Authors: Martin Wilsey
Tags: #mystery science fiction, #intelligence hard scifi high tech combat robot science military ai
Harv watched in his HUD
the image of the truck as it slowed and entered the canyon of his
salvage yard, passing the sign: “Twenty Square Kilometers of
Treasure.” The number 20 had been sloppily
painted to replace a crossed out number 10.
The truck was a modern
T-16 ground transport. No wheels. It had fixed position Grav-foils
for float and steering, with an open three-
with crates tied down in the back covered with a camo tarp. It was
the same desert-tan with camo as most military transports these
days. The cab could hold
but there was only one inside.
His security system, with Hunters help, informed him it
as a civilian transport
to a David
Harv went back inside. Though it was
still sunny, the temp was dropping.
Noiselessly, the driver of
the truck parked in front of the shop. Even though it
Grav-plates and no wheels,
it kicked up a giant cloud of dust as it powered down and
settled to the ground.
Alex watched casually from
behind the diner’s dusty windows, knowing that the man behind the
wheel could not see her through the tinted, mirrored glass. He
hopped out and walked around the truck, checking the tie-downs on
the load. He was lean, fit and on the tall side. He wore jeans,
cowboy boots, an untucked flannel shirt and a straw cowboy hat that
had seen better days. The truck had a Texas ident code. But the man
didn’t need one. Unlike most of the people that came in here, none
of his mannerisms
He took off the hat and tossed it into
the cab of the truck. He ran both of his hands through his hair in
a futile attempt to eliminate the hat’s impression. Alex thought he
needed a haircut.
As he approached
Alex suddenly felt like she needed a haircut as
The bell rang as the door
Morning,” Alex said as
the door closed behind him and the bell rang
Good morning, ma’am. May
I use your bathroom straight up?
the whole time we talk.” He made a polite bow with his
Alex smiled at him. “Only if you never
call me ‘ma’am’ again. It’s Alex.” Pointing down the hall, she
said, “All the way down there to the left.”
Thank you, m…
While he was in
she looked out the window and studied his truck. The T-16s
but this one was in perfect
condition. She had always wanted one but had never had the spare
cash. And where would you find one these days? When parked, the bed
of the truck was only ten centimeters off the ground. Perfect for
use around here. And they had AI remote control capabilities. It
would make Hunter way more useful. Not to mention that a T-16 could
go anywhere. Well, anywhere she wanted to go.
She caught herself combing
her fingers through her
hair. She combed
the side that she
the tattoo could
be seen on the side of her
. The tattoo was a fireball at her
temple, with trailing fire arcing over her ear. Up close, you could
see its amazingly subtle details, and recognize it as
an exploding Planet
Defense Force fighter.
A few minutes later the man came out.
His face was freshly scrubbed and his hair damp from a thorough
Ahh. Much better.
Thanks,” he said as he rounded the counter
Thirsty?” Alex asked, as
she hopped down from the stool and hammered a fist on an ancient
vending machine button. A bottle of Orange Crush rolled out. Alex
held it up so he could see.
my Maker. I haven’t seen one of
those since I was a kid. Thank you,” he said.
She opened it on the bottle opener and
handed it to him, then pounded the machine again for
She opened her
and they enjoyed a moment of silence as they both
Harv keeps them extra
cold. These are his favorite,” she said, looking down at the label,
then setting the bottle down and sitting again. “How can I help you
Do you mean Harvey
Reardon? If so, I am in the right place. I have to say, the
were bad. Nothing in this
right anymore. I had to get close,
then zoom out with a self-
hack in the truck.
Once I did that, the place was easy to spot from cams on Freedom
Station.” Alex raised an eyebrow. She had not thought of that angle
and made a mental note to look into it. The space station called
Freedom was taking a higher interest in the planet
The man paused a moment and looked
abashed. “Oh, I’m Dave. Dave Keener.” He held out his hand to
shake. She shook it firmly, even though the gesture was way out of
fashion because of irrational pandemic fears.
So what are you looking
for today?” Alex asked.
It’s a long shot.” It was
almost like a confession. “I’m looking for a shuttle. It doesn’t
have to be pretty. Just a good tight seal and big enough to fit my
T-16. Manual flight controls are fine, but if it has a standard AI
interface, that would be a plus.” He looked out the windows at the
assorted derelicts and sighed, “I know a shuttle is a long
Smiling to herself she
I might have to close
I need to get Harv to
help you. He doesn’t keep that kind of
. Just parts.” She
reached over to press a button on her console and said, “Hey, Harv.
Can you come
to help this customer?”
Harv’s disembodied voice
replied, “Let me finish taking a shit and I’ll be up.” She rolled
and before she could
he said, “Yes,
I’ll wash my hands, dammit.”
Dave smiled and said
Quite the place you have
here. How long have you been here?” he asked conversationally.
Everyone asked that.
My whole life. I was born
here. My dad too. The place has been in the family for generations.
My cousin Mark is the buyer, auctions mostly. Harv is my
.” She smiled and leaned in,
“Don’t tell him I told you. He still thinks he’s
They heard a crash in the
back and a series of mumbled curses, followed by some smaller
crashes and more cursing. A
moments of silence went
by as they both stared at the door smiling.
Harv came directly out
from behind the counter extending his hand. “Howdy. I’m Harv
Reardon.” The two men shook hands without a moment’s hesitation. “I
hope Alex hasn’t pissed you off already. That’s
get called up here.”
Alex hammered the soda machine again
and opened an Orange Crush for Harv. He took if from her with a nod
and took a long pull as Dave spoke.
Like I was telling Alex,
I am looking for a shuttle with a
before he could go any farther. “What’s your budget? Availability
is all about the budget.”
Dave coughed a little and averted his
eyes. “I was hoping we could keep this a cash
Harv raised an eyebrow and looked over
at Alex. She said, “He needs one big enough to hold the T-16 out
there. Manual flight controls, but future upgrade
Gonna start private
hauling to Freedom Sstation? Luna maybe?” Harv asked.
Maybe even system-wide,
depending on what we can work
” Dave said.
Cash only?” Alex
Look, I heard you were
straight up. Trustworthy.” He looked out the window again. “You
should know people out there kinda know your inventory. They are
making coin just trading on the info. They said cash and my
get me the best deal.”
Don’t tell people that,
way to get yourself kilt,” Harv said as he
drained the bottle and set the empty on the counter, heading for
the door. “Let’s
a look.” Dave followed
Alex called after them, “Harv, your
Harv kept an open channel with Alex as
he and Dave tooled around in an ancient golf cart. Hunter followed
with a small remote controlled drone.
eliminated as an option
. Keener wanted to
be able to traffic the whole system out to the asteroid belt. Harv
finally dragged the key bit of info out of him.
Yes, I have
shuttles, and priced cheap,
” Harv said,
“No one buys the damn things because of fuel shortages and handling
issues. I’ve got a few that fit the bill. One in that range might
be light speed capable. I don’t know for
though. Never had
the plutonium to try it. Bloody hell, boy. You got cash
plutonium on that
rig?” Harv shook his head as they rolled up to the
It had seen better days. It had
front-end collision damage, and sand had drifted and buried one
Isn’t this an MP-82 Tug?
Why the hell is it painted white?” Dave asked as he stepped out of
the golf cart.
Before you get all
excited, you gotta know a
things, good and
” Harv spoke without leaving the cart. “I don’t know if it
still has good seals. The primary O2 tanks are gone. The
and will not be un-fucked by me. It still has
grav-plates but they are gen one top-foil, gull-wing types, and if
one of them needs replacing it will cost you more than the rest of
It has a Ball-Reactor but
no fuel. None. Bone dry.”
Batteries are dead.
Deader than a doornail. All the comms gear is gone, but I’m sure
Alex has some around here that’ll meet regs for legit
The T-16 will fit if the
” Dave said.
It’s stock alright.
Mostly empty. Two of the four seats are gone. There are no living
quarters. None. I don’t know if the head is functional.”
Open her up and let’s
” Dave said.
And the worst news. I
will need $30,000 in cash. Price is firm. Plus whatever it costs to
get her flying.”
Do I get a discount for
gold? Is gold alright?” Dave said. “How is it white? I thought it
was impossible to paint these things.”
Harv’s eyes had widened
when he’d mentioned
but he didn’t miss a beat as he
got out of the cart. “After the
we had all these
black ships made out of Polycarbon that the
chicken-shit public hated.” Harv was dragging cables from a
generator out of the back of the cart, and then opened a panel on
the side of the Tug. “The trick was they didn’t use paint. It’s a
kind of molten glass coating. They found out too late that it would
stick, but it would also melt off on
Harv plugged in the cable,
the panel lit
up. Harv’s fingers flashed over the keys, and in a
the center back hatch swung inward. “The aft container
docking clamps are gone. Can’t tug nothing. Come on in quick
keep the goddam
. Wreaks havoc on the
Dave ducked his head and
and Harv closed the hatch as the lights started
to come up.
Dave turned back and looked at the
hatch. It was in the center of the back wall of the bay and would
be part of the floor with the ramp lowered. The T-16 would fit in
here, but only sideways, and you’d have to climb over it to get