A Mechanical Problem
Mission 1: Gearing Up
Location: Kat's Shuttle
Katerina walked the decks of the Geronimo on a mission. She had a problem which she needed fixed quickly and easily, but it was of a mechanical sort. The person who was assigned to such duties aboard the ship, Boney, wasn't someone she ever wanted to see the inside of her shuttle. She had heard, however, that there was someone else who would likely be capable of completing the task.
She emerged on the passenger deck, her long black garment sliding along the floor behind her. It was a form fitting dress made of a delicate and obviously expensive material and black lace. It was long and had a considerable slit that ran up the front-left of the dress all the way up to the upper thigh, though it stopped with room for decency. At the top, it was a shoulderless V which would give an onlooker an interesting view. Clearing her throat, she passed through the doorway and into the bunk area, her face uncertain.
Max looked up as the woman walked into the passenger section, here was another new face. He'd seen her when she'd come on board, of course, but they hadn't actually met. He pushed himself upright from where he'd been lying on the bunk, unsuccessfully trying to sleep, and then continued to his feet. This time, the deck didn't sway beneath him, nor did he feel like his face was going to explode. Whatever medicine Moira had given him was definitely working.
She was dressed... different. He'd seen whores who wore similar clothes, but she was somehow better than those women, classier. What did she want? Why was she here? Why was she wearing... that? Max found his mask, slipping into an easy grin that hid the uncertainty he was feeling as she approached. "Hello, lady," Max used a casual tone, pushing the grin a little wider and keeping his arms from wrapping across his chest by force of will, making them hang loosely at his sides.
"Hello." She said, offering an easy and humble smile which didn't match her outfit and make up. She was comfortable and well trained in social interactions so her hands stood at her side. "You wouldn't happen to be Max, would you?"
For a moment, Max hesitated, a brief war going on in his head between the voice that whispered danger for no reason that was apparent to the boy and common sense. "Yeah, I'm Max," he eventually managed, again fighting off the impulse to cross his arms and forcing himself to take a step forward instead. "Whatcha need, lady?"
"My name is Kat." She said, hoping to correct the name he'd found for her. She could tell he was a bit anxious so she offered a brighter smile than before in an attempt to reassure him that she was friendly. "I hear that you're handy. To be honest, I could really use your help. The faucet in my bathtub isn't working..do you think you could spare a few moments for me?"
A handy pretext, his inner voice warned, ever sensing danger, but there was also opportunity. The chance to show off his skills and do something useful, it was a start towards earning a place on the Geronimo full time, one that he couldn't afford to pass up. "Sure," he kept up the smile, "I'd be happy to help ya, lead the way, Kat."
She gave a relieved sigh when he answered in the affirmative. She really didn't want to have to ask Boney for the help. She flashed him a smile and turned to walk toward the shuttle with him.
"Thank goodness you said yes." She said, looking over at him. "I know this isn't your job so I can pay you. The mechanic whose part of the crew is a bit...well, let's just say I don't want to be alone with him."
"Dangerous," Max commented, he'd seen Boney when he'd come aboard, seen how he looked st people, especially the ladies, and had marked him as a threat right away. It didn't help that the guy had the job he wanted. "You don't gotta pay me, Miss Kat, " the boy said, seeing an angle he could work to his advantage and grabbing at it. "Just... put a good word in for me with the cap'n. I'd, uh... kinda like to stick around."
Kat lifted her eyebrows as they went. She was almost certain the Captain didn't even know her name. As they made their approach to the shuttle, she looked over at him again.
"My word with him may be less valuable then you think." She said with a small smile, looking at him for the first time. She noticed his full head of hair, his young expression, his slight shape, and the sickly look he had. "Maybe you should just take the money."
Max frowned. As things stood his only plan was to find his way into the crew of the Geronimo. The only other outcome was to end up on the streets of Persephone without money or prospects.
If that was going to be the outcome, he'd need as much as he could get. "Fine," he replied, trying not to sound disappointed. "I guess the money'll be good."
"Sure. I'll still put your name forward, but I wouldn't expect much." She said.
They came to the hallway that housed one of the two entrances to her shuttle. She pressed her code into the locking mechanism and the door slid open. A sweet smell flowed out into the hallway immediately from the well-decorated space. She walked in, her hips swaying behind her.
"You're probably the first man to come in here who isn't a client."
Max stopped in the doorway, marvelling at the interior of the small shuttle, he'd never seen a more opulent, lavish space outside of vid. The smell was... sweet, flowery, unlike anything he'd smelled before.
"I, uh... don't..." he began, the idea of being a client rattling around in his brain, filling him with an unsteady mix of hormonal curiosity and abject, heart freezing terror. The idea popped unwilled into his mind that she'd asked him to come to her shuttle with ulterior motives
and almost, he bolted for the ship, but the importance of making a good impression bolstered his resolve. "Uh..." He swallowed, "Where's the bathtub."
"Right in here." She said, gesturing toward the bathroom. She stepped into the well appointed, yet small space which was just big enough for a bathtub and a sink and she waited a second for him to have an opportunity to catch up. She bent over and turned one of the porcelan nobs and then the other, causing a deep groaning sound to emerge from the faucet but nothing else. Standing up again, she turned to him. "I don't know what it's making that damn sound. Can you take a look?"
The proximity within the room was unusual and they stood rather close together. He had a certain odor that Kat noticed for the first time, but didn't really consider it beyond the possibilty of offering him some time in her private bath as part of his compensation when he was done. Pushing all thoughts aside, she looked at him meekly, seeming almost desperate.
Max swallowed, the closeness necessitated by the small room was uncomfortable. He could feel the heat coming from her body, it made his skin prickle and itch and his muscles tense up. He did his utmost to ignore it, focusing instead on the mechanical problem before him. In most ships, especially small ships, water was fed not by gravity - being somewhat unreliable in a space faring vessel - but by a pump from a tank in a pressurized system. The system usually contained a built in heart management unit for hot and cold and a reclamation unit for recycling used water into fresh. There were, thus, only three options. A blocked pipe, an empty water tank or a busted pump. "Yeah, I think so." He told her, "this shuttle equipped with an emergency tool kit?"
"Umm..." she began, looking around with interest. She exited the room and retuned in half a minute with a metal box she couldn't make heads or tails of. She extended it to him. "I think this is it.."
"Great," Max gave her a brief smile as he took the box and set it down on the deck to pop it open. He knelt beside it, finding a full set of basic tools within, nothing fancy, but more than he needed to complete the task at hand.
"It's probably," he began to explain as he extracted a flat-head screwdriver from the kit and began to release the snap fasteners on the panel below the bath, "the water pump is fouled up." Each fastener took a half turn and then popped free, "either that," he set the tool back in its place and pulled the panel free to reveal the inner workings of the plumbing system, "or maybe you've got," Max leaned his head inside the space, making a visual inspection, "clogged up pipes. Turn on the faucet for me, would ya?"
Kat compliantly reached over him toward the nob. Because it was a small room, she had to rest her hand on him for ballance. Quickly, she turned the water faucet and moved back again.
"That's on, I think." she said, "It's hard to remember when it doesn't work, honestly. Where did you learn to..uhm...fix stuff, Max? Did you learn it in school?"
When her hand made contact with his back the surprise of it and where her hand had landed triggered a response he could neither prevent nor hide. He couldn't help but freeze, muscles tensing, breath held tight between clenched teeth. Panic swirled up and threatened to overwhelm him, but her hand withdrew before he ran out of self control.
The boy didn't - couldn't answer her immediately, instead drawing a ragged breath inwards as he tried to will his heart to stop racing and get the urge to crawl deep into the recess of the mechanical access bay he wad already leaning into under control. It was the grinding sound coming from the water pump that helped bring him back into focus, the mechanical problem helped top ground him, accessing the logical, rational part of his brain that was able to assert a modicum of control.
"I was born," he managed, somehow, to keep his voice fairly casual, though it was audibly shaky, "on Santo. Parents, whoever the hell they were, were indentured. I got outta fieldwork by learnin' to fix stuff." It was the simplest explanation he could give. "You can uh... turn off the faucet now. Bad water pump."
She reached over him to turn the faucet off, but was careful not to touch him this time. What was wrong with this guy?
"That story is...uhm...very different from mine. It must have been so difficult to find yourself that way." She said, more occupied by his reaction to her touch than by any of the words coming out of her own mouth.
"Sorry I touched you." She said, honestly. "I'm not used to that bothering people. I won't do it again."
She noticed, Max scowled from under the bathtub, his phobia of physical contact was a hangup that he'd never been able to get over, as much as he tried. It was a weakness that he hated, the biggest flaw in his long list of personal flaws. " 'at's okay," he mumbled as he began disassembling the pump, he couldn't think of much else to say, how did you explain something that you didn't really understand yourself? "What's, uh... your story?" He eventually managed as he disconnected the main feed pipe from the pump's housing.
Kat thought about where to start, allowing the weirdness of that last interaction to dissipate. She decided to give him the simple version.
"I grew up on Bellerophone. My father is a business man there; he and his wife, my step-mother raised me. I'm a bit ashamed to say what a spoiled kid I was. I got everything I wanted." She decided to skip the details and move on quickly. "When I was 12, anyway, I was sent to the Companion House on Londinium. I lived there until graduation."
As a young child, Max had often imagined what it would have been like to grow up with a family, on a wealthy core planet with everything you could want. But he'd grown out of it as he'd aged, setting his sights on slightly more attainable dreams like getting the hell away from Santo, having food to eat on a semi-regular basis and later, getting out into the verse as an employed mechanic. But there was still a kernel of bitterness there, somewhere deep, that gnawed at his subconscious.
He jerked once, tugging the busted pump free from its housing. He was pleased to see that it was one of the older models with the bolted case, rather than the newer cast shell versions. That meant he'd have an easier time fixing the thing.
"No need to be 'shamed, none of us choose what we're born into." The boy said as he emerged from under the sink, deliberately contradicting the vague sense of jealousy and bitterness with the simple truth. It was a truth that every street rat, orphan and slave with a shred of self-worth knew - just because you weren't a somebody didn't make you worthless, but it worked well enough the other way round.
He looked up at her, choosing to make eye contact just to spite the significant part of him that didn't want to. "Water pump's busted, it's probably the brushes or the impeller, easy enough fix."
"I'm glad you know what you're doing." She said with a small smile. She considered his words about no one choosing where they came from and she gave a shrug. She'd been so fortunate in her life she hadn't even really thought about it. "Well, all that breeding and money and I still wanted to come out here. That has to mean something, doesn't it?"
"Sure," Max didn't look up from what he was doing, removing the brush caps from the outer case of the pump. He didn't know anything about breeding or money, he had never had either. He popped the brush cap out and pulled the carbon brush from its housing, turning it over to examine it and found the problem. The rectangular rod was worn down through long rubbing against the contact plates of the stator. It would be simple enough to shim them out, extending the life of the pump by a few months, or longer. "Out here in the black, it don't matter none where you're from. Rich girl or street rat, if'n ya get lucky an' work hard, you can be anything... I can fix this for now," he finally looked up at her, holding up the brush for her to see, "but you'll have to get new brushes 'fore long."
It took another ten minutes to reassemble the pump, put it back in its place and test the water - and Max left the companion's shuttle with some credits in his pocket. It was a short journey back to the passenger area, wherein he sat himself down on his bunk and contemplated how weird it was that people from completely different backgrounds and with completely different stories could end up together out here.