Nathan found most of hardware upkeep monotonous and repetitive. Given his and Shin’s current location inside Carapace, however, his senses were acutely more strained. He stole a glance at his friend. Shin wore the same introspective expression he’d modeled at Check In.
Nathan withdrew a tray and bowed over it with his currentmeter. Under cover of verifying a key bus, he studied Shin more closely. His friend sighed as he worked at a pace that would shame a lamed elder. His brows drew together; his face drew together. A small storm cloud hung over Shin’s dreary, hunched form. Nathan set his personal anxieties about Carapace aside.
“So, what’s itching you?” He casually asked.
He was rewarded with the nearly silent *clink* *clink* of a circuit board against metal side mounts and the eternal hum of machines and fans. Shin exhaled loudly, then answered, “Nothin’, Nathaniel. Thanks for asking.”
They finished a rack. Five down, thousands to go, thought Nathan. He and Shin stood and stretched their arms and legs before squatting in front of Rack #6. Each man removed a tray and began inspecting it.
“I’m not buying that,” Nathan said, in between trays.
“Good,” Shin quipped, shaking a tray slightly toward him. “‘Cause you can’t even afford a capacitor on this.”
Nathan laughed. “Nice.” They worked in computer silence once more, before he tried again. “You know what I meant. You look like my Grams at a deathing.” He glanced over and caught the end of Shin’s smile, just before it sunk back to its habitual frown.
They stretched, then opened Rack #7. “I gotta leave,” Shin mumbled. Nathan almost didn’t hear him.
*Clink* Hmmmm *Clink*
“Are you running?” Nathan asked. Shin didn’t seem the sort to be in trouble, but one never knew these days. Even he, Nathan, had gotten tangled in some less than legal dealings recently.
Shin coughed out a bitter laugh. “Nah, N. I just ran out of charge.” They each withdrew another tray from the tower. “The place is getting deactivated tomorrow,” he explained from a pretend-close scrutiny of the circuitry in his hands.
“Oh,” Nathan said. “Sorry.” The housing in the city may not have been picturesque, but he knew eviction black-marked one’s record for years. They worked their way through racks 7 thru 10 without adventure. “What are you going to do?”
Shin shrugged and returned a tray to its rack. “Go back home, I guess.”
“Probably get stuck in a shaft before payment.”
“Oh? The mines are that bad, huh?”
Shin didn’t answer; just smiled sadly. “I’ll send you a shiny rock before it happens,” he offered.
Nathan forced a laugh, attempting a lighthearted sound. “All right, Shin,” he said. “But if it’s not shiny, I demand an in-person replacement!”