SUNSWEPT CH6


Meyan was late, very late. She arrived at the front doors to the lab a full forty minutes after she was scheduled to begin her experiment with Petrian, but she took the few extra seconds to level a stare across the corridor towards those normally cheerful doors into the S'up. She was never drinking that much again... ever. Her diverted attention cost her as her eyes were pointed away from the retinal scanner and the lab doors failed to open. The resulting thud brought the attention of the automated attendant at the desk who could only blink mechanical eyes in a simulated response of surprise. With a curse to accompany the whole new shower of sparkling pain that joined what had finally dimmed to a sour throb of a hangover headache, Meyan glared at the scanner emitter as it chirped its unfeeling acceptance and opened the doors. The desk attendant moved to question whether she was ok but she made right past it for the door into the lab proper, paused to steel herself, and stepped in.

Only a few other eyes looked up to take notice of the late comer but to her eternal personal fury, not one of those sets of eyes seemed to reflect the grogginess that she was certain her own did. At least half of them had been out last night as well; and how in the hole did they all come in so perky anyway every day. Schlips in the corner was easily passed flat out in the commons area as she had stumbled back to bed last night. As the galaxy clearly wasn't full of fairness she grumbled on as she turned to her own workspace.

She'd gotten back alright in the end last night. Delyyn had had to support her the entire way back, had even offered to help her into her bed but she vaguely remembered telling him something she was sure had been cute, funny, and teasing at the time but could no longer even remember. Whatever it had been he had left her to find her own way into bed in a good mood and made his way off toward the lifts, presumably in the direction of his own rooms.

She reached her workspace to find Petrian already started into their experiment; cheerful as ever, and somehow not messing it up even slightly. She should have been impressed, proud, maybe even comforted by his competency with her half of the work but right now, at this very moment; she felt upset. She was just about to lay into him when she sensed the presence of someone just behind her and turned to find Solu.

Solu smiled softly first to Meyan and then to Petrian. "It's alright if I borrow Meyan for a few seconds right?"

Petrian looked up from his work only then noticing both of the women standing beside him. "Uh.. yeah, sure I guess." His smile was also sickeningly pleasant but Meyan's attention was quickly back on the reprimand she was certain to soon receive.

"Thank you Petrian", the lab director motioned to a set of couches set off as a collaboration area to the side, around a corner and out of site of the rest of the lab; further portents of doom in Meyan's mounting dread. As they approached the seats a single service drone deposited two glasses of water on one of the end tables before departing. Solu moved to sit with her back against the far wall and again motioned, this time for Meyan to have a seat across from her.

Whether it was the continued throbbing of her head, it's fuzziness, or her anger at herself that got the better of her patience she didn't know, but no sooner than she had been offered a seat Meyan, still standing despite the offer, released a torrent of an apology; "I am so sorry, ma'am! It will never happen again!"

Solu's face momentarily betrayed that she had not been expecting such a forceful response and she leaned back slightly on the couch before responding. "Breathe. Drink if you need to, you're not in trouble."

The lack of reprimand set her mind into sudden freeze and she slowly sat with only a blink in response.

Solu let out a slow sigh, releasing the tension of the situation just a little, "I just wanted to make sure you're alright. I saw you smack into the security door on your way in and you're obviously sorry about being late, even if it's the first time you've done so."

"I... yes, I guess it was... "Meyun also let go of some of her tension but the sudden fidgeting in her hands betrayed her uncertainty. It didn't feel right to her to get off so easily. Her previous employers had a zero tolerance sort of approach to tardiness for any reason and a bellowing voice to match. The dichotomy in style was made even more stark when Solu smiled with what seemed like obvious concern. "Um, ma'am?"

"Solu please."

"Ye.. Solu? If not to chew me out, why'd you bring me over?" She reflexively glanced back toward her workstation hidden from view beyond the curved dividing wall.

"To be sure you were alright... and to see if there was anything I could do to help." There was something very kind about both her tone and face and Meyun found herself giving into feeling sorry for herself, just a little. She looked down toward her hands for a moment and when she looked back up she had collected herself enough to level with someone she couldn't quite distinguish between boss or friend. "I'm sorry, it's just that, well... my head is pounding."

In a manner much more friend than boss, Solu nodded as she slowly sat back and extended her mechanical arm. "Well, if you need to take a day off, I won't hold it against you. That being said..." She pressed a small trigger panel on her arm which cycled open to reveal a hidden compartment barely bigger than her thumb. From this she extracted two generic painkillers and passed them across the table. "maybe these will make today a little more bearable."

Meyan accepted the offered pills with a nod and managed to mumble a 'thank you' as she held them to take after the conversation. She looked back up in time to see Solu resealing the compartment and relaxing back into a more natural conversational position. "You know, there might be some modifications to your new implant that would let you consciously suppress those nasty hangovers." Solu's knowing smile as she ended that last part sent a slight blush through Meyan's now slightly purpled cheeks.

"So that's how they did it!" Caught somewhere between the blush and excitement of finally learning the great secret of even Schlips' miraculous recoveries Meyan's eyes flared momentarily with conspiratorial joy. She leaned forward suddenly but immediately stopped as once more her head reeled.

Solu instinctively reached out to catch the suddenly dizzied biologist despite the distance. "Whoh... perhaps I could-" A call to her priority communications implant interrupted the response for only a moment as she switched into multi-task mode between the two conversations. "-get something scheduled for you tomorrow even. I'd be happy to do the work, if that is ok with you?"

Meyan couldn't be sure but Solu's offer almost seemed hopeful. The slight pause in the capsuleer's statement gave her a moment of thought before she remembered that telltale look of someone talking over coms. It was uncanny how Solu had moved on with what must have been overlapping conversations with no more than a pause and had Meyan not spent so much time with other egg-jockeys lately she might have missed it entirely. Needlessly conscientious that she might overtax her, Meyan just nodded in agreement.

Solu simply smiled a small sort of amused smile. "I do have a rather priority contact requesting a meeting so why don't you go take those and find where your adventurous lab partner has taken the field of biology in your absence while I handle this." Meyan again nodded with the same unassuming sort of reservation but noticed also that her... friend? boss? seemed disappointed by the interruption. "And Meyan? I do hope you feel better."

Meyan stood and walked back out into the lab proper, leaving her friend to her priority call.

*******


Now he was starting to worry. KipTop had found The Boss's doorway empty for more than a few days now and his prospects were starting to get a bit thin. Sure, he could survive on the streets near indefinitely but with his isk flow dried up and no idea where to find a new one he would soon be unable to afford to replenish the nanites in his nanostraw... and then he'd really be trapped. Regular planetary credits and therefore regular planetary work weren't going to cut it. He'd considered trying to sneak back into the Kinderhaus for some of the stores he had hidden inside one of the basement's boards but thought better of it. Whoever was hunting him would surely still be watching and there was no route into the building without being seen outside, the waste chute had been a one-way option.

The only new development had been to realize that Celery was no longer showing up at The Spot either. Her usual hiding spot in the well of the broken-down car had been vacant since the second day of their awkward daily vigil for the missing Boss. Since then a few other kids had failed to show as well and now only Kip, Coal, and two others were present. Perhaps they were looking for work elsewhere. Maybe he should too. The trouble was; he wasn't exactly sure where to look. He'd found the Boss purely by chance... being in the right ally at the right time to see another kid make their take. He had been a bit too curious and followed them back to the alley only to find the Boss waiting. Rather than be angry with Kip, The Boss must have seen something in him and offered him his very first skimdisc. The kid he'd followed had been a little too obvious in his job and was soon after caught by the officials. It had been a strong motivator for all of them; do your job well and get paid, or screw up and get taken. They'd never seen that kid again either.

Another possibility crossed his mind; what if the other kids weren't looking for work but had been caught along with the Boss? The thought alone caused him to squirm just a little and once more reevaluate his current hiding spot. The light's off timer had long past causing the lamplight of his crevice to retreat and he was risking being seen more than usual. Suddenly mindful of just how incredibly vulnerable he was Kip decided it was indeed time to find other options. As he moved back into the electrical duct he once again passed over the junction that led down to the street and to where Coal was still hiding. She hadn't disappeared like the others but there was no telling how much longer she had, despite her above average hiding spot. He quickly pulled out a scrap of some advertisement and a bit of soot he used for marking his way in new tunnels. 'Boss must be caught, not safe anymore... get safe. Stay safe.' He reread the scribbling and nodded before dropping the paper down the duct to land most likely right behind Coal. He owed her that much at least. By the time the paper finally did drift down and land just to the side of the shivering and hungry child Kip was already making his way deep into the tunnels, never to return, not even to look back.


Hovance looked up from the till as the door to his shop clicked shut. He hadn't seen who had entered but then, in his line of work that wasn't too surprising. A quick check back through the security feed in his implant gave him just enough image of a diminutive figure and the way that figured moved, to know that one of his most lucrative, and if he had even been forced to admit it his favorite customers, had slipped in. Today, however, he was decidedly not happy to see this particular street-smart 'urchin'. "You best slip back out kid... my backer is lookin for ya. And ain't nobody in your line of work want words with a capsuleer you get me?" He continued to count the till and talk as if to no one at all, not even lifting his head to look around.

The response came quietly from somewhere over in the apparel corner of the shop. "Why, was it your backer who took out the Boss?"

Hovance harrumphed; he wasn't exactly an information broker despite what else he might sell. "I don't know nothing about this 'Boss' but my boss don't just stick his nose in my business any ole day so you must of really pissed someone off." The part of him that had some inconceivable softspot for this kid won out though. "Oh.. I'll give ya one last refill on that straw but then you better git, right?"

There was a long pause. "Right"

He closed the till and once more extracted the teal refill module from its secured shelf before walking over to a stack of combat-style boots where he began to 're-stack' them to face a slightly new direction. He covertly left the refill module in one of the boots and wandered back to the till. A few moments later he heard the door open and close once more. "Stay safe, kid." His words were again to no one in particular but at least he felt good saying them. He'd go fetch the module and the payment from that boot in just a bit. For now he just recounted the till yet again.


No sooner had the door closed behind Kip than he knew it had been a mistake to visit the fence. Anyone who was looking for him and knew of the Boss and the Kinderhaus would certainly have known about the Fence. Had he been so desperate to find work that he'd stopped thinking straight? A capsuleer, an honest to Bob freeking capsuleer was hunting him. He heard the rustle behind him but didn't even have time to turn around. He felt a small sting in his arm and as everything around him began to get fuzzy he had only enough consciousness left to know, to really comprehend how entirely fedoed he was.

*******