It wasn't long ago that Piper was urging me to leave this godforsaken planet. She knew that it wouldn't be long before working the tiny seams and breathing in ore would take its toll on my body. She was the only person who saw something other than a miner in me. As if on autopilot, our bodies seem to float together.
She looks up at me her brown eyes wide. Her augmented eye only noticeable by four blinking lights mounted over and to the side of her brow. I brush a rogue lock of hair out her eyes and she smiles. "Wil, oh my God, I knew we were getting a new Agent, but the possibility of it being you didn't even occur to me."
I take her hands to make sure she's real. Both of her hands are rough and callused, stained with years of grease and grime. Around her augmented arm there is a metal band around her wrist and bicep with blinking lights. Almost involuntarily, I bring her hand up to my lips and whisper, "You haven't changed in what has it, been?"
"Twelve years," She breathes.
"Hold on what?" Jolted back to reality we both look over to the girl with her hands on her hips. The twelve-year old girl - I look at Piper with my mouth gaping. Waverly continues, "Let me see if I got this right. The story from you, momma, was that my father left this hell hole and here this asshole is saying he hasn't seen you in twelve years. I might not be a master detective, but I think I can put this one together."
She runs out of the shop and Piper goes to the door yelling, "Waverly Bea Scot, get yer ass in here." She slumps and turns back to me. "She always goes off for a ride on her air runner when she's pissed. I need to give her time to cool off."
From the break room a tall hulking dark skinned man and a woman with closely cropped blue hair appears. The woman rushes to me and engulfs me in a hug.
She stands back and is grinning ear to ear then looks over to the man. "Look who it is Rocco!"
"I'm standin' right here, Janine" He waves at me and says, "How's it goin', Wil? Been a long time."
"That it has, Rocco."
Janine looks at Piper and says, "What's goin' on? Where did Waverly head off to?"
Piper sighs and waits a few heartbeats before speaking. "Me and my dumb mouth. I wasn't even thinkin' when I said it was twelve years the last I saw Wil. Waverly put two and two together and-"
Janine puts her hand up. "Say no more. Me and Rocco will go look for her."
Rocco knits his eye brows. "We will?"
"Yes, dear, we will." She looks between me and Piper, "I think these two need some time alone." She heads for the door with Rocco in tow and says as she waves to me, "Good seein' ya, Wil. We'll catch up later."
I wave to the duo absentmindedly trying to take all of what has just happened in. Piper takes my hand then leads me to a seat. I sit and she pulls up a chair across from me.
"I think I need a beer," I grumble.
She pops up and holds up her hand in a signal that she'll be right back. I rub my face in an attempt to alleviate the pounding behind my eyes. This has to be the weirdest day ever. I check my chronotile, actually this going on two days I've been up. I need to get to bed.
I look up and I'm face to face with a cold bottle of brew. I take it and pour half its contents down my throat. My muscles start to relax a bit. Across from me, Piper is sipping at her beverage patiently waiting for me to gather my calm.
"So, uh, whatcha been up to?" I ask to break the ice.
She takes a drink of her beer, which I know she's using to just stall her answer.
"Wil, I'm not going to try and justify anything I've done. I'm just going to say, I'm sorry."
I finish the rest of the cool beer and set the bottle down on the floor. "So it's true?"
As she nods a tear slips from her one real eye. "Honestly, I didn't think I'd ever see ya again. You probably noticed that I started sending you fewer messages when you left." I nod and she continues, "It was a relief when you stopped replying it just made things-"
"Easier," I say finishing her sentence.
"Yeah exactly. I didn't want you worrying about me. Right after you left, Agent Graham offered me a contract fixing Outer Cluster Agency ships and runners. Pretty soon that grew into some mining contracts. I'm doing pretty good for myself. I hired Janine and Rocco, as you can see. I also try and hire others as I have the work to keep them out of the mines."
"That's great, but how did you get contracts with your augmentations? I mean, I always thought it was bullshit, but the Agency can be real hard asses when it comes to that bureaucratic shit."
"Agent Graham thinks that too. He's kind of a master of getting shit done even if it means bending the rules a little. That's why they've left him out here so long. He gets the job done and they don't ask many questions. In my case, he just funnels my contract through a bunch of other contracts. It does result in me getting paid a little less than someone without augments would, but I'm okay with it."
I'm glad that she's okay. I'm glad that my ... child is okay. Then my all of the frustration of the day finally comes home to roost in this moment. "Dammit, Piper, why didn't you tell me? I would've made it right. Now, my kid thinks I'm some deadbeat who left when I found out you were pregnant. I ... I... would've-"
She gets up and looks down at me then sets her jaw and puts her hands on her hips. "You would've come back here and hated the both of us for living out your life in that damn seam. Best case is that you would've come back here and worked in this shop, but we both know that once you had a taste of the outside you would've resented both me and Waverly."
I get up and pace trying to make heads or tails of what she's saying. I want to protest, but there is truth to what she's saying, but it doesn't take away the sting of what she's done.
"Piper, I've been up for more than two days now, I've narrowly escaped an attempt on my life, my ship is on her last legs, and I just found out that I have a daughter. I not sure how much else I can take."
At that the door opens and tall blond man walks in. He's wearing a khaki uniform with a blaster at his side. He narrows his eyes at me and walks to Piper's side and puts his hand on her shoulder.
"Everything okay, babe?"
My shoulders slump. Piper's mouth goes into a frown, noticing my expression. She nods wordlessly and points to me, "This is Agent Wil Barstow. He's the new Agent in town. We were good friends back in the day. Wil, this is Marshal Henry Smith. He came here about a year ago to work as our local law enforcement."
Henry dons a bright white smile that I want smash into pieces. The best I can do is manage a nod. The local law officials are usually self-important pricks nitpicking bullshit infractions specific to individual planets. This pretty boy doesn't look like he'd be much different than the douches who come through here hoping to build a resume to move on to Inner Cluster bureaucracy or politics.
He extends a hand and I shake it. "Wil, good to meet you. I thought I saw an Agency ship come in. I was actually going to check out a disturbance out by the canyons and I thought I'd come say hi to my best girl before I went."
I'm going to fucking puke.
I put my hand on his shoulder and squeeze, "That's great. You know, I think I know what might've caused that disturbance. Care if I ride along?"
Piper's eyes go wide. "Wil, you just got in. You said you've been up for two days. Do you think that's a good idea?"
"Well, if it's what I think it is, Hank here is gonna need back up. And unless things have changed from when I was here last, they don't give you locals much in the way of backup. Right?"
Henry gives a slight nod. "Yeah, hey, you're welcome to go along, but I understand if it's been a long day."
"You have no idea." I look to Piper. "We'll talk later."
She nods and I head out the door following Henry, duffel bags in tow.