“Aife, are you sure this is a good idea?” Eratosthenes squeaked in my ear, steam escaping from behind both his ears with a loud hiss.
“See? Even the lizard thinks it’s a bad idea!” Sgt. Reynolds rumbled, tires skidding on loose gravel, “I realize we’re low on funds, but this is a disaster waiting to happen.”
“You always say that,” I retorted, weaving through the steady stream of military vehicles and fancy electric cars surrounding the airport, “and somehow we always make it through in one piece.”
“I prefer when your foolhardiness is likely to result in explosions and a dramatic sky battle,”Eratosthenes muttered, ducking under my collar and slithering around to my coat pocket.
I squirmed. “And I prefer when you sit still for ten consecutive seconds. I don’t know what you two are so worried about: we’re just responding to a classified ad asking for a competent mechanic to fix a fighter jet. I could put one of those together in my sleep!”
“Yeah, and you’d probably give it a fiery temper to go with the heavy artillery,” the Sergeant muttered, kicking mud up onto the windscreen of a sleek hover car.
“How do you manage to find mud puddles in the middle of a drought?” I sighed, glancing around to make sure the owner couldn’t see. I had enough trouble keeping a low profile without ticking off some big muckety muck before I got my hands dirty.
Both the Sergeant and Eratosthenes were still complaining as we pulled into a large hangar filled with derelict aeronautical vehicles. It was like a mechanic’s playground; my fingers itched to bring a few of them back to life. Sadly, I was here for business, and that business stood, shiny and utterly uninteresting, right in the middle of the hangar.
“At least the fighter jets of my day had interesting paint jobs,” Sgt. Reynolds grumbled, rolling to a stop by the most stereotypically dressed pilot I’d ever seen.
I ignored the comment and dismounted, pushing the kickstand down so the Sergeant wouldn’t fall over on the pilot’s foot. He didn’t usually do something that blatant, but I could never trust him around pilots.
“And what can I do for you on this fabulous morning?” the pilot asked, flashing me a grin that was clearly meant to make me weak at the knees.
“I’m here about the repair job on the fighter,” I replied, fishing my newscaster from the Sergeant’s saddlebag.
The pilot blinked in surprise. “You’re A. Scamallborn? I was expecting somebody more…”
“Male,” I finished for him, “I know. That happens a lot. But I can assure you, I’m the best mechanic this side of Neptune.”
The pilot’s eyebrow went up, and a patronizing look settled over his face. “I’m sure that’s what all the other Girl Scouts thought, but I’m afraid I need something more than your word.”
I sighed, and rolled my eyes. These military types were always the same. I gave my pocket a tap, and Eratosthenes burst out of it in a flurry of wings, steam, and tiny fireballs.
“That evidence enough for you?” I asked as Eratosthenes settled on top of my head.
The pilot’s grin came back, and he stuck his hand out. “That was truly impressive, Miss Scamallborn. I’m sure my jet is in good hands.”
“Call me Aife,” I replied giving his hand a firm shake.
“Only if you call me Jesse,” he replied with a wink, “now, time for you to meet the old lady.”
I rolled my eyes again as I followed him around to the front engine. At this rate, he’d be professing his undying love by the time the sun went down. What is it with pilots?
“We ran into a spot of bother protecting a cruiser from pirates,” Jesse said, giving the plane an affectionate pat.
“I’d hate to see what he calls real trouble,” Eratosthenes squeaked in my ear. I had to agree; the nose was riddled with bullet holes, and the left side of the engine had been blown clean off.
“You must be some pilot to bring her down in one piece,” I commented, making a mental list of all the replacement parts I needed. Maybe I could scrounge up something from the derelicts surrounding us.
Jesse’s grin turned into a smirk, and he threw me another wink. “I’m the best, doll.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes again; I didn’t want my frontal lobe permanently etched on my retinas. “You mind if I get started? I’d like to know just how badly you’ve fouled her up.”
Jesse’s smile flickered, but he stepped back and gestured to the plane, giving me a slight bow. “She’s all yours. Just let me know if you need anything.”
I just nodded, and set to work. It felt good to be working on something bigger than the Sergeant again, even if it meant I had to deal with a flyboy. It was always a bit tricky doing legitimate work; my tendency to provide equal services to anyone who requested them had put me on the wrong side of the authorities more than once. Nothing ever stuck; I just fixed the machines, I didn’t plan the raiding parties. Still, it tended to make the military types a tad jumpy around me.
“Nice wheels,” Jesse commented, I have no idea how many hours later.
I poked my head out to see him circling the Sergeant, a look of genuine admiration on his face. I jumped down, wiping the grease from my hands. “You know anything about motorcycles?”
He shrugged. “Seen them in films mostly. I dreamed of having one like this as a kid. Where did you find it?”
I shrugged back, and gave the Sergeant a pat. “He was on a scrap heap somewhere out in the boonies. Took a long time for me to find all the right parts, but it was worth it.”
“You rebuilt this from scrap?” Jesse looked impressed. I didn’t understand why, since he clearly trusted me to fix his plane.
“It’s not like they keep old army bikes in museums,” I replied, pulling my coat on, “Now, I’m starving. Where’s the best place to get some grub?”
“The Ambassador,” Jesse replied, “but something tells me that’s a bit out of your price range. Josie’s Diner is the best cure for a long day of hard work.”
“Josie’s it is then,” I hopped on the Sergeant, and settled my goggles over my eyes. “Now, are you giving me directions, or am I following you?”
“That depends,” Jesse’s grin was laced with mischief, “will you dance with me after dinner?”
Sgt. Reynolds’s motor gave a loud growl. I grinned back at Jesse. “Not a chance.”
We left him standing in the middle of the hangar, and roared out into the growing twilight.
“I remember passing a place called Josie’s on our way in,” Eratosthenes chirruped, much less subdued now that we were alone, “Do you think they have a take-out option? I don’t feel like spending more time with flyboy today.”
“I’m sure we can avoid that,” I chuckled, hooking my communicator over my ear and requesting to be connected to Josie’s.
Jesse was leaning against an antique sport’s car when I came out of Josie’s, arms loaded with greasy salty cheesy goodness.
“Picnic under the stars?” Jesse asked, swaggering up to me.
I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at him. “I was thinking of taking the Sergeant out to the river,” I ad libbed, hoping he’d never heard me call my motorcycle by name and that he’d assume I had a boyfriend already.
“Have you told him yet, or was it going to be a surprise?” Jesse snagged a stray french fry with a suggestive wink.
Great. He’d fallen for the made up boyfriend, but apparently that wasn’t much of an obstacle. No wonder the Sergeant hates flyboys.
“Take one more fry and I’ll break your face,” I said in all seriousness. I was starving, tired, and covered in engine grease. The last thing I wanted was to spend an evening making conversation with a cocky pilot.
“Don’t you mean you’ll have your boyfriend break it?” Jesse reached for my milkshake, still oozing self-assurance.
Before he could touch it, I set my food on the hood of his car, hauled off, punched him square in the nose, turned, and kicked him in the side of the head for good measure.
“I don’t need a boyfriend to fight my battles for me,” I said, retrieving my food and walking back to where Sgt. Reynolds and Eratosthenes were waiting for me.
“Is that going to cause us problems?” the Sergeant asked, unable to disguise the note of glee in his voice.
“Only if he feels like losing his street cred and admits he was beat up by a girl a head shorter than he is,” I replied, taking a long sip of cherry cola.
“It looks like you’re planning on feeding a family of four with this meal,” Eratosthenes commented, poking his snout into the food bag.
I smacked him away. “I haven’t eaten all day. Sue me for being hungry.”
Jesse didn’t show his face the next day, or the next. He finally showed up as I was attaching a new engine cover.
“Try not to fill this one full of holes,” I said, climbing down, “She’ll run forever otherwise.”
Jesse only nodded, clearly subdued by the bandage on his nose. “What do I owe you?”
I wiped my hands on a grease rag, and shoved it in my back pocket. “Your ad said 800 units. Seems a more than fair price for my services.”
Jesse nodded again, and produced a checkbook.
“Did you really make that tub of bolts good as new?” Sgt. Reynolds grumped as we drove away.
“She’ll fly forever,” I responded, a mischievous grin creeping over my face, “As long as he doesn’t try to take her over a thousand feet. She might have gained a fear of heights.”