“Is it supposed to be so smokey,” the kid waved his hand in front of his face furiously trying to dissipate the black cloud that was accumulating in front of him.
“Ah, don’t worry about it. That’s just a little exhaust,” the old man lit up a cigarette, as if there wasn’t enough smoke already occupying the space between them.
“I’m just worried about whether or not this hunk of junk is actually gonna fly.”
The old man took a long drag from the cigarette and looked off into the distance, “this baby’s seen more action than your little pecker will in a lifetime.”
He gave the hull a hard slap and the ship answered back with a metal rattle that suggested it was barely holding itself together. “Yup, me and this old girl have been to hell and back long before you ever started swimmin’ around your momma’s dusty baby maker.”
The kid pinched his nose half confused, and half offended.
“Umm, riiiigghht... just make sure it’s ready for tomorrow night. You remember where the rendezvous point is?”
The old man took another drag off the cancer stick before blowing a new puff of smog into the kid’s face. He reached his hand into a dark hole on the side of the metal monstrosity and fished around for something. Moments later the apparatus let out one last bark before shuttering itself to a standstill. “Yeah, yeah, I know where it is. This ain’t my first rodeo Slick. Just make sure you got all yer ducks in a row. You get a five minute window, nuthin’ more, nuthin’ less. I’ll get yer scrawny ass outta there.”
The old man crossed in front of him and reached for a long hose hanging from a hook on the wall. When he stretched it out the kid noticed it bore an array of tears carelessly mended together with space tape and what looked like industrial sized staples. He wasn’t even sure where you could find such artifacts anymore, but this geezer seemed to be riddled with these things. With the hose swung over one shoulder the old man grumbled back to the dinosaur he was claiming would break through the atmosphere. Using the hand that wasn’t gripping the end of the hose he struggled with a particularly rusty fuel cap before it crunched open, and from there he proceeded to feed the hose into the open hole cut into the side of the ship. A strong smell of gasoline polluted the crammed hanger.
“Whoa, whoa wait a minute. This thing doesn’t run off fossil fuel does it? Damn it, I thought you said it was fast?”
The old man barely acknowledged the kid’s question as he dumped a heavy liquid into the ship’s bowels, losing a considerable amount that leaked from the poorly patched cuts in the hose.
“She’s fast enough.”
“Does it even have Space Boosters? How the hell are we supposed to get away?”
“Look kid all you gotta worry about is whether or not you can take care of yer business in time for me to pick you up. I’ll handle the rest.”
The old man took one last drag before flicking the cigarette carcass into the shadows. He started to hack wildly before removing the hose and replacing it on it’s hook. With a rather satisfied look pasted across his face he turned to the kid.
“Like I said, this ain’t my first rodeo.” He removed a small black square from his pocket and pushed his thumb print into it until a little red dot illuminated beneath the surface. At first nothing happened, but after a few seconds the back end of the ship started to quiver and eventually a piece of the rear hull lowered slowly to the ground. The old man winked at the kid before he hobbled up the ancient ramp into the belly of the rusted beast. The kid scoffed in disbelief and opened his mouth to shout a protest at the old man, but at the last second he decided against it. He whispered to himself, “crazy old coot,” before he disappeared into the shadows himself.
The old man dropped his tired body into the Captain’s seat and stared out the musky glass which was riddled with tiny cracks that spider webbed in every direction. Nothing but darkness stared back at him while the ship slept in the silence of the hanger. The old chair wined beneath his weight and it’s innards spilled out of the seams that were ripped and torn much like the matured body of its occupant. He let out a long sigh before he popped the cap on his favorite flask which bore a skull and crossbones on one side. It had been used so much that half the skull and the end of one of the bones had been rubbed off. He held it high in the air saluting the only girl he ever trusted before draining the last of it’s poisonous content. “Well sweetheart, looks like we got one more job we gotta hobble through.” He reached for an array of switches and buttons built into the armrest of the old throne and skillfully flicked and pushed them in a specific sequence. He smiled as the dashboard in front of him came to life. Beeps and lights danced before him like a tiny orchestra of fireworks and a smile peeled across his face, “that’s it baby.” He hummed his way through his pre flight checks and for a moment felt like his old formidable self again. “We’ll show that kid, we’ll show everyone we still got the juice, huh girl?” The old ship rumbled and sputtered beneath his feet struggling to find its voice, but before too long it discovered a smooth rhythm and a steady pur answered his scruffy tone.
“Yeah we’ll show all of em’ that we still gotta couple a’ tricks up our sleeve.”
He let out a long cackle followed by a coughing fit. His arthritic fist hammered his chest a couple times before he powered down. Lifting his shaking body from the royal throne he stumbled towards the sleeping quarters. Tomorrow… tomorrow they would have one last ride.
A mixture of steam and pollution suffocated the old-fashioned mass as it hovered just high enough above the floating skyscrapers to be shrouded in their exhaust. From his perch the old man’s attention was focused on a classic wrist watch he had fastened to the half moon steering apparatus that directed the ship's movements. The hands on the tiny clock clicked by keeping track of each heart thumping second. The old man puffed on his fourth cigarette and the cockpit was so rich with smoke it gave the appearance that the dark fog from outside was somehow seeping into the interior.
“Looks like it’s almost show time, Toots,” he inhaled one last breath of nicotine before the two long hands met at the top of the dial and he reached out to flick off the gravity stabilizers at the foot of the dash. Slowly the ship descended from the mist and into the noise of the city floating above a wasteland of trash and man’s long forgotten mistakes. Coasting downward all he could make out was the glare bouncing off the chrome sidewalls of each tower. He carefully scanned each one looking for any sign of escape. There appeared to be nothing amiss. Under his breath he muttered, “damn kid.” He glanced at his ticking companion, only a minute had passed. After he had dropped a few hundred feet the traffic started to kick up. He reached up and re-engaged the gravity stabilizers just above the commotion and continued to scan for any sign of the kid. Still nothing. The hands continued to beat with a throbbing pulse. Two minutes. The buzzing from the other ships was growing in intensity as they rushed to reach their destinations. He could feel a slow rumble beneath his feet from their steady, collective motion. He could taste the exhaust from their after-burners. “Come on kid, where are you?”
Four minutes. Still nothing. The old man felt his brow begin to drip. Where was he? He couldn’t afford for another job to fall through. He needed this more than he was willing to admit.
Damn it. Only a few seconds left, the kid’s window narrowed to a pinhole. The old man knew he shouldn’t have gotten involved. He was risking so much. He wasn’t a young buck anymore, but he needed this last score to set him up for good. Going back to work in the trash fields was a death sentence. He refused to spend the rest of his days scraping by in --- off in the distance there was a crash. He looked up and watched a staggered trail of smoke crawl across the sky above him. The kids jetpack was puttin’ along with only one engine firing. A cascade of lasers showered past him narrowly missing his fleeing body. With youth in his hands the old man sprung to life tickling switches and grazing buttons until his trusty companion began to rise into action. He gripped the half moon in front of him and plotted his trajectory to meet the crippled thief limping through the sky. At the last moment the cockpit crashed open and the old man snatched the kid out of the air. A “yeehaw” escaped his crusty lips and he caught a glimpse of the kid’s disbelief, his body sprawled out on the ship's deck. “You better strap in Chief, you’re in for one hell of a ride.”
Shaken but not totally disabled, the kid scrambled for the seat next to the old man and reached for the harness, his life depending on it.
“That a’ boy!”
The second the kid was secured the ship banked hard to the left and a swarm of lasers raced after them. A ferocious symphony of metal clangs rang through the internals of the ship and the racket was so loud that the kid covered his head with both hands and assumed the position.
“We gotta get out of here!” he exclaimed desperately.
Through the corner of his eye the kid swore he could see the old man bearing a grin wider than a child on Christmas morning.
“Hold onto your butt.”
The old man’s hand found a lever to the left of the half moon and pulled it all the way back to his seat. The kid felt his heart jump into his throat as his body was pushed back so hard it knocked the wind out of him. The whole ship shook violently and the gleam from each of the floating skyscrapers rushed past them in a blur of epic light as the old man expertly dodged each one. Through teary eyes the kid swore he could see a barricade of Federal Space Police ships blocking the way, their red and blue lights screamed stop, but the old man seemed to only snicker moments before he directed the nose of the ship into a dive. Again the kid felt like all the air had been robbed from his lungs as they plunged head first into a sea of traffic narrowly missing the line of police cruisers. The old man’s hand reached for the lever pushing it forward again and the escape vehicle slowed so angrily the kid thought they had struck another ship. Once it broke the surface of the gridlock the old man jerked the half moon left, then right, and then left again skillfully avoiding each and every obstacle on their descent. His left hand pumped the lever forwards and backwards forcing the beast to slow and then speed up again when he desired. The ship jerked this way and that, but the old man’s movements were fluid and his expression joyful. The kid swore he could hear laughter seeping from his weathered lips as he continued to toy with death. Behind them, a cacophony of metal crashing into metal pursued them, it seemed that they were untouchable. Finally the traffic broke and beneath them was an ocean of trash and wreckage. The old man seized the half moon with both hands and pulled it towards his chest. With a great effort the ship managed to level out just before smashing into a bed of metallic scraps. The old man whistled, “damn son, that was a close on---” but before he could finish his sentence the burning rain from their pursuers began to fall once again. Without hesitation the old man grabbed for the controls and motioned for the kid to “hold on.” The ship skimmed so close to the trash piles that debris littered the air around them as they somehow managed to evade the onslaught of enemy fire crashing down in every direction. The old man’s right hand grazed another series of switches and buttons on his arm rest and a screen of black smoke billowed out from the rear of the ship distracting it’s pursuers. With this new diversion the old man seized his opportunity. Pulling the lever all the way back he pointed his trusted companion towards the base of one of the floating towers. Giant gravity stabilizers were humming steadily from the tower’s base keeping it afloat above the mountains of garbage littering the earth beneath it. At the very last moment the old man pulled back on the half moon so hard the kid feared it would separate from the dash. The base of the ship crashed into the side of the tower and ferociously tore a steady gash in the shiny exterior as it made an all out blitz for the skyline. Beneath his breath the old man chanted, “hold it, hold it, hooold it.” It seemed as if every last inch of the ship shook in protest as this new maneuver pushed it to the limit, but it refused to deviate from it’s projected course. The kid gripped the edges of his seat so hard that his knuckles began to bleed. Is this really worth it? Are we going to make it out of this alive? The kid’s mind panicked as tears flooded his eyes and every part of his being wanted to give in and surrender. Then, as if the old man could read his mind, he screamed out over all the noise and commotion, “just hang in there Champ, we’re almost there,” he started laughing again, a deep maniacal laugh that would have surely branded him crazy. He strained to repeat himself, “AL… MOST… THERE!” As he struggled to get out the last word they broke from the edge of the tower and began to corkscrew towards the heavens. Before losing consciousness the kid forced his hampered gaze in the old man’s direction witnessing that same shit eater grin cemented to his face, he was drowning in his own amusement....
“Kid, hey kid. Wake up, we made it.” The kid peeled his eyes open to find the old man floating over him with both hands secured on the youngster’s shoulders shaking him awake. The pair of them were wearing air masks now and as he looked around at his surroundings he realized why. The ship was freckled with holes from their pursuers and the glass cockpit that had been protecting them from the elements was missing completely. “The transport is here, we’re safe. You got the goods right?”
The kid was still dazed but managed to fish a small glowing orb from somewhere deep in his space suit. He held it out for both of them to see. Basking in the light of the relic’s lofty value the old man said, “You did good kid, you did real good.”
The kid held out a shaky thumb and pointed it towards the sky, “you too old timer, you too.”