"Port Authority, this is Wil Barstow again. I'm in need of some serious repairs. Where can a fella go to get his ship repaired? Or is there not an official repair station here on Bounty?"
I'm met with static. I rub my head taking a few breaths to calm myself. Life runs a little slower on Bounty than on the Inner Cluster.
Finally, the same voice comes through the comms, "Hey there, sorry about that. Ms. Ada, my neighbor, needed some help getting her moisture extractors online. She's an elderly lady so I had to help her."
I close my eyes and take a breath to steady myself. "Great. So where can a fella get some repairs? Or am I shit out of luck on that one?"
"Now see, that's where you're in luck. Actually, the mech headquarters for all Outer Cluster Agents is here in Bounty right by the landing strip. Funny story, it happened about the time you left. Do you remember-"
I cut him off. "I'm sure it's a super interesting story, but right now I'm not sure how much longer I can keep my ship aloft. Just send me the coordinates."
"Right. Sure. Sure. Coordinates heading your way. I'm sending you their wave signatures, just ask for Waverly. She'll guide ya in."
Fortunately, the repair shop is within minutes of here. My ship should make it no problem. As I fly in, the town I called home for the first twenty-five years of my life comes into view. The outskirts of town is network of mines, excavators, and rubble. A chill goes down my spine remembering the backbreaking hours spent bent over in a six meter seam for up to fourteen hours a day in darkness breathing in ore dust.
The town is made up of houses, shops, bars, lots of bars, and a few government buildings. Most of the buildings are simply constructed of two of the most plentiful things on Bounty: rock and mud. The town is surrounded by an array of solar panels, harvesting the other plentiful thing here, solar energy.
My ship bucks reminding me that we need to land. I key in the wave signature and say over my comms, "This is Agent Wil Barstow. I'm in need of repairs... badly. Requesting permission to land."
"Yeah, we heard there was gonna be a new Agent. We didn't hear who though."
Damn, this sounds like a kid. What the hell is going on down there? Has everyone lost their minds?
"Is this Waverly?" I ask.
"Yes, sir. At your service."
"Do I have permission to land?"
"Why the hell wouldn't you? You're an Agent."
I sigh trying like hell to keep my temper under control. All I want is a cold beer and somewhere to lay my head. "I don't know why I wouldn't, but that's your job to tell me. Maybe there are too many ships there or maybe there's an emergency going on that would make it unsafe to land."
"Oh, good point. So yeah you're cool and shit. Bring it on in and I'll tow you to the hangar."
"Thank you, Waverly. Barstow out."
Within minutes the ship delivers me safely to the ground and I breathe a deep sigh of relief. I lay my head back on my seat and close my eyes for a few minutes waiting for the tow to take me to the shop. The sound of metal grinding and a thud of my ship stirs me from my light slumber.
"Take it easy, kid," I say over the comms.
"Sorry about that. Still gettin' the hang of it. Hey, why did you assume I'm a kid?"
"Because you sound like you're about nine."
"I'm twelve for your information."
"Oh well, excuse me." I check my chronotile and adjust for local time then continue. "It's about lunch time. Shouldn't you be at school?"
She blows raspberries into the mike then says, "School's bullshit. Momma said as long as I get my assignments done I can go virtual and do shop work to round out my day."
I roll my eyes thanking my lucky stars I got the hell out of here. There were times I regretted not starting a family, but now faced with this foul mouthed kid I think I might've dodged a bullet. I look at the structure ahead. This is one of the buildings that wasn't here when I left. It's unlike the other buildings in town in that it's clad in metal siding and somewhat new. There are two large hanger doors wide open and we pull into them. There are two other Agency ships in here that are actually older than mine and few pieces of mining equipment strewn about in various levels of disrepair. We make a sudden stop at a random spot in the hanger with no sense of orderly formation.
A tiny voice comes over my comms, "Alright, Mr. Uh, Agent Barstow. We're here. We'll take care of her from here."
I slowly get up from my seat and stretch like I've never stretched before. My whole body aches and is covered in a film of sweat and dirt. I can't wait to get to my quarters and take a long shower and drink a beer or six. I head to the back of my ship and grab my duffel bags from off my bunk then hit a button on the wall of my ship and a door opens. Immediately, I'm greeted by the furnace-like dry hot air of Bounty. I did not miss this.
A freckle faced blue eyed girl with auburn hair wearing oversized green coveralls waves as I get out of my ship. She smiles at me and then looks at my ship. "We haven't had anything this new in like ... ever. I'm gonna enjoy gettin' my hands on this one. Looks like you sustained a lot of damage. What happened? How long are you here for?"
I rub my head. "Look, kid. I've had quite the day. I just need to talk to your boss. You think you can direct me to him?"
She screws up her mouth and puts her hands on her hips, "Awful presumptuous aren't we?"
"What do you mean?"
She starts to walk through the hanger around all the pieces and parts in her way. "You called my boss a man. Why do assume that? Do you think women can't be mechs or something?"
"No, actually one of the best mechs I knew was a woman. I'm just tired and wasn't thinking, sorry."
She looks back at me and smiles. "I was just bustin' your balls. But my boss is a woman and she gets pissed at assumptions like that. So, I'd watch your ass."
"Your momma know you have such a potty mouth?"
"Who do you think I learned it from?"
I continue following her through the maze of transmissions, engines, and hardware.
"So how long you here for?" She asks.
Hopping over what looks like an axle of one of the excavators, I respond, "Dunno, I guess as long as they want me here."
"Hmmm, the last Agent didn't last terribly long. He really pissed off Corliss. He went out on a run one day to The Plain never came back. All they found was his head and a few fingers.” She shutters and continues, “He was a dumbass anyway." I grumble at the mention of Corliss' name. She snickers. "You heard of her?"
"Kid, I grew up here. I'd kinda hoped that old bitch would've been dead by now. She had this place by the short curlies when I was here. She was gettin’ miners hooked on her bullshit Elixir and a hell of a lot worse than that too. The Maker only knows, what the hell she’s gotten her hands into now. I’m sure this town is worse for the wear too."
Waverly cackles. "You grew up here? No, shit? Why in the hell would you come back here? You must've pissed someone off real bad. This place sucks so bad that even my daddy left. According to my momma anyways."
Poor kid. Doesn't even have a chance before she starts.
"You're sure right about that one, kid. I did truly piss the wrong people off. So, in answer to your original question. I guess I'll be here until the powers that be deem me worthy to come back or I guess I meet an end like Agent Dumbass." She laughs. Trying to change the subject I ask, "Where is everyone? Why isn't anyone working?"
"Like you pointed out, it's lunch time. Since I'm the young one, they make me cover lunch shift. It's not like we have a ton of people working here."
We walk through a door to a dirty disheveled waiting room with a counter and a few chairs strewn about. Directly across from the door we walked in, is another door which is closed. The sounds of laughter and a jovial discussion waft through the air.
Waverly looks at the door and yells at the top of her lungs, "Momma, that Agent guy is here. He wants to talk to the boss."
I cock my head at Waverly. "You coulda told me your momma was the boss."
She shrugs and gives a chuckle. She yells again, "Momma, c'mon. I want to eat lunch too. It's total bullshit that you guys make me do all shit work while you get to lounge."
From behind the door, I hear a muffled, "Waverly Bea, I'm gonna tan your hide if you don't watch your language. I'll be right there. I'm washin' up."
I set my duffels down and look at the ground and rub my neck with my eyes closed in hopes of making this pounding headache disappear. The door from the break room opens.
"I'm sorry, sir. She can be quite the handful."
I take a deep breath and open my eyes then look up. I feel as though I've been punched right in the gut. The words are stuck in my throat and I just stare at the petite red head with her hair tied up in a blue bandanna. It doesn't seem real.
She's looking at me the same way, unable to say a word just staring.
I finally force the words from my mouth, "Piper Scot?"