“Wrench! Come over here!” a loud voice came from the other room.
Wrench was busy inspecting his armband ecto, a portable computer covering his wrist all the way up half his forearm. It was especially popular with the engineers and the mechanics. It was easy to mod, even with standard tools, although you would need special tools to work on the fancier ectos.
After a second summons, he left the armband on his workbench. “Coming, Gregorio!” he yelled.
In the next room he found Gregorio crouched at the ready beside an Oxygen Dispersal Unit. Wrench hurried to the opposite side to help him lift it.
“1 2 3, lift! Over there, on the table,” they grunted, lugging the bulky unit to the table several paces away.
“Another one of these broken, eh?” Wrench said. “This is the fourth this week. You think we can repair this?” He was actually hoping that Gregorio would mark it as “beyond repair” so he could scrap it for spare parts. Wrench needed one of the chipsets in the ODU for the mod he was building for his armband; The last three they handled all had banged up chipsets.
“I think there’s hope for this one. But I wouldn’t hold my breath,” said Gregorio.
They placed the ODU on the table with a loud thud.
“Need help checking it out?” Wrench asked.
“I can handle this. I’ll need you to run an errand. The list is over there.” Gregorio motioned to a table at the other end of the room. “Run over to the Dump and get it from Callus. Tell him I’ll whoop his ass if he charges you as much as he charges those rich folks.”
The Dump was the central trading hub on the ship. In its early days, all you could buy was tofu and outdated tech. But as the other Empezars were established and regular shipments from them came in, the Dump went from being a dump to a shopper’s paradise. Now, it had everything from rare food ingredients to rocket boosters. And if you needed parts, Callus’ store was the place to go.
When Wrench arrived at the Dump he tapped on Callus’ table, picking through some of the odd parts on display. “Wrench! How’s old Gregorio doing these days? Haven’t seen him around lately,” Callus said.
“I think he’s becoming more and more impatient. He started throwing tools around the shop when he gets frustrated. He almost hit me with a screwdriver the other day! Anyway, anything interesting come your way?”
“Sorry, man. I saved you a few parts, though. Probably not as interesting as you hoped, but they’re definitely useful,” Callus said. “Or maybe you could pay me next time, might make it so more interesting stuff come in.”
Callus let out a good laugh as Wrench glared at him. “Keep an eye out, okay?”
“Will do, my good sir,” Callus said with a little bow. “So what’s on your errand list?”
Wrench handed him the list and his empty bag.
“Here you go,” Callus said after preparing the parts. “You’ll find the interesting stuff,” he said, adding air quotes, “in the side pocket.”
“Thank you, my good sir,” Wrench said, returning the bow. He typed on his armband to pay for the parts then went off.
“I’m back. Here are the parts,” Wrench placed the bag on the table. “So, what’s the verdict?”
“Well, the main motor’s busted,” Gregorio answered. “The enclosure’s in pretty bad shape as well. Frankly, it would probably cost less to get a new one than repair this junk.”
As Wrench approached the ODU, Gregorio noticed a big smile on Wrench’s face. “Hey! What are you smiling about? You’re happy aren’t you? More parts for your projects?”
“Well-,” Wrench started.
“Ah! Whatever,” Gregorio said, waving a dismissive hand over the ODU and Wrench “You can scrap this. Keep whatever you want.” Gregorio hobbled to the table to inspect the bag of parts.
There was no mention of the chipsets being damaged. Maybe he’d get lucky this time, Wrench thought.
Wrench began disassembling the ODU. Trash went to one pile, useable parts went to another. Finally, he got to the chipsets and identified the one he needed. He pulled it out and raised it to the light, as if doing a victory pose.
With the chipset in hand, he returned to his workbench and hooked up the chipset to his rig, an aggregation of monitors and different sizes of metal boxes with blinking lights, and began running diagnostics. After half an hour he was quite sure that it was still fully functional. Excitement grew in his chest. He was so consumed that he didn’t notice Gregorio standing behind him.
“Another project, huh? What mod is it this time?”
Wrench almost jumped off his chair.
“Gregorio! Hey! What’s up?” It was a stupid tactic. But it seemed to work. Either that or Gregorio didn’t really care what he was up to.
“I’m about to head home. Don’t forget to close the shop before you go,” Gregorio instructed. “Secure all the locks. Including the one at the side entrance.”
Wrench gave a mental sigh of relief. “Yes, Gregorio. Don’t worry about it. When have I ever let you down?”
“Don’t get me started,” he said, turning to leave.
Wrench spent the next few hours trying to install the chipset onto his armband. There were only a few minutes left before curfew when he finally finished. Moment of truth. He needed to test if it worked.
He walked to the emergency exit at the back of the shop. The lock panel glowed red, filling this section of the shop with warm light. He slipped his armband on and pointed it at the panel. He pressed a sequence of buttons on its screen to initiate the connection. It was taking longer than he expected, and he was about to conclude the test had failed, when the warm light turned to a cold green.
Both of them were focused on their work, the next day, when two EC officers stopped in front of their shop. “Can I help you, sirs?” Gregorio asked, clearly uneasy about having them at their door. It was never good news when the Empezar Constabulary paid you a visit.
“Are you Gregorio Marquez?” the shorter guy asked holding his cold unwavering gaze.
“Yes, I am.”
“Were you here last night around 10:45?”
Gregorio shifted and threw a glance towards Wrench. “Ummm. No. I headed home around 10. Left Wrench here to close the shop. Is there a problem, officer?”
“There was an unauthorized access of your emergency exit. Do you have cameras that cover that area of the shop?”
“I’m afraid the camera doesn’t cover the exit specifically.”
The officers were obviously displeased. One of them turned to Wrench. “You, boy. Were you still here at that time?”
Wrench was already running through all the possible excuses he could give them. They only had to check the camera feed to know that he was at the exit door at the time the officer mentioned.
“I was here, sir. And I think I know what you’re talking about.” The officer looked at him intently. “I heard something. It sounded like it was coming from the other side of the emergency door, so I checked it out. The lock disengaged. I was surprised. But after several seconds, the lock engaged again.”
“Why didn’t you report this, boy? Someone could have been trying to enter your shop!”
“I thought it was a malfunction. And besides, I didn’t hear anything afterwards. So maybe I was just hearing things. I’m sorry, sir. Won’t happen again.” Wrench’s hand fidgeted behind his back. He was looking closely at the officer’s reaction, waiting for a sign that he was buying into his story.
“This is unacceptable. First, your cameras aren’t well-placed, then you fail to report suspicious activity.”
The officer pulled out an EC standard-issued handheld and pointed it towards Gregorio and then to Wrench to ID them. “Your fines and other requirements can be settled at any EC precinct. And I’ll need a copy of the surveillance recordings.” Gregorio had already begun typing away on his armband to send the recordings. “Thank you. That is all. Good day.”
The moment the officers were out of sight, Gregorio turned to Wrench with a heavy gaze.
“What was that about?” Gregorio asked, his voice stern.
“Nothing. I have no idea what happened. I just hea-”
“Cut the crap, kid. You think you’re good at lying but you can’t slip one past me. If you weren’t so good with your hands I would’ve canned you months ago. I just ask you one favor–whatever it is you’re up to, don’t get me involved, claro?”
“Yes. Yes, Gregorio,” Wrench mumbled nervously.
The rest of the morning held no more surprises. There was obviously tension between the two. But neither one of them wanted to talk about it.
“Hey Gregorio, I’ll be out for a bit.” It was already lunch hour and he had to get to Callus and tell him the news.
“Yeah. Okay. Don’t take too long,” He gave Wrench a half-hearted wave without turning his head away from the piece he was working on.
Wrench wove his way through the corridors to the Dump, feeling uneasy, more so than usual. Every EC personnel he passed made him nervous. He told himself that they had no idea what he was up to, and that there was no reason to panic, but he was failing in his attempt to calm his nerves. When he got to the Dump, he actually caught himself breathing a sigh of relief.
“Back already? This can’t be good,” Callus said.
Wrench inched close and whispered, “It worked.”
Callus was confused for a second but then his eyes lit up. He grabbed Wrench by the arm and pulled him into the store.
On the table at the back was an old radio. At least that’s what it looked like from the outside. Every time they talked, Callus would turn the knobs on the radio before uttering a single word. “There. We can talk now. What do you mean it worked?”
“It actually worked. I was able to unlock the emergency door. It was awesome!”
“Wait a minute. Which emergency door? Don’t tell me it’s the one at Gregorio’s?” Wrench gave him a guilty look. “Dammit, Wrench! Careless. You’ll get caught in no time if you keep that up.”
“Yeah. In retrospect, it was pretty careless. The mutts came to the shop this morning and asked us a few questions.”
“I handled it. Don’t worry about it. And it won’t happen again.”
“What did Gregorio say?”
“He knew I was up to something. But he just said not to drag him into it.”
“You better not. I’m telling you.”
“Yeah. I know. Sorry, Callus.”
Callus stood still for a moment. He looked like an old man trying to figure out what to do with his son. Wrench always thought it didn’t suit him. Gregorio? Sure! But Callus? He was older than Wrench, alright, but Gregorio was well ahead in that department.
“Okay. Now tell me what happened.”
“I was able to interface with the panel. I unlocked the door. I used the ODU chipset like you told me to.”
“Hand it over. Let’s see if it actually works.”
Wrench removed his armband and gave it to Callus. Callus examined the components and connections.
“Impressive. This is good. Pretty messy, though. Then again, I stopped expecting your work to be clean a long time ago.”
Callus grabbed some wires to connect the armband to his rig, which was way tidier than Wrench’s. “I’ll run some tests but if you say it worked and the EC noticed, then I think you’re done with the first step. Congrats. But interfacing with a door is one thing. Interfacing with a handheld and piggybacking its query is a different thing entirely. We’ll also need some rare parts for that. Hopefully, we’ll get some of what you need in the next shipment.”
Callus busied himself with the tests while Wrench ate his lunch.
“So, am I good or what?”
“Everything seems to be okay. Oh, the latency. It’s pretty high. You’ll need your armband to be able to communicate with their system quickly. Otherwise, by the time you send your command through, the query will be finished.” Callus disconnected the armband. “Here.”
“Thanks for the help.” He reached out to get the armband but Callus snatched it back as he was about to grab it. “Hey!”
“Listen, Wrench. You are treading on very thin ice here. What we are doing is very dangerous. We can get voided for this. Be careful, cover your tracks. Use every trick you know.” Callus paused, a grim look on his face. “You probably haven’t heard about this because The Phoenix hasn’t come out with a new issue in the last few weeks. But someone was murdered. Not like a robbery gone bad kind of murder. It was planned, calculated, and very clean. My point is, something’s amiss. The boat is being rocked, and with all the stuff you’re doing, you don’t want to add to the rocking.”
“Okay,” Wrench was a little shaken. “I hear you. I’ll be careful. I promise.”
Callus handed the armband back to him.
As he walked back to the shop, he thought of what Callus said. Callus was impressed. The first step was done. After months of working and waiting, mostly waiting, he was getting somewhere. It was gonna be hard, dangerous even. But the thought of seeing his brother again was all the encouragement he needed.
“I’m coming, Ryan. I’ll find you.”