Chapter Ten - Firebird

Priam

As I brought the Dalmar version of a Viper to the Pier, Priam asked;
"Would you loan me enough to get a cloak?"

Proving he really didn't have anything, for cloaks cost less than a fizzy drink.

"How did you expect to manage without money?" I question.

"I was on a ship, I came off, expected to get back on."

I handed him enough for a couple of cloaks. He looked at the money and softly
asked; "What are your intentions?"

"Sell this bucket, buy another."

"And then?" he asks, gripping the jamb above his head, blocking the exit, leaning towards me.

"Go to Newfrance." I reply.

His eyes get a little drifty.

His ship is gone, I don't know if he can get a berth on a Spuck.
But I'm not mapping anyone's Karma but my own.

"I usually take coffee at Habibi," I mention, "about two minutes walk from here,
that way." I don't look at him when I speak, I'm just saying words.

"I do like coffee," he gives, then swings out of the ship.

My robot takes my things, I pull on my cloak, go to Gasan.
Eugenic stuff gets top price as they're market rare.
Although it's only a Viper, Gasan should pay enough to enable me to buy a decent yacht.

Gasan wants to make a short story long, but if I walk a quarter klic
I can sell it to Rafeet. As Rafeet and Gasan hate each other, the
story ends quickly. Straight trade. The Viper for a yacht.
A nice, fast, kitchen, three bedrooms, good electronics, yacht.

In fact, I know this ship.
It was stolen from Newfrance. I caught the guy who stole it, but the yacht was
never recovered. Until now.

I take ownership, stow my gear, walk to Habibi. Priam is standing outside, looking in.
A foot on a wall, not anxious, not afraid, just hopeful.

I pretend I don't see him as I enter, find a squat, order two coffees.
I think when he sees the other cup on the table, he takes the invitation and enters.
He has a rucksack with him.

We drink the coffee, don't say anything. Two shrouded figures, the cups
disappearing into the cloth. We finish, I pay, then hand him a bolt of cash
saying; "We'll need food for a couple of months, possibly utensils, though there are basics."

I walk with him to the market. His haggling isn't up to mine, so he chooses,
I make the deals, we share the carrying until I buy a robot to play donkey.
We go past a clothiers, I ask; "You don't mind if I pick a few things for you?"

"I am interested in how you think I should dress."

"Average." I flick.

He's out of his Gennie outfit of kevlar into human casual.

It's about a ninety minutes from coffee to ship, we're in, I'm doing tests,
then he's in the co-pilot seat and we're up and out. We go an hour, quiet in ourselves.

For myself, there's no one I'd rather be with. Someone who can communicate
without words, who makes me feel good about me. Being a Bounty Hunter isn't
a pretty job. After a few catches, most start to drink or drug or depress, and guilt seeps in.

I can tell myself I'm serving justice, I'm catching bad ones, but it doesn't work.
Freedom is kind of hardwired.

I remember the face of the kid who stole this yacht. I remember how he begged
and cried, how I hated him for whining. How I shut off audio in the force field so
I didn't have to hear him.

Being with Priam, knowing I did a good thing, I wish we could go on forever like this.

I give him a glance, he unfastens the belt, goes to the back, in a bit I smell food.
I switch on autopilot, move to join him. Another gourmet meal.

After, drinking coffee, I break out my 'eyes', just to see what's playing on the
Dalmar Security Ship. My avatars report nothing out of the ordinary.

I give Priam a view.

"I feel I'm seeing myself," he admits.

"You get used to it after awhile. Sometimes you're almost not sure which one is you."

I send a message to my androids. Outside of his and my avatar, I have the
others get into pods, follow the war ship, keeping behind, recording.

When the Dalmar enter the ship, when a weapon is discharged, the ship will
blow up. And will destroy the Dalmar ship as well. I want to see it. Priam would too.

We're very close, our bodies touching. I'm pretending I don't notice. He's not
moving away. His thigh against mine, his upper arm against my shoulder, I keep
looking at the little screen, but after a few moments of nothing, I think I better break this off.

"Which room do you want?" I offer.

He looks at me. I can taste his breath. He has a very tender look, as if he's
afraid. Maybe that's the expression on my face.

He slides out and up and walks to the first bedroom. We open the door.
It's pink.
We move to the next.
It's greys and blues.
The third is yellows and whites.

Priam asks; "How much water do we have, and what is the recycling rate?"

"Check it." I give.

I don't like the yellow and white room. I don't like the grey and blue or
pink one either. It's the kind of room furnished by people who don't
spend time in space. Who don't know how horrible certain colours are in space.

"There is one gallon of hot water," Priam charges as if it is an offense
against nature.

"Well, tepid it is." I shrug.

And in his tranquillizing voice, sounding so reasonable;
"If we shower together it will go farther."

"How far do you want to go?" I ask.

"As far as I can."

I look at him. His glossy dark skin, his beautiful mouth, and eyes, and nose,
and hair and everywhere, and I think, why not?

He, perhaps thinking my hesitation is not based on appraising the merchandise
but debating purchase adds;

"I can not promise how long it will last, but right now I want to be here, with you.
I like what you do. I like how you do it, and I want to be part of it. Part of you."


That's good enough for me.

I undress, he undresses, and we actually make love in the Pink room. For
a very long time. Then lie together, holding each other, feeling right.

Maybe next month he'll meet a Supergirl and leave me to join one of their
breeding families and I'll never see him again.

Maybe next month I'll run into an old boyfriend who wants to marry me,
and this trip will be a long lost weekend.

It doesn't matter.

We are here now, together now. And now is very good.

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