Jarik broke their standoff first and ran at the pirate, firing up his plasma torch. He aimed his strike at the cockpit, but was intercepted by the grasping claw of the other mech. It caught his arm at the wrist and began twisting, and through the glass he could see the pirate grinning at him. Jarik’s arm was twisted up and away, and the pirate raised a leg and kicked him square in the cockpit.
Warning lights flashed, indicating the stress on the grappler arm, and as he hit the ground he skidded to a stop and came up firing his laser. Blue beams of light tore across the sands towards the pirate. Most missed, but a few struck the glass of his shield and began burning large holes through it. The pirate ran to the side, closing the distance between them as Jarik picked himself up off the ground. He landed a punch on Jarik’s cockpit that cracked his glass casing, and reared back for another.
Jarik managed to get his grappler arm in the way, and the impact of the blow shattered his forearm like it was made of crystal. The arm went dead, but Jarik had the pirate right where he wanted him. He aimed and fired three quick shots, closing his eyes at the brightness of the laser blasts in close quarters. They hammered into the glass of the other cockpit, the first two melting through the barrier, the final one breaking in on the pilot. Jarik heard one scream, then the other mech fell against his and went dark. Peering through the hole he’d created, he could see that there weren’t even any remains. The other pilot had been incinerated.
Using what remained of his grappler arm, he shoved the other machine off and straightened, looking around for Gill. Finding her smiling at him from her seat in the shade of the rock, he shook his head and stomped back over to the front of the trading post. Gill’s laughter came through the speakers, and as he climbed down from the cockpit he saw her striding over to him, a toothsome grin on her face.
“Nicely done, Jarik!” she cried, planting her claw on her hip. “That was quite a show.”
“Well,” he said, “it’s not how they taught us in the corps, but sometimes you have to get creative.”
“Oh, is that what you call losing your arm and almost having your shell cracked by a pirate?”
“No, that’s called bad luck.”
“I’d call it a lack of skill.”
“Well you’re not a mech pilot, are you, Gill?”
“No,” she said, flashing that predatory grin again, “I just kill them for fun.”
Jarik rolled his eyes and walked back into the depot, followed by Wilson and Gill. He sat back down at his stool and let out a sigh, noticing with pleasure that his glass of water hadn’t been knocked over in the scrum. He drained it, and asked Gill for another. She obliged, getting one for herself as well. Then her eyes drifted over to the tooth, sitting pretty as you please on the counter as though it hadn’t almost been the cause of her shop’s destruction. Her eyes narrowed, and her gaze hove back over to Jarik. He would swear there were sparks leaping from her eyes.
Knowing Salamanders, that was entirely possible.
“Now, about this cursed tooth you’ve brought to my depot, Jarik…”
“Gill, hold on, how was I supposed to know they’d catch up with me this fast?”
Her eyebrows shot up, and this time flames did leap from her eyes. “Ah! So you were planning to get your money and run, leaving me to deal with those pirates?”
“No, of course not! I just thought they’d wait until we’d already gotten rid of it, then we could point them to someone else!”
Gill’s left eye twitched in irritation, and she began scratching the countertop with her alarmingly large claws. “For some reason, Jarik, I don’t believe you.”
“I swear, I didn’t know the pirates were coming for it!” Jarik put his hands up to placate her. “You have my word of honor.”
“I think we both know what your honor is worth, you old scavenger.”
“Are you trying to wound me, here?”
She reached out and grabbed his collar, pulling him closer until their noses almost touched. He grinned, nervous, as she said, “Trust me. When I want to wound you, you’ll know it.”
She let go and Jarik rubbed his throat, uncomfortable with how many brushes with death he was having today. He coughed and said, “So about this tooth. What can you give me for it?”
“What?” he cried.
“Jarik you know I don’t have the money or supplies to trade for a tooth that large. This thing could buy my whole shop twice over with enough to spare for a ticket out-system. However, I do know a guy in Freeport who might be able to give us a good price on it. Minus the cost of escorting you to get it there, my fee for talking to my contact, and the damage to my antennas, I think we can both make a tidy profit. What do you say?”
Jarik thought a moment. “I don’t know, Gill. My mech’s badly damaged. Yes, it can walk, but it’s in no shape for a fight, or even any kind of proper work. I’ll at least have to fix the arm, if not replace the entire canopy before I can travel in it. And,” he grinned at the idea, “I’m not sure the cockpit’s big enough for two.”
“Don’t get any funny ideas. I can ride on the top, and burrow under the sand if I have to. My people come from the deserts of my home world. I know how to survive out here. It’s why I came here in the first place. I don’t much fancy leaving, but we can’t very well keep this thing here.”
“Agreed. If they sent one group of pirates, they’ll send others. But what about my mech?” He looked out the window, feeling despondency creep over him. His shoulders slumped. “All my tools are at my shop, not to mention replacement parts. If we have to go all the way back out there, we’re sure to be attacked again.”
Gill smirked, and Jarik had a feeling he wasn’t going to like what came next.
“Well, as a trader, I happen to have all the tools and parts necessary to repair your mech. Except the canopy, of course. I could sell you the parts and rent you the tools for, say, a larger share of the take on this tooth?”
“You’re trying to swindle me out of my salvage!”
She nodded, her face the picture of innocence. “Of course I am. I’m a trader, Jarik. What good would I be if I didn’t try to maximize my profits?”
“You could be a good friend and just let me use the tools,” he pleaded. “C’mon, I’m already cutting you in for a huge profit as it is. And I’ll pay for the mech parts.”
“You’re damned right you will,” she said, draining the last of her water. “And okay. You can use the tools for free. Just don’t break any of them, or you really will be paying.”
“Gee, Gill, you’re a real pal,” Jarik said with a roll of the eyes.
“Come on, hotshot,” she said as she left the counter and started toward the back of the shop. “I’ll get you those parts, and you can pay me when we get to Freeport.”
“Better idea, how about I trade you the salvage for the two mechs out there I took down?”
She gave him a deadpan look. “They’re already mine. My property, my salvage.”
“Oh, you are one greedy dragon lady.”
“Salamander. And I just know who I have to watch my tail around.”
“I could watch it for you.”
She grabbed a toolbox and tossed it at him. He caught it in the chest, knocking the wind from his lungs. “Maybe if you weren’t so squishy. I’d be too worried about breaking you.”
Coming from her, that was no idle threat. She could pick him up and snap him in half with no trouble. Jarik decided to keep his mouth shut. He did not, however, keep his eyes from wandering over her tail as she sauntered to the back wall and lifted a replacement grappler forearm from its display hooks. It was a more pleasant view than many he’d seen in his time.
Gill brought the arm back, and he got to work on fixing up his mech. He’d have to deal with the cracked canopy for now, but at least he’d be more prepared for a fight if one came up between here and Freeport. He hadn’t been to that city in a long time, and with good reason. Jarik was not relishing going back. But with the potential payout from that tooth, how could he resist? And between Wilson and Gilliastrik, the journey should be much more entertaining than the last time.
If you enjoyed this story, you can find many more like it on my Original Fiction page, or in the anthology Darkest of Dreams from DimensionBucket Media on Amazon. You can also find more of my work at my website, jimfear138.blogspot.com, including my weekly podcast and audiobooks I've produced. You can also throw me a tip if you like at Ko-fi.