Lita stepped out of the elevator on the ship’s docking bay when her periphery caught a dark figure immediately to her left. It moved so fast she jerked to the side, spilling most of her coffee on the floor. Her eyes cut to the person who made her spilled coffee and saw none other than her miserable, humorless boss, Sands.
With a sign she looked down at the ruined coffee that was splattered on the floor, her boots and a few wet spots on her dark grey pants.
“You’re supposed to have a lid on all drinks,” Sand told her with an unmistakable underline comment that said, so it doesn’t spill…like it just did.
The side of her lip pursed at Sands comment. The cyborg seemed to enjoy pointing out the obvious. She didn’t know if that was faulty coding or if the grey matter in his brain did it on purpose, knowing it was annoying.
“Here,” Sands pulled out a red rag from his back pocket and held it out for her.
Lita peered at the thin cotton material with creases and kinks and a light green soiled mark from hyper-transi-fluid. “No thanks, I don’t want to get any more fluid on my pants.”
“It’s for the floor.”
Wait, was he expecting her to clean up his mess. Oh no. No. Snickering she stepped way from the puddle of coffee and said, “Have fun with that.”
She cast her lids down and gave him a look. The kind of look every man in the Federation-verse knows. “Yes,” she said drawing out the last letter in a hiss.
He looked at the puddle and back at her.
“I’m don’t understand cyborg,” she said tilting her head, “You’re going to have to use your words.”
He held her eyes for a while. To intimidate her, maybe, but that childish stuff never worked on her.
“I was about to assign you to 306 and find out what’s leaking but… the front fifty sloops have a fine layer of space dust on them from the last arrivals. They need re-washed,” Sands said in an emotionless tone, but she knew, knew, it was a dig.
The thing was… she loved it when people tried to get over on her. It was the highlight of her day when she spent the day figuring out how to get someone back. Not in a blatant, I got you back for being a jerk-face. But in a way that said jerk-face had no idea they were at war in the first place.
Sands… was making the first move.
Her pulse quickened with excitement.
With an annoying click in his mouth he added, “Think you can get that done?”
“Considering I’ve washed every ship we have multiple times, yeah, I think I can get that done.”
“Without the streaks this time?”
As if there were streaks with a dry-powder washer. But again, he was digging, and she was … in a twisted sense, elated. Poor cyborg wouldn’t know what hit him.
“I’ll try to keep the streaks to a minimum,” she said referring to all the wins she was about to have after their battle began. Internally she was grinning. The dark side of her nature, that lurked in the shadows of her consciousness was rubbing its hands together.
Sands lifted a finger and scratched the side of his face with his finger. “You gonna get started?”
Before she could respond there was a metal on metal crackling. It sounded like a propulsion fan that had a rock inside it. Or at least, that was Lita’s first guess. Turning she saw another mechanic, Katie running to the power-buss and turning it off.
Lita’s feet took her forward. Sands was beside her and it was as if some unknown voice said, run. Because they did.
As they did, she tried to assess the damage, the sound, calculating the odds… and then she blurted, “lose bolt.”
“And that’s why you wash the ships. It’s a broken turbine.”
Lita was not giving up on her lose bolt theory until proven wrong. Sands, for all his cybernetics wasn’t … what was the alien’s god name again… oh yeah, Seth. He wasn’t Seth of Stars.
Before they stopped Katie, the blue haired mechanic began explaining what happened and what she did. Lita could tell it rattled her though, and she understood why. The propulsion fan was connected to the turbine. The turbine was connected to the hyper-fuel cell and if even a spark got near, or the temperature got too hot…. No more Katie.
The ships being worked on were moved from the others, which meant the catastrophe would do damage in the maintenance bay, but not take out the rest of the flying liquid bombs called ships.
As Katie talked, Sands cybernetic hand flipped down at the wrist and up popped a power tool.
He began taking off the front bolts and Lita walked over and popped off the ones from the other side. They took out the new fan, and the cover plates. Behind that there was a heavy amount of corrosion on the metal, with a layer of black sparkling residue.
“You doing you a corrosion change out?” Lita asked Katie.
“Yeah. I was testing to make sure the power was wired right, but at first nothing happened. So then I followed the lines and tested the sections.”
Sands was moving fast pulling the crusted layers. When he got to the turbine he pulled it out, inspecting it. Lita on the other hand reached over and plucked up a temperature treated metal nut. It was not cool, but she didn’t let it go.
She waited as Sands opened the device and only found corroded pieces but nothing was dislodged. When he finally looked up, she showed him the one-and-a-half-inch thick hexagon.
His eyes narrowed.
With a smirk she didn’t bother hiding she grabbed his hand, pulled down his fingers and set it on his palm.
“What were the odds of a rogue nut?” Katie said mystified.
“A very little to a whole lot,” Lita answered.
Sands didn’t look happy, not that he ever did, but Lita hoped that he was even more unhappy to have missed diagnosis.
Katie, apparently didn’t notice or didn’t care about the silent war going on in the eyes of Lita and Sands. She tapped her knuckles on the engine and said, “So now I just have to order a new engine or figure out how to clean up this…whatever this black stuff is.”
Lita couldn’t help looking away to assess a new puzzle. A second later she said, “I have a solution.”
“Thank goodness,” Sands said low, and she thought she detected a derisive undertone in those two words.
“It involves fire,” she said with a little enthusiasm.
“Absolutely not,” Sands said.
“It’d work, though.”
He held her gaze for several seconds before pointing towards the sloops. “Just when I think I should trust you, you give me a perfect reason not to.”
Mocking a hurt she said, “That hurts. How can you not trust me? I was selected to be here. Out of all the candidates, I was picked up. That says something.”
Sand tilted his head slightly. “Funny you say that, because every time I ask you to do something simple, you never follow the Federation guidelines. It’s almost as if you don’t know them.”
Insightful nosy cyborg. Smiling to cover her true feeling she said, “So what you really mean is you’re still doing things the old and inefficient way?”
Sands straightened his head and shoulders. His body language finally saying more than his words ever did. This was a male’s stance. One that she knew well. Not from him, but from working in a male-dominated trade.
His voice was slow and sarcastic. “Are we at that moment?”
“The one where you argue with me over nothing just to get out of working? Or is this your way of flirting? I’m never sure with Terrans.”
Lita didn’t expect that from him. The insult was so perfectly timed she almost gave him credit for it. But she wasn’t all Terran… the dark side of her was alien. She just didn’t know what kind.
A compendium of comebacks filled her thoughts, but with Katie there watching she had to pick one that didn’t look insubordinate. “Oh, I thought you… did that make you uncomfortable? I apologize.”
Beside her, Lita heard Katie snicker and then cover her mouth.
Sands on the other hand said, “Get to work.”
With an internal eye rolls he walked towards the ship.
“And no streaks.”
Laying it down thick. She shouldn’t respond. Lita told her feet to keep walking. Turning around she said, “If you find one streak, I’ll quit. It’s what you’ve been hoping for months.”
Sand’s eyes cast down to Katie who was not looking at him. Lita knew that Katie heard, and she purposefully said it with the audience. The cyborg closed the distance she had put between them. As he walked, he flipped the tool for a cybernetic hand.
In front of her he said, “As if I’d let you quit now.”
“Too many insults lined up in that database. You don’t want them to go to waste?”
“If that’s what you think, sure.”
If that’s what she… what else could he mean? Her eyes narrowed. But she couldn’t guess; and she was sure he wasn’t flirting with her. “Are we done whispering like kids?”
Another face twitch. “Yeah, we’re done.” But before she could turn and walk away he said, “And no more uncovered cups, or I’ll ban them for everyone.”
“You’re not my favorite person, today. Threatening to ban coffee is an act of war to a Terran like me.”
“I’m not your favorite person on any day. And I’m ready for war every day.”
Lita stood stunned for a moment. Was he, challenging her? He was. The cyborg was indirectly … directly declaring war.
Or was his grey matter getting defensive. She didn’t know.
Sands was not an easy guy to know, but that was fine. She had time to figure him out – especially now that he wasn’t going to let her quit.