Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty

“Let’s all sit down,” Rob suggested, as much as a suggestion was from his direct way of speaking. He coughed a bit before preparing to talk more and guided Wil to a seat on the plasticine couch. He then moved to his usual plastic and metal guest chair. His family turned and looked up at him expectantly.

Rob rubbed his face. “Wil,” he said, “Read your other letter. I need to talk to Jakob.” Jakob looked surprised and glanced up from his arms-on-knees slouch at Wil, Cynthia, and Rob. Wil was about to ask what he needed to say to Jakob, but Rob held up his hand. The same hand bent to gesture at her papers and he gave her a pointed look.

Wil looked down at the second part of her mail that she hadn’t read yet, a note folded haphazardly. It was the same way Wil often put things into envelopes: folding first; then realizing it wouldn’t fit, trying to crease the pages in various ways, and finally stuffing it in. Finding an edge, she opened the letter and spread it out on her lap.

To a background of deep voices occasionally rumbling inaudible words, Wil read the following:

Darling Wilhelmina,

How are you? I hope you are well. I also hope this letter does not shock you terribly. I don’t even know where to begin, so I will just start writing what comes to mind. Hopefully, you will understand.

I didn’t mean to have you. I mean, I was happy thrilled that you were born but I was not intending for that to happen.

I met Rob Winters your father when we were both young, at some party or something. Yes, a party. He was so very serious, but he asked me out on a date. Perhaps you are too young to be told about this sort of thing, but sometimes adults go on dates and end up drinking doing some things and then you find you’ve slept with them at their house even though you didn’t really like them that much. I find this happens a lot with me, but, well, let’s talk about you again, Dear.

That’s it, Wilhelmina: I had you. When you were first growing inside me, I thought about adoption. You know, finding one of those cute smiling couples who really want a child and can’t. But I knew you would be special. I even tried to keep you for a while after you were born but realized I couldn’t.

I gave you to your father -dear old boring dependable Rob, and told him that you were not to be told about me. I didn’t want to stress you out, you see.

The thing is, now I am older and I think I could meet you.

Maybe you don’t want to. -I know! Let’s think about this for a while. I’ll send another letter in a while and maybe you’ll want to talk then.

Please?

Sincerely Love Yours
-Guinevere Greene

P.S.
Just in case, my cell phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. -G.G.

Wil stared at her birth mother’s curvy letters, allowing an elephant’s worth of information and emotion to sink into her mind. From a distance she admired the extravagant, looping signature, the fancy words, the tone.

She looked up. Rob and Jakob had finished; Jakob’s expression looking a bit stunned but trying not to. Cynthia lay calmly, looking at her with concern.

For once, Wil felt nothing.

 

Continued from Fifty-Nine.

Skinwalkers XXXI

Nathan laughed, a quick, short chuckle. “I’m sorry, Shin.” He walked forward the two paces that separated them and placed a light hand on his friend’s shoulder. Even at such a delicate touch, Nathan felt Shin’s muscle flinch slightly.

“Speaking of secrets, Shin,” he began, but Shin pulled his arm and his person from Nathan’s reassurances.

From a guarded, withdrawn expression, Shin said, “It’s nothing. Probably wound the muscles up too much fixing your antique station.” He flashed Nathan a wry, hooded smile.

Nathan noted how his friend stood somewhat off-balance, favoring the arm Nathan had just touched. It was also the arm connected to the shoulder Lizard had slapped that premeal, and the one Nathan himself had punched in jest on their return from their workcycle. Still, none of those hits had been heavy enough to warrant the reaction Shin had. Nathan felt a pang of concern. “Shin,” he began.

“It’s nothing.” Shin moved away to the wall. He picked up the scanscreen and its wires and dumped them into his satchel.

Sighing, Nathan bent and carefully gathered a few modules. He carried them to Shin and set them on the floor. He returned and repeated the gesture till all were clumped just outside the bag.

“Thanks,” Shin grunted while packing the autodrill and the remaining tools.

“Shin,” Nathan said again.

“Hm?” Grunt. Pack.

Nathan thought for a full jiff before continuing. “I… might know someone you can sell to.”

Shin glanced up, sensory wires looped over his wrists like rainbow bracelets as he gave Nathan his full attention.

Nathan shuffled his slipshods, watched their dance, and tried to think of the right words to say. He cared for Shin, he really did, but wasn’t certain how far he could help without risking his own future plans. “You saw the skin…”

Shin nodded, his actions still poised above the satchel opening. “And the comm,” his friend prompted.

“Right. That, too,” Nathan said, allowing the illusion that the two were related. “Thing is, my neighbor hooked me up with the sk- with them.” He looked around, mostly to the wall he shared with Franks.

Shin defrosted, setting the mods into his bag and straightening. His expression appeared hopeful.

Internally, Nathan groaned. His conscience kicked briefly at his next words, though he could have sworn it had died a full year ago, at the last funeral he’d attended. “Yeah, his name’s Franks. He’s got a cousin or something at Fantastique.”

Shin flinched slightly at the name, as any sane city dweller did. Still, he swallowed and tried to look more determined. “I do need to sell them,” his eyes fell to the remaining coils on the floor. “Especially since their absence will be noticed, like, imminently.”

Nathan laughed. “True.”

“So… can you mesh me with this Franks?”

Kick, went Nathan’s conscience. “Sure,” said his mouth. “I’ll walk over there with you right now.” He paused. “Er, you may want to pack everything in tightly and only show him one or two.” He turned to Shin, noting his friend’s awkward gestures around his arm’s condition. “I’d hate for you to get hurt.”

Shin met Nathan’s gaze. Each man’s eyes spoke of an open honesty the other would never voice aloud. Instead, Shin nodded. “Thanks.”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXX.

 

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Nine

A few minutes later, the Winters sat together in Cynthia’s neutral-toned hospital room. This one had a different print hanging on the wall over the bed, a nice one of a girl with two braids standing among a garden of flowers. Its life and color stood out against the stark sage-beige theme that otherwise permeated the chilly room, and drew Wil’s interest at once.

Cynthia sat resting where she had for their last visit, and many before that for her entire life: propped up in the bed with IV and oxygen tubes dripping life into a body that seemed to repel it. Wil looked down from the picture of springtime to the face of her favorite person. Her mother’s misty blonde hair reminded Wil of a halo, even against the ugly bedspread of green sheets and paper pillows. Wil began to cry.

“Oh, Wil,” her mother began, opening clear blue eyes of concern. “It’s all right.” Wil cried harder, knowing otherwise. Rob and Jakob shifted uncomfortably; trying to find distraction in the tan walls, off-white window shade, or interlocking squares of cream and blue-green printed uniformly across the door curtain.

Cynthia offered her left arm to Wil, and Wil hurried to it. She tried to hug her mother gently, to not weep so deeply. Self-control seemed futile. They had talked about death, given it a name, and said it was coming. The moment she’d seen her mother laying there and thought of angels, Wil felt how very close Death actually walked. His form stood near enough that his cold shadow made her shiver; his voice whispered from the corners of their lives of imminent loss and despair.

“That’s enough, Wil,” Rob said sternly. He came around the bed and pulled Wil gently but firmly from Cynthia’s arm. Wil collapsed on him, instead. His rough face melted from surprise to a quiet pleasure. He shied from emotion, overwhelmed at his daughter’s level of expression; receiving it only when caught off-guard as Wil had done.

“I..” Wil choked, “I’m trying.” She lifted her wet face from her father’s chest, sniffed loudly, and breathed raggedly. “I just … it’s so… I didn’t want to actually lose Mom!” Wil concluded in slight wail, and dropped her face back onto Rob. He patted her back, a bit awkwardly, trying to ignore Jakob’s sigh.

Turning to give him a reprimanding look, Rob was surprised to see that his stepson was sighing because there were tears streaming down his cheeks as well. He hadn’t seen Jakob cry in public for a decade. Rob adopted Jakob after the baby years, and often thought the boy just didn’t cry. He looked over at Cynthia, and was not surprised to see her smiling his favorite, sweet smile through her own tears.

Despite the oxygen, Cynthia began another coughing fit. Three sad faces -two stained with tears- immediately lifted to look at her. She raised a hand of reassurance as she coughed, and they relaxed slightly.

Incessant beeping began from behind the bed. Wil realized that her mother was on monitoring equipment, and that the erratic oxygen levels induced by coughing had set it off.

Cynthia finished in a few seconds that lasted forever. The machine quieted. In the absence of noise, Wil heard thumping from a neighboring room or two receiving treatment, then picked out approaching footsteps. The door opened and Nurse Bea rushed in, clinking the door curtain to the side. She looked nearly as out of breath as Wil’s mother, though much more cheery.

“Ah,” Nurse Bea breathed in relief, “I see it’s stopped now.” She looked around at the somber assembly, and her expression became more bittersweet. “Don’t y’all worry for now.” She met Rob’s and Cynthia’s eyes. “The doctor will be in in a few minutes. He’s just finishin’ up on down the hall. I’ll leave you to it till then and you just holler if that ole machine acts up in the meantime.”

Leaving them with a parting smile and wave, she slid the separator back, left the room, and quietly pulled the door closed behind her.

 

Continued from Fifty-Eight.
Keep reading to Sixty.

Skinwalkers, XXX

Nathan coughed, choking. He stumbled mentally as well, in the absence of the quick-thought and decisive actions to which he was accustomed. Shin merely stood, waiting, watching; prepared to do so until Nathan answered to his satisfaction.

“Well, I …” Nathan began; stopped. “How…?” was another attempt. “Shin, I …?” He met his friend’s expectant gaze and abandoned most of his excuses. Beyond Shin, he saw the functional food station. He considered the stolen sensory modules and recalled many wise, subtle looks Shin had cast his way during past conversations. How could I have been so stupid?

Shin’s half-smile pulled at his serious expression as if he could read Nathan’s thoughts, and fully agreed with them.

“You saw the skin?” Nathan asked after the half-moment’s silence.

“Yup.”

“What about the comm-?”

“One on your bed got a note when I was stepping past your lazy, tart-eating corps.”

“Huh.”

Shin’s smile grew more pleased than humored. “No amount of theatrics study can replace good, old-fashioned observation.” Folding his arms, he repeated, “So, why, Nathaniel?”

Nathan’s brain came out of its reverie in a snap, quickly making up for its earlier behavior. He cast about, dithered, shrugged, and then admitted, “Nothing much. I tried for a job.” Feigning some embarrassment, he added, “It was at Carapace.”

Shin’s eyes widened and his mouth nearly dropped open. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Nathan continued. “Trying to rise up a little is all.”

Shin was quiet for half a moment, no doubt recalling Nathan’s anxiety en route to the job precycle. “And the extra comm?” he asked.

“Aren’t we fresh early on?!” Nathan teased. He paused, folding his arms, pretending consideration of the matter. After a jiff, he breathed in, then sighed loudly. “Nothing big, really. I worried about the work files on the old one.”

“Oh.” Shin turned this information over in his mind. “So…” he paused. “You were avoiding the stench of Ware Tech association.”

Carefully, Nathan nodded.

“Ha!” his friend said. “And I thought you were turning into a crime lord or something!”

“What?!” Nathan was truly surprised by this assumption, and showed it.

Shin chuckled a bit more, then trailed off to another awkward silence. He looked at his impressive display of illegal electronics. “Damn.”

“What?”

“Well…” Shin rubbed the back of his head. “Now what am I gonna do with them?”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXIX.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXXI.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Eight

Wil looked up, startled. Sure enough, there stood her beloved step-brother. His mouth was turned up in its characteristic jeer. From where her mind had just been, she immediately wondered if Jakob knew the content and meaning of the papers an inch beyond her reaching hands. Instinctively, she snatched them and brought them to her chest.

She sniffed, raised her head, and turned to look back at the windows. Jakob laughed a bit, though not as deeply as any of them had for years. Looking around the room once, he dropped into a chair near the table and put his feet up. His imitation down coat exhaled against the imitation leather backing as his worn boots clunked onto the imitation wood tabletop. If Wil hadn’t moved her things, his feet would have landed on them.

She carefully backed into a chair that was still upright. Lifting her required reading for English class in her left hand, she pretended to be absorbed in it. As Jakob snorted, tilted his head onto the back of the chair, and closed his eyes, Wil slid the sensitive papers to her side with her right hand. She winced as they crinkled audibly, and hurriedly shoved them under her thigh.

Jakob snorted again, and turned his angled head to look at Wil. “Is Mom in the back?”

Wil nodded. Aloud, she added, “She was coughing a lot and said we needed to come to the hospital.”

Regular sterile hospital sounds filled the quiet after she spoke: distant footsteps, muted beeping and paging, and the rush of the heated air warming the room from floor vents.

Jakob cleared his throat, then swallowed. Though he tried to hide it, his voice sounded huskier as he asked, “Is she okay?”

Wil looked over the top of the page and met his eyes. They were blue like Cynthia’s, but more serious than his stepmother’s ever were. As much as Jakob teased Wil, it was this seriousness that stopped Wil from teasing as much as he did.

“I don’t know,” she admitted, “but I don’t think she’s dying yet.” She attempted a weak smile, and Jakob’s mouth resisted the urge to complete one of his own. He rolled his eyes and breathed in deeply.

“Nice, Minnie,” he said sarcastically, and closed his eyes again.

Between his pretended napping and Wil’s pretended reading, they only jumped a bit at the door suddenly opening and admitting a plump nurse into the room just a few minutes later.

“Well, hello again!” her ever-cheery voice enthused. It was Nurse Bea, forever full of glee.

 

Continued from Fifty-Seven.
Keep reading to Fifty-Nine.

Skinwalkers, XXIX

“You’d better take that,” Nathan said. “I’m fat.”

Shin laughed. “You know that used to mean -”

“Yeah.” Nathan smiled. “I know.” Patting his abdomen, he said, “I ate the tartlet after a full midmeal bundle, so I might be that definition, too.”

They both stared at the hot food, their levity evaporating with the steam. For a moment, neither moved. Neither spoke. The air between and around the two friends filled instead with a thousand unspoken questions, of potential connections that neither wished to initiate.

Nathan moved first, turning to glance at Shin’s impressive collection of stolen sensory modules. “So, what’s your plan with the mods?”

Shin eyed them as well. Sighed. “I, um, well… I thought to sell them and make enough to stick around.” He rubbed the back of his head and shuffled his feet. “Don’t really know the right contact, though.”

“Hmm.”

Shin stopped shuffling and looked slyly at Nathan. “You wouldn’t know anyone, would ya?”

Now Nathan shifted uncomfortably. He did, but also knew the potential risk that awaited those who thought to walk illegal paths. In fact, he was only just seeing the crumbling edges of the business deal he’d made with Franks, one he’d felt confident he could handle.

“Nathaniel?”

Shin’s anxious query, his concerned look brought Nathan back to the situation at hand. “I don’t think it’s as easy as you think it might be…” Nathan began. His gaze flitted to Shin’s face, but his friend seemed bemused.

“Well, I don’t think it’s a simple citystroll down to Wal-Bank or something!”

“Sure, it’s just that -”

“Nathaniel.” Shin’s smile became a piercing expression. “Let’s get real.” He straightened, all pretense gone.

Nathan, riveted, subconsciously held his breath.

“I’ve got some real cred here,” Shin began.

Nathan let out a little air.

“I need a way to charge in.”

Nathan relaxed a bit more.

“Really, though,” Shin said, “I think we need to address the big questions. Like, why do you have two comms, a fresh skin, and the insistence to keep this all to yourself?”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXVIII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXX.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Seven

“However does a woman of my station get into such fixes?” sighed Wilhelmina Winters, heiress of Tara, and belle of East Dixie. The dainty, shadowed face she spoke to could not respond, but did return her wistful look exactly. In fact, her companion returned all Ms. Winters’ expressions and movements. She was limited only by the edge of the window, where the wall began.

Ms. Winters leaned against the cool glass, touching her cheek sadly to that of her mute friend. She breathed deeply, rustling the deep satin of her long, ruffled dress. She contemplated on how frequently she had the misfortune to return to this lonely room, to this forsaken institution.

Her father, the well-known army general, owner of the prosperous Winters Manufacturing Co-Op, and current master of Tara, had thoughtfully left his daughter enlightening materials with which to properly divert herself. But, Ms. Winters hadn’t the heart to read her school-book at present. She felt only the desire to brood; or, perhaps, to commiserate with the outside-elements-filled version of her own self she saw reflected back.

A door opened; a nurse came hurriedly out. He did not come to Ms. Winters, nor acknowledge her presence. The happy flurry Ms. Winters’ heart had felt now settled down deeply in disappointment. The return of the same distracted nurse a minute later settled her spirits further still.

He entered the door he had previously exited, leaving only the memory of teal-green behind. The air disturbed by his actions blew slightly at the book Ms. Winters was to read whilst waiting, resting unobtrusively upon a table nearer to the room’s exit. Her eye, drawn by the action, finally saw a most important thing she had missed at first glance: her book sat upon the papers she had been reading when her mother first realized their need to come hurriedly to this institution.

In short, an important letter that Ms. Winters had been curious to continue reading was sitting there within her reach! Forgetting her window friend immediately, she strode briskly across the low-pile floor. Her grand black boots stepped solidly as her wide, full skirt shushed silkily atop its stiffened crinoline.

Forgetting decorum, she excitedly reached both hands toward her things, upsetting a few periodicals and a neighboring chair.

“Hel on wheels,” a sarcastic voice said from the room’s entrance. Jakob had arrived; just in time to witness Wil’s graceful rush to the table, and just in time to use one of his favorite nicknames for her.

 

Continued from Fifty-Six.
Keep reading to Fifty-Eight.

Skinwalkers, XXVIII

Nathan scuttled nearer the cannibalized sensory modules as his friend got right to work. Before he fully settled onto the hard ground, however, something flew through the air and smacked him on his shoulder. It was the last meal bundle. “What the-” he began, looking up in time to see the tartlet falling toward him as well. In startled automatic response, he caught it.

“Smooth,” Shin said, glancing over. He laughed, deactivated power to the area, and began removing restraining bolts with the autodrill.

Nathan relaxed into a sitting position on the hard floor and watched Shin. He attempted to eat the food station’s final offering, and was not surprised to find the tartlet as tasteless as the rest. “Good effort,” he told the machine, mock-toasting it with the singed dessert.

“I can quit, you know,” Shin replied, in a bit of a grunt. His left hand was up inside the wall, twisting his back in odd convulsions. His gaze flitted to the scanscreen clutched between his right hand and the wall, checking to see when he made the appropriate connection. “There!” Dropping the scanscreen to dangle from a twist of wires, he marched to his satchel and pulled out a few more tools.

“Hey!” Nathan exclaimed, as Shin trod heavily very near to Nathan’s slipshod feet in passing.

Shin feigned innocence; began adjusting an interior mechanism. “Soon’s you’re done, sleeper, get over here.”

Although he’d had no desire to finish it, Nathan took a deliberate, minuscule bite of the tartlet. He kept his expression empty, in an overall appearance of nonchalance. Another nibble. Then another.

Shin stopped, turned, and put his hand on his hip. One of his eyebrows drew upwards as his mouth puckered in a twist. He even tapped a foot. The worn soles echoed dully in the near-empty apartment.

The treat in Nathan’s hand proved too small to keep him from action for long. Besides, the suncycle was moving on and he needed to rest. His wristwatch beeped in agreement.

“What was that?” Shin asked, saw the watch, raised a truly curious face to Nathan’s.

“A wristwatch.”

“Well, obviou-”

“Whatcha need me for?” Nathan interrupted. He rose and walked to stand near his friend, waiting.

Shin drew in a breath, a bit hurt, but not pressing the question. “Drag the tools closer, if you can.” Grunting, Nathan complied. Shin worked in near silence for half a tick, keeping further comments restricted to which tool he needed or whether he wanted Nathan to support a crucial piece.

“I’m trustly, you know,” he said, finally. His focus shifted briefly to meet Nathan’s eye, then back to the screen.

Nathan sighed. “I know.” He pushed tantalizing thoughts of forever friendships and open trust far from his imaginations, and left the conversation where it was.

“Time for the cover again,” Shin said. They hefted it in place and secured it. Shin reactivated power and the machine defied Nathan’s gloomy expectations by whirring to life. They could hear the cooling mechanism humming, even more quietly than it had before. Shin smiled. “Try it.”

Doubtful of the outcome, Nathan leaned in and pressed the Midmeal button. An indistinct whir of gears came to him from the food station, and a countdown lit up the display. “I didn’t know it could do that!” He said, and laughed.

Shin smiled a ghost of his usual expression.

*Ding* sang the machine, and a perfectly-prepared meal bundle landed in the vending area. It was even steaming.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXVII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXIX.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Six

One reason Rob had chosen their current apartment was its proximity to Cynthia’s medical clinic. Unfortunately, Wil reflected as she watched cars, stores, and traffic lights move through her dim reflection in the car window, the clinic was not where they needed to go for emergencies. Also, that health facility was closed, as most seemed to be, on Fridays. She had often wondered if the doctors all thought no one got sick at the end of the week.

She turned to watch shadowed pieces of sunset play over her parents’ faces in the front seat. Her father sat tensely, his thick fingers turning ever whiter in their grip on the steering wheel. His eyes bored through the windshield, willing them at the hospital already.

Her mother –Yes, my mother, Wil told herself. –Wait! Where did those papers go?– sat in her relaxation pose. Cynthia’s head lay back, her blonde hairs dusting the headrest. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing was carefully shallow.

Rob’s cell phone chimed. Wil jumped, then realized it was just a notification. “Mina. Please.” Her father’s request, as usual, was a succinct command. Forgetting her train of thought, she leaned forward and took the phone from the console.

Putting in the simple code of one horizontal line to unlock the screen, Wil saw that Jakob had texted back. She cleared her throat and said, “It’s Jakob. He says, ‘Class almost out. Can get ride to hospital with Jen.'” She looked up, curious. “Who’s Jen?”

Cynthia laughed, which brought on another coughing fit. Wil looked distraught, a feeling made worse by the stern look her father wore when she caught his face in the rearview mirror.

They were nearly to the hospital when Cynthia caught her breath. As Rob carefully navigated into the parking garage, she turned her head to look at Wil. “I love you, Wil,” she said sweetly. “Always curious.” Wil did not look reassured, which almost set Cynthia going again. She swallowed a few times, allowed herself a smile, and said, “Don’t worry, Honey. I don’t know who Jen is, either. It’s probably just a girl in the same class who has a car.”

They pulled into a spot, and Rob put the car into park. Securing it with the parking brake, he turned and pulled his cell phone from Wil’s hand. “Let’s go,” Rob said, ever tactful and patient.

Cynthia smiled up at him, loosening his features into his version of the expression.
Wil hastily unbuckled. She pushed the car door open, hitting the cement wall they were parked by. Rob sighed. Cynthia had to suppress another laughing fit. Wil looked around, expecting Jakob to say, “I hope Wil marries a car detailer,” as he always did when she dented their car. She remembered that he wasn’t there, and instead looked apologetically up at her father.

“Nevermind, Wil,” he said, tiredly. “Just get out and close it. If you can.”

Leaving their sedan with all its scratched doors locked and secured, the Winters walked out of the garage and to the doors of City Hospital.

 

Continued from Fifty-Five.
Keep reading to Fifty-Seven.

Skinwalkers, XXVII

Nathan spent his premeal moment chewing and working through the stages of grieving, for his food station. He delighted in doing so, since he’d learned the stages from a mindagent to cope with his father’s passing. Applying them to an equally soulless but more useful machine was the perfect, “Shuck you!” the old man deserved.

He had just determined to prise open the cover and sell the contents before they rotted, when his apartment notified him of Shin’s arrival. “Access,” he told the security, not moving from his position on the hard floor. Half a jiff after hearing the rush of outside ambiance, Nathan was rewarded with the appearance of his old work friend yet again.

“Missed me?”

Nathan smiled and stretched out his legs. “Yeah. I needed to tug a bit and remembered your endshift show.”

Shin laughed. “No thanks!” He stopped within Nathan’s outspread legs, stretched, and dropped a bulging satchel with every appearance of a feigned accident.

“Hey!” Nathan automatically sat up straighter against the wall.

“What?” Shin answered innocently. He walked over to the wall, whistled at the dead station and its offerings, grabbed a bundle, and sunk down next to Nathan to eat it. “Did it ever make tasty meals?” he said whilst attempting to bite into the singed part.

“Not really.”

“Hm.”

After a moment, Nathan turned to his friend. “You still have your tools?”

Shin grunted. Chewed.

“I thought to dig out the other meals. Sell them.”

Grunt. Chew.

“All right, maybe just throw them at a few dwellers.” He couldn’t read anything committal on Shin’s face. “You have them or no?”

Sighing around a bulging mouthful, Shin sat up and leaned toward his satchel. He drew it toward them and opened the top. His eyebrows lifted slightly in smug humor as he pulled out an autodrill, electrical supports, fasteners, and a scanscreen. Nathan gasped. Before he could verbally react, however, Shin swallowed and his face broke into that sarcastic half-smile. Reaching back in, he further extricated around ten wire-wrapped circuit boards and laid them in a neat line nearer to Nathan’s sleeping area.

“Are those…?” Nathan began, but didn’t finish. He knew what they were, from the articles he’d read when street dwellers cannibalized the autoads a couple of planetcycles ago.

None my bizness,” Shin imitated smugly, matching the tone and delivery of the worker who’d snapped at them just that premeal. “Now,” he said in his own voice, “Let’s see about fixing your station. Maybe I can even get it to make food.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXVI.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXVII.