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Ray found him. They wouldn't have, actually, except the engine started acting up, and Bob was fairly certain it was a problem with the cooling pipes and the stowaway was hidden behind the compartment that led to them, so when Ray went to go see what he could see, what he saw was the body of a boy. Ray said, "Holy shit!" and Bob said, "Fuck, that bad?" because they really, really didn't have money for that kind of equipment right now. Ray said, "Um, different problem altogether."

Gerard let his head crash to the controls in front of him. Mikey hauled him off and got the ship flying on course again. "Gee," he said, as calmly as possible, "there are mines out there."

Gerard said, "Told you not to let me take the helm."

In fact, Gerard had said, "Can I drive, please please please? I promise I won't crash the ship."

Yeah, Mikey so should have known better than to believe him. Frank called, "What's our new problem?"

Ray said, "Well, I don't know his name. He doesn't seem to be conscious."

Frank said, "Shit."


Frank had some basic medical training from when he'd been drafted into the Interplanetary Forces. He'd deserted after less than two months, hitchhiked from ship to ship until he'd ended up on Mikey and Gerard's and had been, um, convinced to stay. With Gerard's cock, mostly. He checked the kid's pulse and pinched his skin and listened to his breathing and said, "Well, okay, it's possible he's bleeding internally or something really awful like that and he's totally going to die in the next five hours, but I think he's just dehydrated. I mean, assuming he sneaked on at Coldstar, he's been in that compartment for three days without food or liquids."

They didn't have any real medical equipment, so they agreed to take shifts with the kid. Mikey offered his bed, mostly because the kid was skinnier than Mikey, and had fading bruises from top to bottom. He had a cut where the railing in the compartment had probably dug into him for all three of those days. Gerard helped Frank get him cleaned up and they put him in some of Frank's clothes, since they were the closest to a fit. They sat him up and worked water into his mouth--down his throat, if they could manage--every half hour. It was nearly a full day before it made any difference, but it did, and the kid's eyes fluttered open. Mikey said, "Hey."

The expression that stared back at him could only be categorized as horrified. Mikey assumed the kid hadn't planned on being caught. He said, "We're not gonna hurt you."

The kid's mouth moved, but nothing came out and Mikey said, "Here," and tried to help him sit up. He jerked back so violently that Mikey stopped. "Okay. Okay. I just wanna give you some water." It took a few minutes of Mikey not moving for the kid to extend his hand. Mikey handed him the glass. His hand shook, but he was careful to get all the water in his mouth. Water was precious, and there wasn't anyone who didn't know it, not even the ritzy kids out on Orion Colony. He handed the glass--empty--back to Mikey and said, "I wasn't gonna steal. I wasn't. I just needed a ride."

Since the kid hadn't even stolen himself some water, Mikey was pretty willing to accept the truth of that claim. He said, "We aren't stopping till we get to Cinder Trail. Nobody's looking for handymen or bards or scribes in this part of the system anymore, we're moving on. You would have died in that hold."

The kid shrugged. "I needed a ride."

The IF had burned Mikey and Gerard's homeworld to ash and dust while they were off trying to get jobs on some planet that actually still had them. Their last communication from their parents had been filled with screams in the background and fervent statements of love. Mikey knew all about the need to get away, even through the possibility of death. Mikey said, "I'm Mikey. This is me and my brother's ship. He's the bard, storyteller, whatever. Kids love him. Bob can fix just about anything that makes a ship go, Ray knows where and how to find food and then how to make it actually edible, and Frank can read and write. I mostly fly the ship, but I can help out with just about anything. Frank's teaching me the alphabet."

The kid looked somewhat overwhelmed by this information. Mikey smiled. "Bob says I trust too easy. Gee says this world could use a little more trust, though, and if he hadn't been willing to trust Frank, he probably just would have moved on, and then we wouldn't have him."

Softly, the kid said, "I'm Spencer. And I survive."

Mikey nodded. "Good skill to have."

Spencer didn't look so sure.


As it turned out, Spencer was a quick learner at just about everything, but particularly flying the ship. This was a relief, since Mikey had been sleeping less and less once they got further outside of IF territory. It wasn't that IF territory didn't have just as many traps and nasty surprises, simply that their way of controlling their skies was more predictable than Outlander's ways. Still, they all breathed easier when out of reach of the IF, so it was worth the trade off.

Spencer didn't sleep much if he could avoid it, spent the "night" hours sitting up with Mikey, allowing Mikey to doze off if need be. In the moments between waking and sleep one night, he asked, "If you could have had a ride somewhere, where would it have been?"

It was a long time, and Mikey was willing to bet Spencer thought he was asleep by the time he said, "Nowhere to go. They're gone."

Mikey said, "They," but Spencer wouldn't say anything else, shook his head. Mikey said, "We're here."

Spencer said, "You are," and touched the controls lightly, steering them away from the outer edge of a meteor.

Mikey looked at him. Spencer said, "I won't-- It's not--"

Mikey said, "You're good at more than surviving," and rose up to give Spencer as much of a destination as any of them would ever have.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile