Wrench to the left to loosen. Wrench to the right to tighten. Gina Morales found the process interesting, like everything else human.
Who came up with the idea to tighten clockwise or loosen counterclockwise? Who came up with a clock?
Of course, she could answer these questions with her big AI brain, though completing the actions, experiencing them, meant far more than simply knowing.
A loud winding noise started at the opposite end of the bay and Gina didn’t even bother to look. No, she’d tried to tell that idiot Snapper the engine wouldn’t work, but he, like most male humans, believed he knew more than a woman did.
All right, that may be unfair. He believes he knows more than me. Stubborn through and through.
A small explosive blast erupted at the opposite end of the bay, the air wafting the scents of combustion and melting metal. Then the fire exhaust compression tanks hissed. This brought a different smell. Gina sniffed and got a good hint of ozone, crisp and clean, before the fans kicked in to clear out any possible toxic chemical reactions.
“Fuck!” Snapper’s exclamation brought a smile to her face.
Since the first day Gina had stepped into the Full Throttle mechanics bay, Snapper had acted suspicious and rude. Though she half admired his cautious nature, it got a little old when he questioned every move she made.
Sure, she was lying to his face, but that was for her safety and security. No one could know she was the first-ever synthetic. Her AI brain had once been the primary software component of a ship named after her, but she’d evolved, and six months prior had discovered a madman from Earth’s moon had worked with someone on Mars to create synthetic bodies. It was her chance to exceed her parameters and prove her worth to her creator.
Though becoming human had opened a whole new universe for her.
It’s all new.
Snapper swore again and threw something. Gina set her wrench down and leaned up, squaring her shoulders as she approached him.
“It wouldn’t have done that if you—”
“Don’t say it, Gina.” Snapper brought his hand up and massaged his temples, rubbing black slick all over his tan skin.
The dirt marring his face bothered her. The lack of attention to cleanliness—she itched to take care of it. Problem-solving was a natural reaction to her root programming, as it had been for more than twelve years.
He whirled around to face her, blue eyes blazing. “Are you finished with the engine tune-up on that hauler?”
A shit job he’d given her for daring to make a suggestion the last time. As an AI, she should have learned her lesson, and she had, but being human meant trying again. At least, Sampson had always told her that.
“I’m almost done. Just tightening the last few bolts.”
“Then maybe stick to it and let me worry about the engine.”
She took a deep breath. “I would be happy to, though you should know that if you added an extra row of plugs, it would be able to distribute the load more evenly.”
“You’re a racing engineer now, are you? Your skills were slip drives and trolling motors when you showed up. Best stick to haulers, drifters and ships, and leave the racers to us.”
Gina clenched her jaw. “Snapper—”
“Gina, how about you finish your assignment and let me deal with ’ol grumpy ass here.” The voice beside her belonged to Drag, the newly appointed leader of Frog Lick and the Full Throttle gang. This town and the gang had once belonged to the Smiths, but they were long gone now, moved on or arrested. What was left was a blend of Smiths, others from another gang called Macintosh and some stragglers from non-affiliated gangs who had earned a place with Full Throttle.
Drag had been the one to give her a chance, while his buddy Snapper wanted to give her a hard time. Where Drag was all blond hair, straight-cut and slicked-back, with a solid build and trimmed goatee, Snapper was dark, curly hair and untamed beard. Like a wild man fitting into the uncivilized stereotypes often used to describe Mars men on the Upper Planets.
“Aye, aye, cap…er, boss.” She caught herself but didn’t miss how Drag’s blond eyebrow raised a fraction.
Instead of doubling down with more words that might give herself away, or cause more questions, she pivoted on her foot and went right back to the hauler. Her wrench waited for her, and she grabbed it, though her curiosity couldn’t be helped. She’d always been more of a listener anyway, from her years possessing an inanimate object.
“I don’t like her, Drag.”
She wrenched with a little more force than planned, and the damn bolt squeaked. Her grip eased up as the conversation continued.
“You could at least hear her out. She might have a good idea or two.”
Gina liked Drag. Liked him a lot. He was logical, smart, thoughtful, and he was constantly attempting to improve the gang-town, in more ways than others did. Starting with equality for women and men… Prior to Drag taking over as gang leader, women weren’t allowed to work in the mechanics bay or any areas of ship building and mining.
Snapper growled. “Maybe, but I don’t have time for ideas right now. We needed this racer ready to start testing. We’re pushing it as things are. Now, I got nothing.”
“You got a body, just not an engine. It’s all right, we have time and you go back to the drawing board. We’ll get thoughts from others at the town meeting tonight. Many heads are better than one.”
Funny how Gina had tried to tell Snapper the same thing a couple of days ago and he’d shot her down. Drag, on the other hand, was able to get through. At least, Snapper’s weary sigh implied most of his fight was gone.
“Fine, I’ll be at the meeting, though I was hoping to skip it.”
“No,” Drag replied. “I need you there. You and Rune are my right hands. We need to show a united front, more than ever.”
Gina tightened the last bolt in place and slammed the engine cover down, doing her best to give the impression that she wasn’t hanging on every word…except the pair had gone silent. She glanced over and saw Snapper’s pensive expression. Those fingers were back to massaging engine grease into his skin.
She rubbed her own fingertips together. The presence of grease there made her stomach turn a bit. Dirt, grime—she’d been a ship, knew the feel of such things, yet even now she ached to clean her hands.
“They turned us down, didn’t they?”
Snapper’s question was met by Drag’s nod of agreement. Not good at all.
She gathered her tools and dropped them in the box against the wall. Another quick look—Drag and Snapper were now talking to their driver, Hemi. She took that moment to slip away to the sink and contemplate her next move.
The water and soap were a mash of odd sensations that she’d never gotten used to, though less overwhelming than the baths with the full immersion into the liquid. She’d almost frozen in fear the first time she’d cleaned herself, her experience limited to the ion showers on the ships. No water, no waste. Though here, everything was recycled, filtered and re-used.
Soapy suds were swept clean by droplets of liquid—the same liquid that powered humanity. Seventy percent of their bodies was composed of this life-giving nectar.
Gina dried her hands on a towel then took another peek around the corner—with Drag and Snapper sidetracked, she could log her progress on the hauler in the computer and potentially access the other files. It wouldn’t take long, and this was her best chance, while the system was unlocked and available.
She hadn’t dared let the machine log her as getting in after hours or attempting to erase the evidence. In other circumstances, a little light hacking might work, but one never knew when a tech might discover her digital fingerprints and cause her trouble.
Snapper’s attitude toward her increased her desire to take the risk. She was tired of waiting, taking it slow, per Sampson’s suggestion. Hell, Sampson didn’t even know she wanted to find her maker.
Maybe Sampson didn’t fix my morality and ethics subroutines from when I was hacked eight years ago.
She logged the information then let her fingers fly. Her eyes scanned everything as fast as she could. Access to the Smiths’ old files, the visitors, the mechanics, the software developers and ship builders… The name imprinted on her mind, Torrent, never appeared anywhere.
Clicking out of the last file took her back to the main screen.
“I see you watching him. Best not to get any ideas.” Snapper’s deep timbre washed over her, a low rumble like when she’d be caught in the edge of a current floating through space and trying to get her bearings.
She froze. “What do you mean?”
“You watching Drag, getting that admiring look in your eyes like he invented Marsanium or something.”
Turning slowly, Gina found little to no space between them. Two steps max, but they were eye-to-eye. The big difference between her and most of the other women in Frog Lick—they had to look up to him. Maybe she did intimidate him. Sampson had suggested as much on their last holo-call.
“He didn’t invent Marsanium. The discovery was made by Jangles McKinney in 2292.”
Snapper shook his head and muttered under his breath, “You’re just a little walking encyclopedia and I know that, Gina. It was a comparison.”
“A figurative method of speech? I’m afraid I don’t see the reference clearly as I don’t admire the invention of Marsanium, though I do admire Drag. He is a good leader.” Hopefully, complimenting his best friend would deflect him away from noticing her inability to react to his figurative language. Fatch.
Snapper shook his head. “What are you working on here?”
“Just updating the maintenance records on the hauler and listing the parts and supplies I used.” She crossed her arms behind her back and stood up as straight as possible, prepared to handle whatever attitude he responded with. She suspected more vitriol.
“A lot of open files to be logging basic information,” he replied with a frown.
“I forgot where things were.”
Snapper stepped closer. “Then allow me to show you again, though maybe you should spend less time reading books and memorizing facts about my planet and focus more on your job?”
Gina stood her ground. “I found everything, and I’ll do better. See you at the meeting?”
She could smell his sweat, mixed with a citrusy flavor that reminded her of the lime grove on the planet Eden. Sharp and bitter, much like him. Scents were another gift humans took for granted. She enjoyed the smell of new things, along with trying to determine which ones appealed to her.
This close she could also glimpse the hairs on his chin, as curly and wild as the ones on his head. Though they weren’t all the same color—dark brown, ginger, even a couple of gray strands graced his face. Her exploration of his features meandered on to the Grecian nose, a near Romanesque style like the old books of Earth displayed. Bluest eyes with a smattering of wrinkles around the edges…and the indention between his brows that grew more pronounced every time he was frustrated.
“Gina, why are you looking at me like that?”
She reached into her back pocket and pulled out the towel there. Every mechanic kept one, though she didn’t sweat like the others and rarely had a use for it. Now she reached up and rubbed the grease away from his temples, one by one.
He took in a sharp breath, almost a hiss. There a was creak and groan of metal at her side as he clenched his cyborg fist tightly. Another difference… He, like Drag and a couple of the others, was enhanced with cybernetic parts. While she possessed more strength than the average human, there was a good chance Snapper could give back as good as she gave. Another thing we have in common, but I can’t tell him that.
She froze, and slowly pulled her arm back. “There. Clean.”
Her fingers still tingled from the limited contact with his skin. So much sensation, three thousand touch receptors in a fingertip. How do you humans not go into overload from a fleeting touch?
Snapper growled, that indentation between his brows back again. “Next time, Gina, ask for permission before you touch someone.”
She dropped the cloth at his feet. “Excuse me?”
“Leave Drag alone too. He doesn’t need you trying to moon after him.”
“What does that mean? I don’t moon after anything. You’re implying a moon can move outside of its orbit?” She cocked her head to the side as he took a step back.
“And pick up that cloth.”
He walked off without answering her question, on top of treating her like some Mars adolescent or a cleaning robot. She wasn’t a damn robot anymore, and high time she showed him, too.