Title: A Good Mechanic's Hard to Find
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Spoilers: Pre-series for Firefly; post-series for the Dresden Files novels
Summary: The first time Kaywinnet Lee Frye set foot in a product of Firefly Ship Works, was perhaps not so coincidentally also the first time she took a job from a tall, older man known for the style of his coat- and his heroics. 2000 words.
Notes: For the Into a Bar challenge, for the prompt, "Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden goes into a bar and meets ... Kaylee Frye (Firefly)!" Because Kaylee had to have learned about the reg couple issue somewhere, before meeting Bester. :). Originally posted elsewhere 5/9/15.
The first time Kaywinnet Lee Frye set foot in a product of Firefly Ship Works, she'd spent a good chunk of the early afternoon flat on her back under the bar at the local watering hole.
Not for what her mamma would call nefarious purposes, with that dancing light in her eyes as she smiled at her husband. Kaylee would never do that when about her daddy's business. Weren't appropriate, even if the client hadn't known her since she was knee high to a grasshopper. But the bar's chill box had been making strange noises, and with her daddy laid up with a busted hip, she was covering as many of his customers as would trust a teenage girl with a tool box.
Which was more 'n a few. Visitors might ask if one of her brothers was handy, but the locals knew that Kaylee was the one who'd inherited the Frye talent with machines.
"That'll do it," she said, looking up to give the bar's owner a sunny smile. "Fan motor was all worn out, like I thought. Just had to swap a new one in; shouldn't give you no more trouble."
"'Preciate it, Kaylee girl. I'll mark the usual rate against your daddy's account," Mr. Norsworthy nodded, reaching down to help her off the floor. "And take a soda with you; damn hot out there today."
"Xièxie, Mister N," she beamed as she began to pack up her tools. He kept a few real fancy flavors for the odd Companion or Coreworld merchie to come through; Kaylee's mouth watered at the thought. "That's right nice of you!"
"Bú yòng xiè," he waved that off. "Just you tell Johannes not to go fallin' off any more scaffolding; he were missed around the mahjong table last night."
"Sure thing," Kaylee replied, closing the lock on her tool box and wiping her grimy hands on her coveralls. Then she ducked to check the selection for her prize, just as the chime over the door announced a customer entering the bar.
"C'n I do ya for?" Mr. Norsworthy's voice rang out as she waffled between strawberry and salted watermelon. He sounded gruff, but more deferential than she usually heard him; probably an outworlder, then, 'cause you never knew with spacefaring types which actually had money and which were just looking for trouble. They got their share of those in her daddy's business too, 'specially with the shipping business so low. Made it a lot harder to turn away suŏxì jobs or suspicious customers.
"A glass of whatever dark ale you have on tap- and your mechanic?" the stranger replied.
The strange accent, and questioning uptilt in his voice at the end of the sentence, confirmed Kaylee's guess. A local with something broke needed fixing would be a lot firmer if he knew she was there. But a stranger shouldn't have known to ask the question at all. Had he just seen a young woman walk in with a tool box, and assumed, well, nefarious things? She settled on strawberry, then closed the chill box door, glancing up at the dingy mirror on the back wall to see what manner of man was asking.
From behind, she couldn't see Mister N's expression, but he'd braced both hands against the bar rather than reach for a glass; a sure sign he wasn't impressed with the request, neither. "Beer'll be five cred, up front. But the other ain't for sale."
Beyond his image, the reflection of a man in a long dark-colored coat- was that an actual Browncoat?- raised his eyebrows. There were streaks of silver in his slightly shaggy hair; he was pale-skinned, unnatural tall, and carried a walking stick in one hand long enough to lean on. She couldn't make out his eye color in the mottled mirror, but he had a long face and a strong jaw, and what she could see under the coat hinted at a wirily muscled body, more like an old ranch hand than a spacer.
He sighed, then reached into a pocket of the coat and came out with a fold of printed paper, slapping it down on the bar. It wasn't no five creds; but it wasn't the kind of cashy money a guy would wave at a flesh merchant, neither. "They told me at the port office that Frye was the best mechanic in Kowlonshi for older ships, but when I went to Frye's, they told me to look here."
"In something of a hurry, are we?" Mister N took the money, turning slowly to the taps, still keeping himself between Kaylee and the stranger.
"I have a meeting on Paquin next week that I can't afford to miss, and the Beetle's always... temperamental... with a new mechanic," the man replied, impatiently. "The sooner I find out how much it's going to cost me this time, the better. So if you could point me to Mister Frye..."
Kaylee appreciated Mister N's attempt to shield her, but she'd already heard enough. Ludo was working the shop that day; he'd probably thought it would be funny to send to send this guy over without warning either him or her. He'd probably guessed, though, that it would pique her interest; and he'd been right, the jerk. Though she'd still make him pay for it later.
She popped up like a jackrabbit, grabbing the bottle opener with an 'aha' as though she'd been looking for it, and applied it to her soda. "Ain't a mister," she replied. "Hi! My name's Kaylee."
Up close, the man's eyes were an earthy shade of brown; and his face was a lot less worn than the grey in his dark hair would suggest. He didn't quite meet her gaze- he seemed to be staring at her cheek for some reason- but that didn't bother her much. Probably had another grease stain; she'd have to find a clean rag and wipe it off before she went back to the shop, or she'd end up with another lecture from her aunt on the kind of girl a boy takes home to his mother. If she hadn't known it would just lead to a longer lecture, Kaylee would have asked what made her so sure Kaylee wanted to get took home; but as it was she mostly just smiled and avoided her aunt when she was in a lecturing mood.
"Nice to meet you, Kaylee," the client replied, accepting a dark, foaming glass from Mister N. "Harry Dresden. You good with old machines?"
He didn't seem at all upset to find the mechanic younger and more feminine than he'd been told; but he didn't ogle her neither, which piqued Kaylee's interest further. "So my daddy says," she smiled at him. "What kind of ship you got? If you landed at Kowlonshi port, I'm guessing light or mid-bulk transport- don't got room for nothin' bigger round these parts- but they usually see Shu Fu's and the like. Wouldn't have sent you to us for anything near so common."
A wry smile came and went, lighting up his face with lean humor. "Maybe a generation ago. The Beetle started out as an older model Sandfly, from before they started fitting them with Molina engines."
"But it ain't so much anymore?" she asked, even more curious now. The light-bulk class Sandflies weren't museum worthy or nothing, but the early models like he talked about were from the same era as the first series of Fireflies, better than half a century old. Even the series three Fireflies were aging out of service now; a good mechanic could keep 'em in the air as long as the engine kept turning, but most people didn't seem to want to put in the effort.
"Not so much," he agreed, taking a long draught of the beer. "Since I bought her, she's been rebuilt half a dozen times with parts from whatever was handy."
"She runnin' that rough, or you runnin' her that hard?" Kaylee asked, arching a brow at him.
He looked a little taken aback at that; and Mr. Norsworthy cleared his throat. "Now, no call for language such as that, Miss Kaylee."
It hadn't occurred to her before the words slipped out that Mr. Dresden might be the sort to take sass amiss- but before the dismay could take root that she might have scared off an interesting and possibly well-paying customer, he gave a rusty chuckle. "I used to say a great mechanic was the kind that didn't ask any questions- but I also used to have a lot more secrets to hide. You ever worked on a Sandfly before?"
"Not as such," she said, thrown by the strange non-answer. He might not be the usual sort of trouble, but it was looking more and more like he had a double helping of some other kind to make up for it. But a Sandfly! She hardly ever got the chance to go to the port, to meet real spacers and see real spacefaring ships, and if she went there for a job she wouldn't have to sit through any lectures on futile daydreams, neither. "But I have worked on engines that old. I won't charge you nothin' if I can't fix her; but that ain't gonna happen. Everyone says I got a real gift for the workin's of things."
"Do they now?" the man replied, considering her a moment longer. He still wasn't meeting her eye, but he wasn't checking out her chest or pìgu; it was the strangest look she'd ever gotten from a guy. "Then you got yourself a deal, Miss Frye."
"Deal!" She held out her hand.
In turn, he set down his empty glass, then held his hand palm up over the bar; not like he meant for her to shake it, but like he meant for her to take it, like a knight helping his princess over an obstacle. Bemused, she set her callused fingers in his, and cut off a gasp as he guided her up and over as easy as lying. There was a lot of strength hiding in that beanpole body of his.
Mr. Dresden gave her another glancing look before letting her hand go afterward, and nodded. "Do you need to go back to your shop for anything?"
"Nah, I'm good." Kaylee leaned in for a quick hug from Mister N, then picked up her tool box and soda. "Tell my brother, if I ain't come back or called in two hours, he has only himself to blame! I'm off to the port."
Mister N nodded gravely; she figured he'd call Ludo soon as she was gone, and by the time she was done with the job some family member or other would be waiting to walk her home. Though she hoped it would be her cousin Ada. Last time Hershel walked her home, he'd talked the whole way about crop yields of all things.
"All right then," she turned back to her new customer. "Let's get your Sandfly sorted out. What's the problem? And why'd you call her a Beetle? Thought that was the name they give those little shuttles on the mid-bulk class."
"The name's... call it a tradition," he said, looking momentarily wistful. "And as for the problem, the grav boot's not engaging. If it were just me, I wouldn't mind floating around like an old school astronaut, but my cat is not a fan."
He opened the door, then held it like an old-fashioned gentleman from a 2D vid.
Kaylee blushed, feeling like a lady in one of those vids again; then chuckled to herself and walked through. Her life wasn't that sort of story, and well she knew it; what place was there for a princess covered in grease? But she sure did enjoy the opportunity to get a little closer to the stars, when she could.
Maybe one day she'd go there. But for now, working on a ship that did would be marvel enough.
Xièxie - Thank you
Bú yòng xiè - You're welcome/don't mention it
suŏxì - petty
pìgu; - butt (of the body)