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Old November 3 2008, 12:05 AM   #12
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Arc of the Wolf: Distant Horizons - Junkyard Dogs I.II.

Junkyard Dogs: Part I.II

Jay had always been good with his hands. Both of his parents were mechanically inclined people; Hell, they should have been. Both were mechanics. He practically grew up with his hands in the guts of anything that required a motor -- large fishing boats, skimmers, right down to little remote controlled toys. Never really got into the idea of working in space, but he loved mechanics and spent his life working machines.

He didn't think the kid could do it. But two and a half hours after the boy showed up at the yard, he was asking for the skimmer's keys. And it started right up. Practically bloody purred, the formerly totalled piece of junk. The body was still ruined, but the engine (not in gear) revved into the red smoothly then idled back down just as smoothly, showing no signs it had been written off by insurance as unsalvageable.

Jay still didn't really care if it was repaired or not. But it was the first time he saw a smile out of the boy; when the skimmer started, the kid lit up with a bright and happy grin.

"Well, ye might as well drive it up to the body shop." Jay pointed the building out, once it was clear that the drive train was repaired. "Right up there, that set o' doors on the right side, back behind the office. Mind ye stay out o' the way of anyone workin'."

The reaction to that was the oddest mix between wariness and earnestness that Jay ever saw; several long moments of silence, while the boy looked between the skimmer, the building up the hill, and Jay, obviously not sure what to do, and then he bobbed his head and got back in the drivers seat after gathering all of his tools up. Drove the whole way at an idle, too; the wrecked skimmer didn't handle particularly well, but made it there.

After that, the kid was around pretty much every day, from the end of his classes all the way until the yard closed for the night. And he was firmly affixed in Jay's mind as the 'kid' or the 'boy'; didn't particularly want to call him by his given name, having known the man (another bitter reminder of things attached to an already bitter reminder) that name was drawn from. Most of the other workers just called him 'Scott', which was less of a mouthful than Montgomery. The boy cringed anytime anyone called him 'Monty' and Jay couldn't honestly blame him.

But Jay didn't really call him anything. It was a little easier just to think of him as some other kid that way, hanging around for lack of any better diversions. Not much, though. Jay didn't spend much time around him; usually they only encountered one another twice in a day, rarely more, and it was brief. And Jay didn't plan on changing that any -- eventually, that kid would hopefully find better things to do with his time.

But it was still like that joke about the Tellarite in the room full of Vulcans. Anytime the kid was in the yard, Jay knew he was there, even when they didn't see each other. And more than a couple times, he caught himself watching the kid work on something, mentally picking out traits. Some certainly were Cait's; the smile, for one, rare as it was. When the boy worked, he had the same unwavering focus she did when she was cooking, to go along with the obvious physical similarities.

Some traits weren't, though. And the part that really bothered Jay was that he recognized where those came from, too.

Jay yanked himself out of that contemplation whenever he caught himself in it. But regardless, and against his own will, he stopped really minding the kid being around. Weeks, then months, and Cait's son became a fairly familiar presence in the yard. Mostly kept to himself -- he'd finished the first skimmer, once he had discovered the machine shop and had gotten permission to use it (long as he wasn't in anyone's way), and when it was done, Jay could have sworn that it rolled off the factory line.

It didn't take long, despite the lack of interaction, for Jay to realize that the kid really was a good kid. Not very friendly, mind; he was a mess of fidgeting and nerves whenever he had to interact with people, unless he was explaining what he was doing -- then he got animated and happy until the conversation ranged to non-mechanics. And unnaturally independent; didn't ask anyone for help, nor seem to expect it from anyone. That didn't particularly surprise Jay -- if Cait and Robert were still the career driven people they had been before, then this kid probably had to learn pretty fast to fend for himself.

But even with the quirks, he was a good kid. No one disliked him; they couldn't work with him, he just naturally drove people away with his tension, but they liked him anyway. He had a kind of ceaseless, restless energy -- more of Cait -- but also a strange, almost driven optimism. Nothing could be declared beyond salvage without the boy going and trying, and sometimes failing, to save it.

Winter had driven most of the work indoors; some of Jay's younger employees took the winter off to take classes at the local universities, and the ones that were left tended to be older and more relaxed. Except the boy, who still found ways to keep busy from the time he showed up after school, to when he had to go home.

Currently, he was working on the hydrogen-based motor for a large commercial fishing boat. The engine itself was taller than he was, but Jay had to admit, the kid was smart. Scary smart. He seemed right at home in the middle of a giant machine. And he was careful, too; no jury rigging unless he had no choice, and once he was able to properly repair something, he did.

Jay had just sold the first repaired skimmer the day before. Thought about just putting all the credits back into the business. But he didn't.

He set the cooler down, and offered the padded envelope over. The second the kid crawled out from under the giant engine, he started getting twitchy, and looked at it cautiously.

"Well, take it," Jay said, holding it out further. "Couple hundred credits."

"I dinna ask for any pay," the boy replied, drawing himself up in what Jay thought was a little bit of misguided pride.

"Aye, and I'm not payin' ye. It's just a commission, for that skimmer ye fixed. Sold it yesterday."

It still didn't seem like the kid wanted to take it. But he didn't appear to have any reply to that, and just fell to absently turning his spanner over and over in his hands.

Jay fought down the urge to sigh. "Ye got a girlfriend?"

"What?" The boy looked back up, eyebrows drawn, a little incredulously.

"A girl. Ye got one?"

"I... no. I mean... well, no."

Jay raised an eyebrow. "Got one in mind?"

The kid shifted, left foot to right, then back and looked off to the side. Only after that almost painfully awkward silence, he said, "There's... there's a girl I go to school with. I mean, I dinna know if... I havena..."

"If ye get up the nerve, ye'll need somethin' t' take her out on, right?" Jay asked, then shook his head. "Take it. Sales commission. Ye can show her a nice time out."

Dealing with this kid was a test of patience. It was like everything had to be internally fought over if it didn't involve survival or pride. But after that typical period of mental wrestling, the boy took the envelope, looking at the floor like he was taking blood money or something. Jay was pretty sure it was as much to end the conversation as it was for anything else. "Thanks," he said, quietly.

"Welcome." Jay turned around, gesturing to the cooler as he did. "There's some dinner, by the by. No more o' this skippin' dinner and not eatin' till ye get home."

He didn't really need to turn back to feel the wary, uneasy, maybe slightly affronted look he was sure to be getting. But the emptied cooler, with the dishes washed and everything neatly stowed away, was left in his office at the end of the day.

And for reasons he didn't really understand, that made Jay smile.

The trick, Jay figured out after half a year, was to basically ignore the boy. Not ignore him meanly, though. Just don't direct all that much attention at him, and he was fine -- ask a question casually, like it was an afterthought, and you would get a response that was more easily given and more direct. Try to actually focus on the kid, though, and he would get tense. He was like one of those puzzles that you couldn't look directly at, or you'd miss the overall picture.

Jay also figured out that it wasn't so much because the kid was truly anti-social, not like the usual little punks that were branded with the label, but because he simply didn't have the first clue of how to really interact with people. He was constantly rechecking himself -- trying to figure out the 'right' responses to questions, trying to guard against giving up any answers that would make him vulnerable, trying to escape any conversation absent machines, all at the same time.

The more time Jay spent keeping a somewhat distant eye on the boy, the more pissed off he got at Cait, and the more he regretted things, and the more he wished everything had all played out differently. It really hit home when the kid came to work with new coveralls, and Jay realized he'd grown a bit, had put on a bit of weight and height. That he looked a little less like a wiry, almost thin boy, and a little more like a young man.

That was maybe the hardest part.

Jay didn't let his anger come out, except a few times when he and Winslow were talking after hours, and then he'd get so mad that he'd rage, pacing back and forth snarling.

"It's not like I can just walk up there an' say somethin'. What'll that do, but tear that family to pieces?" Jay had calmed down some after a long, angry litany, though he still paced. "It's too late for any o' that. We all made our choices, and it'll do no one any good now."

"They aren't exactly in one piece as it is," Winslow said, not looking up from the desk where he was going over some new inventory sheets. "As for what good it would do..."

"No." Jay grabbed his coat, heading for the door before he even pulled it on. "It stays buried."

It wasn't that Winslow was trying to be unkind. They'd been friends too long for that, and Winslow was a father and grandfather both. He'd been around back when Cait and Jay had their thing, that affair that nearly everyone knew about and no one ever talked about. He'd also been around when it was broke off, and when Jay decided that the best move he could make would be to head out into space for a few years so that the discord could fade.

The problem that had surfaced immediately was that Robert inevitably found out. Charlie and Edward, Cait's brothers, had known. Didn't approve, but had known about it. Cait's father, her son's namesake, had perhaps had a clue, but had said nothing and continued to treat Jay kindly for what little they saw each other. Something that Jay still felt guilty about.

He thought that the only people that may have been spared from the knowledge about the whole messy thing were the children of the family; not just Cait's, but everyone's.

Between the Scotts and the Stuarts, and all the branches tied to those, it wasn't hard to find out how things had played out after he got back to Aberdeen. He didn't ask, but the information was volunteered by enough people. Despite some initial rocky spots, Cait and Robert stayed together and managed to work it out. According to most sources, it was surprisingly easy for them. No metaphorical blood-letting over it.

And the more that Jay spent time around the boy who'd been born right in the thick of that, the more he realized that the price hadn't really been paid by the adults, but by the child. Both families had been social with each other before, and were less so after -- but even then, they tended to be outgoing people in general, especially the Scotts. By contrast, Montgomery was a black sheep.

The part that really burned Jay, though, was how comfortable that boy was in that spot. That he didn't expect anyone's attention, nor ask for it, simply did his own thing and was happier with his head buried in an engine than he was being an average, normal kid. When he started talking mechanics, he was all Scott -- animated and fast-talking and a regular little chatterbox. But that was it. He didn't have friends he went out with after school, didn't even really interact with the younger employees of the yard, some only a few years older than he was.

When he actually worked mechanics, though... the focus on the job was Cait's, but the way he was able to translate the sharp intelligence and intuition of his mind almost directly to his hands, no fumbling or slipping... that wasn't Cait's. That wasn't a Scott trait.

Jay had realized, even at a distance, that the kid would be far more than a backyard mechanic, or even a top-rated one. Good as he was with the practical applications of mechanics, there was some combination of wiring that suggested that he'd be far better suited to engineering. Not just working with machines, but creating new applications for them, inventing new technologies and otherwise going well above hanging around a junk yard.

It was a month before his sixteenth birthday when Jay saw that the casual suggestion that the boy take some courses at the University of Aberdeen's Engineering School had been heeded. Secondary wasn't much of a challenge to him -- he'd elected to stay through Years 5 and 6, as college prep, but he was bored spending a whole day in secondary classes, and Jay had just noted one afternoon that he should look into applying for some higher level courses for half a day.

Sitting on the couch in the office, the boy was reading a new text of recently declassified Klingon technology, both what was established as fact and what was still theory about the Federation's usual enemies.

That crap was way above Jay's head and outside his interests, but as he was getting himself some coffee, he asked, "What's that?"

"Perera Field Theory," the kid answered, half-absently. "Just declassified by Starfleet... see, Klingon battle squadrons run in packs, an' they generate a linked shield system, aye? So, the theory goes that if ye go and beam a torpedo where those shields link up, ye could create this... this feedback loop o' sorts, that'll destroy 'em. Dinna even need to detonate the torpedo, given the complex energy dynamics at those linkage points; they'll do near all the work for ye."

"Aye, and?" Jay turned around, leaning on the counter. Watched the kid, who was so intently focused on the text that he didn't notice.

"Somethin' isna right about it. I've gone over the math, an' it's sound... went over it a handful o' times, checkin' all the variables, but there's just... there's somethin' that doesna fit. I dinna know what, but if I could figure out a way o' testin' it, I might be able to get to the bottom o' what's off there." The boy gestured, randomly, then went back to marking his spot in the book with his fingertips. "Except, tech like that isna lyin' around."

Jay took a sip of his coffee, musing on it. "What d'ye need?"

The boy glanced up briefly, thoughtfully, then peered at the book. Or, more past the book, at something distant, going over it silently before replying, "I could probably modify some old nav shield generators t'match the Klingon design; be a cut-down, less powerful version, but scale the torpedoes an' math to sync up, an' it'll prove or disprove the theory well enough."

"Aye, ye think?"


Jay set his coffee cup down and went over to the comm. He didn't deal in space technology, but he knew plenty of people that did. While he knew that no one in the private sector could get their hands on the kind of technology that Starfleet or the Klingon Empire had, navigation shields were standard on all vessels that went into space, private or military. And if the kid thought he could prove or disprove an engineering theory through those... well, Jay could at least give him a chance to.

"McKay an' Sons, Glasgow," the voice answered on the other end of the comm, gruffly.

Jay chewed down a grin when he saw the kid watching, rather shocked, out of the corner of his eye. "Jay McMillan here. Put the elder McKay himself on, tell him who's callin'."
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