' look though he knew she had both gotten and appreciated the joke. "Good take?"

"Good enough..." He couldn't resist a smirk for yesterday's expertise and she just rolled her eyes.

"Well, I got mine so early in the morning, it must have been a good one. The stupid woman dropped her card on the pad as I walked past, she even ASKED me to pick it up for her!" Coal looked at him in triumph at her luck. She shrugged and looked away, towards where the Boss would soon appear. "I even offered to swipe it for her, passed it back. She had no clue..."

A shadow appeared in the doorframe as instantly some 15 various children aging from about five through fourteen materialized, in what must have seemed like chaos, to step up to the door then retreat into their hidey holes. There was an order, each of the kids knew it well. Disrupting that order meant losing standing. Like birds flitting the newest of them shot out to find if they had earned their SkimDisc for the day or not. Kip waited as Coal's turn came and she dashed out and returned a moment later with something in her hand and a smile on her face. Good; her take had turned out. Kip could recall the one time he'd lost his 'disc, gotten no take, and had to scrape the streets to afford a new one. He shuddered reflexively at the cold memories. At last it was his turn; second to last. The Boss liked him. With a quick look around he dashed into the alcove, slipping from shadow to shadow until he came before an imposing man with one of the deepest voices he'd ever heard.

"A good take that one; I give you two 'disc. You handle that?"

"Y- yes Boss" It was all he could do not the beam at the silhouette. Two whole 'discs. Nobody got to see what the others were given or not given, but he'd never heard of anyone getting two 'discs. Though, he sure wasn't telling even Coal that he'd gotten the second. A massive gloved hand deposited two small plasteck wrapped SkimDiscs along with a pittance of isk into his hands. He nodded and slipped back into the shadow just catching movement as the last boy, a solid two years his senior, slipped out from a place Kip couldn't see but knew it had been an old false wall. He meant to find where that secret wall was one day... But for today; he had two takes to plan. Coal was long gone when he returned and he paid her absence no mind as he slipped into the power access and started off into the inner highways of the city. Two disks meant twice the potential profit but it also meant twice the risk and half the time. He wasn't about to hope for the sort of luck Coal always had, but maybe, just maybe luck would run his way this time. He took the next turn in the duct and made up his mind to start his first take on the upper levels where traffic was heavy, and then slip back down to the more private, quiet type landing pads where he'd made his take yesterday. If quality was better than quantity, he could afford to take the time on his second take like before. Moving through the conduit, he finally let a grin come to his face. It was going to be a good day.


*******

Another merchant bustled past at a near run-walk laden with more bolts of industrial fibers than Jallif would have thought manageable by any human. He had to duck and weave to avoid collision as his distraction nearly sent him directly into the nose of a makeshift lorry coming quickly from the opposing direction. He could hardly believe his eyes as every man, woman, child, drone, and holes; nanite of this forsaken system tried to singlehandedly take the brand new paint off Icarus's Loading deck. It was pure chaos! His fears of sticking out had been rudely shattered by the shear throng of humanity that was trying to inhabit a station which had only gone operational less than a week ago. Turning from the main passage he came to an impromptu market that had popped up in the absence of any formal market space. A cacophony of sounds, voices, and movement filled every cubed public meter. Songs and smells wove together as he pushed his way through the flow of humanity. To another such an embrace of culture and rich life might have been near spiritual, to Jallif who had no time for such ephemeral fedoshit it was yet another example of poor planning and how this backwater excuse for civilization was doomed to implode. There should be an order to things, a plan. Not that he was ever one to follow someone else's plans; or orders for that matter. But at least back in normal civilization you knew what the order was... and how to get around it. Here? Well... madness.

He finally reached the departures terminal just in time to see the final notice for a rare passenger ship destined for Jita to cycle from a blessed Green to an infernal red indicating that it was now sold out. Was anyone staying in this hole? His temporary quarters were so far from the docks, and the need for any ship to fill and depart in time to get through a safe wormhole chain so fast that this was now the third time he had been too slow to board one. Yep, never finding a damned ship. He was just about to start heading back to the nearest commissary when a face caught his eye. The dull white of a prosthetic cheek and ear had been visible just under a hood as the figure looked both ways before ducking into one of the many corridors leading to the nearest vertical lifts. He'd seen that face on the Pilot crew he'd come with on the Rattlesnake. He was also too late finding a ship home? Must be some fed-head. That he had also missed his ship didn't really matter to Jallif when it came to doling out criticism. What did matter, however, was that the other man seemed to be moving with purpose and to Jallif that could just mean that he knew of another way off this untested, overpacked tin can. He stepped around the same corridor corner and then followed around a few more until Jallif, certain that he had followed the other man correctly, was otherwise lost as to where he was. They hadn't taken the lifts as Jallif had figured but instead had found themselves in a darker, less used portion of the storage and warehousing sector.

"You... don't belong here." The voice was deep, almost rumbling, and had come from some place behind him.

"I... I'm looking for a man.." Jallif's fear was really starting to kick in but he didn't dare turn to see who addressed him.

"You've found no one, now leave... the way you came" Bidden to turn, Jallif did so but could see neither who was talking, nor which corridor he had come into this junction from. Leave it to 'holers never to mark an exit. "Or, perhaps you are needing some incentive?" Even with rushing adrenaline Jallif hadn't the reflexes to dodge the staggering blow that glanced off of his shoulder. Unprepared, Jallif flew sideways, striking his temple on the bulkhead. As he fell to the floor his last fuzzy image was that of the split-faced man towering over him with an odd look of... confusion? Blackness...