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My weekend started on Thursday. I’m taking time off for some family activities. During any downtime, I’ll be working on the conclusion to The Exterminator, which debuted in Nightbus Episode 5. Yesterday evening I did something rather unnerving – for me at least, that will be shared on Monday. I’ll give you a hint. Tyler from Cloud Imperium Games was involved.
After The Exterminator, I’ll be revisiting Cami from Chop Shop, whose story was told in NightBus Episode 3. The narration of the story will be a collaboration that I’m very excited about orchestrating. I’ll be writing the story specifically to support three different character points of view. I’ll discuss more as I get closer to finishing the content. For now, here’s a teaser for the conclusion of The Exterminator.
Audio version available on YouTube: Star Citizen Nightbus Episode 5
“John James, plain name, simple life,” John introduced himself. Followed by “Or you can call me JJ. I’ve no preference.” He reached across the bar toward Maggie and gave her hand a friendly shake.
Maggie immediately warmed to his disarming smile. Was it a trick of the light or were his eyes sparkling? “On drugs more like,” she thought to herself. Shit! She might have to find someone else. But he’d come so highly recommended. She stepped from behind the bar to join him on the other side.
Maggie was in her late fifties with spiky gray hair she kept long on the top and cut close on the sides and at the back. The lines on her face aged her beyond her years. But the fact that she’d been a beauty in her youth was evident.
Maggie and John were standing at the bar of Maggie’s Red Dragon pub, a popular hangout on Grim Hex. The public space was a large rectangular room divided into distinct quadrants. The decor was a cheap gaudy attempt at the Asian Revival design that had been popular two or more decades ago. Circular black and white rice paper chandeliers with missing panels hung from the ceiling. Scarred wooden dragons acted as vertical beams, the blood red paint chipped and faded. A rumpled threadbare gold and purple lotus patterned carpet was spread across the floor.
Maggie pointed to the areas as she described them. “I’ve got just the one room here as you can see. Pool tables there.” She pointed to the back left corner. “Card tables there.” Back right corner. Pointing to the front half of the room where they were standing,“Up here is all dining.”
John absentmindedly scratched at the three days of stubble on his chin as he listened. He didn’t say anything so Maggie shrugged and continued. Pointing to a door centered on the wall behind the bar she said, “Back there is the kitchen, my office, and restroom.”
“Just staff?” He asked.
“Yeah. Public restrooms too much trouble. Kept finding empty syringes, vials. That Black Widow crap smells like a rotting flesh. Vagrants sleeping, couples fucking — you name it.”
John laughed. He could imagine that and worse. “Hex customers aren’t known for their manners.”
“Drug busts in the men’s room. Last of it for me. Walled it off from this side and renting it out as a commercial stall on the other. Young kid doing tats out of the space. Name’s Ronnie. Seems like a good kid. Pays on time. Customers welcome to eat, drink, ‘n party here. Take care of their other needs elsewhere.”
“I’ve walked through some of those elsewheres,” he joked. “No entrance on this side to the tat place?”
“Nah. Registered as a separate location. This work is only for here.”
“Okay. Cool. It’s really just the one room then. Kitchen looks secure,” he said pointing to the hand scanner on the door. “The glass opening bulletproof?”
“Yep, had that installed last year. So this the kind of job you take? I know you’re bounty but was told you take freelance stuff too. You came highly recommended just wasn’t sure this is your thing.”
As was his custom, John diligently tapped notes into his mobiGlas. He preferred the palm size translucent version. It fit easily into his pockets – pants or a jacket. He especially liked that if necessary the display could be enlarged into an interactive holographic image.
Noticing that Maggie had stopped talking he looked up. His smile was genuine and raised his cherub-like cheeks high on his face. Dark curly hair rested on his forward just above a bushy unibrow that arched gently over gray eyes. “I do most any security work on contract if I can fit it in comfortably. If I can’t, I’ll refer you to someone.” He continued tapping in notes. “No point in stressing to squeeze it.” Looking up he said, “Or stressing you if I can’t be here when needed.” His face back on his mobi, “I like to keep it simple. Works best that way.”
Maggie nodded her head, still uncertain if that meant he was taking the job or not. “Okay…”
“John James, plain name, simple life, is my motto.”
“Uh sure,” was all Maggie could think to say again.
He closed the mobi and gave Maggie his full attention. “Looks like I can fit you in. Friday and Saturday from 10 PM until close which is?
“Right!” He walked away from Maggie to survey the space himself. “I’d like to install security cameras in each section.”
Maggie walked toward the card tables where John had wandered over to. “How much does that cost?”
He chuckled. “My expense if we can agree I can take emergency calls when the place is quiet.” He saw her eyebrows arch up and smiled. “Only local — emergencies. I discount for the time I’m out.” He sauntered back toward the front and leaned on the bar. “Cameras are my eyes and ears. Also, solid evidence if you need if you insist on pressing charges. I prefer to work things out in other ways but here, you’re the boss.”
With concern in her voice, Maggie asked, “You expect that to happen often? Being away during my shift?”
“Never know. Just a precaution. This is side work for me. Filler. Routing pirates and vagrants are my main meal ticket. I’m a senior security and bounty contractor for Hurston, Crusader, and ArcCorp. I get first dibs ‘round here so that’s my priority. If I don’t take a gig, I lose it and eventually, get bumped down the ladder for new work.” His tone was light. His voice even.
Maggie came to stand beside him. “I don’t know. I had trouble a few days. Is why I started asking around.” She wrung her hands. “It got pretty bad. I need those hours covered. Place is rowdiest then. Station’s been seeing more traffic lately. Some looking for work or to shop. Others for trouble.”
He reached out and took one of Maggie’s hands. He patted it like they were old friends. “I hear ya. Totally understand.” Humming quietly to himself he flipped open his mobi. “Let me shoot you a couple names. Either one of these will do just as well.” He returned to humming while he scrolled through his contacts. “Neither are A level cuz they’ll have the same problem as me. Local corp work comes first.” His head bobbed slightly to the tune that only he could hear.
“Oh, I hadn’t realized. I just asked around about who’s best…”
“That’d be me,” he said absentmindedly. “Here we go. Try…”
Maggie cut him off. “Several said you’re the best and actually a good guy. Everyone said that — good guy.”
“I try, Maggie dear, I do try. I keep it simple. Live right. It’ll be alright. That’s my motto.”
“Well if you think it will work…” She hesitated. “I’m up for giving it a try.”
He looked up and graced her with the full force of his penetrating gaze and smiled. “Trust me, it’ll be fine. Wouldn’t steer you wrong. Do no harm is my motto.”
Maggie caught her breath. “Well damn, “ she thought to herself, “His eyes actually do sparkle.” To him, she said, “Send the contract and I’ll authorize it.”
He pointed his mobi at Maggie and swiped his finger from it to her. “There you go.”
“Oh — sorry, don’t have a mobile one. Will pick it up off the one in my office.
“Can you start this week?”
He extended his hand and Maggie accepted it. “Sure can. Will install the cameras on my first shift.”
She hoped she wasn’t blushing. He was too young for her. He wasn’t even particularly handsome. “But there’s something about him,” she decided inwardly.
“Pleasure doing business you with Mags. Off to do my rounds.” John slid his hands into his jacket pockets and sauntered toward the exit. Over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t hesitate if something comes up before then. You’re one of John’s now. I’ll come as quick as I can.”
Maggie patted the sides of her hair and wiped gently at the edges of her eyes as if that could erase the heavy crow’s feet nesting there. “Okay. Sure. Thanks.” Her voice cracked on the last and John gave her a knowing look. She turned away, her cheeks flaming.
“Now for the main event,” John said to himself. He checked the work queue on his mobi to verify the habicube eviction request he’d received earlier was still active. It was. Maggie’s pub was at the back of Hex-D, one of the cleaner struts on the space station. The work request was in Hex-A, the worst area. The quickest way there would be through the tunnels.
The tunnels, as they’re called by locals, are a network of secured maintenance routes burrowed into the giant asteroid turned mining station and housing exchange, now a self-governing powder key. A handful of legit merchants had stayed after the Imperial Green mining operation pulled out. Having invested all their life savings in establishing businesses here, they couldn’t afford to pack up and run when the mines dried up and the criminal element began infiltrating the station, trying to secure a foothold in Stanton.
Industrious opportunists stayed too. They squatted in available spaces, installed personal generators and opened for business. Imperial retained control of the functioning self-service habicubes and continued to collect the revenue. But everything on the station was an “as is” situation. No maintenance or repairs. When things stopped working on Grim Hex, they stopped working forever.
John whistled as he made his way to the closest maintenance tunnel. He unlocked the massive vault-like door with his access code. As the door retracted, he ducked his six-foot-four stocky frame through the opening. It was pitch black inside. He pulled out the flashlight he kept clipped on his belt.
With no maintenance crews on the station, lighting in the tunnels was spotty. A good distance ahead, he could see a pinprick of yellow light flickering. He panned his flashlight around him and forward to get his bearings. The jagged walls of the tunnel glistened with sweat. Rusted pipes overhead lead the way forward. They hissed angry pockets of steam from cracked wounds. John started walking, his boots echoing every footstep.
Although it would be a reduced payout, John hoped the occupants had voluntarily vacated by now. The request was two hours hold. He’d get his 25% fee for swiping in at the location as evidence he’d checked it out. It would be easier for everyone if they were already gone.
Persuading vagrants to depart on their own was his preferred solution. Convincing would-be pirates to vacate the area with words or by force was better than disabling, capturing and hauling them planetside for processing in his book. “Everyday flying free above the rock is a good day,” was his motto.
Seasonal supplies and the mandatory annual physical required by his contract were the only times John went planetside. He was impatient waiting at the medical facility. He fidgeted waiting in line at the surplus warehouse where he bought non-perishable food supplies. He grunted trying to maneuver around the [other customers] picking through clothing haphazardly tossed into “Final Sale” bins. The streets were the worst, especially on ArcCorp. The teeming throngs of yackers brushing by and bumping into you at every turn. It made his skin crawl to be scurrying among them on the anthill.
John was almost at the other end now. He could see the door clearly from here. He pulled his Gemini L86 from the back waistband of his pants and checked the magazine. It was full. He reached down and grabbed a fresh magazine one from the bottom right pocket of his cargo pants. He put away the flashlight. Just before stepping through the exit, he slid the pistol into his right jacket pocket and the fresh mag into his left.
He emerged from the tunnel and waited until the door locked behind him. Strut A was quiet. Fewer people than not normal around. He wondered why but kept moving. He nodded to a group of guys decked out in grunge gear, hunched around a fist-sized glass vial full of red smoke. “Red Alice”, he mused to himself. A popular psychotropic drug that caused temporary paralysis when overdosed. Just beyond the group of men, was the metal grated staircase to the next level. John took the steps two at a time then turned left into Strut A’s shanty town. A dead end of the lowest rate habicubes, fronted by first-come-first-served cardboard sleeping spots and perfumed in urine. With no merchants on this side, there was no one to complain or pay for security to keep the place civil.
The cube he was looking for was second to last on the left. As he approached, he saw a bloody trail leading to the door. Drops of blood on the gray slab floor like bread crumbs. A bloody palm smeared on the door frame. He eased his pistol out of his pocket and moved into the shadows along the opposite wall.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Audio version available on YouTube: Star Citizen Nightbus Episode 3
White hot lightning exploded inside her head. Or at least, that’s how it felt. Cami screamed and convulsed. Pain rippled through her like a jackhammer. She bucked violently. Rough hands tried to keep her still. She felt someone shove something between her teeth. All around, sensors blared, voices yelled and the klaxon boomed. She wanted to die.
She felt a sharp jab in her left arm. Instinctively, she rolled her head in that direction but… She couldn’t see. It was like staring into the sun from one eye and nothing from the other. Slowly a small measure of her pain receded. Her limbs felt heavy. The voices around her quieted. She was weightless and floating away. Wait. No, being carried. Cami tried to reach out but her hand flopped back down like a dead fish. She felt someone take her hand and squeeze it gently, before folding it across her chest. When darkness came for her, she wanted to resist. To tell Death calling him was a mistake. The pain was manageable now. She fought to stay conscious but her eyelids were like lead. Her world faded black.
Cami moaned. She could feel every beat of her heart as a pile driver behind her right eye. The vision from her left eye was blurry. She tried looking around only to realize her head was being restrained. She blinked a few times and her surroundings came into focus. Using her peripheral vision, she could see that she was in a makeshift medbay aboard a ship. The wall racks and wenches on the ceiling gave her the impression of it actually being a retrofitted cargo bay.
There was another medical cot with an autodoc to her immediate left. A stained curtain separated the two beds but they were drawn back. Across from her, she saw chipped and scuffed ship components painted bright yellow and the once white MISC logo, now gray and faded around the edges. Familiar with the layout, she knew that the storage containers bolted along the wall were blocking the Freelancer emblem. The medbay…cargo bay…whatever, sounded hollow, like being inside a tin can. It echoed the faint sounds of a monitor chirping out the rhythm of her pulse. The equipment in her field of view looked dated and dingy – held together with plexi and cable ties. A basin of blood soaked rags was on a metal tray at her feet.
She heard a mumble a short distance away but couldn’t see anyone. She tried to speak but it came out as a croak. “Wh-where…”
A man in a rumpled khaki jumpsuit hobbled into view. He was hunched over, age bearing down on him. His brown face was cracked like old leather. “Awake?” He clapped his hands together and nodded. “Rasa very happy see this.” His smile was genuine.
Cami tried speaking again, “Where am I? Wh-what happened?”
“Accident them say,” Rasa replied. “Came rushing. Nearly knock off orbit docking fast n reckless.” He tutted under his breath as he moved to read Cami’s vitals on the autodoc display. “Four carried you on stretcher. Had you topped off with Ops for pain. Surprised you lasted from Tanga. Near jump I guess.”
Cami’s reply had the halting cadence of someone trying to remember a dream – or nightmare in this case. “We were – I think. Lots of bottom feeding miners in Tanga. Harvesting fast, chasing heavy metals.” Her voice gained more confidence. “I was clearing a jam from the pul-pulverizer. Piece of shit barely worked. Usually take the raws over to Gray-Jaw, Jimmy Chi’s reclaimer for processing. This shift we were trying to stay out longer – make a few extra creds each. Luther and I were at it with rods, trying to clear the input tray. It started grinding and then there was a high-pitched squeal.” Cami shuddered. “Fragments spun loose and …” She started inhaling in short shallow burst as if suffocating.
Rasa, still standing near the AutoDoc controls tapped a button then moved to stand beside her. She felt an icy coldness creep up her arm that had the IV. Her body began to relax. The rising terror on her face melted away. “Rest. Over now. Be good soon. Can go home.”
He smiled down at her. “Yes.” He nodded several times. “Eye socket cleaned, stitched and gave plasma. Need patch few weeks.” He patted her hand. “But is good. Yes, can go home next day.” Enthusiastically he added, “And have change!”
“Change?” Cami struggled to keep up with what Rasa was saying but she was being tugged down into the darkness.
As if giving good news he said,“Yes, I do fair prices. Friends leave your share and add a bit extra, they say. Help you straight.”
Cami replied in a small voice. Her tongue heavy in her mouth. “But my – my eye? Fixed?” She went to lift a hand to it, only to realize they were strapped to the bed.
Rasa sighed. “Is gone. Ruptured. More force you dead.” An alert sounded. Rasa checked his mobi. “New patient.” He plucked at his overgrown salt-n-pepper beard while reading the details. “Quick fix. You rest.”
In a monosyllabic tone he said, “ Bed 2 – Curtains.” As Rasa stepped back out of the way, the curtains around Cami’s bed began closing.
She tried to shout but it came out as a whisper. “Wait… Please… Don’t go…. I need…” But it was too late. The curtains swished into place around her, blocking her off from the rest of the room. Her eyes closed to the step-slide-thump sound of Rasa’s retreating footsteps.
When Cami woke again, she was propped up in the bed with the curtains open. The bed next to her was empty but there was a stainless steel cart of beside it. Surgical tools, stained bandages, and used syringe lay on the top tray. Minus the restraints, she gingerly probed the area around her right eye. A wad of gauze was pushed into the eye socket and secured with medical tape. On top of that was an eye patch. She winced when her fingers skimmed the skin around the bandage. It was taut and hot to the touch. She looked up when she heard the cabin door swoosh open. It got stuck on the first attempt. She saw Rasa step back and then forward to try again. The tired look on his face brightened when he noticed she was awake.
“Good. Good. Let’s see.” He walked over to Cami’s bedside, his progress hampered by his left leg. It trailed behind until he pulled it forward with a quick jerk. Examining her injury, he lifted the patched and poked at his handy work. “Is good. Very good work,” he praised himself.
“Ouch!” Cami tried to pull back from the less than gentle examination.
He glanced at the AutoDoc. “Sorry, pain meds wore off. Can give one more dose.”
“Yes, thank you.” She sighed in relief. “Look, I need to have a replacement put in. How much does that cost?”
Rasa chuckled and shuffled over to the other medbay. “You got change but not that much.” He sprayed the bed with a potent antiseptic smelling foam before wiping it down. The task made more laborious by his hampered gait and limited reach. “Get home fine for now,” he grunted while he cleaned.
“There is no home. I can’t work like this.” she said, gesturing to her missing eye. “No papers for Breman. No work but mining in Tanga. Everyone pulls double duty on salvage and miners. No one’s going to hire me gimped.”
Rasa gathered up the used surgical instruments and placed them in a vial filled with blue liquid on the lower half of the cart. He balled up the bandages and chucked them into a nearby recycler. Sounding winded from the effort, he gingerly lowered himself on a nearby cushioned stool and swiveled to face Cami. “Be runnin?” he asked but didn’t wait for a reply. “Tanga. Breman. No one checkin’. No one wants these parts but lowers workin’ these rocks and folks like Rasa doing services,” he said, tapping his chest.
Cami looked away. “I can’t make it out here. If you know this place like it sounds, you know everyone is replaceable. Many waiting to take the next job. No one’s going to hire me.” She turned back to Rasa who was watching her intently. “Take all I have left. I’ll come back with more. I promise!” Looking around for her personal items she said, “Sell my mobi! It’s a decent one. Can get by without it.” Grasping at straws she added, “I’ll sign on with you a few weeks. Pay it off.” Gesturing around she added. “Place looks like shit.” Belatedly she added, “No offense. I can fix things and make minor repairs.”
Rasa sigh. “No need. Just hanging on ‘til gone. Sorry young one. No creds to even buy what’s needed not counting Rasa fee.” Cami dropped her gaze to her lap where her fingers were at war with the bed sheets.
“Friend have fuel station nearby. Lots come for supplies too.” Pointing aft he added, “We go. Can set beacon there a couple days. Ask about work. Rasa know the good ones.”
Cami’s voice was flat – dejected. “Sure. Thanks.” Resigned she asked, “Can you at least tell me what I need and how much it cost?” She didn’t know Rasa but her gut told her that he could be trusted. “This way I don’t get robbed when the time comes.” She tried for a smile but the edges of her mouth barely moved.
Rasa reluctantly agreed. “Sure. Need sleep first. Come back soon.” It took him two attempts to stand up from the stool before slowly making his way out of the cabin.
Cami tried to quiet the panic inside her chest. It had taken her two standard earth years to find a spot on Rally One, a trio of independently owned ships that worked together mining and salvaging their way through backwater systems like Tanga. Decent captain, crew and fair split on profits weren’t easy to find. She was assigned to the Orion but occasionally helped out on the Reclaimer and Prospector. Her dream was to someday buy a salvaged Prospector to restore over time and captain her own ship. She knew saving up that much alone was a long shot. Even so, she allowed herself to dream. It kept her going when profits were low and stomachs empty. When the shifts were long and the ship cold trying to conserve fuel.
Even with the ups and downs, the Rally organization had a good reputation among the low tier miners and salvagers. There was a line of people waiting to take her spot and Rally One couldn’t afford to hold it for her. She knew this and didn’t resent it, even though it made her gut twist to think about. They had families to feed. She just had herself. But the idea of finding a new spot was terrifying. Alone out in the black was a dangerous place. She wasn’t afraid of being hungry as much as she was the potential for violence. She’d fended off attacks a time or two, barely escaping. The memory made bile rise up in her throat.
Trying to steer clear of painful memories she focused on the present. She wondered how much “change” she had left and how long it would last. She knew how to stretch it. That wasn’t new. Unfortunately, she also knew that the local Tanga teams were full. That is, any crew she’d even consider. Her vision blurred as a trail of tears ran down one side of her face. She dashed them away. “There’s no crying in space.” She reminded herself.
When Rasa came back he was carrying a disposable tray with two containers on top. He still had dark circles around his eyes. Was he hunched over a bit more? He sat the tray on Cami’s lap. She picked up the containers one at a time and read the labels: Purecleen water with electrolytes and protein cubes. Space rations.
“Been five days. Tubes gone. Need start eating,” Rasa explained.
“We exam for cyber replacement.” Managing her expectations he added, “Just to see. Okay?”
Cami perked up a bit. “Yes. Please.” She set the tray beside her when she felt the bed begin to recline.
Making his way to the AutoDoc he continued, “After we head to fuel depot couple days and see.”
“Thank you – really.” Cami reached out and touched Rasa’s sleeve. “This isn’t your problem. I appreciate the help.”
“S’okay. Had family. Wife. Two kids. Hope someone help them before was over.”
“Over?” Cami hesitated. “Are they gone?”
“Yes. Lost all in Caliban. So few escape attack. Wife and daughter medics. Son captain in military. Me surgical assist.” He let out a long sigh, completely emptying his lungs. “Confusion during UEE retreat. Were separated. They never made out.” Rasa wiped at the corner of his eyes. “Will join in next life.” A sad smile on his face. “Soon.”
Cami was at a loss for words. She was missing an eye. Clearly not the end of the world, she tried to tell herself. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that in her case, it was. “Sorry for your loss,” was all she could think to say.
“Me too.” Rasa turned the AutoDoc on. When the status indicator went from yellow to green he said, “Eval Right Eye Replace” To Cami he added, “Hold Still. Eyes closed.” A head restraint extended from the medbay headboard. It cupped the upper port of Cami’s head and applied firm pressure, clamping her head in place. Cami laid still, her hands rigid at her sides.
The scanning unit positioned over the top of the bed whirred to life. “Initiating scan 1. Evaluation for cybernetic eye replacement”. A light blue beam swept up and down and side to side on Cami’s face. “Skeletal frame complete. “Initiating depth scan.” Two mechanical hands descended from the scanner. The metal skeleton fingers clicked as they moved. Each finger had probes for fingertips, wires looped from one joint to the next. Hovering a couple of inches from Cami’s face the scanner repeated. “Initiating depth scan.”
Cami heard a pop and a clang that echoed through the medbay. The spindly metal fingers splayed and groped like a crab caught by its shell, as they struggled to reach Cami’s face.
Rasa cursed under his breath. “Stupid scanner.”
Cami’s eye popped open. “What’s wrong?”
The AutoDoc chimed in. “Error initiating depth scan…”
The hands continued spasming over Cami’s face. She tried sinking further back into the pillow or turning her head but no luck. She couldn’t move without tearing her scalp. “Wait – turn it off.” Starting to panic she grabbed the head restraint with both hands trying to move.
“Is fine. Stop. Hurt yourself.” Straining, Rasa reached up and fiddled with a few screws and wires. He groaned from the pain of extending his back as he worked. “There” he sighed.
“Error initiating depth scan. Canceling request in 10…9…8…”
Rasa used the bed rail to support his weight as he walked to the opposite side of the bed and repeated the adjustments to the scanner. The cancellation countdown stopped.
“See? Fixed. Relax and close eyes.”
Cami looked at him skeptically. “You sure?”
“Yes, close eyes.” To the AutoDoc he said, “Continue scan.”
The AutoDoc whirred back to life. “Reinitiating depth scan.” The appendages lowered, placing sensors at exact points on both sides of her face – temples, brow and around her eye sockets.
Cami winced when she felt the pressure around her bruised eye socket. But she kept as still as a corpse. After a few seconds, the scanner retracted and announced that the depth scan was completed. Rasa told the AutoDoc to “Show holo”.
A wireframe holographic image of Cami’s face floated below the scanner. Rasa used his hands to twist the hologram in his direction. He spread his hands over it to increase its size. After reviewing it at different angles, he thumped the areas around the right eye, making the other elements disappear until only the damaged eye socket remained. Rasa told the scanner to display the dimensions. Numbers with lead lines pointing to various parts of the hologram appeared.
The Autodoc had retracted the head restraint when the scan was over. Cami pushed up on her elbows watching in wonder. She’d never seen someone use a hologram up close and was fascinated. “How does it look? Can it be replaced easily?”
“Can not the question. Cost is.” He replied. He commanded the Autodoc to send the dimension data to his mobi. He scanned the open market for a synthetic eye replacement that fit Cami’s measurements.
He knew the most affordable option would be an eyeball replacement made using a 3D bioprinter but even those didn’t come cheap. Lesser organs were more reasonably priced – blood vessels, ears and such, but the complexity of the human eye kept the price out of reach for most civilians.
When the mobi returned a price, Rasa’s eyebrows arched up to his hairline. He grunted, “Hmph.”
“What? How much?”
Rasa leaned in and let Cami see for herself. She caught her breath. “Oh. Wow.” There was nothing more to say. No favors to ask. It was completely out of her reach. A feeling of despair settled in her belly.
“You dress. We go refuel station couple days and see.”
Resigned Cami said, “Sure. Thanks for checking.”
It felt good to be up and around at least. Rasa had given Cami all of the personal belongings the Rally One crew had brought with her. She thought about trying to artfully cover the eye patch with her hair then decided against it. This was her new reality. Instead, she swept the shoulder length brown curly up into a high ponytail.
The Bremen fueling station Rasa used was privately owned by a man named Jim Haven. It was an “add as you go affair”. Fuel dispensaries formed an unevenly spaced arc around the back of battered Starfarer. The day they’d arrived, she’d seen the Starfarer carefully back its way into the arch to refill the dispensers. Once in place, customers looking buy supplies were allowed into the cargo hold to see what Jim had available. Rasa had left the ship to talk to Jim and others he knew. Putting out the word that he had a patient that needed work. No one had, or knew of anything, being available.
On the second day, Cami decided to quiet the nervousness in her gut by fixing a few things in the makeshift medbay. She’d asked Rasa if he had any tools. He’d pointed her to a container with a variety of rusted tools, cables, wires and plex-guns scrambled together in a heap. She spent an hour sorting out the contents and cleaning the tools before replacing the wiring and bolts on the scanner and fixing the cabin door that stuck when it slid open. The work hadn’t erased her sense of loss and concern, wondering what she was going to do next but it had passed the time. She was sitting on her medbay eating a bowl of soy noodles when Rasa came in. He clearly had something on his mind. “Bad news no doubt,” she whispered to herself.
Rasa rolled the cushioned stool over to Cami and sat down. “No luck. We tried.”
“I know and I appreciate it very much.”
“Need return my spot – is where customers come.”
“Understand.” She looked around the cabin noting where her things were. She’d gather them and get off here. Maybe pay for a ride to a busier location. “I’ll get my things and get off here. I’ll try to…”
Rasa put up his hands for her to wait and cut her off mid sentence. “You come with me. Stay.” Tapping his chest he continued. “I teach. You help. And fix things.”
Cami’s mouth fell open. She was at a loss. Was he serious? “Stay? Here?” It was tight quarters and no privacy in the sleeping berths. She could sleep in the medbay when no patients were here. It was safe. He was kind. It would give her time to figure things out.
He nodded. “Not hardly much pay. But have bunk and food and safe. Is safe.” He stopped speaking, breathing and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again he said, “Rasa tired. Am waiting join family in next life.”
Cami heard a sense of peace in Rasa’s voice when he talked about being ready to join his family. So sure in his beliefs that he would. The calmness he radiated washed over her. “How can I possibly? I’m not a medic.”
“Do AutoDoc service only when Rasa gone. Go place where is less fee but more work. You young. Can do.” He smiled. “Leave if find better. Til then is home.” Gesturing around he said, “You keep when Rasa go. Scavengers don’t deserve. You have.”
Her mind was racing. Was he for real? Why do this for her? No one had offered her so much since the elderly couple had smuggled her and 5 other teens out of the state-run orphanage on Charon III. They used to deliver supplies a few times a year. However, the increase in attacks and bombings made up their minds to drop the route altogether. On their last trip, they’d offered to smuggle out anyone willing to go. Fairly poor themselves, they’d had little to offer but this chance at freedom. They’d dropped the lot of them at a space station in Tyrol with a few credits each, a sleeping roll and a few days of cubed protein rations. Those first few months had been terrifying. In some ways, more so than the civil war raging on Charon.
Cami returned from her reverie wide-eyed and dumbstruck. She found it hard to speak above the lump in her throat. “Are you sure? You don’t have someone else to leave this to?”
“No. All lost. All gone.”
Cami slid down from the bed and crouched in front of Rasa. Taking both of his hands in hers, she said, “Yes, I would like that. I will do all that I can to help.”
They were both crying now and not ashamed. Cami swore to herself that she would repay this kindness. She would help him. She would fix the ship. And she would learn all that he wanted to teach her. In time, he could just rest. She’d do it all and take care of him.
A different kind of future blossomed in her mind’s eye. Joy swelled in her chest and rung in her ears. She would repay this gift to Rasa and forward to someone else somewhere someday.
Audio version available on YouTube: Star Citizen Nightbus Episode2
You’re asleep in your berth aboard the NightBus, dreaming of the credits you’re going to win gambling on MacArthur in Kilian. Like taking candy from a baby, you plan to fleece as many military types as possible. If you’re lucky, you might score some primo narcs to sell out of your wrecked Cutlass, turned home base, in Spider.
Your mouth is full open, gargling back a snore when a knock at the door startles you awake. Swiping drool off your face you grunt, “Who is it?” No reply but another knock. Caution makes you slide quietly off the cot. You creep to the door and flatten a bloodshot eye against peephole.
You see a young man dressed in an attendant’s black and purple uniform. He has a food trolley beside him. Sizing him up, he seems a bit bulky for dressing like a dandy. He has one hand on the cart and the other bent behind his back.
Releasing the cart the stranger knocks again, bellowing “Breakfast.”
Your stomach grumbles. Rubbing your chin you think, “It’s near time for it. But don’t like the look of this bloak. Hmm – Didn’t have no active warrants where we boarded but could have wherever the hell we’re rollin’ through now.” Just as the attendant is about to knock again you shout, “Sleepin. Shove off!” You wonder if you have enough time to assemble your pistol, disguised as disassembled random parts across multiple suitcases. You curse yourself for not having done it before you got snookered in the bar after boarding last night.
Turning away from the door, you scan the small berth for your luggage. As you do, you hear pressure on the door. You lean on it again, about to tell the attendant to fuck off with his breakfast. You press your eye back to the peephole.
The attendant is bent over, a shit-eating grin on his face, as he leans toward the peephole himself. There’s a personal shield crackling in front of him, it’s blue aura glowing. The hand that was behind his back, now reveals a military grade stun pulse-rifle and it’s pointed at your door. You see him press a button on the side of the massive goggles he’s wearing. Probably a radar device. You start backing away from the door.
With a shit eating grin he says, “Peekaboo, I see you. It’s time for me to earn my — BREAKFAST.”