Jian Yun stepped delicately, carefully, so she wouldn't break the bubble protecting her from the grungy, quarrelsome people around her. The ship market was set up in a huge, curving bay of Fiddler's Rock, an asteroid in the belt around the orange sun. The floor was steel but the walls were raw rock studded here and there with lock and enviromental controls.
Customers and barkers were an equally rough and ready crew; the men unshaven, the women unkempt, both dressed for the most part in flight suits that had seen better days or T-shirts emblazoned with rude slogans or gunfighter leathers. There were even a few brown coats to be seen, here and there. Yellow Jade glided among them unnoticed, invisible in the safety of her bubble. Securely encased she could actually enjoy seeing and hearing - as long as she didn't have to feel!
Suddenly Kimi was in front of her; uncombed hair glinting copper in the harsh white light, a crocheted tunic pulled over her short, fringed dress. "Jade."
The bubble popped and alien feelings swept over her like a poisonous tide. Jade fought her way to the surface. "You broke it!"
"Sorry. Sonya said to come find you. We've picked a boat." the younger girl held out a hand.
Jade took it and immediately felt steadier, her head well above the flood of other people's emotions. "Okay. Let's see it."
Keri, Kimi's twin, was standing by a battered but aerodynamic hull with a sweep of retractable wings. "It's an angel." she said as they joined her. "It'll take care of us."
"That's what I feel too." said Kimi.
"Good." Jade eyed the riveted plates uncertainly. "How do we get in?"
"Hatch is on the other side."
It opened into a living area with a galley on one wall and a pair of seating units on the other with a tongue of table between them. Keri pressed a wall control and the seats swung out to face each other across a suddenly extended table. "Shiny?"
"Shiny bright." Jade agreed.
Forward was a narrow grill floored passage with two little cabins on one side and a big bunkroom on the other and a control room at the end where they found Sonya and Moon sitting in the pilots' chairs fingering controls.
Moon looked at the smudges on the tips of her long pale fingers with disgust. "It's filthy."
"She'll need cleaning." Sonya agreed.
"And other stuff too." said Moon.
"The pilot will know about that." Sonya shrugged.
"What pilot?" Jade asked.
Sonya swiveled round to face her. "The one we're going to hire. You solid?"
Jade introspected a moment before answering. "Pretty much."
"Twins have been swinging back and forth." the two younger girls made identical moues which Sonya ignored. "Watch out for them. Moon and I will go get our pilot."
Pilots and other hands looking for work hung out in a big, rock cut compartment crowded with little clusters of chairs and tables, walls garish with booths selling food, drink and drugs. Ben sat at alone at one of the tiny metal tables staring moodily into the depths of a red gin.
Short run jobs just didn't bring in enough credit to pay for the compartment he and Cody occupied, much less such fripperies as food and wearables. He needed berth on a ship - but what would he do with his boy? Not much call for ten year old hands!
Ben only noticed the two girls because everybody else did, conversation stopped for five or ten tables round as they passed. The two of them were a mite eye catching at that, not for their feminine charms - they were built like two sticks - but their coloring was pretty striking; one was brown with thick black ringlets and the other pasty white with a short bob the color of a mercury leak. The dark one wore all ruffles under what looked like a genuine leather flight jacket and tattered black hems swirled round her companion's white, white legs, the top half swathed to the chin in a gaudy shawl.
Ben stared along with the rest as the two came to a full stop and the dark one whispered into the pale one's ear. She looked around then her eyes, pale as the rest of her, met Ben's and she pointed - straight at him.
They came over. "H'lo Ben." said the pale one.
He blinked. "You know me?" gorram certain he'd never laid eyes on this pair before in all his life.
"I've Seen you." she answered and plopped into a chair.
"We've been looking for you." the dark one said matter-of-factly. "You're our pilot."
"I am." Ben asked, wondering if maybe somebody'd slipped something a might stronger than gin into his drink.
Dark one nodded. "Moon saw you."
"So she said." Moon eh, appropriate enough. "If I'm your pilot, who are you?"
"Sonya." she answered. "We bought the boat. She's an Angel III but she needs some work."
"Filthy dirty." Moon muttered.
"I was thinking of mechanical stuff." said Sonya, we'll do the cleaning."
An Angel eh? Nice craft. "Take money to make any heap they sell here spaceworthy."
"We got money," Sonya said indifferently, "much as you'll need."
"How about pay?" shut up, Ben, you're not really considering this offer - are you?
"Going rate for pilot and mechanic both - and a seventh cut of any profits."
"And Cody can have his own room." Moon added.
A chill went up his spine. "How'd you know about my boy?"
"I told you, Moon saw. She's a see'er."
A see'er? "I don't believe in that psychic stuff."
"You will." said Sonya. She stood up. "Come see our boat."
And Ben, to his no little bewilderment, found himself following the two weirding girls out of the rest court and down to the docks.
"Better than I'd have thought." he admitted about an hour later, sitting with his five new employers around the table in the living quarters after a through and through inspection of the boat. "Hull needs some new plates -"
"We can do that ourselves." said Yellow Jade on the other side of the table. She smiled at his expression. "We're stronger than we look."
Kind of hard to believe as there didn't seem to be an ounce of muscle or flesh on any of the five. Jade was as thin and frail as her friends with a fall of long yellow hair and a pair of big tilty eyes as black as the Black in her dreamy little face.
Suddenly one of the two little ones, they claimed to be fourteen but didn't look above twelve - and a starved twelve at that, made a high pitched giggle. "Pirates. We're gonna be pirates."
And the other one started singing: 'Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye -"
Ben looked at Sonya. "They okay?"
"- Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie -"
" - Arrr, avast, stand by to be boarded!'
"They're crazy." Sonya said matter-of-factly. "So'm I. So're we all."
"- Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?"
"Oh a pirate's life for me!"
"Borderline schizophrenics with paranoid tendencies." Jade said in a coolly clinical voice.
"The paranoia isn't craziness." Moon objected.
"Not all." Jade conceded. "But the delusions, manic phases, panic attacks and the rest are." to Ben. "Nothing you need bother yourself about."
"Huh." he said blankly. He wasn't supposed to bother himself with the fact that his employers and shipmates were loonies?
"We got meds." Sonya explained. "We know how to take care of each other."
"A pirate's life for me!"
"And one or more will always be solid at any given moment." said Jade.
"We can feel ourselves liquifying and know what to do about it." said Moon. She stood up. "Like me, right now." She looked at Sonya. "I want to clean. This place is filthy, the germs are crawling all over - they'll get on us soon."
"Cleaning stuff's on the counter." Sonya said calmly. "Make the twins help."
Moon pulled the two little girls, still singing, out of the seat and after her into the galley.
"Hand work is therapeutic." Jade explained.
"The trouble is inside our heads. The less time we spend there the better." Sonya agreed. "You were saying about the boat?"
"Uh..." took a few minutes to climb back on his train of thought. "Right. Engines look all right but I want everything that can be disassembled taken apart and checked, and anything wearable replaced."
"We can do that too." said Jade.
"Under my supervision." said Ben
"'Course," said Sonya. "What else?"
"A computerman to make sure this boat's 'brain' is sane."
"Even if its owners' aren't." Sonya said lightly.
"Moon knows computers." said Jade.
Ben shook his head. "I know the chum I want." No way he was letting an self described crazy girl work on their astrogation and piloting boards!
The two loonies he was talking to just shrugged. "If that's the way you want it." said Sonya.
They stood up. "Why don't you go get Cody and your gear," Jade suggested, "when you get back we can start taking the engines apart."
Ben got up too. "Sure...right. I can register the boat too. Does she have a name?"
Both girls smiled, an eerie, eldritch smile that sent the chills down his spine. It was Sonya that answered him: "She's the Angel of Wrath."