Warnings : Yaoi, angst, OOC, language, slightly bastardized characters, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading above and beyond the call of duty!
Thanks to Aya and Yume for opinions rendered.
Feed-back is a dream I have...
And I don't own anything in this series, either.


So is there anybody out there who didn't guess that I would end up in the salvage business? I mean, what the hell else was I going to do? Run back to L2? I don't think so; if I never saw that place again as long as I lived it would be entirely too damn soon. The Preventors? Seemed perfect for Heero and Wufei, but when the war was over, that was the last thing I wanted; more intrigue, more fighting, more pain. I couldn't handle it. Quatre had offered me a position on his staff, working as a consultant to his security team, but I knew he'd only done it to be nice. I loved the little guy like a kid brother; but charity is still charity and damned if Duo Maxwell needed any handouts.

So off I went, running back to Howard and the Sweepers. I worked with them for a while, taking various second jobs at night until I accumulated enough money to buy myself a small ship, then branched out on my own. For a time, I threw myself into the task of building my own reputation apart from the Sweepers, letting it be my whole focus. I christened my ship 'Maxwell's Demon' and set out to take on all the jobs that nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole. I didn't bother with an apartment, but lived on my ship and spent every waking moment that wasn't taken with the job working on her.

It allowed me no time to think beyond the moment, allowed no time to reflect on the past.

I worked with Howard's crew sometimes, when the job was bigger than my small ship could haul. There were no hard feelings between the Sweepers and me when I left to start out on my own. I wasn't taking business away from them after all; the jobs I took were ones that Howard wouldn't touch anyway.


It took me a couple of years of throwing myself at suicide jobs but I finally developed a reputation as the pilot who could bring back anything. So, in those years that things were getting lean for most salvage operations, I was still doing all right for myself.

That's what brought me to Howard's office one fine day, contemplating a job that my former mentor was calling insane. Calling insane even as he was trying to figure out how to accomplish it. As I said... times were lean.

"That's a hell of a job offer, Howard," I told him, my eyes drawn to pick out all the strange little pictures on his horrendous Hawaiian shirt. Was that a picture of a flying pig in a grass skirt?

"If I was nuts," he retorted, passing me a bottle of beer from the little fridge he kept in his office.

"Well," I drawled, accepting the bottle with a grin, "we've both been accused of that before."

"I'm not sure even I'm that crazy." He sighed; opening his own bottle and dropping wearily back into his creaky, old desk chair, the one with duct tape holding the stuffing in the arm rests.

"Then, do you mind explaining what I'm doing here?" I smirked. It was him after all, who had called me.

There was another heavy sigh and he tilted the bottle back and took a long drink. "The business is in trouble."

I glanced back down at the specs that lay on the desk in front of me, oddly intrigued and knowing what an asinine thought that was. "And... ?" I prompted.

An almost angry look crossed his face, not directed necessarily at me. "I guess I just wanted another junk man to tell me how crazy this job is. I need somebody else to tell me how stupid it is so I can stop thinking about how I could keep from going out of business if I took it," he snapped.

He was being tempted to take an incredibly lucrative, totally suicidal job as a last minute, desperate act... and wanted me to tell him "No."

I swallowed a gulp of beer and looked at him soberly, "I could do it."

Howard does not have the kind of face that should ever gawp, it isn't pretty, but that's just what he did. That and spit beer.

I laughed from the sheer fun of watching him. That and seeing the hope begin to glimmer that he might be able to pull this off and save his ships and his yard from bankruptcy. I did, after all, owe this man and his crew a couple of times over.

"Duo... "he muttered, wiping beer off his front, "don't be an ass."

"Not with my 'Demon',"I told him, setting down my beer and picking up the papers to leaf through them again, "But if you could supply the ship... "

That was generally how we worked together on the occasions when we did; he brought the equipment and the manpower to the table and I brought the piloting skills and the... total lack self-preservation tendencies.

"The fuel alone... " he murmured and I grinned at him, knowing that he'd started considering it despite himself.

"I was thinking about that," I prompted. "If we used a slingshot launch... "

He cut me off with a scowl, "That would add two weeks to the out trip... "

"So?"I leaned back in my chair and tilted it on two legs, propping my feet up on his desk; I knew I had him. He would end up letting me do this; I would save his business, clinch my reputation and make a tidy profit to boot. Assuming I pulled it off.

"That would make it four weeks in space, total. The target is in a damned dangerous area, in an erratic orbit. It's crazy Duo... " I could tell he was trying to convince himself now, though, and not me.

Yeah, it was a nasty looking little job. One of the last left over from the war. You could say that much about wartime, it had made a damned lucrative pastime out of salvage. But the pickings were getting lean with almost three years gone. This one had lain untouched all this time because nobody had been inclined to go after it with easier spoils available. But there she was, a small command cruiser abandoned in the asteroid belt when her engines had been damaged in battle. There was more than just scrap metal there; there was data as well. That was what prompted our soon-to-be client to offer the hefty salary for bringing her back. They didn't care about the ship itself, which meant the material salvage would be pure profit.

I shrugged off Howard's concerns, "What's a month in space?" I asked, "I don't have plans for the weekend and dangerous territory is what I do."

He gave me that look that tells me he'd like to smack me up the side of my head. Howard has a tendency to treat all his men like adopted sons.

"You won't have a lot of contact," he informed me. "No real backup; the communication window is only going to be about an hour a cycle."

I tilted the beer bottle up and drained it to cover the grin that was trying to spread all over my face; I'd won. I heard it when he went from 'could' to 'would'. We were about to cut a deal. "You know I work alone," I told him when the beer was gone.

In the end we agreed on a fifty/fifty split, though Howard didn't want to take that much. He outfitted his best ship and agreed to dock my 'Demon' until I got back, with the understanding that she was his if I didn't.

So, a week after our little talk, I packed my books, my music and my own vacuum suit and climbed aboard Howard's primary ship, the 'Randy Wench'. I more than felt the weight of the hopes of the entire Sweeper gang on my shoulders. My success or my failure would mean their futures in the business. Howard's second, Kurt, was the last man out the lock before lift off. He paused there, his face hesitant and embarrassed. I'd learned a lot of what I know about ship repairs at this man's elbow.

"Duo," he muttered, fidgeting with something in his hands, "the guys and me... we want you to know that... well, we appreciate... "

Appreciate... and felt guilty as hell that none of them could bring themselves to make this run with me. But that was what I was here for, damn it; they all had families and responsibilities to go home to. If something happened to me, there wouldn't be any hysterical widow or orphaned children left behind. Not even an abandoned dog. So I cut him off with a grin, "Hey, man; I'm getting a cut of this profit too."

He ducked his head and only cleared his throat; I apparently didn't have any of them fooled about the real reason I was making this run. That was another lesson I had learned from this group of guys; the value of friendship and that you did what you had to when people needed you. Suddenly he was thrusting something into my hands.

"We wanted you to have this... for luck." He was gone before it quite had a chance to register what it was he had shoved into my hands. Howard and his men had served during the war, maybe not as full-fledged, commissioned enlisted men, but kind of behind the scenes; as far as I was concerned, where it really mattered. Kurt had lost a leg not six months before the damn war was over. Dangling from my fingers on a leather thong was his special service award. He wore the damn thing like I wore my cross; I'd never seen it off him. I felt cold standing there holding it in my hands; it was like some kind of damn sacred trust. His way of assuring himself that I'd come back in one piece I supposed. I slipped the medallion around my neck and tucked it inside my shirt beside Father Maxwell's gold cross and vowed to bring it back to him.

We had settled on the slingshot launch, using gravitational fields to send the 'Wench' outward, toward the asteroid belt that was my final goal. It would save on fuel costs but cost more in time. The trip was a week on boosters, but three using this method. I really didn't care. It's not like anybody was racing me to the salvage site. I had all the time in the universe and then some.


For the first couple of days, the communications channels were just fine and I talked to Howard or one of the guys fairly frequently. Spacers don't like the idea of a man on his own for extended periods. Some guys just couldn't take it; drove 'em stark raving mad. Free-fall fever they called it, or vacuum disease, or spacers madness. Used to be worse in the early days of space travel, when the trips between the planets took freaking years instead of weeks and months. You never went by yourself; every ship had at least a pair or trio of partners. I think it unnerved the guys that when I had gone out on my own I'd never picked up a second. But then, I don't suppose they ever stopped to think about the rarity of personality types that could stand being cooped up with me for extended periods of time. Ask any of the guys who used to share safe houses with me; I am apparently... an irritating sort.

Howard would continually give me last minute pointers and little reminders of things to watch out for. Kurt, at least would play games of chess with me. He had a board set up and would call the moves as he made them, moving my pieces as I called my moves. He thought I had a board set up on the ship; I didn't tell him I was just doing it in my head. That kind of thing sort of unnerved them even when we were all living together. I figured out early on that you just kept some things to yourself. The fact that I could comp a launch trajectory in my head was not something they needed to know, so when I wasn't by myself, I used the computer to do it. Maybe that was one of the reasons I didn't want a partner; it was kind of nice not having to worry about people watching me. I didn't have to keep up appearances out here. Nobody to fool meant I didn't have to keep up the grinning façade.

I'm honestly fairly used to spending my time alone; I have my books and my music after all. So I let them think that I slept a lot more hours than I actually did so that I had some time to prowl over the 'Wench', learning all her secrets. A ship really is like a lover. If you want to be able to count on them in a pinch, you have to expend some effort building the trust. The 'Wench' is an... interesting ship. Mechanically as sound as anything in space; all of Howard's ships are. But her innards showed the hand of a group of very diverse guys. The galley, for instance, is painted the most God-awful shade of canary yellow. What? You were expecting austere steel gray? Come on; when you may have to stick a crew in a ship and leave them there for weeks or months at a time they need those little things like color. The galley on my 'Demon'? Since you asked, it's painted like a cloud scudded blue summer sky and the floor is green so that every meal is like a picnic. Well, that was the intent anyway. The effect might be better if I spent the funds to stock it with more than military ration bars.

So I spent the out trip getting to know the 'Wench', listening to Howard advise me on how not to get my ass killed, and playing chess with Kurt. Until the communications window began to fade and I was down to that hour, then the chess games stopped.

When it wasn't my designated hour of check-in, I had my music on the speakers and it flowed through the whole ship, with me where ever I went. I don't mind the being alone part, but I do mind the quiet. Voices come to fill the silence if you don't fill it with something else first. So I played my music and talked to the 'Wench' and read my books and sailed on. I can't wait until they advance things enough to make a voice response system for ships. Like in that old vid-show. I will program in the most kick-ass, sexy voice I can find and record the most smart-ass remarks. I entertained myself for an entire quarter cycle thinking up tag lines for different situations:

Proximity alarm?

"Wake up, sunshine! We're about to hit the biggest damned asteroid you've ever seen!"

Course correction?

"You call yourself a pilot? Watch where you're going!"

Gauge readings?

"What do you mean we ran out of fuel!?"

Maintenance reminders?

"The stuffy air you are noticing would be because somebody needs to clean the air filters."

But then I started think about who the sexy voice would actually sound like and all the comments started to have the word 'baka' in them. I quit that game.

After I'd been over the ship pretty much from end to end, I spent most of my time reading. I was working my way through the classics; had just finished everything written by Dickens and was starting on Poe. The contrast was rather amusing; though by the time I got through the 'Tell Tale Heart' I was starting to long for something a little more... lightweight. Poe was a seriously deranged man.

Howard laughs at me and my books. Doesn't understand why I don't just use electronic copies like everyone else. But I like the feel of the books in my hands; it reminds me of growing up in the orphanage. Any material that passed through there had to be real, bound books. Father Maxwell could never have afforded anything as expensive as a computer. He and Sister Helen treated anything that came to them with a certain reverence; books were a luxury and very few of them came our way. I had devoured whatever I could get my hands on, determined to learn everything I could of the world outside the hellhole I lived in.

I bought my books in batches, as I could afford it, but you can't keep a lot of that sort of thing when you live on a space ship. As I finished them, I packed them off and donated them to several orphanages on L2. Shipping was a bitch but it made me feel better thinking that I might be giving some little kid a window on another world. I had sent off the Dickens collection just before I had lifted off. The collected works of Poe was with me, and aboard my 'Demon' waited Rudyard Kipling and Lord Tennyson. After a week of Poe, I was starting to wish I had brought the Kipling.

The last couple of days before I hit the turn-around point and began my deceleration, I think that Howard was starting to regret the whole thing. His voice when we talked sounded strained and I think if he could have aborted the job, he would have. I didn't get to talk to anyone else during that hour anymore. Howard was on the whole time and spent most of it making sure I didn't forget anything crucial. I usually had a headache by the time the window closed.

"You're sleeping ok, right?" he questioned. "You have to be at a hundred percent when you get there... there's no room for mistakes."

"Yes Daddy." I tried teasing but most of it went right passed him.

"She's a soft touch on the boosters, did I tell you that?"

"Only about fifty times so far." 'I tried to just lay back and let it wash by me; I really didn't need him making me nervous right now.

"You retest all the tether lines, you hear me?" I could always tell when the hour was almost up from the faint rise in his voice.

I resisted the urge to say, been there... done that, and gave him a hearty, "I'll get right on that."

It was two days to target; there would be only one more communication window before it all came together. Howard was not handling the strain of this very well.

"Duo... you be damned careful; you hear me?" He sounded really upset. "I... I shouldn't have told you about this damned job... I wish I'd never... "

I was shocked; this didn't even sound like the Howard I knew. The last minute was ticking away. 'Howard. Calm down, I'm fine. What the hell's wrong? We speced this all out together... everything is going to be... '

The clock told me that he probably didn't hear anything after everything. I sat in the pilot's seat for a while, too stunned to move. What in the hell was going on with him? Howard is a worrier, sure, but this seemed a little extreme. Yeah, it was a dangerous job, but that had been my specialty for the last three years. Even when I was still with Howard's crew full time, I had been the prime pick for the delicate jobs. The guys used to tease me about my 'gentle touch' on the controls. I found that I was not looking forward to tomorrows talk with Howard.

I spent the rest of the cycle making sure everything was stowed and battened down; wouldn't do to have one of my books come sailing through the cock-pit at some critical moment. I went to sleep a little early, just to appease Howard, and ate a decent breakfast when I woke. I sat down in the pilot's chair at the designated time with a heavy sigh and a pouch of strong coffee.

It wasn't Howard's voice I got when the window came clear though;

"... .Duo?" It was Kurt, sounding... a little strange.

"Hey buddy!"I almost crowed, relieved that I might escape the hour-long lecture I had been expecting. "What's up?"

He chuckled, "What's the matter?" I could hear the wide grin even through the static and across the miles, "Expecting Howard?"

"Well... " I chuckled in return, "he has been dominating most of the conversations."

"The guys and me, we thought we'd... rescue you." I could hear that there was an underlying story here.

"What have you done?" I queried in mock severity.

"Drugged Howard's beer."

I laughed so hard I almost spit coffee all over the controls.

"You have to be kidding! He's going to kill you!"

His reply sounded rueful and I could imagine the hangdog look on his face. "I know. But he's making himself crazy worrying over this."

The laugh wound down to a chuckle and I sighed, "Tell me about it."

Howard would throw a fit when he woke up. Tools would be hurled. Curses would be delivered. I knew Kurt would take sole blame, because he's about the only one of the crew that Howard wouldn't fire over it.

"Thanks, man," I told him and tried to put the warmth in it. "But... what in the hell has him so damned edgy?"

There was the slightest hesitation. "He's been having nightmares. He feels guilty about letting you go." I could almost hear the shrug, "He found out that we aren't the first crew to go after this wreck."

For a minute I thought he meant I was racing someone else to the job site but then the tone of his voice hit me and I knew what he meant.

"Why the hell didn't he just tell me?" I blurted.

Kurt sighed heavily. "He knew he couldn't convince you to call it quits and was afraid it would just make you nervous."

"Who was it?" I asked, most of the people in the business know all the other people in the business.

"Sanderson," he told me; a small, family run team that had folded and gone under about a month ago.

"Was this the job that took them down?" I knew even as I was asking, that it had to be so.

"Yeah," Kurt confirmed. "Lost the oldest and the youngest son. The old man just didn't have the heart for it anymore."

"Damn," I muttered, the Sanderson crew had been a decent lot. Had beaten me out of a couple of jobs early on. Old man Sanderson was a hell raiser from the word go but had been proud as hell of those boys. That would have left him with just his daughter. I didn't envy her.

"Listen Duo," Kurt was saying, "me and the guys want you to know that we'd understand if you turned back... "

I snorted. "Hell Kurt; I'm almost there. Might as well at least scope it out."

He sighed again; he wasn't surprised. "Well, don't tackle it if things look too bad. Just walk away from it, understand?"

His voice was gruff; Kurt was not a guy who had ever gotten all emotional about things. Even when he lost his leg, he had just gone on, sure and steady Kurt.

"I thought you drugged Howard to save me from the lecture, Papa Kurt," I observed dryly and he laughed.

"Ok, squirt," he chuckled, calling me by the much-hated nickname the Sweepers had used for me when I first started with them, "I give."

We just talked for a bit then, about nothing in particular and I was able to relax a little. When the hour was winding down I was actually sorry for the first time in days.

"Tell Howard that I checked all the tether lines, got a good nights sleep and went potty before I got here."

He laughed for me, "Will do." But then the laugh was gone, "You be damn alert out there, Maxwell; we expect to see you back here in a week."

"And I expect at least a steak dinner when I get there."

If he had a reply, it was lost in the static.

Then it was time to buckle down and get serious. Time for Duo Maxwell to do his job.


I was still a couple of hours out but the location was finally within sensor range and I pulled up every aspect of it I could. I put visual on the main view screen and ran scans on every level imaginable. The heat scan showed nothing untoward. Radiation, just the normal smattering of natural phenomenon out here in the belt. Audio found the looped distress call still playing after all these years. Meant the ship still had a bit of power in her, which might make this go faster. Scans for mass and gravitational pull came up a little nasty; there was something out there with a lot of pull that was causing a 'wash' that was effecting the path of everything around here. Like putting a bump in the road. Or maybe more of a pothole. I also found the scattered debris field of the Sanderson ship. Ouch. There wasn't enough left to go after. If I had to guess, I'd say either they hit the wash and got thrown where they weren't expecting or something else hit the wash and found them. Either way, they had to have taken a direct hit to the engines to have blown the ship to shrapnel like that.

Erratic orbit didn't begin to describe what the target ship was doing. It came closer to aimless wandering. I almost wished I had brought my 'Demon' after all. Just gone in for the data and gotten the hell out. Hindsight and all that.

I finished my scans and didn't find any other surprises. Time was ticking down; I went to suit up.

This was going to take flying by the seat of my pants to a whole new level.

Back in the pilot's seat, secure in my vacuum suit, I settled in and took over control of the ship.

"Ok, 'Wench' it's time to play," I addressed the console in front of me as I switched off the autopilot.

I'm always vaguely disappointed when the ships I fly don't answer me. I think Deathscythe was the only thing I ever piloted that I would have sworn, sometimes, voiced a quiet chuckle at my cracks. It didn't stop me from holding up my end of the conversation with whatever I was in the seat of though.

"Wench sounds so... disrespectful." I made a couple of minor adjustments to my course, as much to get a feel for the way she handled as anything. "Mind if I call you Randy?"

I hit the jets and slowed further, alternating between watching the visuals and watching the radar. The asteroid belt is a truly sucky place to fly.

There was the beginning of the hiss of dust scouring the hull; not the universe's most pleasant sound. It would only get worse.

I needed to catch the damn thing; get close enough to grapple onto it and pull the ships together so that I could get aboard. Top priority was the data and I was heartened by the distress signal that was faintly broadcasting. If the ship still had some power I wouldn't have to waste a lot of time trying to trundle emergency generators over there to get things up and running.

The crew, when they abandoned her, had tucked her in tight to a large chunk of asteroid; she was orbiting around it while it made its own irregular way through space. The asteroid had afforded her some small amount of protection from other objects and though I could see that she had taken more than one hit over the years, she was surprisingly intact. She wouldn't hold an atmosphere but at least I wasn't trying to pick up pieces.

"Ok, Randy my girl; let's go make a living."

I had a side screen displaying the gravitational fields in a lovely blue and green spectrum and I checked our location compared to the gravity wash. I spared a moment to key in a five-minute proximity alarm, "Don't let us hit that, Ok M'lady?"

Then it was boosters and jets, curses and sweat, and I didn't have the time to tell 'Randy' much of anything. Closing on the asteroid was fairly easy compared to what I had ahead of me yet; no worse than flying inside a damn pinball machine. You've seen all those old space opera movies? They came pretty damn close to getting the asteroid belt right. Except for the dust. I'd never seen anybody get that part; that constant, almost static hissing sound. I settled at length into a parallel orbit near my target and took a break, just spinning through space sucked up tight to that big honking piece of rock out there, and watched the other ship tumble along beside me.

Target. Other ship. I tried to dredge up the name of the damn thing; it'd been military, it was something pretty flat and expressionless... ah; 'The Londonderry' that was it.

"Randy... meet Derry," I muttered and wished I could wipe my brow. In the back of my mind I could hear Howard screaming for me to get the hell out of here. And honestly... I should have. This was going to get nasty; Kurt would be telling me to walk away. I'm not really sure why I didn't. My shoulders were already aching with the strain and I hadn't really even started yet. I glanced at the chrono and sighed. Two hours into this; couldn't back out with a two-hour investment... right?

He was tumbling... no, not all ships are girls. Derry sounded like a guy's name and besides, Randy prefers men, and since I was planning on practically mating them together, Derry was going to be a guy. Standard procedure said the next step was to stop that tumble. It requires getting a grappling tether on the target and using the boosters to counteract the spin. I didn't get a warm fuzzy thinking about that. One of the little voices in my head kept whispering that they didn't like the idea at all. I zoomed in the visual and looked him over; I could make out the damn serial numbers on the hull at this magnification, then I finally saw it; there was a broken tether line attached near the stern, trailing along behind Derry like a tail.

So, the Sandersons had gotten that far. That far and no farther. They'd followed the book and tried to stop the spin and their ship had been ripped apart. No one will ever know just what it was that went wrong; the evidence was months scattered and irretrievable. Had something hit them? Or was it just a simple miscalculation? I couldn't even guess. But it confirmed for me that I wasn't going to follow the book on this one. I wouldn't try to stop the spin... I would match it.

That was two lines, simultaneous attachments and a feather-light touch of the boosters. No big deal... really.

"What you think, Randy? Care to dance?" I watched Derry turn lazily beside me and settled on my attachment points. I would follow his spin, trailing slightly, launch the lines and then pray like hell.

No time like the present, I reasoned, and tapped the jets, lining us up. "Cross your fingers, hon. We're goin' in."

My heart was pounding in my ears so loud that I wouldn't have heard it if the damn ship had replied. I won't ever tell this to anybody, because I don't think I could ever explain it right and I'd just come off sounding like I needed to be locked in a loony bin somewhere. But... I miss the war. Ok; not the war. The adrenaline. The rush. The feeling of being something to be reckoned with, something to be respected. That's why I do what I do. There aren't a lot of things left that will give you an adrenaline kick in the ass after you've piloted a Gundam into overwhelming odds and come out on top. So I threw myself at these impossible jobs because the only times I felt like I was truly alive was when I was flirting with the ragged edge of disaster, every part of my body tingling with electricity and I felt like I could just fucking do anything. And the voices in my head stilled while every ounce of my attention was on the job.

The hiss of dust intensified for a moment to an almost hail. I waited for us to pass through it before I prepared to fire the tether lines. I marked my attachment sites and watched them spin by under/in front of me for several rotations until the timing was as much a part of me as my breath. My sight was tunnel vision narrowed to the screen in front of me, my shoulders were on fire with the tension. Again, I wished I could wipe sweaty palms on my pants leg. Five... four... three... two... launch! I watched the lines streak out in twin arcs, my finger hovering over the release button in case I didn't get two good connections. They hit as perfectly as I could have hoped and I had my hands wrapped around the yoke fighting to maintain the distance and not get snapped off into the belt somewhere. There was the thrumming feel of the lines drawing taut and I nudged and babied the boosters, crowing with delight as the two ships decided they just might like each other after all... and then the proximity alarm screamed in my ear. Shit! Five minutes to the wash. Shit. I ground my teeth and cursed. I had no choice; I was not riding out a trip through a gravitational flux tied to a dead weight. I hit the release button and pulled back to a safer distance. Well... this would be a different experience.

It was exactly like hitting a bump in the road. Going a hundred miles an hour. Randy bucked and fought me, wanting to answer the siren call of gravity. In my mind's eye, I could see the Sanderson ship caught in the flux, tethered and trapped, smashed against the asteroid itself most likely. I could hear the voices of the two brothers screaming their last. Not a real spiffy way to go. No thank you ma'am.

"You don't want to go there, Randy-girl," I growled and wrestled with her, boosters and jets, sweat and curses.

It was over in a matter of minutes and we were out the other side. I adjusted my orbit, verified that Derry was still with us and collapsed in the damn seat. Ok, I hadn't been expecting a cakewalk out here but I have to confess I was starting to wish I had a partner. Somebody to rub the back of my neck, if nothing else.

"Don't suppose you do massage therapy?" I sighed and watched the Derry with dismay. The orbit had been altered subtly and I was going to have to completely realign.

It took me upwards to three more hours. I had to jockey and adjust to get the two ships back into alignment then pick an entirely different set of tether positions. Neither of my next launches were as perfect as the first one, and it took two tries before I had the ships tied together, turning languid circles around each other. My hands were shaking and my knees felt weak by the time I made it.

"Son of a bitch; but I'm getting to old for this shit," I murmured and had I been in Deathscythe, that would have won me the shadow of a ghost of a chuckle. Randy refrained from comment.

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