Make Yourself Useful

Make yourself useful, he said. Some goddamn nerve. Two years, Lin had served on the Dauntless. Two long years, without so much as a weekend’s leave, making four jumps a week while under-crewed and poorly maintained. And not once had she ever missed her mark. Never. She’d been telling Captain Sayre from day one that a starship is only as good as what you put into it, and lately he’d only put in two things: shit and nothing. Midway Moon might be in the middle of nowhere, but at least she’d been able to get them close enough to civilization to get there in a shuttle instead of dropping them into the void. And he tells her make yourself useful. Shit breaks; it wasn’t her fault.

It was hot, and the air was still. Lin perused the endless outdoor market looking for compatible parts, but the place was as vast as it was disorganized. She’d seen junkyards with more order to them. Unfortunately, this was her only option, and she refused to go back emptyhanded. She was sweaty beneath her worn out suit, which was covered in slag splatter and grease stains. She could have crawled on top of any of the thousands of piles of engine scraps and blended right in. Outside the shade of the loose canvas tent there was a loud metallic crash that caught her attention. She went to investigate.

It was an armored mech walking in circles, moving each component through its full range of motion, methodically, and deliberately. It was military grade—pre-sectarian—and it walked on five multijointed limbs like a hand free of its body. It was unbelievably well-persevered. And, most importantly, she could use its pieces to fix the Dauntless with parts to spare.

“Like what you see?”

Lin hadn’t seen the gentleman standing next to her. He smiled brightly. He was clean-shaven and his outfit was sharp. He didn’t belong here at all. “I’ll take it,” she said. “How much?”

He let out a good-natured chuckle. “Oh, I’m not selling it. I just purchased it.”

Lin’s heart dropped into her belly like a rotten apple. She scrunched up her face in consternation. She’d never been able to hide her emotions well; her poker face was shit. “What’d you pay? Let me buy it off you. I need it.”

“Need it? It’s an antique. What could you possibly need it for?” His tone wasn’t condescending. He actually sounded intrigued.

“I’m the jump engineer on a deep hauler. I need to rebuild the containment caps.”

“From this?!”

“That’s right.” Lin watched the man’s face, but he was looking at the mech, rubbing his chin and thinking hard.

“You can build containment caps out of this?” he asked.

“That’s what I said. Please, I can pay you. I have to have the parts.”

He turned back to her and looked her over. She was suddenly self-conscious about her oil-stained coveralls and her laser-burned gloves.

“Your ship sounds like it should be scrapped, no offense. It’s a waste of your time if you’re half as talented as you claim to be. How would you like to come work for me instead?”

No bullshit. She smiled and her cheeks dimpled. She liked this guy. “I think I could make myself useful,” she said. “What did you have in mind?”

Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Donglu Yu, used with permission.

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