Just Two Guys In A Galley
Mission 1: Gearing Up
Timeline: Some time not long after the Big Chat with the Captain
Max winced as he dropped the bag of ice on his shoulder. A quick inspection and the fact that he could still move the thing normally told him that there was no perminant damage, he hadn't imagined there would be, but icing it now while he waited for the captain to give the order to take off made sense.
He sat at the galley table, back to the wall and sighed. He felt slightly like he was in limbo. Technically he was still a passenger, it hadn't been explicitly stated that he was the ship's mechanic, only implied by the actions of the captain and doubt nipped constantly at the boy's psyche - was one of the new people a mechanic, he wondered? Would the captain be thinking about someone else?
The new people, added to the existing crew and passengers made for eight people on their little ship, which made the place officially crowded, in his book. He was beginning to trust Moira and the companion seemed okay... the captain was the captain, but all the others? He'd yet to get to know any of them and having people around he didn't know, in close quarters, was not fun.
Max looked up at a sound he recognized as footprints, a casual, friendly smile sliding into place automatically.
He'd wandered up the stairs from below, not wanting to cause any trouble or strife, but simply hungry. Alden stopped as he saw the scrawny looking, scruffy little teen sat at the table, but he grinned back in reaction to the kid's smile.
"Hey," he said in greeting. "Not sure I'm 'sposed to be up here, but I can go back down if you're not okay with it?" Alden held his hands out to the sides in a gesture of innocence, but there was definitely a Model B in a holster at his side.
"Hey," Max responded, eyeing the man. He resisted the impulse to scoot backwards away from the table and automatically set out a path for the nearest exit in his head, all while pushing his smile into a grin. "Not sure my own self, but 'less the captain or Alya comes an' chases you away, I got no problems. Name's Max."
Kid looked friendly enough, and clearly something had happened to him on the way to Persephone on account of he had a bag of ice resting on his shoulder. Alden raised a single eyebrow and shrugged.
"Sounds fair," he returned, amicably. "I'm Alden. What happened to your shoulder there, Di-Di?"
"Oh," Max pulled a face, self-consciously raising his hand to rest it on the bag. On the street, you didn't show weakness - a wounded rat was an easy target and that was a hard lesson to shake. "Nothing big, 's just bruised. I had to use it to push a torque wrench, on account of trace compression block injectors gotta be torqued to 42 foot-pounds an' that's a third of my whole entire body weight."
"Ta Ma Duh," Alden said on a sigh. "Impressive skills there, you went around the problem and got it done. So," he asked, without missing a beat or implying that this kid couldn't possibly be. "You're the ship's engineer?"
"Yeah," Max answered, slightly taken aback that the guy had just accepted the fact without bringing up his age, as most people did. That, and the fact that he wasn't actually entirely sure that he was the ship's engineer, he'd just kind of slid into doing the job and nobody had said anything about it. But at least for now, he could say that he was. Despite Alden not bringing it up, he still felt the need to defend himself. "I'm young, but not quite as young as I look, an' I've always had a way with mechanical stuff."
Alden grinned. "Age don't matter, Di Di," he said, and he truly meant it. "Hell, my sister could fix some of the farm machinery when she was 8 years old, and my brother was already fleecing my pocket money out from under me when he was 4. I'm the eldest, don't mean I'm the smartest, but I get by well enough. I reckon nobody has the right to tell you what you can and can't achieve if'n you put your mind and effort to it, and some folks are just born good at some things."
He gave Max an upward nod. "You got a knack, and that's a gift. Don't think you need to let anyone tell you that you should be older to use it." Alden shrugged. "That's my view anyways."
Max shook his head, he'd only had one person in his short life who'd he'd called family and he was long gone, aside from in his mind. If he concentrated, he could almost see the boy sitting at the table next to Alden, wearing that shit-eating grin and looking around the place. 'Not bad digs, kid, you're doin' a'ight.' Odin's voice whispered in his imagination and he couldn't help but grin.
"Can't say I disagree, got told once I had talented hands and I've not yet met an engine I couldn't fix..." he replied to Alden, 'or a pocket you couldn't pick.' The not-really-there ghost of his dead not-really-brother winked at him. "Pity most of the 'verse don't see it that way."
He watched the kid shake his head and look up at him from his safe position behind that table and Alden wondered what the Verse had done to this one. Max's smile looked genuine enough though.
"That's a damn fine talent to have," Alden confirmed wholeheartedly. "Imagine you're in high demand, or you will be when folk realise."
He held his arms out expansively to his sides to indicate the ship around them both. "Either way, I'd say you've fallen into a decent enough place here?" It was a question, because honestly, Alden wasn't sure if this was a good, safe place or not yet. "And whatever they may or may not think of you," he added with a conspiratorial grin. "By the sound of her coming in for landing, I'd say you definitely saved their asses."
"It's a damn sight better'n where I was, I can tell you that." Max's smile slipped a little at the recollection of where he'd been, "she's a good ship and 'far as I can tell, she's got a good crew."
The boy didn't know how much he should tell Alden, who was after all just a passenger, but he saw no harm in the truth. He leaned forward, resting his palms on the table. "There's been some odd goings on, couple of Xi Niao Hwen Dan (Piss-washed bastards) tried to sabotage the ship - I dunno the why, just lucky I was around I guess." He leaned backwards, smile returning at the renewed realization of where he was, "besides that everything's been pretty damn shiny."
"Good to hear," Alden noted, and he didn't delve into the kid's past. That was something Max could mention if he chose to, not on demand. "On both counts. The Verse has a habit of throwing you in the F'n Zse and seeing if you can make it out." He gave a curt nod and smiled. "I reckon you're doing that well enough then."
His brow furrowed as he watched Max offer up a minor insight into recent events on board, and Alden listened intently. "Sabotage, huh?" He asked, rhetorically. "'Splains a lot. Thought I'd seen a subdued someone by the fierce lil lady's feet when we came on board. So," Alden raised his eyebrows and flashed an optimistic expression to the seated boy. "The good guys won, right? Shiny for sure."
That brought him to his next point. "You hungry, Di Di?" Alden asked as he placed his pack down on the tabletop. "I picked up a few bits and pieces out there in the real world. Happy to share, if'n you want."
Max's expression took on a guarded look, he was always hungry and wasn't one to turn down food, but it was his experience that nothing came for free. He wondered what this guy wanted in return and if it would be worth the price. Most often, it wasn't. "What'll it cost me?" He asked quietly, sliding backwards slightly from the table, ready to up and bolt if the guy took it badly.
A confused frown took up temporary residence on Alden's face as he fished into his now open backpack and placed a few little packets and pots on the table. He looked from the minature feast to the now markedly distant and definitely anxious young man and shrugged nonchalantly.
"It's bought and paid for," Alden answered, his tone a lazy offer of food-related friendship. "I don't want nuthin' in trade for sharing." His whole expression became sunshine and happiness as he lightly pushed the food into the middle of the table within easy reach of them both. "It won't last long and I can't eat it all. Nothing I'm asking from you, but permission to sit down at the table and share some time." He waited, in case Max said no. "We good?"
Max's eyes moved from the food on the table, small packages of what looked like snacks, small packets of crackers, dried meat and preserved fruit, little containers of nuts and spiced broad beans, an assortment of goodies, and back to Alden's smiling face. The food called to him, setting off the familiar ache of hunger in the core of his being. Most people didn't know what actual hunger was - the clawing, inescapable agony of true starvation, the weakness, the tiredness, the breathlessness, the constant coldness... but Max did, and he never wanted to feel it again, as long as he lived. The boy figured either Alden was actually sharing out of the goodness of his heart, or he was playing a long game - either way, he saw no immediate harm and the food called to him.
"Yeah, we're good." He replied, pushing a smile back onto his features and burying the frown. "Sorry... and thanks..." he offered, scooting back to the table proper. The boy reached out, careful not to seem greedy or desperate, and plucked a packet of crackers off the table. Max was hungry, but he wasn't starving and hadn't been in a few weeks, the food on the Geronimo was more than sufficient to keep him fed, but the programming was still there - he supposed it always would be - the instinct to grab as much as he could and squirrel it away, hidden for later, the illogical impulse to protect the food from the guy who was sharing it with him. Max ignored it, instead peeling the packet open and popping a single cracker into his mouth.
At Max's consent, Alden pulled a chair back slowly across the floor to make enough room for him to take that seat. Sat at the table, he held back from choosing until his companion had made his own decision.
"There's a festival in Eavesdown Docks," he explained, making conversation while Max grabbed some crackers. "Plenty of fun stuff going on out there. Beer. Dancing. Trouble." Alden reached over and took a pot of olives to munch on. He observed the kid without staring, and he refused to take the apology, though he did that with an amicable smile.
"No sorry needed, Max," Alden promised. "You don't know me. I'm perfectly okay with you being unsure on the whole trust thing. No offence taken, and no need to apologise." He popped a few olives in his mouth, then selected one piece of jerky and chewed that slowly. He was hungry, but he'd never been starving. "I'm willing to bet we've both encountered some untrustworthy folk out there," he jabbed a thumb in the direction of the exit ramp. "I ain't here to hurt ya. I guess," he rolled his eyes lightly. "I'm here on account of someone out there hurt me." A self-effacing grin followed. "Left me behind in fact."
Max took all that in quietly, listening to the man talk as he chewed slowly on his cracker. He swallowed, then picked up another cracker. "I'm here 'cause if I didn't get off Albion I was gonna get dead, real fast like. Picked the wrong guy's pocket." He shrugged, leaning back in his chair and putting on his own grin, "street rats like me learn pretty fast not to trust nobody. Everybody's lookin' for somethin' an' nobody gives you anythin' for free... life out here in the black is... different."
The boy ate, and Alden leant his elbow on the table, propped his boots up on a second chair and savoured his jerky awhile to listen. "Albion?" He finally asked. "That your home, Max?" Life of a street rat was a tough one, for sure. "Got out in one piece then and don't reckon you miss it much, huh?"
Alden smiled. "I'm from Ezra, have family back there, but I've been around the Verse some. You screw up on Ezra, Niska makes sure you pay for it." He grimaced. "For the record though, fella steals from me, I won't be happy but I won't kill 'em. So you need something, ask me straight, and I'll probably just help you out. Where I come from, folks help each other, and trading sometimes just involves time and conversation. Out there, just like out between the stars, having good people means more than money."
"Home is a bit strong, I guess I was born there." Max answered the question first, pausing for a moment to consider what Alden had said. "Where I come from there ain't nothing for free and people don't mean a damn unless they're useful to you, dangerous or they got somethin' you need. Place like you came up in? Sounds like a gorram fairy tale to a rat like me." He shook his head, leaning back and putting his hands up slightly, "not callin' you a liar, just can't imagine it, is all. Sounds too good to be true... and for the record, Alden, I ain't gonna steal from ya, I got no need. I got everythin' here that I need. I got me a bed to sleep in, food to eat and recycled air to breathe. I got me a job on a ship out here, that's more'n I ever dared hope for."
"Uh-huh," said Alden, sounding unhappy about this situation. "I guess sometimes home is a place you have to go out to find, rather than somewhere you start from." He listened to the unpleasant tale of Max's early life or at least the boy's hints at it, and Alden grimaced at the harsh nature of that existence.
"Well," he noted in response. "Fairytales ain't real, and each one of us has some form of battle to face, some harsh challenges in their life. Not all of that is fair balanced, I hear ya, but my whole life hasn't just been a magical happy place either." Alden gave Max a wry smile. "You definitely win on the rougher childhood though. Mine was hard work, but the good, honest get up at first light, get your hands dirty and blistered and work til dusk kinda deal. My mother has a ranch," he explained. "And us kids, we had to work it. My papa though? He was a pilot. So I was always looking up."
A broader smile followed then. "No need to steal, sounds good to me, Di Di. You and me I reckon we'll get along just fine. And for the record, anyone who can drag themselves out of a pit on Albion and end up a mechanic on a Walkabout? They gotta be good people," he told the kid, and both his tone and his expression impressed upon Max that Alden really believed that.
Max didn't believe for a second that he was good people, he was nothing but a low-down dirty street rat that got lucky, but he was pretending to be one until he could figure out how to become one, so he smiled. "I try, but I guess I've got a lot to learn about life out here." It wasn't a lie, he was trying.
"We're all on a learning curve," Alden noted, with no sign of concern for this fact. "I'm a few more years ahead of ya, but still plenty left to figure out," he added with a smile. "Just do the best you can with the day you have ahead of you, and you'll be fine. And, hey, kiddo, if I can help ya out, you only gotta ask." Alden meant that sincerely, the older brother in him couldn't help but reach out to this vulnerable soul.
Max genuinely smiled, the first one he hadn't fabricated in their conversation and helped himself to a second pack of crackers. It had been a very long time since he'd had a ghuh-ghuh figure in his life and while he wasn't about to let Alden entirely through his defenses, he was beginning to warm to the idea. "Thanks, ghuh-ghuh" he offered the man, feeling oddly embarrassed at actually saying it, but feeling the need to show the man that he had been listening.
There was a sense of something different about that last smile, and the slightly more confident way the kid helped himself to another helping of snacks. Alden nodded and said nothing at first, content to know that Max had relaxed even a little in his company. Making life just a bit easier for those who had suffered, or unfairly experienced the unkind nature of the Verse made him happy, and Max seemed the type with untapped personal potential.
"More than welcome," Alden said quietly, with a warm smile wrapped about his words. "Seems to be a lot of ladies on this boat," he added, with a lighthearted tone to his words as he continued. "Us fine, highly skilled menfolk gotta stick together." He ended that jovial statement with an openmouthed grin.
Max laughed, it caught him by surprise, bubbling up out of his stomach of it's own volition. He couldn't remember the last time he'd genuinely laughed and he'd forgotten what it felt like. Good people, indeed.
Di Di - little brother
Ghuh-ghuh - big brother
F'n Zse - deep shit