Mopping Up

Kit carried one end of a small pile of what used to be the staircase of the cannery. A small tornado seemed affixed to the other end of the pile. As they approached the growing pile of debris near the loading dock door, the tornado suddenly disappeared. Kit let out a squawk as she dropped her end of the pile. It fell on her foot, eliciting a torrent of street/Spanglish expletives.

“What the fucking frag?” she asked, limping over to where the spirit had disappeared. From this angle, she could see that the sun had just set. “Well that’s just fragging great,” she muttered.

She hobbled her way into the shop area looking for the first aid kit. She pulled an adhesive bandage out of the battered white box and held it between her teeth as she used both hands to pull off her boot.

A loud, heavy click made her jump and look up. Tiny stood mere meters from her, a hand cannon that was quite possibly a third her size aimed at her head. Her eyes shot open wide, and she felt the hair stand up on her arms: it was a knee-jerk reaction, but she always thought of it as the equivalent of a gunslinger’s hand hovering over his holstered gun. For half a second she wondered whether her knee-jerk reaction was the wrong reaction. But after a moment, the cold purpose in Tiny’s eyes dissipated and he lowered the gun.

“I thought our perimeter had been breached by ghouls,” he said flatly as he holstered his weapon. “One of those fraggers will be lurking around here unannounced sooner or later.”

Kit pulled in a shuddering breath. “No way, man, Larry will spot them and I’ll let everyone know. And if that don’t work, then Kenj- The Kid’s sensors will spot ‘em and sound the alarm or blast them with turrets or something.” She gave Tiny another once-over before turning her attention back to bandaging her toe.

Tiny looked her, his face impassive. “Uhh, sorry about that,” he rumbled deeply and noticeably relaxed. “Didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just… hard to ‘turn it off’ sometimes.” He wandered back to his work table.

“Pshh,” Kit said, her face screwing up in a scowl. “You didn’t scare me. I just didn’t wanna blast the snot outta you.” She pointedly did not look up at him, focusing instead on wrapping the bandage up tight. Satisfied, she pulled her sock back on, followed by her boot, and stood up, testing it.

Tiny hunched over a pile of wires, electrical parts, and a considerable number of paper- and plastic-wrapped rectangular packages and tubes looked like they were made of cardboard.

“What’s all that drek?” Kit asked, approaching the table from the side. “Oh, wow,” she jabbed a finger at a circuit board. “That looks wiz.” She pulled back and took in the collection. “Ohh… yeah, this is your explosives shop, right?” she said. “Holy fragging hell, I’ll bet that one’d totally blow the limbs off any fragger dumb enough to trip it!” She motioned to what could have passed for a brick covered in wires and the guts of a commlink.

Tiny frowned and gave Kit a queer look. He was quiet for a moment, looking over his work on the table. At her last comment, he said cautiously, “Well, this one,” he picked up the brick. “This one could put a pretty big crater where we sit.” The slightest smile crossed his face as he added, “Maverick and The Kid would have to scrape us off the walls and ceiling with a spatula. Hell, there’d be so little left of us we’d fit in a Stuffer Shack baggie.”

Kit laughed raucously. “That’s nasty, man!”

Tiny snorted. “Well.. Anyway, you probably shouldn’t mess around with this stuff. You’re too important an asset to the team.”

Kit shrugged, still chuckling. “I suppose.”

“You know,” Tiny said, his tone turning a little more certain, “I thought you could move to a back, support rank, instead of being up front to be fired upon. You know, where you could stand behind the trog while slinging your spells.”

Kit gave a snort of her own. “Yeah,” she said and heaved a sigh. “Yeah, I guess that’s probably smart or something. Keep the mage in back.”

“It’s a tactic that worked well for me in Aztlan,” Tiny said. Then he was quiet. Kit could feel something in the air between them had changed.
Kit glanced up, more at the abrupt silence than anything, and saw Tiny was staring at nothing. His posture was tense again. Frowning, she said hesitantly, “Well… good. If it worked for you before, it should work again, neh?”

He gave her a sidelong glance and said nothing. “Yeah,” he said finally. They stood there in silence for a few moments.

“Okay,” Kit said, strolling away from the work table. “Well, then, we’ll have to try it.” She swung an arm out to point at his work, then let it fall again, saying, “You, uh, have fun there, ‘k?” She gave him a weak grin, then wandered off toward the office ladder.

“Well isn’t she a little spitfire” Tiny thought to himself as he continued to wire up directional charges to be placed around the cannery at a later time. He was more than a tad worried he had almost plugged her full of holes. An asset like her needed protection. His uneasiness nearly cost this unit, and those kinds of mistakes are game changers. Spell slingers weren’t exactly a dime a dozen, and ones who could come back from being deep-fried and not miss a step – this one might be special.

Something nagged at him, tugging at the back of his mind. It has come out of his mouth without him evening knowing it and only just began to settle in. Mitch. It was a name he hadn’t thought about in years. He had blocked it out because, well, some things you just need to forget about. Tiny would never forget his face. His dead, lifeless eyes staring up at him. Tiny hadn’t been with the team very long – still breaking in his boots – and the shock of it still haunted him. Sure, he had seen death. Drek, he has been death’s right hand for some time. But Mitch was more than just some gutter punk picking the wrong fight. Mitch was like a brother. His unit, they were all like brothers. One moment of hesitation had cost a man his life. Tiny might have survived the mission but he had failed Mitch. He had cost his unit one of their strongest awakened assets. Maybe if he had been a step ahead he wouldn’t have died. Maybe Tiny wouldn’t have lost that arm of his to those fraggers who cut if off him.

Ghosts from the past haunted Tiny again, and so he stopped his work, leaned back in his chair and drank the pain away.

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