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Well, Hell ...

Posted on Sun Jul 10th, 2022 @ 12:50am by Teague Harrington

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Backwater Moon
Timeline: Mission Day 35 at 1830

There was a book, old and grubby, used to steady a damaged table leg that he had read. It was back on Dyton in that little shop that everyone called the 'square egg store.' The proprietor was eighty if he was a day, but he remembered where everything was and never threw a thing away. If you couldn't find it anywhere else, that dusty little shop where every nook and cranny was jam packed with inventory was the place to go. Good coin dusting things too.

The book was all about the terraforming process and how it was basically replications of the same ecosystem with minor variations stemming from existing conditions on a particular world or moon. The salient point, as far as Teague was concerned, was that most of the vegetation, insects, and animals throughout the system were the same. He found a block of wood, about the right size, and swapped out the book. He took the book back to where he was sleeping and read it over the course of a week. The old man didn't seem to notice. Teague figured it would be good to know about the more dangerous parts of the natural world seeing as how he was city born and raised. However, like everything else, every word in the book just clung to his mind.

He returned the book, of course, put it right back under the table leg. Not long after that, the old man had shifted things around so there was a crate of used books near the back door. Right shame when he passed away and the business went to the idiot son who sent the old man to an unmarked grave, sold the inventory off, and fled Dyton ahead of his creditors. Might be, that some hard-earned coin went to having a headstone fashioned for the old man. Just seemed like the proper thing to do.

Reading the book turned out to be not a bad thing at all because, lying here in the dirt with a sharp rock digging into his hip, half-hidden by a patch of weeds, he had occupied his time identifying everything that crawled by. The snake had been a touch concerning but it seemed more interested in something far off than bothering him. Good thing too. Killing a snake would have drawn attention as would screaming like a girl and that wasn't out of the realm of possibility neither. Okay, he wasn't one to scream but it was true that he didn't like snakes; also true, that he wasn't armed. Stupid in retrospect but guns sort of tended to escalate a situation by their very presence. So, the snake was safe enough even if it had decided to take umbrage at Teague's presence on his patch of purely uncomfortable ground.

But the snake moved on and that was good because he didn't want attention. He was observing. Okay, spying. He was spying on the crew of the cargo vessel because it was weird how the deck hands and the captain always seemed to disappear for a few hours when they hit these backwater worlds. Not to the brothels or the bars, which would have been more in character. No. They left town and came back later with a lot of stories about things that didn't happen.

And so, Teague followed them because he lived by a set of rules and one of the big ones was all about staying away from trouble of the criminal variety. He wasn't a thief but the crew seemed to be -- every single one of them. The sound of their voices drifted toward him on the breeze as they worked, unloading cargo from the ship, into a pit that they covered up and made look natural. Dead drop. He'd read about them as well. Smugglers used them all the time.

He rolled over on his back, staring up at the sky, and sighed softly. "Well hell," he whispered. "Guess I'm looking for work in the morning."

 

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