Meanwhile, Worth busied himself with replacing the shattered compression stabilizer. Disconnecting the broken components was a delicate task, and despite the cold of the cryogenic fuel tank that loomed above the stabilizer deep in Shenmue’s guts, he worked up quite a sweat.
“You know, I never did think the name Shenmue suited you,” Worth said to the ship’s engine core as he worked. “You always looked like a Darla to me.”
He got no response from the Firefly transport’s complicated inner workings. Worth sighed as he knocked out the last bent fragment of stabilizing honeycomb. Then he climbed back down the maintenance ladder, added the piece to a large pile of debris that had grown near the infirmary, and collected the new compression stabilizer unit.
“Okay Darla, let’s work together,” growled Worth as he got down to business. “I know I’ve neglected you.”
It took him the better part of half an hour to prep the coolant housing for the new stabilizer, but once he was done that, sliding the components into their proper piece was as easy as reloading Katrina after a firefight.
“Thank you, Darla,” Worth said as he set the compression stabilizer into position.
Again, Shenmue did not deign to acknowledge his diplomatic overtures.
The burly mechanic then turned to the larger problem – the damage sustained to the metallic surfaces of the ship’s interior nearest the fuel leak. Though less of a technical issue than the stabilizer replacement, it was far more tedious. After more than two hours of work, he had replaced several struts, a dozen standard deck plates, and what felt like a country mile of embrittled ductwork. There was enough scrap left over from Worth’s cleanup that it would take the hover mule to dispose of it all.
Worth slapped his forehead with a gloved hand. The hover mule! The gorram thing was in no condition to haul anything at the moment, as it was sporting several large bullet holes. He had just set down to fixing the damage when YJ, Jonah, and the Doc returned from their excursion to the Planetfall Bar.
“So, what’s our status?” Johnson asked.
Worth rolled out from beneath the hover mule. “Darl-I mean, she’s back to her old self, or near enough, anyway. She just needs a new tank of gas and we’re set.”
“Well, we’re not taking off just yet.” Jonah said.
Worth frowned. “We’re not?”
Jonah produced a scrap of paper from his pants pocket. “I just so happen to have a ticket to a little revenge party, and you’re invited.”
“Oh no, I’m not setting foot out there again, even with your disguise,” Worth growled. “Which, by the way, made me look like a tired old tranny. That ain’t right. That ain’t right at all.” Worth had caught his reflection in the polished surface of the fuel tank and had not liked what he’d seen.
“Look,” YJ said. “You remember our little exchange out in the Yard last time we were here. It went south, because Duster dimed us out to Unified Reclamation.”
“A 340-pound tranny,” Worth repeated, almost to himself.
“Duster just fed some other sap the same line he fed us a few months ago,” Jonah said. “And I managed to get the coordinates for the drop.”
“So we’ve got a lead on a shipment we can intercept and use to our advantage,” The Doc said.
“While getting our own back on the guy who sold us out,” said Jonah triumphantly.
Worth found himself nodding assent. “So we’re going to interrupt Duster’s next drop, grab the stuff, and do what with it?”
“This is about payback,” Johnson said. “I don’t care what kind of goods he’s promised his client, we’re intercepting it so we can pay him back properly.”
“So when’s the drop?” Worth asked.
“According to this, it’s scheduled for late tomorrow afternoon,” Jonah said, reading the paper slip. “We should case the place first.”
“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea,” YJ said.
“So we should just take the mule then?” Jonah asked, eyeing Worth’s patch job on the most recent bullet holes.
“Sure, Worth knows the best way to get to the drop point, seeing as it’s his backyard.” YJ said.
“No I don’t. No it ain’t.” Worth said quickly. “Don’t know where we are. No how.”
Jonah smirked. “So, you’ll drive then?”
“Yes.” Worth said quietly.
Jonah and YJ retired to their quarters to load themselves up for the task at hand while Worth put the finishing touches on his repairs. Whitaker, who had mostly kept to himself while Worth had been working, wandered into the cargo bay.
“So, we about ready to hit sky?” he asked hopefully.
Worth thought for a moment. “Repairs ain’t done yet. We’ve got to pick up a special part first,” he lied. “Should be ready by tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Whitaker sounded crestfallen. “Really? I’m itching to get out of here.”
“Well, you’ll just have to itch for another day or so,” Worth said.
Jonah and YJ reappeared a few moments later, armed to the teeth. The Doc, complaining of a headache, elected to stay behind. Nobody had seen Quinn since they had landed, but since his gear was still stowed in his passenger dorm, it was most likely he’d be back soon with pockets full of winnings from the seedier gambling dens in Newhouse.
According to the scrap of paper, the drop was to take place out in the Unified Reclamation scrapyard that covered half the continent. Worth drove the mule towards the smuggler’s tunnel that provided the quickest, sneakiest way beyond the thick wall separating the Yard from Newhouse. The tunnel was in fact a buried hydrogen tanker, its stern on one side of the fence and its bow on the other.
The crew soon found themselves on the far side of the security barrier. It was a bleak desert broken up by shattered bits of twisted metal, rusting half-buried in the reddish soil. In the distance, a gargantuan mobile salvage unit trundled along on massive tracks, its surface studded by cranes, winches, and articulated cutting booms. The reclamation factory dwarfed the adjacent swayback hull of a battered bulk freighter that was slowly disintegrating under the onslaught of torches, cutters, and hydraulic crushers that could turn Shenmue into a cube with little effort.
After more than an hour of weaving around junk heaps and abandoned waste bins, Worth matched the mule’s onboard GPS to the coordinates on Jonah’s paper and arrived at the drop point. To the north was a section of ship’s superstructure so stripped that it was impossible to determine its original intended function. Opposite that, about fifty yards south was a collection of engine thrusters that had been arrayed in such a fashion as to resemble a pod of beached whales rotting in the hot sun. In between, scraps of hull plating, tangled cable, rebar, and the rusted hulks of ground vehicles formed a rusty topsoil. To the east rose an unnatural hill made up of a pile of ore tailings, likely dumped from a great height by a short-range scow.
“This looks like a good spot for a clandestine exchange of goods,” Jonah remarked.
“Yeah,” Worth said. “Or a shootout.” He looked around. “What are you guys thinking?”
“We chose the most direct route from the smuggler’s tunnel,” Jonah said. “You’ve got to figure Duster’s customer’s going to take a similar path.” He hopped out of the mule walked to the centre of the clearing, looking over his surroundings. “Let me think,” he said. Jonah stood there for what seemed like half an hour, surveying possible hiding spots, routes of entry and exit from the drop point, and lines of sight. Then he went to work.
“We put a man inside one of the engines over there,” he finally pointed to the row of rusting thruster pods. “Then we bracket this hull fragment, one man on each side, with the mule hidden behind.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the rusting wreckage.
“All right,” YJ said. “Who gets to sit in the engine?”
“Well, the drivers among us should be close to the mule in case there’s trouble,” Worth said. Jonah nodded agreement. “That leaves you, Cap’n.”
YJ sighed. “Great.” He eyed Jonah and Worth. “Does the fact that this drop’s going to take place during daylight hours alter your plans any?”
Worth cocked his rifle. “Nope.”