"Where are you comin' from?" Sten asked.
Palmer walked past him without saying a word, his face and clothes covered in grease.
Sten shook his head. "Fine then, be an ass. Y'know Palmer, you've got a short fuse sometimes."
Palmer stopped and turned around, an expression of annoyance on his face. "You didn't just spend the last twenty minutes dodging wrenches."
"Oh, Ajay still tryin' to fix that coupling?"
"Uh huh. So don't tell me I've got a short fuse. He..." Palmer pointed in the direction of the shuttle they were working on. "... has a short fuse."
Sten followed Palmers pointing hand with mock concern. "Well mighty hell, I reckon you've got yourself a beef. What 're you gonna do about it?"
"I'm going to do exactly what I always do!" Palmer said, hate in his eyes as he clenched his fist until his knuckles were white.
Sten grinned. "Absolutely nothin'?"
Palmer was silent for a few moments as he looked to the ground, pointing his hand at Sten in exagerated motion. His eyes rose to meet Sten's as he spoke. "Exaclty!" He said, turning and walking away.
"That boy..." Sten mused to himself, shaking his head. He turned and walked toward the shuttle. "... desperately needs to get laid."
As Sten made his way down through the basement of the hut he could hear Ajay cursing.
"Lord thunderin' Christ, I swear woman if you tell me what to do one more time I'll have this wrench up your ass so damn far you'll taste Metal."
Jocelyn laughed. "But it's made of carbon fiber!"
Ajay got up in haste, smashing his head against the panel door. "Christ," he yelled, holding the sore spot. "I swear, you writhing bitch! I will eat you!"
"Sounds kinky." Jocelyn said, winking.
Ajay froze, his face in shock. He broke into a saunter and made his way toward her, a grin from ear to ear. "Well hell, little lady if you're sayin' you'd like a taste of ol' - Hoof!" He grunted, falling to his knees.
Jocelyn removed her foot from his crotch as he doulbed over. "Now now, how can you pleasure yourself with it all swollen in the wrong way."
"You... bitch." The words were forced through clenched teeth as he held his stomach, rolling on to his back as the intense pain pulsed upward into his gut.
"Well, ain't we all just a lovin' family." Sten said as he walked toward the shuttle. "How's she comin'?"
"Aside from that coupling," Jocelyn said, giving an evil eye to Ajay. "And the fact that she's in peices, we'd probably be able to get her airborne in about two days. Mind you there's the whole question of space worthiness that comes into effect at that point."
Sten held his chin in contemplation. "Hmm. So basically you're telln' me that she'll fly, but we'll probably all scream a fiery death if we try 'n leave this rock?"
"Well tickle me purple, we're fucked." Sten said, walking into the rear hatch of the shuttle to inspect it further.
"Tickle me purple?" Jocelyn whispered. "What the hell does that mean?"
Several hundred meters away, Row lay in the prone. A small breeze lifted some dirt up in front of him and it glided into his face. "Thanks, bitch." He said to mother nature, hating her at the moment for the shit he was in. He crawled slightly forward using his toes to push him. He lay in a plain, no plant life or rocks to cover his approach to a boulder he wanted to use for cover. As he slowly pushed himself forward, a few inches per minute, he wondered if this was all worth it. Out from behind him he heard footsteps, he lay still, confident that the camouflage ranger blanket he covered in dirt would serve its purpose of keeping him well hidden. The footsteps got louder, and he had the urge to roll over on to his back and draw his pistol. He fought it, knowing that revealing himself would be a bad idea. Still the footsteps came, as if they were coming directly for him. Then he heard the voice.
"Where the fuck is this motherfucker." Gray said, trudging hopelessly through the desert sand. He walked right up to a strange looking rock and scanned again with the hand held device. The LCD screen on it held one small blip that popped up directly at its center. "What the hell?" He said, looking around. He thought he heard something, but before his mind had the time to process it he was on his face, sucking in dirt. He coughed, and began to try and get up when a hand pushed his head back into the sand.
"Shhh." Row said.
Gray continued to cough, wiping the sand from his face. "What the hell?"
A fist came from beneath the ranger blanket and caught Gray in the jaw.
Gray rolled over, holding his face and grunting.
"I said be quiet damn it, the settlement is directly behind that rock. Now stay down."
"Jesus Row, what's wrong with you? This isn't war time, you don't have to be a fuckin' super agent. This is simple, we just gotta get in there and count the damn people." Gray said, rolling back on to his stomach and moving toward Row.
Row's voice came from beneath the blanket. "Well, now that you've totally blown my cover, you might as well run up to that bolder there. I'll meet you in a second."
Gray moved toward the rock on all fours, sitting with his back against it when he reached it. He looked back, and had to scan the landscape carefully to try and see where Row was hidden. The ground moved and Row revealed himself from beneath his cover.
Row moved toward the rock, the blanket in one hand, pistol in the other. He reached it and sat with his back against it, directly beside Gray. His hair was matted with sand along with the rest of himself as he folded the blanket and stuffed it in a pouch on his belt.
Gray looked at him awkardly, "Jesus, you look like you've been rollin' around in this shit for weeks"
Row turned to him and stared at him in silence, a stern expression on his face. The silence lasted a good minute before he spoke. "I have been." He said, turning his attention to the settlement once more. "You're careless." He said, not turning to speak to him. "You could have gotten us killed."
Gray smiled, "Well we ain't dead yet."
"That doesn't mean we ain't closer to it because of you."
His smile vanished, "Listen here, you little shit. Sy and I are payin' you, not the other way around. So how about you get your shit straight before I put your innards all over this place."
Row turned around. "First of all, Sy's payin' both of us, so shut yer' trap. Secondly, I know for a god forsaken fact that you are far less skilled in survival than I am. I could have let you walk right up on into that place and gotten yourself killed. Instead I helped your sorry ass get to cover. So how's about you come to the realization that; I could probably kill you three ways before you'd get your safety off that block of rust you call a pistol, and that frankly I am in charge right now."
"That's it, you twerp I'm callin' 'em."
Row sighed, "Are you fucking retarded? At this proxmimity you don't realize they'll be able to read our signal going out?"
Gray continued to fiddle with his communicator.
"Fuck it." Row said, pulling his communicator out and dropping it at Gray's feet. "Tell Sy that if he wants the job done, he'll have to let me do my thing solo." He said before running off from around the boulder and disapearing into the sands as a gust of wind billowed up a large cloud.
Gray looked up and found himself alone. "Hey, wait!" He said, looking from around the rock to find nothing but empty space until the settlement came into view. "How the fuck does he do that?"
Jocelyn pulled another wire from the core, carefully making sure that the lining didn't come into contact with any of the receptors on the surface of the power plant. "This needs replacing." She said to Sten, throwing the conductor toward him as he sat in the cockpit.
"Hang on Joce, somethin's bein' picked up by the passive scanners. It's a communications frequency, and it's only a few hundred meters from us."
"Marshalls?" she asked, concern in her expression.
Sten squinted, typing into the console with nimble fingers. "Probably not, the ship we crashed weren't run by no Marshalls, it was private, a transport the local governments use to save money on movin' things, includin' felons apparently." He typed in a few more lines and then shook his head. "Get Palmer in here, he'll be able to do more with this damned thing than I could."
"Yessir. " she said, moving with agility through the ship, jumping over open panel doors and squeezing through exposed piping as the ship lay halfway disassembled.
Row made his way into a tent home that lay on the outskirts of town. He quickly slipped into a sleeping quarters and foraged for clothing. Satisfied with some garments he found, he hid the the armored flight suit under them. With his hasty disguise, he made his way out the front door and walked into town. The settlement was quiet, people were moving quickly from place to place as if they did not want to remain in the open more than they had to. No one looked him in the eye as he walked deeper into the small settlement. He continued walking for a moment before he flattened himself against a wall, having been alerted by a woman, running across the square. She was taller than most women, probably a few inches short of six feet. Her hair was jet black and she wore it short as it barely crested her chin. Her facial features were angular, and stunningly beautiful. She looked in his direction and he shrunk against the wall, using every skill he knew to remain unseen. For a moment, her eyes locked with his and he saw that they were purple, a side effect of genetic manipulation. Her gaze left his, and he knew that she was anaware they had made eye contact. She wore a tight fitting ensemble that eccentuated her slender form. It was obvious that she made it herself as Row noticed that it was patched together using several recognizable jumpsuit designs.
"Palmer!" Jocelyn yelled as she made her way across the open market square. The traffic vacated in haste when she arrived; people sliding into their homes or disappearing behind buildings and into alleyways. "Palmer damn it hurry up!"
Row watched as another person came running from the opposite direction, a slender man who wore a flight suit. he didn't look armed, nor did he look dangerous. But appearances were deceiving. He assumed that this man was perhaps a talented pilot, and he also got the intuitive feeling that this 'Palmer' was underestimated in many ways by the peers he found himself with.
"Come on, Sten needs you, we got company." Jocelyn said, returning quickly the way she came with the man in tow.
Row followed, skillfully remaining hidden in the shadows as he slunk unnoticed behind them.
Palmer ran into the shuttle after Jocelyn, and found it impossible to follow her as she made her way to the cockpit in total ease. He stopped and watched her as she passed almost effortlessly through the maze of components that protruded from the walls and hung from the ceiling. "Damn that's sexy." He thought to himself as he started on his way toward the cockpit, awkwardly squeezing through the muddled hall.
Sten turned, his eyes narrow. "Hurry the fuck up!"
"I'm here." Palmer said, scraping his way through the last of the ships components that hung like eviscerated guts. "Hold your horses."
Sten turned back to the console. "I don't have no horses. Damn it, I've got a ship that's barely put together and someone tryin' to track us. That's what I've got."
Palmer sat beside him in the co-pilots seat, and his fingers began to dance on the keyboard at lightning speed.
"Jesus titty fuckin' christ boy, don't burn the damn thing to the ground." Sten said, watching him type.
"Just let me do my thing." He said to him, staring at the monitor that populated a multitude of windows. He pushed his hand into the side of the armrest and gloved it with the human interface assistant. With the glove on, he reached toward the holographic windows, pushing some aside and pulling others down while his right hand continued to flutter across the keyboard. "The signal is near but very weak, it's being jammed."
Sten frowned. "Well? Can you unjam it?"
"Does a bear shit in the woods?" Palmer replied.
"Hah, I'll have to remember that one." Sten said, laughing.
Jocelyn watched as Palmer worked. "It's a bounty hunter." She said, as she scanned the windows that popped up and the lines of code that Palmer splashed across the holographic screen. "I recognize the signal structure. It's from an old Dubulan communicator that you can only get in the Tetzara system."
Palmer squinted, a bead of sweat rolling down his brow. "I got the voice pattern assembled, but I need to tweak it a bit more. Hang on."
Sten smiled. "Damn it boy. I knew you were useful for somethin' " He turned, contemplating something. "Mind you I still don't know how we managed to crash that transport with you tagging along."
"That was Ajay's fault." Jocelyn said.
"What?" Ajay yelled from outside the shuttle. "You motherfucker's talkin' about me again?"
"He shot the coolant controls remember?" Jocelyn added.
"Oh yeah that's right! Then all hell broke loose." Sten said, "Just the way I like it."
Palmer wiped his forehead. "There. Done." he tapped a few more commands and another window popped up.
A man's face populated the screen, he was outside and covered in dust. The right side of his face was slightly red and swollen. *The mother fucker left me here by myself, left his communicator too. Says he gon' do things his way or some shit*
The muffled voice of the other party followed *Listen to me Gray, you sack of dung, get in there and do your job or you'll both be left on that dirt farm alone.*
"Dirt farm eh?" Ajay said, walking up from behind them. "Guess you were right pipsqueek."
"He was being sarcastic Ajay." Palmer said, consentrating on the screen.
"Well fuck, I try and compliment you an' you come at me with that?"
"You two shut the fuck up." Sten said, leaning in to hear the message more clearly.
*One more thing. I've decided that I'm paying you two half of what I originally offered since you've all been fuckin' up so badly. But if you do yourself a favor and put Row out to dry you'll get the full amount to yourself you hear me?*
*Like crystal.* The man said as the transmission ended.
"Well then." Sten said, "Can things get worse?"
"They just did." came a voice from behind.
Ajay screamed in a high pitch, spinning around with fright. "Jesus Christ you sacred the whores disease out of me."
Row stood in the doorway to the cockpit, holding his pistol out to the four of them. "I've rigged the core to blow, if you try anythin' stupid I'll put yer heads to the ground and get my bounty just the same, or we'll all go out in a nice flashy show. So how's about we cooperate and get somethin' done with a bit less red involved if you know what I mean?"
Jocelyn cocked her head to the side. "How did I not hear you?" She asked. "Not to worry. I'm sure I'll hear your bones breaking." Her foot flew up and knocked his pistol from his hand.
Row took a step forward, bringing his hands up to a fighting stance and quickly parrying the flurry of punches that Jocelyn followed through with. He locked his arms on to hers and forced her to fight for control.
Their arms locked and then swung in a blurred dance before locking again as the joint manipulation combat intensified.
Ajay smiled and took a step forward to put his fist in the back of the mans head but was knocked in the face by a kick he didn't see coming. He fell backward and bounced against the control panel, his nose bleeding profusely.
A series of beeps came from the console and all five stopped to look at a flashing red holographic window.
"You've got to be kidding me." Palmer said, jumping up from his seat and bolting past the others and making his way into the hallway.
"Shit son, you're chaos on two feet." Sten said as he ran past Ajay and followed Palmer through the maze of parts.
Ajay followed suit.
Row looked at the monitor and then looked at Jocelyn, "So I guess this is a rain check?"
"You bet on it hun." She said, winking to him and kissing him on the lips in one quick motion as she threw him to the ground.
He turned and grabbed her heel as she tried to run off. She slammed to the ground on her hands and looked back.
Row was already climbing over her by that time and latched on to a pipe from the ceiling, pulling himself over one of the open panels.
Jocelyn and Row burst into the maze with lightning speed, tossing each other over obstacles and sliding beneath panels and wiring. They moved through the mess with unmatched grace, flipping and twisting their bodies in mid air to avoid anything that could slow them down, throwing a punch or kick when the time permitted. They soon caught up to the other three and moved past them as if they were inanimate objects. From the back of the ship they exploded out of the hatch, rolling into the dirt with each other at arms length.
"Damnit, you don't give up." Row said, blocking another flurry of blows.
"For a vanilla you're pretty damn fast." she said, getting a shot at his unprotected side.
"Just because I ain't got no augmentations doesn't mean I can't strive to be perfect now does it." Row said, squirming out of her high guard position.
Palmer ran past them, burning a trail of dust as he bolted for the exit of the underground structure. Sten and Ajay hot on his trail.
Jocelyn pulled Row's hand down and locked it between her legs before flipping over his body and stretching the limb.
Row rolled, put his leg down for leverage and lifted her off the floor with one arm.
"Impressive." she said, looking at him from her dangling position.
"Thanks." Row said, sweating profusely from the exhausting effort.
"Ta ta." Jocelyn quipped, smiling to him as she unravelled, landing on her hands and cartwheeling twice before back flipping on to her feet and bursting into a sprint
Row fell backward as her weight left his arm. He quickly joined the chase and again they passed the other three in a moments notice, wizzing past tents as they made their way toward the outskirts.
As they passed one of the last tents Jocelyn slid to a stop.
Row came up to her quickly but also slid to a halt as he saw Gray standing with a machine gun in front of them.
The other three sauntered up, gassed from running
"I can tell you're aimin' that thing at all of us includin' yours truly. What'd Sy give you, another four thousand?" Row said, walking to Jocelyn's side.
Gray smiled. "Nah, actually he took some away, sayin' if you're dead I get the original ammount. That's enough fer me to put you in the ground. It's a good thing your fellas here don't know how to hide their guns."
"You scratch her..." Ajay said between labored breaths. "... I'm a shove your ass up your face."
Gray frowned. "That doesn't even make sense."
Palmer looked at his hand, the human interface assistant glove was still on, and a small red window popped up in his palm. "Right now..." he said, sucking in air. "... would be a good time..." he coughed up flegm. "... to get down."
Gray looked at him. "What?"
All but Row dropped to the ground as a flash of light emerged from the center of town.
Gray covered his eyes and grunted as the explosion ensued.
Row jumped into action, rushing toward Gray as the debris began flying past them. He lunged with a double flying knee, one that disarmed him and another that rammed into his face at dizzying speed.
Gray fell backward, tent poles and pottery flying past him as the explosions shockwave rushed forward.
Row was still airborn when he pulled the knife from its sheeth, plunging the blade into Gray's throat as he landed, both knees driving into his chest at the same time.
Blood exploded from the wound as the pressure of Row's knees pushed Gray's guts upward, crushing his rib cage. Crimson blew out of his neck and was whisked away from the shockwave that past just then, picking them both off the ground.
Row went with the corpse, flying through the air as debris swirled around him. He landed hard, sliding on the sand for a good ten feet before coming to a stop. He stood up slowly and painfully. Looking around at the destruction. The settlement was levelled. A few tent poles remained standing, but every home was destroyed. Ragged tent tarps blew in the calm breeze that seemed like stillness compared to the recent comotion. He walked toward the ruins and soon found Palmer, laying face down in the sand. The blast had nearly burried him. To his left was a tuff of black hair. "Jocelyn." He said out loud. Row dropped to his knees and began digging. The soft sand was easily moved and soon he cleared her face of sand. Her eyes were closed, which Row knew was a good thing; corpses have an empty stare. He checked her pulse, it was faint and when he put his hand in front of her nose he felt no breath. He tugged on her, freeing her from the sand and moving her onto flat ground. He began CPR as from the corner of his eye he could see Sten rising from the sand.
"Make up your god damned mind son." he said to Row as he watched him resussitating Jocelyn. "You gonna kill us or save us?"
"One, two, three, four, five." Row counted, under his breath, ignoring Sten altogether as he went from pumping her chest to mouth to mouth resussitation.
She coughed, dust and spittle flying from her mouth.
"Thank god!" Row exclaimed, turning her to a recovery position.
"What the hell?" Jocelyn asked, coughing more. Her hand rose up and grabbed Row by the collar. She looked at him, her purple eyes bloodshot from the trauma. "What're you doing?"
"I don't know." Row said, looking back at her. "I just realized... you're worth more than any bounty."
"Wow that's sappy!" Sten said, laughing to himself as he lifted Ajay from the dirt.
"So you're switching sides?" Jocelyn said, smiling.
Row looked at her plainly, "Well, If you mean movin' my loyalties from money to passion, I suppose so."
Jocelyn laughed, "As cheezy as you sound, that's the most romantic thing anyone's ever said to me."
Palmer was on his knees. "So what now?" He said, looking back at the ruins of the settlement as survivors began to rise from the debris.
Row layed Jocelyn down softly. "There's something I need to do. I'll be right back." He turned and made his way into the desert, toward a boulder that stood out on a flat plain. Behind it he found the communicator he had left earlier. He picked it up and looked back toward the four people he was hired to shadow. He punched in the frequency and sent the call out. "Sy?"
Sy sighed over the comms, "Damnit Row didn't I tell you not to call me unti tomorrow?"
Row watched as the four made their way toward him, "Yeah, but you said unless the whole thing blew up or I killed Gray or he killed me."
"What the hell are you trying to say?" Sy asked, yelling at the mic.
Row smiled and dropped the communicator as he joined the four who walked past him into the desert.
"Row? Row! I swear I'll have your ass for this! You' just lost ten percent of your cut you son of a bitch! I'm going to -" Sy's rant continued to be heard as the desert winds blew sand over the device. It wouldn't be long before the desert consumed it, along with the ruins of the settlement and the lost hope of getting of this god forsaken rock.