The sheet had once been white, but the dismantled weapons that took up space on the fabric had long since stained it. This wasn’t the first time the sheet had been used for this purpose. On one side of the table, Duggan hunched over the frame of his machinegun. He had the grip section in one tattooed hand and was using a stiff-bristled toothbrush to scrub at the interior, clearing fouling from where it had built up in the trigger assembly. There was a little bit of carbon there, but mostly it was the omnipresent yellow dust.
“This all you’ve got?” Lissa called from the kitchen.
“Is what all I’ve got?” he asked. He picked up a slim pick and slid it in behind the hammer, flicking away a tiny bit of burned oil.
“There’s a bottle of Smitty’s in the refrigerator. Cheap wine? That’s it?”
He blew across the springs, examining them under the brilliant light streaming from the directed overhead lamp.
“Look in the cabinet over the sink.”
From the kitchen came a rumbling and shuffling noise, followed by a delighted yelp. “Been holding out on me, have ya?”
“Always do, fam. Always do. If I told you everything there wouldn’t be any surprises.”
Lissa appeared around the corner carrying a dark brown earthenware jug and two mugs. The cork popped free from the jug and she tipped it up, letting a pale amber liquid flow into one of the mugs. “You got a full jug of Buck’s Best? How much did this run you?”
“Two squirrels and a rabbit.”
She stopped mid pour. When he looked up from the bolt group in his hand, she was staring wide-eyed at him. He looked back at her with a flat expression.
“You… Damn it, Duggan, you’re trading corpses for liquor?”
“Of course not,” he said with a gentle smile. Her shoulder slumped and she licked at her lips.
“Had me going,” she confessed, beginning to pour the second mug.
“It was just the pelts and teeth.”
He reached out for a bottle of solvent, dripping three drops onto his cleaning brush and setting aside the bottle before looking up at her again.
“What? Nobody wants toothie meat.”
“Tell me you’re kidding, D.”
“Should I be?”
“You’d damned well better!”
He shrugged and returned to his cleaning task. After a moment, his shoulders began to rock a little and soon he could not hold in the laughter. It echoed in the house and he set aside the bolt, pushing back from the table and standing before grabbing his mug from the mongoose. He took a deep swig of the fiery liquor as she looked up at him. Her eyes were wide again, but this time, her overall expression was that of disbelief. She reached out and jerked his mug back out of his hand and tipped the contents into her own mouth.
“Hey, that’s mine!”
“Serves you right,” she said in a huff of whiskey-scented breath. “I was beginning to worry.”
“Give me some fucking credit, Lissa. Body sharking for whiskey?” He shook his head in mock sadness as he sat back down.
“If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t think twice. But, damn, I’ve seen you pull some twisted shit.”
“I’d never do that. I mean, not for alcohol. I might trade them for –”
“Stop!” she yelled, punching him in the arm before he could finish the sentence. It was marginally akin to slamming her fist into a wall, and had she not had so much time to practice the maneuver she might well have injured herself. Working with Duggan for as long as she had, this was definitely not the first time she had smacked him.
He tilted back his head and roared with laughter.
“Why does anyone think you’re funny?” she asked, hopping onto the chair opposite his own. She filled his mug again and pushed it his way before swiping one of his cleaning rods. By the time he had calmed enough to answer, she had a solvent-soaked rag down the barrel of her rifle.
“What do you mean, why? It’s ’cause I am funny!” he told her.
She looked at him, holding a neutral expression. “You know what’s funny about you, Duggan?” she asked. There was a sharp hint of challenge in her tone. He looked in her eyes for a moment and then back down at the bolt he held.
“What is?” he asked. His voice was uncharacteristically soft.
Lissa let the moment stretch until it was on the verge of becoming uncomfortable. Waiting until the big turtle raised his armored head to look at her with a mix of suspicion and dread, she grinned in a dazzling display of sharp white teeth and spoke.
The room echoed with the shared laughter of the two partners. They reveled in the old joke and even after their laughing died out, the occasional snicker could be heard.
Duggan lifted the mug to his mouth and took a hefty swallow of his whiskey, years of experience allowing him to do so without even wetting the unlit cigar that nestled in the corner of his mouth. Setting the mug aside, he grabbed for the tiny bottle of lubricant that stood in the center of the table. He tapped the tip in a precise series of movements, each transferring a drop of a thin grey solution onto different parts of his weapon that were wear-prone. He ran a short line here and a trio of drops there, a ritual he had practiced so many times he could quite literally do it in the dark.
“So… You gonna stay here?” Lissa asked in a quiet, tentative voice.
“I can come home with you if you want, Lis’,” he said, lips peeling back in a grin. “Didn’t know you felt that way.”
“In your dreams, shell-boy. You know damn well what I mean.”
“Got a month to figure it out, yeah? Before we gotta get the papers in, I mean?”
She snatched up the lubricant and dripped it onto the exposed action of her rifle. Using the tip of a finger to smear it around on the metal, she concentrated on the task just enough to make it clear to Duggan that she was holding back.
“You made up your mind already, didn’t you?” he asked. “Staying.”
“Think so, yeah.”
“Think the toothies will keep coming?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“That’s what I thought, too. Signed my re-up this morning. Fucking hot on this bitch, but there’s a shitload of killing to do.”
She nodded, snapping a retaining pin into place. Her hesitance was a thing of the past. “We go somewhere else, there’s no telling what’s gonna happen, right?”
“Probably wind up in some piece of shit garrison, waiting for someone to jump at shadows.”
“Building security for corp-types who think they’re important.”
He shook his head. “Nope. I’d sooner get fucked by President What’s-his-name.”
“I’ll sell tickets to that one.”
He snapped closed the cover atop his weapon and worked the charging handle several times to ensure that it moved smoothly. Standing from the table, he stood the machinegun in the corner. Beside it was a 200-round canister of linked ammunition.
“So what’s for dinner?” he asked.
“How should I know, dumbass? It’s your house.”
“You wanna eat my cooking? I mean, if you feel up to it…”
“Nope,” she replied, head popping up and swiveling back and forth in an exaggerated negative motion. “Nope nope nope.”
“The Strip?” he asked, hooking a thumb over a shoulder in the general direction of the ramshackle buildings that had cropped up as businesses since the colony had been established. More than one had put together some form of restaurant.
She nodded as her rifle clicked together. She ran it through a quick series of checks to ensure it was working properly. When she was satisfied, she stood it up next to his machinegun. They made a great pair: One sleek, trim, and fast and the other heavy and brutal. She chuckled to herself as the similarity sank home.