Writer’s Note: Brothers In Arms: Part Two was published originally in Jump Point 3.6. Read Part One here.
Gavin left Walt on Cassel. There was a time, back in his single days, when an extended stay on a resort world was the perfect sequel to a crappy job. Now he had a better offer waiting at home and two bottles of chilled Kōen Shōchū riding shotgun in the cockpit beside him. The better offer, of course, was Dell. The shōchū was his best hope to reboot his homecoming from Oberon.
It wasn’t exactly the grand entrance he’d planned on making. He felt his cheeks warm and was glad to be alone. With a sigh, he squeezed his eyes shut and let his head fall back into his seat. His helmet bumped against the cockpit frame. When he opened his eyes again, the HUD had died. He rolled his head to eye the waiting bottles of shōchū. Perhaps he needed the alcohol more than she did.
Rhedd Alert’s hangar was still. The lights were dialed down to a dull, sapphire glow. But while the hangar was quiet, Vista Landing never slowed down. The sounds of the complex were a pressure all around him; a constant hum of life that seemed intrusive after a long stint flying solo.
Gavin shed his flight suit and then grabbed the helmet and bottles of shōchū. The helmet got dumped unceremoniously onto a workbench. The shōchū went with him to their apartment. It was dark inside — he was too late. Dell was already asleep.
He leaned against the door while his eyes adjusted to the courtesy lighting in the bedroom. Dell lay on her side with her back to him. Her hair was a dark fan against pale pillows and sheets. There was no trace of the playful blue-dyed tips in the low light. He looked instead to the curve of her hip and the long line of her covered legs.
He left the bottles on a table, not wanting to risk waking her with light from the fridge. He stripped off his shirt on the way to the little closet. She’d left it open, and piles of clothes made odd shapes in the low light.
They smelled like her. He’d forgotten how much he loved that. He leaned forward, his head slipping between her hanging shirts and jackets. They didn’t have much, but this was home. They were settled, with no desire for any more living out of cockpits and dirty cargo bays. But if he couldn’t make this work, that’s exactly what they would be back to.
Gavin stooped and picked up the discarded shirt. There was work to do. Things to fix.
He closed the door as quietly as he could when he left.
He was at a workbench in the hangar when the light pad of Dell’s bare feet on the cold hangar deck sounded behind him.
“Hey, Slugger.” Her voice was playful, teasing him about the scrap with Walt. The taunting tone was good news, in a way. It meant that she wasn’t quite so angry. Regardless, he was still embarrassed about the fight and didn’t rise to her bait.
“I thought you were asleep,” he said instead.
She rubbed her hand across his shoulders, bumped him aside with her hip and then took a seat next to him on the bench when he moved. “I was asleep, but it sounded like a herd of Shoone came tromping through the apartment.”
He felt better hearing the smile in her voice. “Huh . . . I guess I’m glad I missed that.”
“What are you working on?”
Gavin started running through his list, wondering where to start. He gave up somewhere north of fifteen and simply replied, “Everything.”
“Did we get paid?” He nodded and her look of relief was frustrating. Depending on Dell’s ex-boyfriend for financial salvation wasn’t exactly how he’d envisioned his role as a business owner.
“How’s Boomer?” he asked.
“He can’t keep doing this. They patched him up, but he’s been banged around way too much.”
It was true. Dell’s dad had been put back together more than any other pilot Gavin had ever met. Maybe a few military pilots had had more rejuvenation treatment, but their facilities had to be far better than anything civies like Boomer had access too.
“You’ve got to get him to take it easy, Gav. Let him fly support in the Freelancer or something.”
“Let him fly support? This is your dad we’re talking about. He’s at least half as stubborn as you are. And you know how he flies. He’s cool as gunmetal in a dogfight, but he flies like a crazy . . . flying . . . kind of . . . person.”
“Will you at least try? Please?”
There was no way Boomer was going to listen to him, but Gavin agreed. It wasn’t worth fighting with Dell about it. They’d been over that ground before. Plenty of times.
He prodded at the wiring harness of his helmet.
“The heads-up out again?” she asked.
“Here, let me do it.” She pulled the tools closer and set to work. “So . . . Walt stayed to drink his paycheck away with Barry?”
“Walt worked as hard as anyone in Oberon. Harder than most, actually. He can do what he wants with his cut.”
“While we’re dumping all of ours into repairs and supplies?”
“I brought you some shōchū,” he offered.
“I saw that.” She snuggled into his side and slid her arm around his waist. “Mmmmm . . . thank you.” A peck on his cheek. “I put it in the fridge.”
“You should have brought a bottle with you.”
She unwound herself from him and went back to work on the helmet. “It might work out better for you if we save that for a night when I’m not exhausted.”
That killed the mood. Gavin shifted the tools around on the bench. Dell must have sensed his change of mood. She sat up straight, her tone growing somber. “I’ve been doing some math,” she said.
“How bad is it?”
He hoped that the grimace he made was reassuring. It probably wasn’t.
“Selling the salvage will keep us out of the red for a couple months,” she said. “Good job on that, by the way. I don’t know about the Idris, but that 325a is actually quite sellable. Unless you want to keep it, that is.”
Gavin thought about it. “Sell it,” he said. “We can’t afford to upgrade any of our people, and I’m not bringing on any more pilots until we land some steady work.”
“On that topic, did Barry have something new for us, or did he come to Goss system just to carouse with your brother?”
He told her about the turret job and she brightened.
“This is good, Gav. You think this could turn into a steady stream of work?”
“Maybe, but we’ve got a team of combat pilots, babe. They’re not going to stick around for this kind of work.”
“Then screw them. Let them leave, and I’ll fly with you.”
“You fly worse than your dad. Besides, you wanted to be here to run the shop.”
“I’m here because I want this to work.” She put her tools down and entwined her fingers with his. “Believe me, I’d much rather be flying with you and Dad.”
“Yeah, well. I don’t want you out there. Bringing Boomer back in stasis is one thing, but you . . .”
She extracted her fingers and patted his hand, pulling away. “That’s an idea you’re going to have to get used to. Dad won’t be flying that old Avenger forever. Eventually, she’ll be mine. But right now,” she leaned in and gave him a quick kiss, “I’m going to bed.”
Dell stood, pressed his helmet’s wire housing into place with a click and left.
Gavin picked up the helmet and peeked inside. The glow from the reticle display shown within. She’d got it working again.
They had a good thing going, he and Dell. But chronic, nagging financial worry would eventually tear that apart. He just needed work that paid and that his pilots would stay for. Work that would keep Walt from chasing something shiny, interesting, and new. What he needed was that Tyrol escort job.
Gavin pushed the helmet and tools aside on the bench. He keyed up the console and placed a call to Barry’s mobiGlas. The accountant accepted the call.
“Talk to me, sweetheart.”
“Barry. Good, you’re still in-system.”
“Just about to leave Cassel, why?”
“What would a bid need to look like for someone to be competitive on that Tyrol contract?”
“Gavin,” Barry’s voice grew serious. “You’re new to this, but you have to know that I can’t give out that kind of information.”
Gavin’s mobiGlas vibrated against his wrist with an incoming message.
“I’m sorry, Barry. I wasn’t trying to cause troub—”
Barry cut him off. “Now, what I can do is point you toward the proper registration and submission forms. How you manage the pricing is your concern. Understand?”
On Gavin’s mobiGlas was a message from an unknown contact. The message was simple, containing only a Credit sign and a number.
A big number.
“Thanks, Barry. I appreciate it and understand completely.”