Previously: Ethel and Zander work together at the Spacemart orbiting a nature preserve. When doing inventory one night, a man covered in blood came knocking, and Zander has just decided to let him in.
The first thing Zander does after unlocking the airlock is draw his blaster and shoot out the security cameras in rapid succession. Ethel startles at the noise, jumping backwards and nearly toppling the shelving unit behind her. “What the—”
“You can be cool about this, kid, can’t you?” Zander asks as he pockets the blaster. “He won’t hurt you. Just… Just don’t call anyone. Be cool.” He gives her what she’s sure is meant to be a reassuring smile, but it comes off more nervous than anything.
Ethel stares at him as the airlock pressurizes, trying to decide whether it’s worth it to run for the comms link, with her armed coworker standing beside her and a blood-soaked stranger about to come in through the door. After a moment, she nods.
“Zander!” The stranger shouts once the door opens. He sweeps Zander up into a crushing one-armed hug that Zander tries to push away from, his cheeks dusting pink when the stranger finally releases him.
“Yes, hello, Waylen,” Zander says as the man — Waylen — tugs off his helmet. Waylen looks about as old Zander, his handsome face somewhat marred by the long, jagged scar cut across his cheek. Zander coughs meaningfully and nods his head in Ethel’s direction.
Waylen freezes when he notices her, eyes going narrow and calculating. “Who’s this, Zander?” He asks, deceptively nonchalant.
“New hire,” Zander explains. “She’s cool.”
Nodding, Ethel says, “I’m cool,” and winces as her voice cracks. Waylen looks less than convinced.
“So,” Zander says, redirecting Waylen’s attention, “how much of that blood is yours?”
“Little to none.” Waylen smirks, like this is an accomplishment, and not one of the more horrifying things Ethel’s ever heard. “Think the arm’s broken, though,” he adds, lifting his left arm to wave before gritting his teeth and letting it drop again.
Sighing, Zander rolls his sleeves up. “Let me take a look at it. Kid, can you go get the med kit?”
Relieved to have an excuse to get away, Ethel leaves the stockroom and goes to the where they keep the med kit, behind the register. She grabs the box, then her eyes catch on the comms. It would be easier, now, to call someone. She might even be able to get through before the two men realized what was taking her so long. But Zander said Waylen wouldn’t hurt her, so long as she didn’t call anybody, and it doesn’t seem wise to get on the bad side of a man so comfortable wearing other people’s blood.
Giving the comms one last longing look, Ethel returns to the stockroom to find Waylen sitting with the top part of his suit unzipped and Zander bent over him, inspecting his arm.
Waylen complains as Zander pokes at it and Zander rolls his eyes. “Oh, come on, you’re fine.”
“I see your bedside manner hasn’t improved,” Waylen grumbles.
Ignoring him, Zander straightens up. “Definitely broken, but probably just the radius. What happened?”
“I fell. Caught myself, and it cracked.” Waylen shrugs. “You should see the other guy.”
“No, thank you,” Zander says as Ethel hands him the med kit. “I can’t spare anything for bone regeneration. They monitor those drugs too closely; they’d know I’d helped you. I’m going to have to set it myself.”
“Yeah, because people stealing the live-saving medications they can’t afford is the real problem,” Waylen spits. “Honestly, Zander, I can’t believe you’re still working for these assholes.”
Pressing his mouth into a thin line, Zander says, “Lucky for you I am. Now, shut up and let me set this.”
Waylen’s face stays stoic as Zander forces the bone back into place. Ethel watches the bones and muscle shift under skin and feels her stomach roll, but only Waylen’s white-knuckle grip on the arm of the chair betrays his pain. Without speaking, Zander wraps the arm up in a splint and helps Waylen back into his suit.
“So, where to next?” Zander asks as Waylen gathers his things.
“I’ll need to hide out on planet for a while. Too many people are looking for me.”
“In that case…” Zander sighs, then plants his feet and turns his head to the side. “Let’s make this believable.”
Waylen furrows his brow. “What are you—”
“You’re going to have to hit me,” Zander explains. Waylen shakes his head. “Come on, don’t you want to? I bet it would feel good. I bet you’ve been wanting to do this for years, after I—”
At that, Waylen rears back and lands a solid punch on the side of Zander’s face. He shakes his hand out, grinning. “You’re right, that did feel good.” At Zander’s glare, Waylen’s expression softens, and he reaches his hand out again to cradle the cheek he just hit. “I’d say sorry, but you did quite literally ask for it.”
Before Ethel can even think to ask what the hell any of that was about, Waylen fastens his helmet back on and gives them both a salute with his good arm. “See you around,” he says, and slips out into the void.
Join us next week for another installment of Spacemart! Missed a chapter? Catch up on lawrentian.com.