Algol was nearly touching the horizon, but Kain was still on the job, watching over Agent Rolf Landale and his team on the upper floor of Roron. The group had done their best to scrape together what was needed to reconstruct a sea vessel, as odd and futile a request as it seemed to Kain. He didn't have the heart to tell his guests that the natives spent weeks, even months, day in and day out, to complete just one vehicle from scap.
An hour ago, Kain's uncle Jim went home, leaving the junkyard under Kain's control. Kain felt relieved he had at least had a chance to get the dense air circulating in the building before Rolf and the others had arrived. The group was no doubt used to Motavia's summer weather, but they appeared to be struggling with the humid stench of Roron. They had slowed significantly since they first arrived, and even the robust hunter, Rudo, had to take a break on a lower level after complaining of lightheadedness. The doctor followed after him, like a good doctor would.
The guardian, Anna, continued to shadow the group, but eventually she pitched in with the effort. She was sitting on the ground, her thick, long hair pulled up in a messy bun on top of her head. She marked parts as Rolf and Nei brought them to her, and she compared them to images in an old manual Rolf had obtained to help him build his ship.
Rolf was hip-deep in a bin, cursing the day's shortness. He was covered in grime. Kain admired anyone who didn't mind getting a little dirty to get a job done. Whatever his group was trying to accomplish, it must have been important, especially to Rolf. He let out a cry of happiness as he wrestled a propeller out of the mountain of junk. Kain looked at it and shook his head.
"No, no. That there's a propeller for a much larger boat. And it's missin' a blade," Kain said.
Rolf sighed, tossing the piece back into the scrap heap. "This is ridiculous! We've been hunting for ship remnants for half a day, and we don't even have half of what we need!"
"Why is it ridiculous?" asked Anna, who compared a circuit board she found to a detailed picture of the same part in the manual. "50 years is a long time, plenty of time for Motavians to pick through the best scraps, anyway."
"And them Motavians is crafty buggers," added Kain.
Anna glared at Kain. "Don't call them 'buggers.' You don't know what they've been put through by our people."
"Hey, I live with them! I didn't mean nothin'… oh, forget it." Kain had little patience for debates, especially political ones.
He had, however, showed an abundance of patience for Rolf's group, due in part to Nei. Every time he looked at her he thought of Sue, and it was as shameful as it was fulfilling. Over the last few hours he had played out in his head asking Nei to come back for a visit sometime. Or many times. As many times as she wanted, which he hoped was often, if the pile of treasures she'd collected was any indication she liked where Kain worked.
He smiled when Nei brought him another piece, this time an actual ship part. She showed it to Kain.
"You said you found most of the motor, but it was missing this band thingy."
"Ya hear that, Rolf? Little Miss Mechanic here found yer belt!" Kain said, who took the fan belt and twirled it around his wrist a few times before he slung it into the group's wagon filled with parts.
Rolf looked up from the bin he was rummaging through and wiped his brow. "Oh, praise the light! You can cross that off the list, Ms. Zirski."
Anna took a pen to the manual and lined through a page. She smiled at Rolf. "You know you can call me Anna."
Rolf seemed to ignore her, which amused Kain. He chuckled. Ever since Rolf threatened to report Anna to her superiors for harassing his team, Anna had changed her tune, at least around Rolf. He had perfectly repeated several sections of code to Anna while lecturing her. She countered with other laws, but Rolf knew an amendment or exclusion for each of Anna's points. By the time Rolf had won the argument, Kain thought he had heard the entire Palman legal code.
Nei tugged at Kain's arm. "What can I look for now?"
Suddenly, the facility's lights grew a touch dimmer.
"Damn," Kain muttered. Everyone turned their attention to the lights or to Kain.
"Well, this is no good!" said Hugh as he emerged from an adjoining room where he had been sorting out wires and cables. He held up one of the wires. "Look at the knots in this thing! I need more light. And where is Rudo? He was supposed to help carry out the hull pieces; I can't do it by myself!"
"Dr. Sage is tendin' to him in the office, I think," said Kain.
Hugh looked confused. "He's injured?"
Rolf sighed. "No, sick. I told him not to eat that cake!"
Anna snickered, but quickly stopped once Rolf shot her a mean glance. Kain looked on and cleared his throat.
"I hate to interrupt," said Kain, "but the lights are gonna shut off in a half hour. Them gettin' darker was our warnin'."
The group collectively groaned.
"Well, that ain't no way to be. This place ain't goin' nowhere. Y'all can come back in the mornin'."
"Sheesh, what kinda outfit is yer commander operatin'? Glad I never joined up."
Rolf stood up and brushed off his uniform. He picked up the last piece of scrap he found and added it to the cart full of parts. He shrugged at Kain. "It's complicated."
Kain snorted. "I figured that out about six hours ago. Look, I'm real sorry, folks. Can I at least get y'all a telepipe? Ya don't want to walk back to Zema after dark, trust me."
Rolf grimaced. "I don't know if we can do that while Rudo's sick."
"Y'all are welcome to stay with me, then," said Kain. He glanced at Nei and felt his face get hot. "Uh, I mean, it's really just a tent in the Motavian village next door, but them biomonsters stay away, at least."
"A chance to study the natives? I'm in!" said Hugh.
Anna put her hands on her hips. "Their village isn't a zoo, Dr. Thompson!"
Just then a chute opened. "And now we have a good reason not to get on the villagers' bad sides," said Rudo, stepping forward. Amy was close behind him.
Rolf greeted with a nod. "Rudo. You're upright. And keeping the contents of your stomach to yourself, I assume? Good."
"Nothing a little monomate and some soda water couldn't handle," said Amy. Kain was shocked to learn that Jim even kept water in his office.
Rudo shook his head. "Just call it 'taking one for the team,' because mixing with the Motavians, even if it cost me my last meal, got us a jet scooter." He held up and jingled a set of keys.
Rolf rushed to Rudo's side. "A jet scooter! How did you… no, don't tell me. It's a vessel? Is it actually seaworthy? Have you seen it? Where is it?"
Rudo clapped Rolf on the back. "I think all of those questions can be answered by heading out and going down to the water's edge, don't you?"
Rolf nodded then turned to Kain. "What about you, Josh? You said you were an engineer before you were hired here. Do you mind checking this jet scooter for us? I'll make sure the commander reimburses you."
The lights darkened another notch. Kain glanced at one of the lamps and cracked a smile. "Well, the last time someone asked fer my mechanical expertise, I…" His gaze wandered to Nei, and he choked on the rest of his sentence. "Er, ah, sure. Hell, I gotta close up shop here and head home anyway, so why not?"
"Excellent!" said Rolf. "We'll be out front once you're done. Nei, Hugh and Rudo will meet me by the cargo lift so we can take what we found down to the main floor. We may need to do this the hard way still. Amy, help Mr. Kain with whatever he needs. Ms. Zirski, go home."
Anna immediately protested. "Rolf!"
Rolf walked right by Anna and divvied parts to his team members.
Anna continued. "Agent Landale! I cannot allow you to take these civilians on an illegal watercraft! If the commander-" Rolf walked past her in the other direction, toward the cargo lift. Anna waved the group's manual in the air and followed closely behind Rolf. "This is the only vessel you are authorized-"
The manual burst into flames. Anna dropped the book to the ground and stomped out the fire.
Kain pulled up next to Anna, taking a drag from a newly lit cigarette. He looked at her, raised an eyebrow and picked up the burned manual carefully with a hand that was curiously smoking like a hot coal. He shook the guide; several pages fell out.
"Gotta be real careful indoors here. Things just go boom when ya least expect it," he said, whacking the singed book against a pant leg before handing it to Anna. "Must be the air."
She snatched the book and shoved it into her bag. She narrowed her gaze at Kain. "Or the employees."
Kain stepped aside and gestured for Anna to take the chute. "After you, darlin'."
Anna sighed and walked toward the lift. "I can show myself out; no need for an escort." She stopped and glared at Kain, pausing at his hands and looking at them suspiciously. "In fact, I'd prefer you not follow me at all." She left quickly.
"Ooh, did you feel a shiver in here, or was it just me?" asked Amy.
"Well, maybe it'll help her chill out fer a while." Kain took another drag of his cigarette before bringing his shotgun to the ready. He waved for Amy to follow him down a corridor. "I gotta do a final sweep of the building. Ya ready, Doc?"
"More biomonsters? Oh, joy," Amy said, retrieving her pistol from its holster.
"I guess this is just a day's work fer ya? Gotta admit, sounds fascinatin', whatever it is."
Amy checked the charge on her gun. "It's been… let's just say, 'an adventure.'"
Kain smirked. He liked adventures.
A/N: An update after three years isn't so bad, is it? Okay, it is. Anyway, this story isn't over yet, but never fear! I'm working on the last chapter already. It will not take another three years to complete.