Author name: tears_of_nienna
Artist name: sc_fossil
Word count: 36,000
Warnings: None needed.
Summary: Bodie hires a mechanic to keep his ship in one piece and gets more than he expected. After a few weeks, the Capri is running better than ever, but it won't do them any good if they're not alive to fly it. (Contains made-up science and winged-Doyle. Please suspend disbelief before entering.)
Notes: This story started out as a dream--that was weird, Doyle had wings. I gotta write this down, man. It slowly morphed from crack-fic to something with a real plot, but it never would have made it there without help from certain awesome people.
I can't thank sc_fossil enough for her fantastic artwork. When I clicked on that vid and heard the opening chord of the music, I was just about delirious with glee. Making a vid for such a crazy AU couldn't have been easy, but she did a fantastic job.
Thanks to squeeful for cheerleading, hand-holding, and good advice.
And thank you to the mods of the Pros BB, przed and callistosh65. Thanks so much for putting this together for us!
Art by sc_fossil:
Vid (download here/stream here)
Bodie might have cast a furtive look at the backside of the man lounging in the shadows beside the Capri, but he didn't pause on his way up the ramp into his ship. "Sorry, I'm not taking on passengers," he said over his shoulder.
"Not looking for passage. Looking for work."
Bodie turned and sized up the stranger. Curly hair, busted cheekbone, boots and ragged jeans. Thin and not too tall, narrow in the hips--Bodie doubted he could do half the work it took to keep the transport in the air. Maybe he had misunderstood. "What kind of work?" he asked, matching the words with another slow sweep of his eyes up and down the stranger's body.
He didn't balk at Bodie's scrutiny. "Mechanical, mostly, but I'm a fair pilot and translator."
"How about fighting?"
"I'm not much use in a weapons turret, but hand-to-hand I can hold my own."
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Sure you can."
The stranger shrugged, a sinuous rippling motion that seemed to travel all the way down his spine. "I'm stronger than I look."
Bodie shifted his pack on his shoulder and crossed his arms across his chest. "What makes you think I'm looking for help?"
Another slow shrug. "If that landing this morning wasn't a case of pilot error, then your thrusters are out of tune. If you don't do something about them, you might get two, three more landings before they fail entirely and send you skidding across a spaceport on your belly."
"You think so?"
"I do. Unless it was pilot error, in which case you need more help than I can give you, and I'm wasting my time here." He turned away.
Bodie let him take three steps and watched the line of his shoulders drop just slightly. "Not so fast, sunshine," he said, and the stranger turned. "What do you know about Capris?"
"Enough. My brother and I fixed up an older model, took it planet-hopping a few times."
"And you're still alive to tell the tale."
He smiled faintly. "I'm still alive, yeah." The emphasis was subtle enough that it might mean nothing at all, and Bodie didn't comment on it.
"So you say you can fix the thrusters. Why should I take you with me, when you could just work on them here in the port before I go?"
"You weren't walking like a man with a lot of time to waste. You want to get off this planet as fast as possible. So do I. And it might give me an incentive to make sure I do a good job. If I'm on board, I'll have something of a vested interest in keeping the thrusters in tune, won't I?"
"And if anything goes wrong, you'll be well-placed to fix it before we turn the local spaceport into a very large fireball."
Bodie sighed. "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Bodie. Get your things. If we survive the next landing, you'll be paid and you can find passage from there."
Doyle scooped up a rucksack he'd left in the shadows beside the landing strut, and Bodie swore silently. Doyle's weary retreat had been a bluff--he'd never planned to walk away in the first place, the overconfident bastard. But if he could fix the thrusters, Bodie could put up with him for a few days.
Hells knew, he'd put up with worse.
The Capri breezed through the pre-flight checks as expected--the lift-off thrusters were functioning just fine, after all. It was the landing bits on the belly that had been failing for quite some time, the ones that were really necessary in order to keep a soft landing from turning into a fiery crash.
Doyle had followed him up to the cockpit, glancing around at the various panels and screens. Bodie nodded to the co-pilot's chair. "Strap in, then."
"Anticipating a rough lift-off?"
"Are you saying you don't like it rough?" Bodie asked innocently.
Doyle didn't say anything; he just tightened the buckle of his crash belt as the Capri tipped up onto its keel and lifted off smoothly.
Bodie never quite grew immune to the wonder of it, shooting up through the clouds and into clear pale sky, darkening as the atmosphere thinned around him and then finally--starlight. He set a course for their destination and then thought to ask a pertinent question. "Does travelling by Leap Drive bother you?"
"No, I'm used to it."
"Good, because this would be an unpleasant trip if it did." Bodie engaged the drive, and the ship shuddered under their feet.
Leap Drive was a rather grandiose name for it--hop drive would be a bit more honest. It meant travelling via microjumps past lightspeed, resulting in little jolts every few minutes as the drive recalibrated and began another jump. Some people got space-sick from it; it helped if you weren't looking out the viewscreen when the drive engaged. Disconcerting was hardly a sufficient term for watching the stars vanish and then reappear a moment later, all in different positions.
"Come on," Bodie said, unbuckling his crash belt. "I'll give you the tour." He led Doyle down a short corridor, pointing at each door as they passed. "Storage, my cabin, loo, and here's yours." He pressed a panel, and the door slid open. "It's basic, but it'll have to do. There's just one shower, and it doesn't get much above tepid. Though you're welcome to take a spanner to that, too, if you think it'll do any good."
"Does it lock?"
"The bunk. Though I suppose it's a fair question regarding the loo, as well."
"Yeah, everything locks." So his passenger was a bit paranoid--that was all right. Paranoia kept you alive. Of course Bodie had the override codes, which made the question about locks irrelevant, but Doyle had to know that.
Doyle tossed his rucksack onto the bed and let Bodie lead him down the rest of the corridor. "Galley's through there. Food's mostly freeze-dried, although I did pick up a bit of fresh while I was dirtside. Formal attire is not required, and you can eat whenever and whatever you like. Past that, you've got the cargo hold and the engine room. That's it, really. Any questions?"
"Not exactly," Doyle said.
Bodie raised an expectant eyebrow.
"I don't mean to give offense--I only want to be clear. The work I've signed on to do is strictly in a...vertical capacity."
Shame, that. Bodie nodded, but he grinned as Doyle turned away. After all, if there was one thing a freelance trader was good at, it was negotiation. "We're four days to Thunderhead," he called after Doyle. "See what you can do with the thrusters before then, will you?"
Once he was sure that his passenger was back in the engine room, Bodie returned to the cockpit and called up a certain database using a highly illegal access code that he'd obtained from a Gallian hunter a few years ago.
He entered the name Ray Doyle and narrowed the search to humans. Two million known criminals by that name. He narrowed the results further: Approximate age, anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five in standard years, although Bodie didn't think Doyle was older than thirty. Hair colour and style he omitted entirely, as they were so easily changed. He estimated Doyle's height and added it to the search factors.
Only four thousand results now. He added the only identifying mark he knew--the cheekbone that appeared to have been broken once--and found twelve entries.
None of the images fit the man who was now clanging around in the aft of Bodie's ship. So either Doyle had never been convicted of a crime, or he'd given Bodie a false name.
Bodie hadn't lived to see thirty by trusting to the general good nature of sentient species. He decided to keep a very close eye on 'Raymond Doyle' while he was on board.
As he closed down the search, he heard Doyle's tread on the deckplates. The cockpit door slid aside with a meek hiss, but judging by the prickly feeling on the back of his neck, Bodie thought Doyle might have preferred a door with traditional hinges. The sort that could be slammed open in a towering rage.
"What," Doyle growled, "in all the seven hells did you do to those thrusters?"
Bodie waited a beat before swivelling around in the pilot's chair. Doyle's sleeves were rolled to the elbow, revealing surprisingly muscular forearms. One hand was clenched around an old steel spanner.
He did not look happy.
"Well, it's not the first time they've needed repairs..."
"Really? I couldn't tell by the complete horror you've made of the system. It's amazing you haven't caught your engines on fire."
Bodie rubbed the back of his neck. "They might have done, actually. Just the once."
Doyle stared, apparently at a loss for words.
"I put it out! It didn't do any damage."
Doyle just shook his head and stalked back down the corridor to the engine bay.
Bodie didn't see him for the rest of the day--if it weren't for the airlock alarms, he'd have suspected that Doyle had spaced himself rather than try to figure out what the hell Bodie had done to the thrusters.
And it wasn't even as though he'd done much to them. All right, it wasn't a very clean splice job, and maybe a few of the connectors were a little corroded by now, but it had been an emergency repair job done quite literally on the fly. Doyle was overreacting.
In fact, he saw very little of Doyle at all until the last jump. Whenever Bodie came into the galley, Doyle was just leaving; whenever he peered into the engine room, he was nowhere to be found.
Bodie rather suspected that his passenger was avoiding him.
He finally tracked Doyle down in the engine room just before the last jump, bent nearly double trying to reach an awkward bolt. Bodie admired the view for a moment before speaking.
Doyle jumped, hit his head on an exposed pipe, and cursed. "The hell do you want?" he snapped, glaring over his shoulder at Bodie.
"We're putting down shortly. That is, if you think the thrusters can handle it?"
"Yeah, I'll be done here in a moment." Doyle turned back to the thrusters, and the conversation was over.
They were just settling into a low orbit when Doyle slipped into the cockpit and dropped gracefully into the co-pilot's chair, rubbing absently at his head where he'd hit the pipe. Bodie hid a smile. After all, it couldn't have hurt too badly, cushioned by all that curly hair.
"All finished?" Bodie asked.
"We'd better hope so."
"Yeah, well, now we get to see if you're as good as you think you are." Bodie pulled them out of orbit and keyed the reverse thrusters. Instead of the usual whine and growl, they hummed loudly, and the ship's descent slowed to set them down, softly, in a spaceport berth.
Doyle let out a relieved sigh. Bodie grinned at him and slapped his shoulder in congratulations, but Doyle drew back sharply, glaring.
"Sorry, mate. Did a good job with those thrusters, though--I haven't heard them sing like that in years."
"Still needs some tuning up," Doyle muttered. He unbuckled his crash belt and practically fled to the engine bay, leaving Bodie to listen to the quiet ticking as the engines cooled down. Was Doyle really that much of a perfectionist, or had Bodie said something to upset him?
After what he deemed was an acceptable amount of time--about five minutes--he made his way back to the engine room.
"Thought you said all your work was going to be vertical," he said teasingly.
Doyle was lying on his back, tucked under a bit of the thruster mechanism. A rat's nest of wires descended from a missing panel, and Doyle was carefully sorting and untangling them. He paused long enough to offer Bodie a rude gesture before returning to the task at hand.
Bodie crouched down. "Come out of there for a moment, will you?"
Doyle wriggled out from beneath the panel; Bodie tried not to pay too much attention to the slight swell at the front of his jeans, tried not to start conjecturing what he might find underneath...
"Yeah?" Doyle asked. There was a smear of grease on his cheek.
"I'm going out to deliver the cargo. Care to join me?"
Doyle eyed him sceptically.
"Don't worry, I'm not anticipating any hostilities."
"If it's all the same to you, I'll just pack my things. I've managed to fix most of the damage you did to the wiring back here, so you should live a while longer, at least."
"Right," Bodie said tightly. "Thanks for the help." He walked away without bothering to look back.
The gravity on Thunderhead was significantly higher than the gravity setting on the Capri, so even the short walk to the rendezvous point was more tiring than Bodie had expected. His coordinates were for a quiet bit of parkland just far enough from the port that the sound of a slugthrower or 'beam blast wouldn't carry. If that hadn't been enough to make him nervous, the four back-up men hidden among the trees and fake ruins certainly were.
This did not bode well for his surviving the meeting, but he was already too close to turn around without being noticed and shot in the back.
He comforted himself with calculating the effect that the higher gravity would have on a slug's trajectory. He'd have to aim slightly higher if he was shooting from a distance--up-close, it wouldn't matter, but he really didn't want to fight without cover if he could avoid it.
He swore quietly. At times like these he almost wished he carried a 'beam gun--they held more charges in a clip. He was damned good with a slugthrower, and he didn't expect to get off even half of the fifteen slugs before they took him down, but it would have been nice to have some kind of back-up of his own.
Oh, well. Looked like Doyle was about to come into an unexpected inheritance.
Jensen Walker--Jenny, as Bodie liked to think of him--strode up the tree-lined walk, his face a ruddy picture of perfect innocence. He was a close 'friend' of a Charlossian crime lord who didn't go in for the formality of military ranks, but Bodie didn't need to put it in terms of an army to know that Jensen ranked rather high in the organization. You didn't get to that position by playing fair.
Oh, of course Jenny wouldn't be carrying. He never did; it was part of his persona, a veneer of civility over his rotten core. But the muscle he hired would be armed to the teeth, and Jenny never objected to them using 'beam guns while protecting his interests.
"Jensen," Bodie said calmly. "You came alone?"
A smug twist of his lips. "Yeah, like we agreed. You've got the cargo?"
Bodie held up the holographic chip. "If you've got the cash."
"Right. About that." Jensen took one long step back, and Bodie knew that had to be the signal.
He dropped to the ground before the backup men could fire and pulled the gun from the back of his belt. The two among the trees were easy enough to pick off, though he wasted a couple of shots in the thick trunks of the trees. The two behind the ruins scrambled back under cover, and Bodie took the opportunity to find a sturdy tree for cover of his own.
He didn't look to see where Jenny had gone. It didn't much matter, although he'd have enjoyed putting a slug in him, given the chance. The two lurking among the ruins had him pinned down, but if he could just get an angle...
One of the snipers leaned too far out of cover, and Bodie took advantage of his mistake, dropping him. One on one, now, and four slugs left--this he could handle. He hunkered down behind the tree, waiting. Eventually the sniper would get bored, would make a move to finish him off or flee back to town, and Bodie would have his chance.
He didn't have to wait long. The man sent out a last spatter of cover fire and dashed back in the direction of town. Bodie eased out from behind cover, drawing a bead. He let his arm fall--it didn't seem sporting to shoot a man in the back.
He stood up and wiped the dust from his trousers. He was already beginning to think of what an excellent pub yarn this would make when there was a flash, and his gun wrenched itself out of his hand to skid across the tumbled stone of the path. Bodie dropped and rolled to his knees, but he'd lost his cover and he knew this was it. He squinted against the sunlight. How had he missed another backup man?
But it was Jenny himself standing above him, with a compact 'beam gun in his hand. Bloody hell, the old bastard had broken his own rule. Bodie allowed himself a little pride at having shaken Jenny so much. Four spares and a holdout of his own; you'd almost think it was overkill.
"'Bye, Bodie," he said cheerfully over the whine of the charging 'beam gun.
A shadow loomed up behind Jensen. He turned and had just enough time to see the spanner as Doyle swung his arm up. The metal connected solidly with the side of Jensen's jaw. He folded in on himself, the gun tumbling from his hands.
Doyle stood there for a moment, one hand on his hip, silhouetted against the afternoon sun. A pair of dark glasses was perched on the top of his head. He shook his head and held out a hand to help Bodie up. "Not anticipating hostilities, huh?" he asked flatly.
"I wasn't," he protested, letting Doyle pull him to his feet. "If you were just out for a walk, it was nice timing."
"And if I wasn't 'just out for a walk'?"
"Then it was still good timing," Bodie said brightly. He bent to pick up his gun and found that the 'beam had sliced neatly through the barrel. He chucked it back down in disgust and traded it for Jensen's 'beam gun--he had a spare slugthrower on the Capri, but this would have to do for now. As an afterthought, he checked Jensen's pulse.
Doyle tensed. "Is he alive?"
"Does it matter?"
"It matters to me."
Bodie nodded. "He'll live. But I doubt he'll be very happy when he wakes up, so we should get moving."
"We?" Doyle asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, we." Bodie sighed. "Look, I know I said I'd drop you off at the first port, but after this little scene the locals won't be happy with either of us, and if Jensen got a look at you... It might as well be murder, leaving you here now. It could be a few weeks before we hit any real civilisation again, but you can hang about on the Capri if you like."
"Thought you weren't interested in passengers."
"I'm not--but you've noticed I could use a mechanic, and it seems you're pretty handy with a spanner."
He didn't bother to mention the trouble they were both going to be in if Jenny decided to report their interference to his boss back on Charloss. Kell could make life interesting for a smuggler.
Interesting, and usually very short.
They lifted off again within the hour, well before anyone noticed the three dead men and their unconscious boss in the park. Bodie was sitting in the galley with a cup of tea, rubbing at his hand, when Doyle came in and reached for the kettle.
Doyle caught sight of him and frowned. "You all right?"
"Just bruised. 'Beam didn't hit me, but having a gun shot out of your hand stings."
"Here." Doyle set down his cup. He perched on the edge of the table in front of Bodie and took Bodie's right hand in both of his. He kneaded gently at his palm and fingers, loosening muscles that Bodie hadn't realised were sore.
And hells, if his touch felt that good just massaging Bodie's hands, then... He sat up straighter, shifting slightly in the chair.
Doyle let go of Bodie's hand, to Bodie's unexpectedly intense disappointment. "Better?"
He knew he was expected to find something sarcastic to say, but somehow he couldn't quite manage it. He flexed his hand and found that the ache was nearly gone. "Yeah, thanks."
Doyle grinned and slid back off the table, bringing the kettle to fill Bodie's cup and his own. "Just don't go asking for a happy ending," he said, with an outrageous wink in Bodie's direction.
Instead of pouring his tea and leaving, as Bodie had fully expected him to do, Doyle sat down at the table, choosing an actual chair this time. "You didn't shoot him."
"Huh?" Bodie asked inelegantly, jarred by the non sequitur.
"The last backup man. I was trying to get behind the boss when I saw him make a break for it. You drew on him, you had a clear shot, and you didn't take it."
"Doesn't feel right to shoot someone in the back. Granted, I'd have happily put a slug in Jenny's arse, but he set me up." Bodie sighed and took a sip of tea. "Was supposed to be a nice pay-day, too. I had plans for that cash."
"Did those plans involve updating the thrusters?" Doyle asked wryly.
"Might have. Now I haven't even got the ready cash to pay you, unless I can find another buyer for this." He produced the holograph chip like a magician pulling a coin from the air. "I don't suppose you know anything about fencing fancy artwork?"
"Fencing it, no."
"But you know about art?"
He shrugged. "Used to paint a little, back home. Was never very good."
Bodie tossed the chip to Doyle; he caught it softly, glaring at Bodie for taking the risk with it. Shatter the bloody thing on the deckplates, and nobody was getting paid.
"All right, tell me what you think of that," Bodie said. "Give me your opinion as a never-very-good painter."
Doyle let the chip power up and eyed the abstract image that blossomed above the table. "A Mnemos. You're never telling me you've got your hands on a Mnemos?"
Bodie grinned smugly.
"You could buy a new bloody ship with the price of this thing." Doyle turned the projector, looking at the way the colours melted into one another, the illusion of solidity to the holographic sculpture. His tea cooled, and his look of wonder faded slowly. He frowned as he powered down the chip. "I'm going to tell you what I think, and you're not going to like it."
"You won't hurt my feelings--I didn't make it."
"No, and neither did Mnemos. I think it's a forgery."
After Bodie was done pacing the galley and blistering the air with curses, Doyle handed the chip back to him. "Sorry. There's something about the angles that comes off wrong. If it was an early piece, you might expect that, but the date on the chip claims it was made only a year before he died."
"Fuck it all," Bodie muttered, sinking into one of the galley chairs. "Now what are we going to do?"
Doyle lifted an eyebrow. "We?"
Bodie wondered how he'd so quickly assumed that Doyle was in this with him, but he came up with a logical excuse. "Well, I can't pay you until I have the cash to do it. If I can't fence the piece, then I'm stuck waiting for someone else to offer me a job."
"I suppose you have a decision to make, then. You could try to fence it anyway, and hope that no one catches you foisting off a forgery." Doyle's frown told Bodie well enough what he thought of that course of action. "You could chuck it out the airlock, and take the loss. Or...you could try and hunt down the forger."
"You think there's a profit in that?"
Doyle smirked. "I imagine he's made a good bit of money selling forged pieces to gullible rich folks."
"Which means you wouldn't have any qualms about bringing him to, er, justice."
Doyle's expression hardened. "I won't be a part of this if you're planning to kill him."
"Kill him, no. Blackmail him, yes. He can't pay us if he's dead, can he?"
Doyle nodded, looking somewhat reassured, and his grip on the cup of tea loosened slightly.
Bodie sighed. "All right, then. How do we go about hunting down the forgers? Have you got any contacts?"
There it was again, the shifting and tightening of the shoulders. "Not anymore," he said softly.
One of these days, Bodie promised himself. If Doyle stayed around long enough, Bodie would break out a bottle of wine and start prying--very carefully--into Doyle's past.
"Has it got a provenance?"
"Hm?" Bodie asked, focusing back on the matter at hand.
"A provenance, a list of previous--"
"I know what a provenance is, Professor Doyle," he said dryly. "And no, it doesn't. When Jensen offered me the pickup job, I was told that the piece had been...appropriated. A provenance would just be evidence that the new owner had received stolen goods."
"Right. So we'll start with whoever gave it to you, and we'll work our way back."
Bodie stood up and started for the com unit in the cockpit. "I'll call in some favours, make a few judicious threats. You can take a look at the hydraulics if you like."
Bodie managed to trace the false Mnemos back three steps, to a very handsome and charm-resistant dealer who stonewalled him completely. The man was interested in neither sweet talk nor veiled threats, and Bodie switched off the com unit with a grimace, wondering what they were going to do next.
As soon as the outgoing com was off, Doyle's voice crackled out of the ship's intercom. "Fucking hell, the hydraulics are even worse than the thrusters were!"
Bodie grinned as he hit the reply switch. "I suppose I have been putting off replacements..."
There was a moment of muttered cursing, and then Doyle's frustrated sigh sounded through the com. "I haven't got enough hands for this. Come back here and help me out."
"Bossy, aren't you?" Bodie asked, but he started aft anyway.
The scene in the engine room made him wonder how, exactly, they were still flying, with so much of the Capri's guts spilled out along the floor. He thought about saying as much to Doyle, but the thunderous expression on his face suggested that it would not be a good idea. He hunkered down next to Doyle, who was twisting a section of pipe into place. "What do you need me to do?"
Doyle pointed to another segment of flexible piping. "Just hold that. Tightly."
"If that's how you like it," Bodie purred. Doyle just rolled his eyes.
It wasn't Bodie's fault. He'd been doing exactly as Doyle told him--hold this, twist that, no, the other way--so he couldn't be blamed for what happened.
The line simply burst, soaking Doyle in pornographic spurts of hydraulic fluid. Bodie fell back on his heels, sniggering, while Doyle cursed viciously and tried to patch the leak. Bodie's laughter was contagious, though, and it took a while to rig up a patch.
"Thanks for your help, you bastard," Doyle said, grinning wryly.
Bodie wiped his eyes, still laughing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it just looked like something you'd see in a very dirty film."
"Yeah." Doyle tried to find a bit of his shirt he could wipe his hands on, but the whole thing was soaked.
"Here," Bodie said, reaching for the buttons. "Give me your shirt and I'll run it through the cleaner--otherwise you'll never get the stain out of it."
Doyle jerked back and pushed Bodie's hand away. "I'll take care of it. See if you can get a permanent patch on that line without blowing us up, will you?" He hauled himself to his feet and left the corridor.
Bodie wondered if he might have gone overboard with the dirty-film comment--but then, Doyle had been laughing as well. He sighed. Too prickly and independent for his own good, Doyle was.
Bodie finished patching the line without any further mishaps, but Doyle still hadn't returned. He poked his head into the galley and then the cockpit, but both were empty.
Doyle had probably gone into the loo to wash up and forgotten to throw the shirt into the cleaner. Bodie could just pop into his bunk, retrieve the shirt, and he'd have it cleaned and laid over the back of Doyle's chair by the time he came into the galley for dinner. He waved at the access panel, overriding the lock, and the door to Doyle's bunk obediently slid to one side.
He froze in the doorway.
Doyle's shirt was thrown over the edge of the bed, and Doyle himself stood in the middle of the room, bare to the waist, his back to the door as he rummaged through the contents of his rucksack.
Sprouting from his back in two elegant arcs of white feathers was a pair of wings.
"Bloody hell," Bodie said at last. "You never told me you were Angeline!"
Doyle tensed; his spine straightened, but he didn't turn. His silence spoke volumes.
"You're a Fallen, then," Bodie said with quiet wonder. An ex-Angeline, banished, on the run...
Doyle's spine bowed slightly, then abruptly he raised his head and spun to face Bodie, the tip of one wing brushing the wall. "What would an Earthbound know about it, anyway?" he snapped. Bodie had never heard the word used before, but on Doyle's lips it sounded like a curse.
"Not much," Bodie admitted. "It's exile, isn't it?"
Doyle laughed bitterly. "Worse than that, if they catch you."
"Surely they wouldn't kill you?" That didn't fit at all with what Bodie knew about Angeline culture. They were supposed to be peaceful--their home planet was practically utopian.
He shook his head. "The forfeit one pays for a Vengeance is his wings."
Bodie gaped, unexpectedly horrified. "You mean they--"
"They take your wings. Oh, but of course they numb you against the pain first. After all, it's only humane." His lip twisted. "Literally so, in fact--they make you like a human."
"A terrible fate indeed," Bodie said dryly. "To be human."
Doyle frowned at him. "You don't understand."
"Then enlighten me."
"It's like being ground-locked, trapped on the surface of a single planet for the rest of your life, while everyone else can come and go as they please. How would you like that? Half of our homes, our shops, can only be reached by flight. They won't force you to leave the planet, but they'll shame you away."
Doyle snorted. "It's hardly your fault."
"I meant for barging in on you," he clarified, and was rewarded with a wry smile. "Here, give me that shirt. I only wanted to run it through the cleaner--I thought you'd forgotten about it."
Doyle handed over the soaked wad of fabric. With immense effort, Bodie tore his eyes away from the wings and their owner long enough to escape into the corridor.
He threw the shirt into the cleaner along with a few other items and cycled it. Wouldn't be done by dinnertime, then, but soon enough afterward.
He puttered about the galley, putting together a simple meal for them both. It all could have been done automatically, of course, but if he had something to do with his hands then perhaps he could stop wondering how those feathers might feel gliding along his hands, brushing his skin...
Bodie wrenched his thoughts away from that particular tack just in time to keep the meal from burning. He paid better attention after that, and the results seemed to be palatable. It was hardly the fare of a fancy-dress Thalion restaurant, but it would do.
After a moment's thought, he pulled two bottles of wine from a cupboard and set them in the refrigeration unit to chill. Then he left the galley to invite Doyle to join him.
This time he remembered his manners, and he knocked.
"Yeah?" Doyle called from inside.
"There's food, if you're interested. Won't make you endure my company if you'd rather not."
There was a pause, and then the door slid aside.
Bodie was faintly disappointed to find that Doyle had hidden his wings again, even though he'd only deigned to button his dark-green shirt halfway. But the lack of wings was Bodie's only cause for complaint; Doyle even made vague conversation over dinner, apparently having forgiven Bodie for his intrusion.
It was Bodie himself who found it difficult to keep up with the conversation, realising a heartbeat too late when he should be responding or chuckling. Finally, Doyle set down his fork and looked up. "You might as well ask," he said placidly.
Bodie sighed; was his curiosity that obvious? "All right. You said it was a Vengeance, what you did."
"What is that?"
"Exactly what it sounds like. I took revenge on a being for a crime he had committed, in defiance of the law, and for that I was declared a Fallen."
"What did you do?"
It was an intensely personal question, perhaps the most personal thing he could have asked, and Bodie knew it. He just wanted to see if Doyle would answer him.
He did, but his voice was quiet, almost a monotone. "I was a Keeper. We worked in teams of two, to keep the order on our homeworld, to make sure the peace was not broken. My partner went to stop a fight between offworlders, and one of them had a blade."
Doyle stopped there, but Bodie could fill in the blanks well enough on his own. "So you killed the one who killed him?"
His smile was bitter, cold. "Yes."
Bodie shuddered and rose from the table. "I'm beginning to rethink that pure, innocent image I have of you Angeline," he said, but he ruffled Doyle's hair as he passed to take the sting from the words.
Doyle stood up to help clear the table, and Bodie pushed down lightly on his shoulder. "Don't go anywhere. There's wine."
Bodie grinned. "We Earthbound aren't entirely devoid of civilisation, you know."
To prove the he was in fact capable of polite conversation, Bodie even avoided the subject of Doyle's past for an entire bottle of wine. But after opening the second, his curiosity refused to be ignored any longer. "How is it you managed to keep your wings?"
"Never stopped long enough to let them catch up to me, did I?"
"How long has it been since you 'stopped,' then?"
"Six years, now."
"You've been running for that long?"
"Yeah." He held up his glass, eyeing the deep colour of the wine. "Usually as soon as the transport sets down, I'm off. I don't remember the last time I stayed with anyone for a second trip."
"I'm flattered, mate."
Doyle took a sip of wine and shook his head. "Don't be. I'll have to leave soon, I can't stay. If I stay too long I'll get connected, weighed down..." He laughed. "It's important, when you have wings, to keep yourself unburdened, you see? When I ran, I sold everything I had, tried not to let my possessions accumulate."
"Is that all you sold?" Bodie asked softly. "Your possessions?"
"You know it isn't."
He had wondered about that, ever since Doyle's odd insistence on working vertically, but he kept his face impassive as he nodded.
"You'd be surprised how much an Earthbound will pay for a night with an Angeline," Doyle said lightly, rising to pour them both another glass of wine.
No, Bodie thought, eyeing Doyle's broad shoulders and narrow hips, the curve of his arse in the tight jeans. He didn't think he'd be surprised at all.
Doyle sat back down. "There was one woman, an ornithologist. She spent more than an hour just...touching my wings. She couldn't have understood what it felt like--"
Doyle laughed. "Quite the opposite. I've never... It was exquisite."
"Is that all she paid for, then?"
"Oh, no. When she was done, I gave her the night of her life."
Bodie knew he should stop there--he'd done enough prying for one night--but instead he stretched out a hand. "What about this?" He traced a fingertip gently over Doyle's broken cheekbone. "Was that because of the Vengeance, or did it happen after?"
Doyle's smile turned wry; Bodie could feel the muscles shifting under his fingers. "Let's just say not everyone was as gentle as the ornithologist."
Bodie felt a flood of unexpected fury at the thought of someone setting out to hurt Doyle. It was probably the wine that made him keep talking. "I like it, though. Makes you look...rakish, like a fallen angel should."
"You're drunk," Doyle said gently, pulling away from him. "Come on, let's get you to bed."
Bodie offered a lewd grin, but he let Doyle lead him back down the corridor without further comment. Besides, this way he could watch Doyle's arse all the way down the hall, how it shifted as he walked, the way the denim of his jeans fitted him so well...
Bodie stopped about a half-inch away from running right into him. Doyle had paused outside of the door to Bodie's cabin, apparently waiting for Bodie to step round and unlock his own door. But instead Bodie reached out with one hand and traced the curves of the wings where they were held folded against Doyle's body, a faint outline you'd never notice unless you knew to look for it. Doyle shivered, but he didn't step away.
Bodie reached round him to open the door, and slipped.
"Careful, there, sunshine," Doyle laughed, steadying him. His hand was warm on Bodie's hip, and they were standing so close, it would be so easy to turn around and...
No. Not yet. Bodie straightened up with hazy dignity and stepped into the cabin. The lights flickered on automatically, low and blue--a false evening here in the black of space.
Doyle vanished from the doorway and returned a moment later with a glass of water. He set it on Bodie's bedside table. "Drink this before you sleep, or you'll be miserable in the morning," he ordered. Bodie rolled his eyes but drank off the water obediently. He set the glass down, blinking at Doyle.
"You all right?" Doyle asked.
The blue glow of the light made it look as though they were underwater. The ship shuddered as they made another Leap, jolting Bodie back to the present. "'Course I am, angel," he said fondly. "Angelfish."
Doyle smiled. "You really are out of it, aren't you? Go to sleep, Bodie."
And for a wonder, he did.
Bodie woke the next morning in considerably less pain than he expected, and the headache faded away entirely after a shower and a cup of tea. Doyle was nowhere to be found, so Bodie sat down in the cockpit and decided to do a spot of research.
The holographic screen hovered above the cockpit's control panels, responding to Bodie's fingers on the handheld, and it was only a moment before he found what he was looking for.
He read all that the handheld had to offer about the Angeline--laws, customs, the coordinates of their homeworld. He learned the many different ways in which "Earthbound" could be used as an insult--appellative, adjective, and interjection were the most common. He was just moving on to physiology when he heard footsteps in the corridor.
Bodie rushed to darken the projection, but not before Doyle caught sight of a Vitruvian sketch of an Angeline in three dimensions, wings extending well beyond the outer circle. "You won't find much difference there," he said leaning on the back of Bodie's chair. "We're all but identical to humans, biologically speaking, except about the shoulders."
Bodie turned to him in mock-surprise. "You mean you don't lay eggs?"
"Even if we did, I certainly wouldn't."
Bodie chuckled. "So how do you keep your wings folded close like that?"
"Old shoulder rig for a 'beam gun. I took the holster off it, but the straps work just fine."
"Sounds kinky," Bodie said cheerfully. "You know, if you still have the holster, I've got a spare 'beam gun you could put in it."
"No thanks," Doyle said. He was still smiling, but his eyes were cool.
"Yeah, you did all right with the spanner, didn't you? Still, we might end up in some rough places, tracing this Mnemos back to the source, and I've got a vested interest in making sure my mechanic is protected. Just the sight of a 'beam gun should be enough to keep you out of trouble. Do you know how to use one?"
He nodded. "But target-shooting is a bit different from shooting at something living."
"You could do it--if it came down to it." Bodie had intended it as a compliment, but he saw Doyle's expression darken with something like guilt. He kept talking, scarcely aware of what he was saying. "You've only ever used a 'beam, then? I'm partial to slugthrowers--I know they're archaic, but you don't get the kick from a 'beam gun. Can't hardly tell you've fired something."
"I still don't want to carry."
"Suit yourself. Just keep the some tools handy, then, huh?"
"Is that a spanner in my pocket, or am I just happy to see you?" Doyle suggested with a thin smile.
Bodie grinned. "Why couldn't it be both? And you know," he added, somewhat more seriously, "you don't have to...you know, keep them hidden, if you'd rather not."
"It's all right. The wings get in the way, on a human-built ship. You never make your corridors wide enough," he chided.
"Whatever you say, angelfish." The endearment just slipped out, unplanned. Bodie wasn't even quite sure where it had come from.
Doyle flushed and turned away. Bodie grinned and resolved to begin using the nickname as often as possible.
"So how far have you got, tracing the sculpture?" Doyle asked, recovering himself.
Bodie sighed. "I'm stuck at Iru Alaria. Bastard won't tell me a thing. I couldn't even make him smile."
"Oh dear," Doyle said. "Someone immune to your charms?"
"You're welcome to have a go if you like," he replied sourly.
"All right, then."
Expecting nothing but a confirmation of Alaria's stubbornness, Bodie keyed in the com code and let Doyle have his seat. He stood to one side, well out of the com's line of sight.
The com connected, and the image of a man took shape above the console. "Alaria Gallery," he said. "I'm Iru Alaria. And you are?"
"Mister Alaria?" Doyle said. "My name's Ray. I'm...something of an art student, and I had a question about one of the pieces you've sold."
"I was wondering where you got the Mnemos piece you sold a few months ago."
He smiled, but the expression was hard. "Professional secret."
"I promise I'm not trying to steal your client. I'm studying the piece, and I have a few questions that I'd like to ask a previous owner."
That, at least, was true enough. Bodie smirked, unseen, from the corner.
"Student of art history, are you?"
"Student of forged artwork," Doyle said, something dry and cool in his voice now.
He glared. "That's a very serious accusation."
"And I wouldn't be making it if I wasn't certain. I'm hoping to find the source of the piece, to make sure that no one tries to sell you a forged piece again."
Alaria glanced off-screen, clearly coming to a decision. Bodie could see that Doyle's revelation about the piece had shaken him. After all, a middle dealer had only a reputation to go on, and it only took one forgery to bring a reputation down in flames.
"If you give us a lead," Doyle said gently, "I can make sure no one else finds out about this."
He looked back at Doyle with a resigned look on his face. "Talk to Grenna Halprin," he said at last. "But don't tell her I sent you."
"Not a word--to her, or to anyone. Thank you for your help. "
Alaria snorted and switched off the com.
Doyle swivelled the pilot's chair around to face Bodie. "So do you know this Grenna Halprin?" He saw the look on Bodie's face. "You do, then."
"We've worked together before," he said, a bit smugly. "I've got her private com."
Doyle seemed to understand the significance of that fact, and he ceded the pilot's chair to Bodie again.
He called up Grenna's com, and a woman with deep lilac skin appeared on the screen. "Hello, Bodie," she said warmly.
"Grenna. Business with you is always a...pleasure."
She smiled. "For me, or for you?"
"For both of us, I hope."
"It always is. What do you want to know about?"
Bodie held up the holographic chip. "I've got a bit of forged artwork here. I've heard you might know something about where it came from."
Her eyes narrowed. "I don't fence forgeries."
"I know, love. But I'm sure you've got a blacklist of people who do. And I'm prepared to do what I must in order to get my hands on it."
"Your dedication to your work is admirable," she said. Then her eyes flickered past Bodie, and he realised that Doyle had just stepped into the com's line of sight. "I see you've picked up an intriguing bit of cargo, Bodie. Do you think he'd be interested in joining us?"
"He's not on the menu, Grenna."
She shrugged. "Can't have everything, I suppose. When can I expect you?"
"We can set a course and arrive by morning."
"I'll have a transport waiting. Wear something easily removed, will you?" She smiled and waved a hand off-screen; Bodie's screen went dark.
Doyle chuckled. "She is going to eat you alive."
"Yeah." Bodie's grin was sharp. "I'm looking forward to it."
"So you're equal-opportunity, when it comes to..." Doyle trailed off, and the look on his face suggested that he regretted saying anything.
"Yeah," he replied brightly. "What about you?"
Doyle rolled his eyes. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
Bodie would have liked to know very much, in fact, but Doyle left the cockpit then, and the conversation was over.
They set down just after dawn, local time, although it felt like early afternoon to both of them. Bodie ran the Capri's cooldown checks, and then he ducked into his cabin to change.
When he emerged, he nearly collided with Doyle in the corridor. "On your way out?" Doyle asked.
"Yeah. You sure you don't want to join me?" Bodie offered. "With the show we could put on, Grenna'd tell us everything she ever knew about the business."
Doyle shook his head. "You're on your own, mate."
"Well, if you insist," he sighed. "I should be back in a couple of hours."
"And if you're not?"
Bodie grinned again. "Then don't wait up, angelfish." He winked and strolled down the landing ramp, out into the bustle of the spaceport.
He had to hand it to her--she made him work for his information. He just happened to enjoy this particular sort of work very much. And after spending two weeks with a very handsome and very off-limits passenger, Bodie appreciated having an outlet for the tension.
Grenna stretched languorously. "So how did you know to come to me, anyway?"
"My 'interesting bit of cargo' talked it out of Iru Alaria."
Grenna blinked. "You've got a passenger who can sweet-talk Alaria? If you ever get tired of him, Bodie, you'll point him in my direction, won't you?"
"That you'll tire of him, or that you'll send him to me?"
Bodie grinned and kissed her. "Both," he said. "You've got a list for me?"
"Of course I've got the list." Grenna swung her legs over the side of the bed and retrieved a data chip from a hidden drawer in the desk. She handed it over, and Bodie found his trousers on the floor and slipped the chip into his pocket.
She grimaced at the nickname. "Look, I'm going give you a piece of advice, too, because I like you so much."
"Drop it," she said flatly. "Drop the whole business and go to ground for a while."
"Go to ground? Why?"
"One of the only people I know who could make something that close to a Mnemos lives on Charloss Beta."
Bodie gave her a blank look. "And?"
"And there are some rather important people in that system who are unhappy with you right now."
"Oh, you mean Jenny." Bodie waved a dismissive hand.
"And his boss."
Bodie's guts froze, but he kept his face impassive. "I have no quarrel with anyone else on Charloss. And anyway, it was Jenny who reneged on our agreement. Brought four armed men to a simple exchange of goods, and then had them open fire--not very polite."
"Polite or not, if you get in their way again, Bodie-love, they may decide to do something about it. And the price that Kell could put out on you, well, even I'd be tempted."
"I'll remember that next time you call me offering a tip."
"Don't worry. I'd make sure you died happy."
Less than comforted by that idea, Bodie dressed, called for a transport, and left.
When he got back to the ship, he wasted no time in pulling up Grenna's blacklist on his handheld. The list was long, but more than half of the entries were written in red--a sign that they would not be a problem to Grenna anymore...or to anyone else. Their forger ought to count himself lucky that it was Bodie and Doyle who were after him, and not a member of Grenna's network. Bodie sat down in the cockpit to sort through the remaining entries on the list.
There were two shops that dealt exclusively in sculpture, and they seemed like a promising place to start. One was on Angeline--Bodie hoped it wouldn't be that one, or they'd really reached a dead end.
The other was in the Charloss system, like Grenna had said. Not much better, really, but at least they weren't wanted by any authorities there. Yet.
Footsteps on the deckplates announced Doyle's arrival.
"I think I've got a place," Bodie said, turning to face him. "Don't ask me how, because it's a long, tawdry story, and I've discovered that I've made a surprising number of enemies in the Charlossian system, but I think I know where the sculpture came from."
"Brilliant," Doyle said. "Where are we off to now?"
"Um, Charloss Beta?" Bodie said with a wince. "Where Jenny's boss may be about to put a small price on my head."
"I'll just keep that spanner in my pocket, shall I?" Doyle asked dryly.
"It would be a great comfort to me."
They landed on Charloss just as the paired suns rose. With all the short hops they had been making, Bodie was beginning to lose track of ship's time. He had set it long ago to match a schedule he liked--about a twenty-five-hour cycle--and there was no use adjusting it to match whatever port he happened to occupy. As a rule, he never stayed in one place long enough for it to matter, but he'd have appreciated a nap all the same.
The artist's shop wasn't far from the port. It made for a nice, long walk, and the open air felt good after days spent cooped up in the ship. Bodie had been expecting the place to be striking, a grand gallery of some kind. But the shop was plain and unassuming, with only a small sign above the door.
Then again, if a fellow made his fortune selling forgeries, it wouldn't do to draw too much attention to his work. Bodie pushed open the door and held it for Doyle, who brushed past him and glanced at the holographic sculptures that lined the walls. Bodie couldn't see much resemblance to their forged piece, but Doyle gave him a small nod.
"We're in the right place," he said quietly.
"If you say so." Bodie shifted, appreciating the weight of the slugthrower concealed by his jacket.
A young woman sat at a desk in the corner, shaping a new sculpture with a magnetic wand. She looked up at them, her hand still poised in the air. "Hello. What can we do for you?"
"Oh, love, where shall I start?" Bodie asked, flashing her a suggestive smile. Doyle let him flirt, continuing his circuit around the room.
"Have you ever been here before?" the woman asked.
"No, we're only in port for a day, but we'd heard about your shop, thought we'd take a look around."
Her eyes followed Doyle. "Is your friend looking to purchase a piece?"
"Maybe," Bodie said. "He's terribly picky, though, so I'm not sure if--"
"These are amazing," Doyle said, just on cue. "Inspired by Mnemos, were you?"
Bodie, watching her, saw her eyes flash. "Those aren't mine. That's my husband's work."
"Your husband? Is he in? I'd love to buy him a drink. I'm afraid I don't know much about art, but the colours are just incredible."
She smiled brightly, perhaps anticipating a sale. "Yes, he's in. I'll go and fetch him, tell him he has an admirer downstairs."
She returned a moment later with a man in early middle-age, streaks of grey almost hidden by his expensively-styled blond hair. Doyle played the part of an enthusiastic amateur with ease, shaking his hand and expounding on the excellence of the displayed work.
Bodie, all but forgotten by both of the proprietors, edged closer to overhear what was being said.
"--very pleased that you enjoy my modest works," the man was saying.
"Really amazing, it is. Could almost have been done by Mnemos himself."
The man smiled and started to demur.
"Almost," Doyle repeated softly, holding up the forged holograph chip. Bodie saw him slide abruptly from eager admirer to grim, menacing Keeper. He wouldn't have wanted to be on the wrong end of that glare.
The forger tried to keep up the pretence, stammering something about imitation and flattery. His wife reached into a drawer under the table, but Bodie prodded her gently with the tip of his slugthrower. "Better not, love. Let's let them have their conversation, yeah?"
She pulled her hand away and sat down, looking disgruntled. Bodie retrieved a vicious snub-nosed 'beam gun out of the drawer and tucked it into his belt.
Across the room, Doyle was continuing his interrogation. "How many of these have you sold with Mnemos' name on them?" he asked, all traces of naïveté gone from him. "How much have you made? A hundred thousand? Two hundred?"
"I don't know what you're--"
"You do know," he growled. "You've been forging copies of Mnemos' sculptures and selling them. Not yourself, no, but through middlemen. Maybe the middlemen even think they're selling the real thing. But imagine what the collectors would say, finding out that the piece they bought for a fortune was a forgery..."
"Imagine what they might do," Bodie added sagely, looming up beside the artist and leaning a falsely friendly arm on his shoulder. "Disgruntled collectors are a dangerous and highly irrational breed--to say nothing of the dealers whose reputations you might have ruined."
He swallowed hard. "Surely we can come to an agreement?" he said anxiously.
Doyle shrugged. "It might be possible. What were you thinking, Bodie?"
"Fifteen thousand. And no more 'imitations.' Mnemos himself was a starving artist once--you ought to take a turn at it, too."
The artist winced at the figure and opened his mouth to argue them down.
"Or we could ask your patrons what they feel is a fair price," Doyle suggested.
He held up his hands. "No, no. Fifteen, then."
The details of the transfer proceeded swiftly from there, and Bodie and Doyle left behind a very weary forger only a few minutes later.
Bodie cast a cheerful glance at Doyle. "You were good in there. Very intimidating."
Doyle shook his head. "Part of being a Keeper."
"Extorting crooked businessmen?"
"No--looking like trouble so that other people won't give you any. If you think I'm good at it, you should've seen..." He trailed off. "Never mind."
Bodie let it go, knowing better than to ask, and they sat down to a quiet celebratory lunch while they waited to get paid.
They lingered only long enough to see the funds transferred to the proper account, and Bodie immediately shuttled the money off to a more secure account off-planet. They were both feeling rather pleased with themselves by the time they made their way back to the spaceport.
That feeling evaporated, though, when they caught sight of a half-dozen enforcers lounging around the ramp of the Capri.
"Boss wants to see you," a human woman said, one hand resting on the worn butt of a 'beam gun.
"Who's your boss?" Bodie asked.
"You'll find out when you get there, won't you?"
But Bodie was fairly sure he already knew. He saw the other five taking up flanking positions, and all of them had their hands suspiciously close to their weapons. If he tried to turn this into a fight, it was going to be a bloodbath--and the odds were not in his favour.
He held up his hands in a gesture of acceptance, if not outright surrender. "Fine. I'll go and see your boss. Let my friend stay here, though, will you? He's just a passenger. Besides, someone needs to give those hydraulics a once-over before we leave."
"He goes, too," she said shortly. "Boss's orders."
Bodie threw Doyle a regretful look--I tried--which Doyle shrugged off. They let their weapons be taken, then let themselves be hustled into a windowless ground-skimmer. Bodie wondered if they were ever going to find their way back to the Capri...or if they were going to live long enough to try.
Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4