SUMMARY: This isn't a vacation. There's a job to do.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, OC.
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
"He's not about to poison us, moron." House rolls his eyes and shoves a savory-smelling pastry-thing into his maw. "Drug us, maybe," he says, around a mouthful of food, "but he's eating too, so that seems unlikely."
Wilson's not so sure. Unlikely describes everything that's happened since he left Capinari. But House does seem at ease here, having breakfast in Eggie's startlingly drab and cluttered office. They must use a lot of paper on Exeter Prime; piles of it are everywhere. One of two beat-up old desks has had its surface cleared to make way for a huge coffee jug and a plate of those pastries. They're palm-sized, but Eggie picks up two; he has big hands. Probably just making sure he gets his share before House eats them all.
Wilson tries one. A little greasy, but not bad; it's filled with what seems to be the same shredded meat as last night's sandwich at the Third Shift Pub. "Do I even want to know," he asks, "what kind of animal this was?"
"Freight rat," House says. "Pest species, nice and tasty, but the freight crews won't --"
"Oh, shut the fuck up," says Eggie. "I haven't eaten that shit since I was ten. This is nutria."
"Nutria?" Wilson's never heard of such a thing. It sounds synthetic, but tastes better than that. "What exactly is --"
"Similar to bog spaka, but more meaty, less cute. Eat up. Eggie's got a patient for us."
Wilson eats. He's not going to ask what a bog spaka is. No point. "A ... patient. He told you this and I missed it?"
"He gets this gleam in his eye when he's about to use me to make money. By now, he's got a half dozen lackeys to do all the crap I used to do, so my old skill set is no longer needed. That just leaves the one I acquired since I left his sorry ass." He takes a second pastry while Wilson pours a cup of coffee, which House snatches away. "Thanks," he says. "Where's yours?"
It's too early for this; sparring with House will have to wait until after coffee, so Wilson sighs and pours another cup. "What sort of patient are we talking about?"
"Someone who'll pay Eggie well for our services. Someone who --"
"Is desperate enough," Eggie says, grinning, "to maybe tolerate your bullshit. Guy by the name of Evo Krater. His ship's in synchronous orbit by now, waiting on us."
"And he's not in a hospital on a civilized planet," House supplies, "because he's a criminal. What kind?"
"Like it fucking matters?" scoffs Eggie. "The kind you don't fuck with, that's what kind. Pack your bags, boys; you'll be staying aboard Chez Krater until you get him fixed up."
"A ... criminal. Of course." The pastry has gone dry in Wilson's mouth; he washes down the last of it with what's left of his coffee. "It matters to me what kind he is."
"What, it makes a difference if he sells drugs, sex, or pirated vidcrystals?"
"My money's on drugs." House smirks, like he's seen this all before. "They sample their own wares sooner or later, get hooked, flush their bodies right into the crap-tank."
"What's wrong with him?" Wilson's skin is prickling. He hopes it doesn't show.
"If they knew that, they'd be treating his ass instead of dicking around with you two." Eggie's got a third pastry now, but Wilson isn't hungry anymore. "And you're wrong," he says to House. "Krater's an arms merchant."
"Cool." House leans back against the desk and slurps down more coffee, like this was somehow normal.
"No," Wilson says, feeling his chest constrict. "Not cool. I am not getting on the ship of some crazed criminal gun-runner just because you want to make a few credits. You want us to see him, bring him here."
"And do what, you idiot? Fix him up right here in the garage?" There's something hard and dangerous creeping into Eggie's voice. "I made the deal I made. You ever want off this fucking rock, Doctor Wilson, you will do the fucking job. Go get your shit."
He watches those guys load their few things into the zheep and tries to figure why his world doesn't look quite right today, like the sun changed its angle or the sand shifted colors. His eyes keep coming back to James Wilson, who's thirty-five years old according to his records from Delphus, and looks twenty-two. Eggie can't tell, and that bugs him; he's made a living being able to tell.
"Let's go," he says. Greg grunts in reply, lifting his right leg with his hand as he arranges himself in the passenger seat.
Doctor Wilson says nothing at all. Just sits in the back seat like a very displeased statue, his shoulders square. Fucking amazing, that this is the same guy who tagged in behind Greggo last night like a little boy who'd been lost in the desert in his good clothes. This morning he's impeccably clean and pressed; must've figured out how to get that fucking useless mini-mat to work. Funny to think of Doctor Cleanpants running around the raw edges of space with Greg House. Eggie gives it maybe, maximum, a hundred more days, their improvised partnership or fucky-friend deal or whatever the hell they've got going. One of them will throw out the other, provided they both survive. Young Wilson might not, but if he doesn't ... well, it'll be one less cred-job for Eggie to do, and he'll still have Greg. Greggo could live through anything.
He's fidgeting, the way he always did, unable to sit still for long. It doesn't help that zheeps have shitty suspension and this one's about to rattle all their teeth out. Greg squints against the glare and the dust, pulls some kind of pill-bottle out of his pocket, swallows a couple of 'em dry.
They're already well past the loose boundaries of Faucet, inhabited buildings giving way to empty shells and then to the Great Fucking Nothing. It's hardtrack desert, a thin scrim of dust over bedrock, without a tree or a hill or a boulder in sight. It's a hundred klicks across, too far to see the eastern mountains through the hot, polluted air.
Fortunately, Eggie only has to take them ten klicks in.
Not until the zheep stops does Jimmy Wilson speak a single fucking word. "Why," he asks, "are we meeting them out here? Why not just use the station?"
"No cover." House answers the question before Eggie can. "No ambush, no spying. We can't kill them, and if they decide they have to kill us, no witnesses."
"I was gonna say it's standard procedure," Eggie says, "'cause it is. But yeah, that's why it's standard procedure. It's all right, though. You're not armed, you got nothing to worry about." He shoves his wind-loosened hat back into place on his head. "These guys need you more than you need them."
"That's ... comforting," says Wilson, in a very not-comforted tone. The conversation ends there: the three of them clamber out of the cramped vehicle, stretching their legs, watching a speck in the sky as it grows to a spot and then a shape. Krater's runabout, coming to greet them.
Wilson sighs and starts to unload their small bags. Eggie sighs too: he has no desire whatsoever to talk to a second set of Evo Krater's lackeys. If he's lucky, he won't have to --
-- that's as far as his thoughts go before an invisible wrecking ball knocks him backward, into blackness.
Eggie wakes up lying on his back with a mouthful of dust. The sky looks oddly dim -- until he realizes that his nice white hat is pitched over his face like a tent. His head's pounding so hard he can fucking hear it, and hell, it's not just his head; it's his whole body bitching at him every time his heart beats.
The memories move like sludge through his brain. Painful fucking sludge. Krater's shuttle hovering, not a word, and then ... something hit him. Hard. Had to be a mag pulse. Not unheard-of. The bastards knocked everyone cold before they touched down; he's scared to even fucking ask whether they destroyed the zheep and left him out here to die. Take the doctors, never have to pay the second fifty percent; why the fuck not?
Fucking arms merchants.
He raises his arm, slowly, to remove the hat from his face. It feels like he got crushed by a rockbreaker, like all his joints are little bits of fucking bone-gravel instead of balls and sockets.
Looking sideways, he can see the zheep, which looks intact. He's not sure if he's surprised by that; Drex had said Krater was a known element, a man of business who didn't kill without good reason -- but who the fuck really knows what a 'good reason' is this week?
Eggie struggles to roll onto his side. Got to get up, get the hell out of here before he sticks to the ground like meat in a skillet. His hand bumps something warm and smooth on the ground. It's a bottle, and it's full of water. "Goatfuckers," mutters Eggie. He sits up, twists the cap off the bottle even though it feels like his fingers will break from the effort. "Thanks so ever-fucking much for your tender fucking mercies."
He drinks, glad at least that he won't have to share. Greggo and his pretty friend are gone.
Author's note: Nutria are real and yes, they're edible. Although we of the Collective would have to be very hungry.