The Usurious Mechanic by Heather Kilbourn

“That carbon scoring came from laser blasts, not a hot re-entry. You might be able to fool the others, Tara, but not me. You should know better. That’ll cost you extra.”

Janae side-eyed me while tilting her head towards the marks on the glider while shoving her hands deeper into the pockets of her coverall. It might have been a crisp, pristine white once, but now it was rumpled and worn, tie-dyed in various shades of reddish-brown hydraulic fluid to help hide unremovable smudges of grease. A sonic wrench hung from a loop on her tool belt, and it had almost worn through the fabric where it lay against her thigh.

Her eyes pierced and pulled me like the first time I saw them in astronavigation class so many years ago. They looked like polished grey-green opals set in dry ice, all sparkle and smoke, emitting and absorbing. Her gaze burned into me. I knew that look. She was enjoying this, the bitch.


“Oh, don’t even try and give me a bullshit line,” she snapped. “I know them all, remember? Look, do you want this fixed up so your wife won’t know you’ve been out tussling planet-side or not? It’ll cost you extra or you can take it to Jo-Jo and let him fuck it up, and then you’ll have a fucked-up glider and a pissed-off wife.

“Your choice,” she added in a lilt.

She was right and it frustrated me because I felt like an idiot. Jo-Jo would fuck it up and Noor would kill me if she knew I was flying mercenary combat on the side after I’d told her I was doing inter-station delivery.

A smile arced across Janae’s face. I knew that smile. It was her, “I’ve got you by the gonads now,” look. It was jarring to see it here in the shop. I’d only ever seen it in bed. Why did my ex have to be the best glider tech on the station? I hated that I had to come to her, even though we were still friendly.

I resigned myself to liquidating my personal emergency fund and prayed she’d at least give me the ex-girlfriend discount.

“How much?” I asked through gritted teeth and slumping shoulders.

“I want some of your frozen sperm.”

My nervous system twitched and I shivered. This was the last thing in the universe I had expected. “What?”

“I want a kid. You have good genes, and while you may have forgotten my birthday once, I didn’t forget assisting you fill the vials.” Her eyes were all sparkle now.

I was having trouble processing her demand. “You want my sperm. So you can have a kid. Our kid. Now. Here. After everything.”

I was trying hard not to shout and hoped the hum of the station made it hard to hear us from a distance. My face felt hot with anger. I wanted to strangle her and throw her body out an airlock. I settled for waving my arms.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me. You dumped me because you didn’t want kids! Or did you forget that part? You have bigger balls than I ever did.” Jo-Jo was sounding a whole lot better now.

Janae took her hands out of her pockets and crossed her arms, hugging herself. Her eyes turned cloudy. “I was an idiot. I knew I’d made a mistake leaving you after you married Noor. I’m sorry.”

My mouth opened like it was going to say something but I was struck dumb.

“Look, we were good together and I got scared after your transplant. I was afraid you’d end up being a better mom than me. I know it’s silly and that I was an idiot. But here we are and my transfer to the Ursa Major system came through. I’m outta here in two months and, and…I want something more to remember you by than pixels.”

She looked like she might cry and turned away to hide her eyes. That was out of character for her. She’d still hold to her price. I knew that for sure.

I leaned back against the glider and exhaled. I didn’t realize I’d been holding my breath.

What. A. Day.

I traced the scorch marks while I thought, getting soot on my fingers. Wiping them on my flight suit, I turned without looking at her and walked away.

“Tara?” she called. Her voice was steady behind me.

“Park it on the flight line when you’re done and I’ll arrange for you to pick up your payment,” I called over my shoulder. “Have a safe journey and send me a picture of the kid someday. I don’t want to see you again before you leave.” I didn’t turn around. I daren’t, lest I fall into orbit around those eyes again. One mistake for the day was plenty. I was already in more than enough trouble as it was.

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