Hello, all. I’ve been considering this one and I’m not sure where I’m going to take it. Read it and tell me what you think.
— JB Steele
The babble of voices around me ebbed and flowed, not unlike a surly tide. I scrunched myself a little farther down in my auto-chair and tried to ignore the excited voices of the others in the kaffeshop. On a planet like Theta Maxia, out in the Beta Tucanae System, there’s not one bit of telling what species you’ll find at any given moment. Still, women are women, or at least the sociable species versions are. Get them interested in whatever the subject of the moment is, and off they go. Listening in for a moment, I heard the general conversation go from one subject to another, with the occasional interjection from a member who’d check her GalaxyNet feed and found something funny.
Me? Sure, I’ll talk with others. I tend to focus on whatever I’m working on at the moment, and at that moment, I was working on a piece of new equipment that needed attention. Damn things never come out of the box with software properly updated. Never mind that in this day and age, they’re supposed to interface with a server somewhere and update even while sitting on a store shelf waiting for sale. I’m a tech troubleshooter for my company, and I work alone. Still, every so often, I would surface to hear whatever caught my attention.
“Are you alive?”
The speaker was a brunette, of the Rosizen species. Appearance and genetics close enough to human to look like us and mate successfully with us, they still do some things that throw us for a loop. I should know. One of my great-uncles was of that species, and holiday gatherings was always an event in suspense. Something always happened, and I’m still not sure some of them were just stupendous pranks on his part.
The Rosizen standing before me stood right there next to me, tapping her foot impatiently. Apparently there had been a discussion on my state of consciousness and I’d missed it. So, this one decided to settle the question in a direct manner. I could see that I might as well give up on the cursed machine sitting next to my kaffe. Might as well dump the kaffe on the machine, for all the good it was doing, anyway. I sighed.
“Yes. I’m alive. Go away.” Okay, so I’m not the most social. Diplomacy was not my strong point anyway. Did I mention that I work alone?
The Rosizen was undeterred, of course. This was one of the characteristics of their race, and for some people, it was a good thing. Not me. Great-uncle Nate was okay, but he could really work a nerve. All the others I met I could do without. I usually told them so, since diplomacy wasn’t my strong suit. I think others have made that observation, too. Old Nate could be as stubborn as a mule.
I don’t even know what a mule is, much less how stubborn it is. That saying goes way back, but it still fits. Sure as hell.
“Why should I?”
She set her jaw and waited. Great. Here I am, with a piece of damnfool junk the company calls ‘the next big thing,’ and I have an audience. I’m tempted to just throw it out the recycling lock and file a claim on it as ‘damaged goods, molycircs fused,’ except that it’s transmitting a carrier wave. The kaffeshop’s public serverbots had already found its signal and linked up with it, so I can’t do that. Plus, whatever impulse I had to come down to the common room and do my work is working against me. If I’d done the smart thing, I would have stayed in my room and sabotaged it in private, then tossed it.
But no, I had to come out here and smell the kaffe. Plus, get irritated by the junk in my hand, and get some unwanted attention. Great.
I glanced up, out of the corner of my eye, and saw that she was still standing there. I sighed, chucked the communit back into its box, and slapped it back into my bag. Maybe it rattled hard enough to break something inside, but I wasn’t too hopeful. Not with the integrated molybdurite circuitry. That stuff shrugs off electromagnetic pulses, over-currents, voltage spikes, radiation bombardments throughout the spectrum, and spilled drinks. I doubted physical impact was going to do it in.
“What do you want?”
Well, this is a new one on me. Advice is not something anyone is going to ask me for, especially a second time. If they was smart enough, they wouldn’t ask the first time. I opened my mouth to tell her to shove off and go ask the Dear Paulettedroid. She beat me to it.
“Here, let me get you another drink. You must be thirsty, judging from the arcane and strong words you was muttering under your breath.”
I closed my mouth. She smiled, with a knowing look in her eyes and sat down. When the drink came, I gulped it down straight.
My eyes watered, and my throat tightened up. I could feel my chest heaving. My lungs felt like they could get out and walk around a bit. After the initial quake and a few aftershocks, I wheezed half a lung of air in.
“What in the hell was that?”
Before answering she took a sip of her drink, which I noticed was the same thing I just suffered through. Didn’t bother her in the least.
“Arcturan moonshine, fire flavor.”
I could believe it. Give me a match and I could burp fireballs, just from that sip. Probably do more than burp, once that evil brew worked its way through my system kicking my rear and taking my name down.
“Look, miss, is there a… “
“A reason that I’m sitting here, watching you suffer from Arcturan moonshine, and feeling very amused? Yes, actually. I want to hire you.”
Oh, boy, here it comes. I get a new one every week. I looked at my chronometer, and sure enough, like clockwork, it was due. Pardon the pun. People always want to hire me. Fix their computers, fix their electronics, fix their little ‘personal’ toys. I had one guy with an astounding collection that simply could not grasp that he needed to replace the power cell every so often. Guy looked like he was needing a fix, too. He was all jumpy. When I put a new power cell in, he chirped in delight, shoved money in my shirt pocket and rushed me out the door. I still don’t know what I fixed, but for a c-note and two minutes work I wasn’t going to complain.
I looked up at the woman. I usually brush off people, but what the hell. I was bored.
“I’m on the clock right now, and I don’t take outside work.” Let’s see what she says. She squinted at me.