ultracosmicrays: (the riviera)
[personal profile] ultracosmicrays
Cosmic!Rays AU, Part 9

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8



Ray's finger hovered over the button.

"You going to boot this time?"

Kowalski punched Ray lightly on the arm.

"How many times I got to tell you? It was unexpected. I wasn't expecting it. Gravity-light I can handle. I can talk the space talk and walk the space walk same as you."

Ray grinned.

"Just asking."

He pushed the button and the door slid open, nothing standing between them and the empty void of space. It never failed to take Ray's breath away. He stood right at the edge, twisted round and reached up to find the ring above the door. He clipped the krab he was holding through it and tugged to test the connection. It held.

"Okay, you follow me," said Ray.

"Like I have any choice." Kowalski indicated the cable that linked them together.

Ray gave it a tug.

"Be a good boy and you can have a new chew toy later."

"Oh, the wit. It burns."

"You just wish you were so talented. Sure you don't want to give me the toolbox, have both hands free?"

"You think I can't cut it just come out and say it." There was an edge to Kowalski's voice now. Ray backtracked.

"Don't get your pants in a bunch, I was just being chivalrous."

"Chivalrous?"

"It happens."

"I'm good, thanks."

Ray swung out of the door, stepping into nothing. He loved the feeling of weightlessness, of being a mote of dust in the enormity of space. Some people freaked out when they realized their own insignificance in the biggest of big pictures. Not Ray. It made him realize the importance of every single living thing. He was the smallest of cogs in the big machine of the Solar System but whether he was there or not made a difference. To his family, to the bastards he put away, to the people he interacted with along the way. Not a big difference, but Ray was of the opinion that every little counted. He had to be. The idea that all these billions of tiny cogs working away, day in day out combined were still just the smallest cog in the biggest machine of them all – that blew his mind. Years ago he'd believed in some kind of Higher Power, now he just believed in ... in this.

Being careful not to push off, Ray crept around the outside of Riviera to get to the exposed guts of her that covered the back of the ship, the cable unreeling as he went. Kowalski followed. Corrugated pipes ran up and down, feeding into the ship in different places. In the hollows created by the pipes were sealed metal boxes, each coded with labels engraved into them, though in many cases the labels were worn and difficult to read. In some places lubricant had leaked or been sloppily applied and it plastered to the ship in sticky rivulets. Rivulets that had collected proto-ecologies of space dust, dirt and who knew what else.

"Frannie?"

"Yep?"

Her voice sounded muffled. It was strange to think she was only a few feet away; her engine room separated from them by little more than a couple of thicknesses of sheet metal. Ray had a sudden memory of them playing at being space pirates, their sophisticated Com a couple of cans and a piece of string. Things were more complicated these days.

"What were we looking for again?"

Frannie sighed.

"I give you one simple job ..."

"Box nine bee slash two four, am I right?" said Kowalski, hauling himself round to join Ray.

"Absolutely." Frannie's voice purred. "If only all men were such good listeners."

"And this box would be where?" said Ray, biting down all the insults that hovered on the tip of his tongue. Frannie was world class at making his life difficult when aggravated and it was quite hard enough as it was.

"It's in the curve, where the wings kick out to the pods. You should see two pipes crossing each other; they've got red insulation tape on but no covers. The external power relays are just below them." Ray heard a clang and then a curse. "I'm a little bit busy here, Rays. Get there, take the lid off the box, let me know."

"Yes ma'am."

In slow, controlled leaps they made their way up the back of the Riviera. Kowalski spotted the pipes first and pointed them out to Ray. The box was exactly where Frannie had said it was. It was filthy. Ray drew a finger through the dirt to uncover the label, double-checking. 9B/24 – this was what they wanted. Ray clicked the guard over the cable reel. Kowalski attached magnets to the toolbox and placed it in the sheltered alcove bordered by the pipes and the top edge of the relay box.

"Let's get this baby open," he said.

That turned out to be harder than expected. Some of the screws were rusted and did not want to come quietly. Problem was that because of the position of the box, the only way they could work on it was by suspending themselves in space, using one hand to anchor them to Riviera and the other to work on the screws. It was a two man job alright.

They worked in silence for a couple of minutes, then Ray's screwdriver slipped and narrowly missed ripping Kowalski's suit.

"Mother! Frannie shoulda maintained these better."

"No big deal," said Kowalski. "She works her ass off, you know she does. How'd she get to be such a great mechanic?"

Ray bent once again to the task at hand.

"Pa used to collect all this useless junk. Was sure that it was gonna be his way out of the mines. Fix stuff up, sell it on. Never worked though. Frannie, she was this snotty-nosed little kid and she'd be toddling after him and she'd cry if he brought her back to Ma. So in the end he starts showing her how things work, how they don't, how to make 'em better. She lapped it up. Last useful thing Pa did was get her apprenticed with the Engineers at the mine."

He placed a freed screw in Kowalski's hand.

"So what's she doing here?"

"You plan on asking her out or something?"

*

Inside, Frannie wriggled a little as she extracted the faulty seal. Ray was asking questions about her. Maybe she'd fix him some food later, find some clean clothes, maybe break out the talliver soap she'd gotten from Maria last visit.

She started to hum, then stopped herself. Be inconvenient, Frannie, let them forget you're listening in.

*

"Just interested."

"You know how it goes. You wanna go places you gotta be the right somebody. Gotta know the right people, say the right things. Frannie, she may have been one of the best mechanics they ever saw but her Pa was a drunk and one brother was a- Not to mention how she had tits instead of balls. Small towns. Small minds. She wasn't happy. So when my mechanic got sick I offered her the job. Two reasons – she's a natural and why the hell should I suffer alone?"

"Small towns suck," said Kowalski, taking the screwdriver from Ray and beginning to work on his side, "Especially mining towns. Where I grew up you had three choices: mine, work security or become part of the sprawling criminal element."

"Same here. Worst definition of choice I ever heard."

"So you picked the COPS instead?"

"What was I gonna do? Pa was dead, we needed to eat. The mine killed him, I wasn't gonna follow. No security vacancies. Frankie seemed convinced we were going to be rising stars in the world of organized crime. I disagreed."

Ray stopped. Here he was, as natural as anything, telling Kowalski about his life. Telling him about Frankie. And the oddest thing was that it didn't feel odd at all. It was just a conversation. A conversation that two buddies might have over a beer at the end of a long day. So maybe they were choosing to have it whilst simultaneously dangling in and hurtling through space but it was definitely a buddies conversation. When had that happened?

"So?" prodded Kowalski.

"So the COPS came by. Recruitment drive. You know the drill, right? 'See the 'verse,' they said. 'Help us make the Worlds better'. Looked glamorous on the poster, all shiny ships and smiling men and women in neat uniforms. And it was a regular paycheck. Couldn't turn it down. So I joined up. Didn't take me long to figure out the truth."

"What's that?"

"That for every bad guy we put away, there's another two popping into existence somewhere else. That for every guy we lose – to a weapon, to corruption, to indifference, the ones that are left have to fight harder, be better, be braver and stronger. And sometimes that's too hard."

Kowalski's earnest, understanding gaze was burning into Ray. He felt strangely itchy and wriggled his shoulder-blades inside his suit.

"Also, the dress uniform? Not my color."

"Last screw," said Kowalski, placing it safely into a container.

Together they levered up the lid, the rusted hinges resisting. Ray could feel the force pushing against him and braced himself harder against the ship so that he did not fly off in reaction. Kowalski obviously had not prepared himself for a struggle and the next thing Ray saw was Kowalski zooming past, heading off into space.

"There's always one," said Ray.

"Can it," said Kowalski, no hint of fear in his voice.

Grabbing onto a pipe with both hands Ray bent up and braced his feet on the ship. The cable linking him to Kowalski tightened and pulled. As it reached maximum extension Ray could see the vibrations along the length of it.

"Twaaaaang," he added as space didn't provide sound effects.

As soon as it stopped tugging, Ray let go with one hand and began to reel Kowalski in. He let his feet drop down again as Kowalski sailed closer. Ray pulled until Kowalski bumped gently off him and came to a standstill.

"Heel," said Ray.

"Woof fucking woof," replied Kowalski.

"Shall we get on with the job now? Are you done with your break?"

Kowalski demonstrated the manipulatory properties of his glove. Ray chortled.

They lifted off the lid.

"Yeah, that's definitely fritzed," said Kowalski.

"What gave it away?" asked Ray. "The molten lump of metal in the middle or the bit where all the wires have fused together?"

"Intuition."

"Frannie!"






Part 10
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ultracosmicrays

August 2007

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