The engineer stumbled into the cargo hold and dropped his bags like they were made of lead. At the moment, he couldn’t think of any place in the galaxy where he’d rather be. Not that that was a surprise.

His pilot wandered into the hold wearing underwear, a bra, and a towel wrapped around her head. She blinked at him and frowned. “I didn’t know you were back.”

“I just got in.” He flopped down on the floor next to his luggage.

“You look like hell.”

“Gee, thanks.” The engineer rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you put on some pants?”

“They’re in the wash.”

“All of them?”


“Aren’t you embarrassed to be wandering around the ship in your underwear?”


He sighed. They’d had this debate many times before.

“So why do you look like you got run over by a tank?” she asked.

“Is it really that bad? Maybe I should take a shower.”

“I used all the hot water. And you’re trying to change the subject.”

The engineer scowled. “I ran into that pirate again, okay?”

“The one who’s been tracking us over three sectors?” The pilot hopped onto a steel barrel, crossed her legs, and put her chin in her hand.

“Yes, that one,” he growled, “and please don’t remind me of it.”

“So what happened?”

“Do we really need to talk about this right now?”

“Yes. What if some doohickey broke on the ship and you were brooding over that pirate? I’d need to know how to—”

“I am not brooding over him!”

The pilot rolled her eyes. “I hate pirates,” she remarked to no one in particular. She was obviously refusing to move until he finished the story. Sighing, he gave in.

“Well, I was in a bar.”

“You? In a bar? I’m shocked.”

“Shove it. I was in the bar meeting a contact for a job. Do you want me to tell this story or not?”

The pilot absently cleaned her ear with a finger. She stayed quiet, though. Eventually, he continued.

“So there was some, uh, unrelated trouble, and the local cops closed off the street outside. Some explosion or something. I didn’t speak up to find out.”

“Aren’t you wanted on that planet?”

“That wasn’t my fault! And who’s telling the story here, you or me? Anyway, I was in the bar, and it looked like we were going to be there for a while. So I had a drink. Nothing else to do, right?”

“I sure would’ve if I’d been there.”

“Right. Yeah. So anyway, it turned out that Valentine was there, too.”

“I still can’t believe his name is Valentine. Fucking pirates shouldn’t be named after fucking holidays. It’s unethical.”

“He’s not named after the holiday. He’s named after the gun.”

“The Valentine .45 SXG? Are you serious?” There was a pause. “How do you know that?”

“He told me, okay?”

The pilot blinked, then blinked again. The engineer looked away and, not for the first time, was eternally grateful for his dark skin. It hid the flush. He hurried on.

“It’s not like I was talking to him on purpose. He was heckling me. You know how he does that.”

“Boy, do I ever. Fucking pirate.”

“Anyway, he was heckling me, and I got sick of it, so I slipped out the back. Of course the cops were all over me, chased me around, stuff like that. So that’s why I look like shit. Now let’s get out of orbit before they realize where I disappeared to. Oh, and add another “˜wanted’ label to the map for this sector.” He pushed himself upright and headed towards the cockpit. “I’ll get the engines fired up. And put on some pants first!”

The pilot watched him leave, then hopped off the cargo barrel. She rubbed the towel against her hair and casually tossed it into the corner of the hold. The engineer probably didn’t realize that the pirate wore lipstick. She smirked, making a mental note to be near the bathroom the next time her co-worker and employer went in. The look on his face would be priceless when he realized what the red stain was around the corners of his lips.