To all outward appearance, Bartholomew’s place looked every bit the legitimate mechanic’s shop. There were ancient trinkets and half-built machines that made all sorts of weird noises if you touched them, or got too close, or got them wet. Next to them were stacks and stacks of dusty boxes, full of packing material and other random things that had never been categorized or sorted. It had probably been the better part of a decade since any of the components they contained had seen the outside of their boxes. Beyond that, the smell of grease was heavy in the air, and the constant clunking and clanging of various tools against bits of metal told tales of tinkering to anyone listening in from outside.
Chevalier smiled at this elaborate deception as he weaved his way through the labyrinthine mess to the back room where Bartholomew sat at a table crunching numbers. The burly Arlai was hunched over his book of figures and his calculator, the feathers on his four arms smudged with oil and dirt and his wings twitching in irritation when a row of numbers didn’t add up.
“I told ya three times already, Hurkwin,” he chirped as Chevalier opened the door. “That hoverbike better be done today or that green-skinned bastard ‘sgunna be pissed. If a rampaging band of cosmorc raiders comes and busts my shop all ta hell because ya couldn’t be bothered ta fix a faulty hover disk in four fuckin’ days I’m going ta open ya skull up with my ten-pound maul. Get me?”
Chevalier coughed. “Sorry friend, I think you’ve got the wrong person.”
Bartholomew jumped up and had a knife in each of his four hands so fast that Chevalier hadn’t even seen him reach for his belts. “Ya want a piece of – Oh, Chevalier. Didn’t anybody ever teach ya ta knock, kid?”
The arlai sat back down and nodded at the other side of the table where Chevalier took a seat.
“Whaddya want? As ya can see I’m busy.”
Now that he was closer, Chevalier could see that his friend was stressed to his limit. There were dark rings beneath his brown, bloodshot eyes, and judging by the wild way in which Bartholomew’s face-feathers were tangled, Chevalier guessed that it had been at least two days since he’d last slept. Maybe even three.
“Well, I happened upon a few things out in deep space. Part of that Plagtos cargo ship raid. I was going to see if any of them tickled your fancy, maybe have you take them off my hands for me?”
“Come back next week. I gots tah much going on right now.”
Chevalier leaned back in his chair. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. See, as I was heading over here to show you what I found I had a run-in with some of Plagtos’ scouts. Spitfire got a bit dinged up, and I’m pretty sure that they’re still looking for their stuff.”
“So what? Yar docked with an orb, right? There’s no way they’ll be able ta tell that yar here. Sorry that ya can’t get back ta yar exciting life of wandering the stars doing fuck-all, but like I said. I’ve got shit and don’t have time ta be making deals. Market is closed, bud.”
See, while Bartholomew was a mechanic, his real profession was in the buying and selling of black market goods. He was one of probably a half-dozen or so that operated out of Junkheap, but he was the only one who was willing to deal with humans, and Chevalier got along well with him. Layla absolutely knew about the scope of his business, but so long as he operated a real mechanic’s shop at least part of the time, she didn’t bother him about it. She had other things on her mind to manage too.
“Like I said, Bartholomew. That doesn’t work for me. See, I ran into Rivi on my way here and mentioned the salvage to her.”
“Rivi? S’what? She’s good with a secret.”
“She said that she’s on leave for a while until she figures out her next job. Wanted to meet me for a drink tonight. You know how she gets when she’s got nothing to do and starts drinking. She’ll tell a couple of her booze buddies and by the end of the week a full company of Chillswords will be crawling up and down every nook, cranny and crack on Junkheap looking for me. That includes yours, bud.”
Bartholomew looked up and glared at Chevalier. Chevalier could see the Arlai imagining the heavily armored soldiers, each wielding a seven foot long energy-tipped sword that froze as they cut. Chillswords were not pleasant to deal with, and Bartholomew knew it.
“Point taken. Look, I feel for ya. Really, I do. Ya know me, Chev. Ya know I’m not just blowin’ smoke here. I gots big problems at the shop.”
“Now see, this is a negotiation,” said Chevalier. “What sort of problems are you having? You know I can handle myself. Maybe I can help you take care of them and then you can help take this stuff off my hands. I scratch your back, et cetera.”
Bartholomew clucked and tilted his head to one side like an owl. “Hmm…that’s not a bad idea, actually….yeah. What’s it hurt ta try, eh? Ya know how ta handle yaself in a scrap, dontcha?”
“Alright alright alright alright alright. Here’s what I’ve got goin’ on. There’s a cosmorc gang here on Junkheap. Only about thirty or so. Not tah big. Well, anyways, long story short their chieftain went and got his hoverbike busted in some sort of street race the other night. Hit one of the air generators over by the big lake. Ya shoulda seen Layla. I’ve never seen her so mad as that.”
“And he wants you to fix it for him? What’s so hard about that? I thought you had a bunch of real mechanics working here to keep Layla off your ass with the smuggling. Can’t they get a bike put back together?”
“Not so loud with all that talk about smugglin’,” Bartholomew hissed as a lifetime of being careful about his profession made him bristle. “But yar right. I gots me three real fine mechanics workin’ here to make sure that my business is seen as strictly le-git-i-mate. Normally, fixing a hoverbike wouldn’t be much trouble at all, and I told the guy we’d have it done in a day. Maybe two tops. Problem is that none of my guys know what the hell kind of part they’ve got in there. Ya know how cosmorcs are. Chieftains have probably been riding that same damn bike for two hundred years if not more. Hurkwin, my best guy, has been workin’ on it day in and day out for the past coupla days, but I don’t think he’s going ta be able to get it figured out. I’m ridin’ him as hard as I dare, but if he don’t know how to fix it he don’t know how to fix it. Anyway, chieftain came by yesterday. Got real mad that the bike wasn’t fixed yet. Threatened ta bring his crew around and smash up my place before goin’ on a rampage in the city. Say what ya will about cosmorcs, they’re brazen fuckers. So that’s the deal. Whaddya say? Think ya can help me out?”
“Depends on what that looks like,” Chevalier said after a moment. “Want me to kill them? If it was just one or two cosmorcs, sure no problem. Heck, even five or ten might not be that big of a deal if I had some time to plan and could pick my spot. Thirty though? That’s probably more than I can handle. Now, if you’re not looking for them to die and just want them roughed up a bit, then I might be able to make something work. Bit of flash and theatrics wouldn’t be too hard to pull off.”
Bartholomew grunted. “I don’t really care much what happens ta ‘em so long as they don’t cause me any trouble. Layla has been makin’ it clear lately that there have been some people asking questions about what we do here and that she’s gettin’ tired of coverin’ for us.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Chevalier as he pulled out the memstick and passed it across the table. “In the meantime, care to take a look at this and see if any of it catches your eye? I’ll be honest here, I’m a bit strapped right now money-wise, and this is all good stuff. Should you see anything you like, the Spitfire is on Dock four, spot thirty-five. She took some damage in the salvage too and needs repairs.New shields too. The last ones you sold me weren’t much use against the minnows. You can deduct the repairs against whatever the cargo is worth, minus the shields.”
“Now come on, Chev. Ya know a fellow’s gotta make a bit of profit. If I gives ya free shields, how I’m ‘sposed to feed my family?”
“They’re not free. They’re simply replacing the low-quality crap you got me to pay a premium for the last time we did business, Bartholomew. Want me to take my business elsewhere?”
Bartholomew grunted but pressed the point no further. He picked up the memstick and tucked it away. Chevalier got up. Making eye contact with the arlai and nodding, he went to leave the mechanic’s office.
“Where can I find these cosmorcs?”
“Heard they been stayin’ at that tavern down on the wide side of town. Named after some sort of animal. Gray something, I think.”
“Thanks. I’ll check it out. Make sure you get some sleep, Bartholomew. You look terrible.”
Bartholomew chuckled. “So do ya, my friend, but I wasn’t goin’ ta mention it.”
Winding back through the mess towards the street outside, Chevalier tapped on his bag twice. “What do you think Selene? Figure this is a good idea?”
“A good idea? I think this is a great idea! Weren’t we just talking to Rivi about the fact that you need to do something heroic? Killing a cosmorc gang is pretty high on that list, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, there aren’t any legends about it, but the principle seems sound enough. Maybe I’ll even grow afterwards!”
“I’m really not sure that killing them is in the cards. Cosmorcs can be tough customers. They’re immune to heat, cold and don’t need air to survive. Strong as hell too.”
Selene snorted. “As if any of that matters when you’re getting sliced in half by the Sword of Blue Moon. Let’s go look at these cosmorc bikers and see what’s what. Bartholomew said they were staying at the Gray Cat, right? That means you can get that drink with Rivi.”
“I thought you had a bad feeling about going and doing that. What happened?”
Selene burped and a few small sparks flew out of the bag. “Finished the troofles. I think the nuts might have been a touch rancid.”