Gunny was clearly slowing down. AJ shouldered him out of the way and finished the edge of the bed where he’d been digging, while the older man straightened painfully and groaned. “The things we do for women.”
That set AJ laughing hard enough Gunny noticed, and just waited until he felt like speaking. “Used to have a matched set of scars to remember her by. The thorns tore the shit out of me when I salvaged them for her. Had to put ’em up against my skin so they couldn’t puncture the suit. Her nails did the same to my back when she thanked me.”
“Have a few mementos of my own, like that.” Gunny chuckled, and leaned on the shovel handle. “Where’d you find ’em?”
“Inshi Q-ship. Did a thorough search for intelligence before we dismantled and disappeared it. Couldn’t tell her that, since it was never here.”
Gunny grunted. “And now the evidence will be growing all over the planet.”
“Can’t prove it, though. Lots of horse trading among hydroponics techs. Even the most close-mouthed family trader will happily start comparing plant pedigrees and where they’ve been, when they’re swapping starts and cuttings. Might have been why I was hanging around Amanda in the first place.”
“Right.” Gunny drawled out the word, and grinned at him.
AJ shrugged, and started cutting open the burlap bags of soil amendments, laying them out to mix with the original soil so it went back in the hole in the right ratio. “I was getting toward the end of a hitch. Thinking about getting out, taking a permanent posting with her.”
“She dump you?”
AJ shook his head, and moistened a dry mouth. This was the part that hurt. “The Mining Hab war went hot, and while I was gone, Doing Things, ThreeFree blew out. It was a dead wreck by the time they called me back to salvage. I looked for her in every corpse… didn’t know she made it, ’til today.”
“Ah. Damn.” Gunny didn’t have to say more.
AJ shoveled, because work was better than standing there doing nothing but feeling. “I hope she was happy. Bet she was, down here, where she could put her feet in the soil and her face turned to the sun. Growing.”
Gunny grunted, and joined in. “She’ll live on as a legacy of weird miscoloured roses.”
AJ smiled at the friendly jibe. “She will. Skid would laugh his ass off at his namesake having to harden for three days before he could be planted.”
(Yes, these are the same Inshi mentioned in Business Not Bullets, in this anthology. It’s a very big galaxy out there, and entire wars can go on unnoticed by people on the surface of on one partially-terraformed planet.
…Thanks for reading.)