Chapter 2.4

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The ship lights had gone a soft blue, a half-hearted attempt at simulating night. Calvin was too focused on his repair efforts to notice, and it took multiple nudges from the floor cleaning bot to get his attention. He looked up at the clock and groaned. It was time to feed the vagrant again. Jess- he caught himself mid-thought. The girl would still be asleep for several days. Putting a name to her made it worse. He put down the data crystal and stretched. He would have to stop for supplies soon. He’d only planned on himself being awake and now he had to feed the vagrant too. The girl would only complicate things once she woke up, but he’d used half his supply of sedatives to avoid being killed by the  vagrant.

He made his way into the kitchen and found a couple of ration packs tucked away in one cupboard. Those would have to do for today, he hadn’t slept enough to trust himself cooking. He opened one and nibbled on it. The dry chalky taste was just as horrible as he remembered, but it would keep him going. The cells were one room down from the room the girl was in; such a small shuttle didn’t have space for much. A moment’s pause made him remember the book he had grabbed. The vagrant had made such a fuss about it before, it might be enough to keep him complacent for a bit. He found it in a drawer and tucked it under one arm, turning on the lights as he entered the cell room. The man had his eyes closed and was leaning against the cell wall, but Calvin knew better than to trust that. If he hadn’t installed that grounding wire and electrified flooring he might have been seriously injured before. His arm tingled at the thought and he almost dropped the book.

The man seemed to take notice of him as he hesitated, and opened one eye to look at him.

“Where’s the girl?”

The question caught Calvin off guard. He stared down at the ration pack in his hand. This was just a routine drop off, he’d done it before. Everything seemed to be harder this time though.

“Is she alright still?”

Another question, the man’s attention was fully on him now. He approached the slot and tossed the ration pack into the cell, careful to stay out of range this time. The man ignored it, still staring at him. Mark had called the man infuriating, but at the time Calvin hadn’t realized what he meant.

The thought of Mark brought a wave of anger to him. He’d liked that job. Three years on a nice ship. He’d even made friends of a sort. He should’ve known a shifter would show up and ruin it again though. He tossed the book into the cell as well, harder than he’d intended, and stormed out without a word. If it had just been the girl, maybe he could’ve passed it off as an accident. Send her off in a pod and someone intercepts her. He hadn’t counted on the vagrant breaking loose and coming at him. The man being a shifter just complicated things further. His father was happy at the news at least. After all another shifter meant more profit, and his father being happy meant more freedom for Calvin.

Next time he would look for a job on some remote outpost, somewhere he had no chance of running into another gods-forsaken shifter. His father couldn’t blame him for never finding another one if he was all alone.

***

The vagrant picked up his book and carefully reinserted the three pages that fell out. His captor seemed intent on not answering questions, but the presence of his book was a positive sign. His possessions usually weren’t a priority for whoever decided to shift him away from the taxpaying citizens. He opened the book and traced his fingers along the page, sounding out the words in his mind. The large circular scar on his right hand, which had been there so long he frequently forgot about it, began to itch. He scratched at it with his other hand without thinking, and lost his place.

He shut the book again and finally picked up the ration pack, sniffing at it. It smelled like dust, and he knew it would taste like dust. The only good thing about rations packs was he wouldn’t need the tubelike bathroom attached to his cell for a long time. The cell was already making him feel claustrophobic, and that tiny extension made it infinitely worse. Calming jazz music began playing over the speakers and he could hear his captor yelling something in another room. Just as suddenly the music stopped and the lights turned off entirely. The ship had entered full sleep mode and the vagrant curled up in a heap, using the still clean shirt as a pillow against the cold floor. He’d slept in worse places than this and quickly passed out.

***

The next day his captor reappeared with proper food and the two eyed each other for several minutes in silence.

“If you attack me again it’s ration packs the rest of the trip.” The man said at last, breaking the tension.

“Where’s the girl?” The vagrant asked.

“Why do you care? You don’t even know her.”

“Is she alright?”

“You don’t even know her name.”

“You don’t even know my name. Yet here we are.”

“You…” Calvin shut his eyes and sighed heavily, “You’re an unchipped drifter, how the hell would I know your name?”

“Tell me your name I’ll tell you mine.”

“My name’s Calvin, not that it matters.” Calvin wasn’t sure why he was even talking to the man, but couldn’t seem to stop himself at this point.

“Jerret.” The vagrant was staring at the plate now and Calvin took a gamble, sliding it into the slot. There was no attack this time and he stepped back to safety again.

“Don’t think this changes anything. I’m just delivering goods.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Calvin.” The man began eating casually, and Calvin had to bite his tongue, quickly leaving the room. He knew better than to talk to them, but three years away from his father’s business had made him soft.

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