Sunday, August 17, 2014

Scrap (pt. 2)

(First part here.)

Johnny flicked the flashlight back on and set it behind a bank of electronics. He had one chance. He used the faint illumination to circle away from the light into a dark corner. He heard footsteps just outside the bridge, near the hatch.

It was close. "Hey, show yourself!" A male voice called out from the hallway. It was a man and he must have seen the light.

Johnny creeped along the wall toward the open door, from where the voice had come from. His head thudded with pain and sweat dripped down his forehead as he moved closer and closer. He saw movement, a blur.

The unknown man took a few steps onto the bridge. He stood feet away from Johnny, facing the source of the light.

Though the man stood close, Johnny couldn't make him out at all. Though the illumination from the flashlight was faint this far away, Johnny still should have been able to see a figure, a silhouette, something. All he'd seen was the blur of movement. Johnny waited, every muscle tensed. The man had living camo on, a piece of old-tech Johnny had only heard about. It was rumored one or two of Hal's men had it but nobody really believed them. Johnny realized that was why he had never caught a sight of the guy in front of him, only felt a presence, just on the edge of his vision.

"Show yourself or you're going to regret it, asshole," the man called out again. "This is my home."

Johnny saw the blurry movement as the man took a couple more steps.

A warning shot rang out, loud. It ricocheted off the ceiling. The man must have had a big gun.

"I'm not screwing around." The man approached the source of the light.

Johnny took his chance and ducked into the hallway, running. He spotted the light from the hatch. Just a few more steps.

"Stop!" The man behind shouted.

Johnny jumped, catching the edge of the hatch. He pulled himself up.

A burst of gunfire echoed in the hallway.

Johnny scrambled out of the hatch and onto the hull. He didn't stop. He took a running jump onto the hull of another ship, then dropped down it's side, hit the ground and kept running. He crouched and crawled under the belly of another craft. He planted his back against a wall and waited. He tried to control his breathing and listen over the sound of his pounding headache and thudding heart. Outside of his own body, silence dominated the Heap.

He felt the chip in his pocket and shook his head. The camo guy must have been living in the ship or maybe near it. Whatever it was, the guy obviously felt it was his territory.

Johnny was fine with leaving it to him. He started the long way back to Terra.

"You look like shit, Johnny. You been to the Heap again?" Ken, one of the gate guards, asked.

Johnny shrugged. "You know as well as I do, Ken. Hal doesn't want anyone out there. It's dangerous, he says. He doesn't want anyone getting hurt."

Ken chuckled at that. He pulled a crank that opened the metal gate with a screech. "Get anything good?"

"A headache." Johnny walked in and glanced at the other gate guard, a young man wearing a weary look. "Whose the new guy?" Johnny asked, looking at Ken.

Ken looked at the new guy. "This is Stan. Stan, meet Johnny."

The two looked at each other for a moment. Stan had his hand on the butt of his pistol, holstered at his side.

Johnny turned back to Ken. "So, you or the new guy reporting to Hal tonight?"

Ken sighed, then nodded at Stan. "Him."

Stan's gripped his gun but still kept it holstered. His eyes widened. "Shit, Ken, what the hell?"

"Easy, easy," Johnny said. "Ken, we're friends right?"

Ken frowned. "Yeah, Johnny, we're friends. Why?"

"I got you that medic-tech that saved your son, didn't I? Didn't even charge you for it, if I remember right."

"Of course, Johnny. I didn't forget that. How could I? What are you going on about?"

"Just this," Johnny said. "I need a favor the new guy to neglect to mention to Hal that I came in."

Ken took a step and put a hand on Stan's shoulder. "Ease up, rook. Johnny's a good guy." Ken looked at Johnny. "I'll make sure Stan doesn't say anything."

"You could just have asked me, you know. Jesus, what's with the runaround?" Stan asked.

Johnny shook his head. "I don't know you. I can't trust you. Even if I did know you, Hal's got half the village in his pocket, one way or another, including half the guys who say they're loyal to the Sheriff. But Ken here, Ken owes me. So I can trust him. For now."

"Hal will find out soon enough anyhow, you know that," Ken said.

Johnny shrugged.

"Wheres your bag? Your gun?" Ken asked. "What the hell happened to you out there?"

"A girl."

Ken laughed out loud. "No shit."

"It's true. You got a smoke?" Johnny took a cigarette and a match from Ken. He lit it and took a puff. "Say, a woman come through here earlier? Short hair and goggles?"

Ken nodded, having a smoke of his own. "Yeah. She had a black bag too. Shit." Ken smirked. "She the one that got ya?"

"You might say that."

"Well, she's probably at Sallie's if you wanted to know."

"Thanks," Johnny said. "Nice to meet you, new guy." He left the two at the gate. He tossed the cigarette as he walked into the center of town.

The dirt streets were mostly clear, though the afternoon sun blazed in the sky. The farmers would be out tending their crops and the rest of the people disliked heading outside these days. Firefights had erupted more than once in the past week between the Sheriff and Hal's men.

That tended to keep most folk inside.

There were a few women and men in ragged clothing carried buckets of water from the well back to their homes, padding through dust. Homes in Terra were cozy things, a couple rooms at most with the basic necessities. A couple children played in a puddle of mud until their mother called them inside.

Some men and women stalked the streets as opposed to walking along them. Their eyes were narrow and their faces grim, expecting trouble at any moment. It was easy to tell them apart. They carried big guns. You could tell the Sheriff's men by the badge on their coat. Hal's men simply looked mean. The two passed occasionally, sharing looks of hatred. A few glanced at Johnny with suspicion but he just kept walking. Though Johnny had a reputation for scavenging in the Heap, the village was large enough that most didn't know his name, only those he'd traded with and, unfortunately, the two men who controlled the village. Turns out they liked to be informed about those who scavenged old tech.

Johnny saw the largest building in the village, a three story wooden shack that rivaled ten homes in size. Sallie's, the only inn, restaurant and bar in the village. It didn't have a sign but it didn't need to. Johnny left the main street. He had business to attend to.

He found a home larger than most and banged on the front door. The front windows were covered with cloth. He banged again. "Glen, let me in."

The door finally opened, revealing a large man in a animal hide glaring out. "I'm busy," Glen grunted and went to shut the door.

Johnny stepped forward and put his arm against the door. "Wait. I got something worth interrupting you for."

Glen shook his head. "You say the same thing every time." He turned around and left the door open.

Johnny went in and closed the door. Light came from two lanterns hung from the ceiling, banishing all shadows. Wires and electronic hardware hung from nails in the wall. A workbench stood against one wall, a lantern directly over it, a tiny set of tools unrolled upon it. A small device lay open, it's mechanical innards revealed.

There was a table in the center of the room, cluttered with random pieces of old tech and two chairs. Johnny noted a handgun on the table. "You working on that or you nervous about something?" Johnny asked, taking one of the chairs.

Glen shrugged. "It's getting worse. You know how it is."

"Remind me," Johnny said. "I've been out a couple days."

"Well, the Sheriff and Hal ain't getting on better terms, that's for sure. Sheriff ain't got enough loyal men to rout the boss and Hal's got too much support from the townfolk anyhow."

"Through fear," Johnny said.

"Support is support." Glen took the other chair. It groaned beneath his weight as he leaned back. "Along with that is food is getting more and more scarce, crops ain't catching and the old-tech is failing, which is bad for the crops and fresh water as well. We live on a desert world, John. Ain't going to last forever."

Johnny shook his head. "We humans been here for hundreds of years. We'll go on."

"We've been scratching out a living using old tech to survive where survival ain't possible otherwise. Old tech can't last forever and we can't make new tech."

"You been thinking about this alot, haven't you?"

Glen nodded.

"Got a drink?"

Glen got up and reached into a cabinet underneath the work bench. He pulled out a bottle of amber liquid and a couple clay cups. He poured a healthy amount into each cup and slid one over.

Johnny took it. They clinked cups and drank. "What about the Scrapheap? I tell you there's loads of tech still in there, waiting to be found."

"Stuff that's been sitting around for centuries. Won't do much better than what we got now. Besides, Hal's taking everything he can from there and loaning it out until his clients owe him for life. And let's say you or another independent scav finds something out there. We scratch out another decade or so of life, what then? It's all just temporary." Glen took another drink. "This world ain't fit for life, ain't nothing going to change that."

Johnny sipped at the brackish liquid. It burned like fire down your throat and tasted like ashes. It helped his headache though. "Sounds like you've given up."

"If it's our time, it's our time. If not, it's not. I'm not going to be like those hopeless crazies, preaching that other humans are going to come save the day, their ships suddenly appearing in the atmosphere to bring us to a new planet. It's bullshit. Too easy. Life ain't easy." Glen finished his drink. "I just fix useless shit and make it work temporarily. Speaking of, let's get the hell down to business. What do you got?"

Johnny pulled the data chip from his pocket and put it on the table. "Got that from a ship that looks awfully like the one in the center of town."

Glen went to the work bench and grabbed a small computer pad that he flipped open, revealing a keyboard and screen. He brought it to the table and picked up the data chip.

Johnny finished his drink and poured himself another. His headache was finally going away.

Glen plugged the chip in. "Let's see what we got here." Though Glen was a big man with big hands, his fingers flew across the keyboard with the delicate finesse of a piano player. He eyes widened as green numbers scrolled rapidly across the screen.

"What is it?" Johnny asked, peering over the big man's shoulder, unable to understand what the text on the screen meant.

Glen got up and went to the cabinets under his workbench. His movements were frantic and he couldn't seem to catch a breath.

"Glen, you alright? What are you looking for?"

Glen turned to him and gulped. "I'm looking for speakers. I need to give it sound."

"What? Why?"

Glen turned back to the cabinets, searching in a frenzy, tossing things out of his way. "Because," he said.

"It wants to talk to us."

(pt. 3 here)

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