Jack Kiligree was simply minding his own business, wandering down Kailin University hallways towards the main section of garages and workshops, when he ran into his own version of vocational trouble.
Now, just to keep things straight, Jack was a bit of rough-it-out loner type, former militancy, and impatient with anything that kept a man from cutting to the bottom line. He could even empathize a bit with Dr. Clark Gabrin, muttering as they passed in the hallway. The good doc had probably heard about Scheffer's plan to require vocationals on the Gabrin Habitat Project. Vocationals were not like the other students who came to Kailin with their academic record of excellence and dreams on their mind. Vocationals were the test-ins. They had aptitude, and that was all that was required. Not social skills (unless they claimed aptitude for diplomacy), not a proper understanding of subordination, not any understanding of their place under those who had already passed through the ranks, and apparently, not a single shred of respect for personal space.
Jack stopped cold in the doorway to his favorite garage and stared at the radical renovations that had been implemented—and at the girl obviously too young to be anything but vocational.
He set his jaw and forced himself to remain calm. "This isn't supposed to be a space station, doll," he drawled grimly.
The teenager bent over a pile of parts in the middle of his garage floor glanced up and glared at him.
She had done a number on his workspace too. Slick metal panels had been laid down over the floor in deep and radiant blues. What appeared to be lines of soft, white grout between the panels clearly were not because she was threading all manner of electronic gadgetry into each one. A can of grit half as big as she was sat waiting nearby to spray over the whole thing when it was finished. The walls had moved in a foot, and his favorite raw wooden support beams along them now poked out from finished and oiled wooden panels. The shelves of miscellaneous storage had disappeared behind those panels in the neatly shrunk area of the main bay. Thankfully, daylight still showed through the doors, but if he was not mistaken, the glass had been changed for the Elysium nano-reinforced variety, which changed tint and density on command. The kid had one door open, and all the school vehicles were sitting merrily in the driveway, staring at him.
She gave him another glare, for the moniker.
"This is my space," he said in a deliberately patient tone.
"It's not private. I checked."
Southern accent, warm alto, sharp tone to match the sparkling anger in her emerald eyes. Jack took in her high ponytail of thick, brown hair and the beat-up, green jean jacket and heavy-duty cargo pants not quite hiding her lean muscle and fighter tension. He may have been a former militancy captain who never backed down from battle, but he had to wonder if a plainer place to work on mechanics was worth tangling with an alleycat like her.
Abruptly, a shadow crossed her face and that hard face went all soft and vulnerable. "I mean, you didn't just put in a request, did you?" The green eyes went wide and filled with a nervousness bordering on panic.
Of course, she just had to do the girl thing, sincerely too. He was no softie, Jack reminded himself, but decided anyway, no harm done, and leaned back against the door frame, arms crossed, and let her stew.
She flushed but said nothing.
Smart, he handed her grudgingly. She did not assume his silence was an answer. "No. But don't mean a man can't have a place where it's understood he can get some peace."
She glanced down at the parts, thumbed her wrench, looked thoughtful. Not chastened. Not at all.
"You hear me?" He raised both eyebrows and mustered that intimidating look Sarah was always chiding him for.
The kid nodded slowly. "I hear you." But she still looked thoughtful, not intimidated. "I'm thinking if I wrap up this floor, it'll take a lot less time than if I yank it all back out." She nodded to herself—"Yep"—then met his gaze evenly.
He couldn't help it. He dropped his jaw and stared at her. "Excuse me?"
"It's your space," she replied merrily and bent back to threading in the last of her wires. "I better get out of it and let y'all have some peace, right?" A glance upward and then wide eyes so innocent, a body would have to believe her sincere if he had no other proof to the contrary.
Jack scowled. "Got a name, trouble?"
She laughed, eyes sparkling, all charm and sass and unfettered brilliance. "Hayley. Lamar," as an afterthought. "But Trouble will do."
That it would. "What are you in for?" he asked, a trifle curious about the scrapper.
She shrugged. "Psych, tech, flight, and protections. I'd like a shot at Gabrin."
He raised both eyebrows. "You want into the most prestigious, exclusive, high-level project in the school."
Hayley nodded, unfazed by his skeptical regard. "Mr. Scheffer said I needed a physical portfolio and this is part of it." She cocked her head, suddenly assessing. "You like tech?"
"Oh no. You leave me out of your scheming and plotting." Jack shrugged her off and went over to the panels to find his tools. "You can just forget about me having anything to do with the habitats. Lost cause anyway, you ask me."
Hayley paused at that, stood, and grabbed her canister. "Why?" She started spraying the grit down, and Jack took a moment to hack out some of the mist of fine particles.
"Aim that the other way, huh?" He settled his toolbox on the bench. "Because with HAC and Elysia up in arms at each other's throats, how exactly are we supposed to turn out a habitat?"
"Make the materials." She shrugged lightly, kept spraying, acted as if none of it mattered.
"For a girl so handy, you aren't so smart," he commented back and moved out of the danger zone of grit. "You do know what a habitat is, right?"
"Sure I do." She gave him a look, the kind teenagers mastered early. "A habitat is a refuge out on a wilderness planet from conversations like this one."
"Built from materials that aren't so handy on planets like Earth any more."
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