Bug always liked horses. Not only were they kind and compassionate animals but they just represented freedom. Freedom of life outside the walls of dwellings. Free from government assigned names and jobs and clothes. Government assigned lives.
Bug stroked Tango's nose, looking into his deep brown eyes as she dragged her hand down the broad white stripe. "You good boy?"
He huffed air through his nose as she scratched under his cheek. His slack bottom lip and floppy ears showed he was relaxed, comfortable.
Her fingers digging into his fur caught sightly on the scar that ended at the base of his throat. It went down his neck and spanned the length of his stomach, almost to his tail. His whole body was covered in long precise scars that followed the lines of his body, his spine and leg bones all the way down to his hooves.
Bug glanced back at the field where a dozen or so horses grazed, all had the faint lines of scars that just barely showed beneath their fur.
Leaning against the fence and idly watching them with a faint smile was Indie. The wind tugged at the strands of dark curly hair that escaped her ponytail as she hugged her slightly ratty coat closer and stood up off the fence, walking over to her.
Bug smiled at her. "Hey. You know what we need?"
"Yeah." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a list, unfolding it. "Should be pretty straightforward."
"Mm." Bug scanned the list. "Seems like it."
"Yup." She started walking towards the workshop and Bug followed. Indie's slight limp was a painful reminder of why she couldn't go on parts runs anymore.
"You need these soon?" Bug asked.
"Relatively. We have customers waiting. I think once you get this, Red is gonna be ready. He'll sell for a lot. We already got a buyer."
"Yeah. Willing to give us five thousand credits for him."
"Aw that's awesome! Good job!"
Indie turned at Bug's enthusiasm, smiling. "It'll be awesome once he's ready."
"Well I'll leave right now then."
"Oh, okay." She seemed caught off guard. "I'll- I'll go get your stuff. You get Tango."
"Yeah." Bug grabbed her favorite saddle from a tack room that smelled of dust and horses. A familiar smell. It was home, and home meant safety, and comfort. The saddle itself was small, designed for going fast, barely even meant to be sat in. Two empty saddlebags hung off the back, once full they'd be tightly strapped down to reduce drag and discomfort to the horse.
Tango was very patient as she swung it up onto him and tightened the girth. His flank was warm and his breath made a slight hiss sound as he exhaled. Bug placed her hand against his ribs, feeling them expand and contract under her fingertips. A faint heartbeat whirred within. A smile inched onto her face as she stroked down his flank, the coffee brown fur rippling under her fingertips, depositing small amounts of dirt onto her skin. Indie was the best in the business, she was lucky to have her.
Indie's voice dragged her out of her thoughts and she realized she had walked up beside her without her noticing. "Bug, you sure you want to go right now? You're still recovering." Her cool fingers touched her chest, where a scar was in the process of healing, still red and shiny.
"I'm fine Di. These parts runs are always easy anyways. Plus it'll be a good test."
"I don't wanna see you hurt like I was."
"I'll be fine. I always am."
"I thought that as well."
Bug saw Indie still looked worried and grabbed her face, smiling as she looked up into her huge brown eyes. "Bugs are hard to squash." With that, she kissed her, pulling her in close. One thumb stroked over the scar on her neck, the one Bug had a matching one of.
As they broke, Bug pulled back and gave a crooked grin. "Don't worry. Thanks to you I will get out of there no problem."
"Okay… but be careful anyways." She hoisted what she held in her arms. "Here." It consisted of a bandana, a pair of round metal goggles, and a gun. All of them were relatively homemade though Bug took pride in the gun, that had not been easy to make. She had Bug's pack slung over one shoulder which was filled with all sorts of helpful tools, also made by Bug. She prided herself for being a bit of a tinkerer, it made them more self sufficient.
Bug smiled at Indie as she wiggled the goggles on and tied the bandana around the lower half of her face. Tango was fast. Without goggles her eyes would dry out instantly. The bandana was just to obscure her face once she got there, as well as protect her mouth from dust. She swung the bag onto her back and holstered the gun on her hip, then put her foot in the stirrup, bounced a few times, and jumped up into the saddle.
Tango's ears flicked back, acknowledging her. She scrubbed his neck. "Ready boy?" He didn't do anything. But, he was a horse. Expecting a response was a little presumptuous.
Indie stepped forward, gently grabbing one of the reins. "Be careful Bug. Please?"
"Yeah of course I will. But stop worrying! I've done this a million times!" She liked that now that she was on top of Tango, Indie was significantly shorter than her, something that was far from the norm.
"Still. They're upping the security. I have a feeling we might have to start going after other dwellings, give this one a rest for a bit, give them time to let their guard down."
"Yeah, you're probably right. We can figure it out when I get back." She leaned over Tango's shoulder and Indie lifted the bandana, kissing her.
"Love you Bug."
"Love you too. I'll be back in a bit." She reached out and tucked a stray lock behind Indie's ear, grinning, then she flicked her bandana back into position. "See you."
She gave Tango a light kick and he broke into a trot as she navigated out of her and Indie's little selection of property. Technically, it wasn't illegal to live outside the walls, that's why the government never came after them. They just didn't get anything from the government, housing or protection or access to hospitals. This lead to a vast crime network in the outerlands made up of 'rogues'. They needed to steal to just live. Some people had a monopoly on guns, selling them to other rogues, some had food, some electricity and gas, some healthcare. Indie and Bug, they sold mod horses. And everyone who knew anything outside the walls knew they were the best in the business. If you wanted a high quality mod horse, that was fast and efficient and didn't fail in a matter of weeks you came to them.
They had considered bringing others in on the operation, or just paying people to do parts runs, but they were good enough themselves and they didn't want industry secrets getting out.
As soon as Bug was out in the open stretch of desert that was the outerlands, she kicked Tango up into a gallop. He started off at a normal paced horse gallop then slowly sped up. His hooves pounded into the earth and Bugs hair was blown back in the wind. She stood point in the saddle, standing in the stirrups rather than actually sitting, stretching her arms out along with his neck in each stride as she shortened the reins. Soon, the surroundings were flashing by them in a blur of gold cracked dust and brown scraggly trees. She glanced down at the improvised speedometer she had on his saddle that counted his steps and adjusted the length of each stride depending on the speed. It took a second as it was jiggling around, but she was able to see the number 85.
"C'mon boy you can do better," She muttered. She hunkered down, at these speeds the air resistance became a big problem and nudged him even faster. He tossed his head then stretched it forward. His hooves flew out in front of him, churning up dust into a cloud behind them. Luckily the almost daily storms would quickly cover up his very distinctive tracks.
It wasn't long before the walls of the dwelling came into view. Bug obviously couldn't bring him too close. Mod horses were illegal. She circled him around it, heading for a rocky outcropping. So far she had mainly stuck to the simple dirt roads as hitting a rock on rough terrain could prove extremely dangerous. Tango slowed to the speed of a normal gallop then down to a canter and trot as they approached the rocks.
Bug found a fairly secluded area and stopped him, then swung a leg over and slid off. Normally a ride like that wrecked the human body and she'd have to rest for a good bit before doing anything. People tended to think the horse did all the work, but really it used almost every muscle in the riders body.
Now though, she was ready to go almost instantly, thanks to Indie's brilliance. She stripped off her jacket and belt, making sure she was just in a drab pair of pants and shirt, then tucked the jacket into the bag along with the gun. Also in the bag was a very convincing temporary tattoo of the mark she had burned off her neck. She put it back in its old position, covering up the scar. A different group of rogues made their business selling these realistic tattoos.
With that done, she unclipped the saddlebags and swung them over her shoulder before heading off towards the walls.
The guards stopped her at the front gate, as they always did.
"What are you doing."
"Coming to buy food." She patted her bags to illustrate her point.
"How'd you get here."
"Car. You can't bring them in dwellings without a whole load of paperwork right? I just hid it off the road a bit."
"Name and number."
She always hated this bit. "Katie. 0871834933." She stretched her chin up to show him the tattoo. He brought out a scanner and it beeped, bringing up an old picture of her along with some text. Chose to leave dwelling april 3 0025. Not a threat.
The guard nodded. "Alright, go on." He waved the barrel of his gun and she nodded before walking through the gates. So far, they had not connected Katie, the peaceful outerland drifter, to Bug, the wanted rogue.
The noise hit her all at once like a punch in the face. The bustling activity was a huge change from the outerlands. Hundreds of people cluttered the street. All of them wore the drab clothes. All of them had tattoos. Despite all being individuals, it was hard to tell them apart, even if they had different hair and skin colors.
The buildings were tall and a bit crooked, hanging in over the street, almost imposing. Wires criss crossed between them thirty feet in the air and a plethora of equipment from solar panels to dishes cluttered the roofs like a metal forest.
The good thing about dwellings was how dense and complicated the streets were; easy to get lost in, purposefully or not. From here on she'd have to stay in the shadows.
While the web of streets was complicated, she knew the route she had to take like the back of her hand. She slipped through the alleyways, as quiet and quick as a cat. As she turned onto the last road, she could see her goal up ahead of her. A factory, a dull concrete block that was low but wide. Pipes and wiring snaked up the walls and like the other buildings, the roof was cluttered with antennae and other miscellaneous tech.
The factory was a fairly small one relative to some others, but it had everything they needed. Normally everything made would be used for the military, who also had mod horses, along with a good few other mod animals. There were rumors of mod soldiers as well, though it hadn't really been confirmed by the government. As if they'd tell the citizens anyways.
Multiple cameras were perched on the walls near the top, their emotionless black lenses staring down. Watching. After a lot of trial and error she had finally found a single blind spot in their field of view. They seemed to assume that no one could get to that blind spot in the first place. She, however, knew she could reach it by climbing up onto the walls of a different building, then hopping over and following a carefully planned route. It meant she was holding herself to the wall for a good few minutes which was not the easiest thing and her fingers soon turned white as the blood was pushed out of them with her grip.
Today though, she easily maneuvered around the vent pipes and wiring that covered the outer wall, dropping silently into the blind spot with a poof of dust. She took a small break to celebrate the fact that so far, everything was going smoothly. A few feet down was a metal door that led into a supply room in the back. It was very rarely used. She snuck up to the door, sticking close to the wall. Every step had her heel pressed back against the wall, and her hands used any hold they could find to keep her as flat as possible. The door only had a padlock, they never learned. She whipped a can of compressed air out of her bag and sprayed the lock before slamming it with the bottom of the can. The loop broke and the lock clattered to the ground. With that, she slipped in.
From the noise that leaked through the inner door to the room she was in, she could tell the factory was filled with people. It always was. It seemed to be operating 24/7. Really, getting the parts was easy. All she had to do was put on the jumpsuit she had stolen months ago, the one that all the workers wore, then act confident.
Others who did parts runs had complex systems of ambushing transports or breaking in and having to sneak around. That's what Bug used to do until she realized that if she wore a uniform, she could do whatever she wanted. Pulling on a jumpsuit over her other clothes, she stowed her bags and walked straight out of the room and over to one of the conveyor belts, grabbing a plastic tub from a stack. All of the parts Indie required would be on one of the belts. She was always baffled at the stupidity of whoever was in charge of these factories. No one even looked sideways at her as she inspected the parts on the belt for a second, then picked one up and placed it in the tub. They'd all assume she had found something wrong with it and was picking it out to fix it. It was stupidly simple to get most of the things. The problem was getting them out. Then again, she usually did it without a hitch. She filled the tub with joints and pylons and pumps, mentally checking off Indie's list, then walked back towards her spot. The trick was to stare ahead and pretend like this was everyday work. If she glanced around nervously at all to see if anyone was watching her, she'd be caught.
In the store room she stuffed all the parts into the saddlebag, padding them with some cloth, tucking the jumpsuit in as well. Then, she slung the bag on her shoulders and went out the way she came in, sliding along the wall with a careful precision. Climbing the route with a bag full of metal parts was much harder than before and she gritted her teeth in concentration. When she finally got back to her starting place, she dropped back down to the ground, the parts in the bag making dull clunks as they jostled one another. Bug gave a quiet laugh as she pushed her hair out of her face. Like she thought. Easy peasy.
No sooner than that thought crossed her mind, an alarm blared. She jumped in surprise and spun to see the factory behind her had lit up with red spinning lights and filled the air with ear piercing noise blasted from speakers. Her heart jumped into her throat and she swung the bag onto her shoulders, taking off running.
How had they known? Maybe they started doing some sort of inventory. As she sprinted towards one of the gates, she heard a guard shout into a comms device of some sort as she ran past him. She hadn't even noticed him. She was getting sloppy. "Rogue! We got a rogue! Heading towards the east gate!"
In a panic, she pulled a metal cylinder from a bag on her belt, struggling to find grip on the flimsy string that hung off it with her other hand. Soon though, she caught it and pulled it out with a sharp tug, tossing it behind her. It was a simple can filled with white phosphorous that when a small explosion went off inside, began letting off huge billows of white smoke. It filled the streets almost instantly, creating a thick cloud. Hopefully that would lose them.
She continued running towards the gate, she knew she didn't have time to spare. As she burst out onto one of the roads leading towards it, she could see the it not a hundred feet from her. Just as she was starting to run towards it, she watched in horror as a metal shuttered door slid down over the entrance, blocking it. It was accompanied by yet more alarms. Since when did they have those? There was a blaring neon sign above it that said 'Lockdown'
Lockdown? Did that mean all of the entrances were closed? Guards had gathered around her, attempting to block her off but she was way too fast for them. She turned off onto a side street, easily outpacing the men behind her.
As soon as she reached another main street though, she was surrounded by cars. Cars in the dull steel color of guard cars with alarms on the roofs. They were blocking where she was planning to go so she made a sharp turn, almost slipping as her boots slid on the dust and gravel, then sprinted away. She heard the cars engines start behind her and the wheels squeal, churning up dust. That wasn't good.
Bug slipped into a small alleyway and kept going, weaving through buildings. She burst out onto a street she didn't recognize and hearing the sirens behind her, she went down it. It was a dead end. The wall of a house rose up sharply in front of her and by the time she turned back to another street, the guards would be there.
She panicked and looked around, spotting no way out. The sirens were coming closer. She was about to face them and pull her gun out when a door suddenly opened.
"Get in here!"
A man stood there, his hand on the doorknob as he stared at her. "I said get in! I'm not gonna hurt ya!" She hesitated for a split second before charging in. He closed the door behind them with a bang and turned to face her, his eyes wide. "Are you an idiot?"
"I dunno! Kinda!"
"What lead you to this side of the city anyways?"
"The guards, they were in the streets in the direction I wanted to go, didn't have much of a choice. Who are you?"
"You know Oak? Arms dealer?" He glanced at the gun on her hip. "Maybe you don't.. that's not one of his." He was dressed like everyone else in the dwelling with plain clothes and short, neat hair.
"No I do. I just prefer my own stuff."
"Ah. Well I'm his, inside man." He presented his hand. "Dutch. And you are?"
"Bug." She shook it. She could see on his neck his government assigned name underneath the barcode. 'Daniel'.
"Bug like Indie's Bug?"
"Exactly." She grinned. She liked that she was known as 'Indie's Bug'.
"Right well listen, they might start sweeping these buildings. Trust me, the best way to lose them is to go on the roofs. If you go up the stairs there will be a door that leads out there."
Bug nodded quickly. "Okay, thank you."
"We gotta stick together ya know? And you lot aren't competition for us, you're actually very helpful."
She nodded and thanked him again before charging up the stairs, stopping halfway up and shouting back at him, "Tell Oak he gets a horse half off for you helping me. I'd give you something directly but all we got are horses."
Dutch smiled. "Alright, sounds good. Good luck Bug."
"See you!" She turned and ran the rest of the way.
The door he had mentioned opened onto a balcony that had a ladder up the rest of the way. She started to scramble up it as she heard voices below, probably guards talking to Dutch. She almost laughed when she heard his muffled voice, "A rogue? Here? No I have no idea sir, I haven't seen anything."
As soon as she was on the roof, Bug ran. Her feet pounded into the concrete as she sprinted over the rooftops. When she got to a gap shed simply jump, easily clearing it. The wires and antennas and solar panels proved no problem as she could vault them, either using one hand as leverage or just hurdling it. She heard the cars below her screaming their sirens. Behind her, some guards had made it to the roofs and were trying to keep up, failing miserably.
Ahead of her was the wall. It was as tall as the rooftops meaning it rose as much as a three storey building. Normally, she would not be in this situation at all and she could have slipped through the many entrances. But of course they had installed 'lockdown doors'. Jerks.
The wall was approaching rapidly. Bug took a deep breath, steeling her nerves, she had to trust this would work. She sprinted towards it. As it came closer she did a small hop onto it from the closest roof then leapt, pushing off the top with one foot.
The sole of her boot scraped as it left the concrete behind. Time slowed as she rocketed through the air, falling a good thirty feet. She tried to stay upright as best she could using her limbs. Her heartbeat roared in her ears as the wind screamed past her. The ground rushed up all too soon and she slammed into the dirt. One knee and both palms hit the ground hard. Her heavy bags hit her back causing her to stumble. It hurt like hell but it wasn't debilitating. She thanked god for Indie then jumped to her feet and continued running. She couldn't help but let out a whoop of joy as adrenaline flooded through her.
The wall would give her a bit of time. The cars chasing her would have to go out through the main entrance. Why didn't she do this before? This was great. Oh right, she thought, she would've broken every bone in her body.
When she reached the area she had left Tango, he picked his head up from where he had been inspecting and snuffling the ground, his ears pricked forward. "Sorry boy! Messed up a bit! We gotta go now."
She vaulted onto Tango and dug her heels in as he spun in a tiny circle, surprised. He gave a tiny rear then started to gallop. She didn't have time to attach the saddlebags on, they'd just have to stay on her shoulders. The reins were difficult to grab and shorten, she was not used to this kind of quick getaway situation. As they accelerated up to a gallop, she could see cars stream out from the settlement behind them. Swearing under her breath, she nudged Tango to go faster. She kited them for a solid minute or so before realizing she was never going to out-run them, and even if she did, she would be easy to track. She'd lead them straight to her and Indie's place and their field of illegal horses
"Aw shit. Gonna have to go a different way home Tango." She steered him so that they were trailing the cars in a relatively straight line. One of the reasons people liked mod horses was did have a lot of other advantages besides just speed. She sped up until there was a good distance between her and the cars, then tugged the reins to the left, digging her right heel into his chest near his shoulder and her left heel into his stomach. He understood what she was asking and slowed a tiny bit before turning on a dime, his feet digging in as he leaned into the turn at an almost 45 degree angle. As soon as he was facing the cars, she kicked him, giving him his head.
He accelerated much faster than he had before and sped past the cars, weaving between them. She could hear bangs that echoed around her ears as they attempted to shoot at her, but she was going much too fast. Indie had described this move as 'barrel racing but with a hint of death'. As she rocketed away from them, adrenaline thrumming through her, she glanced back and grinned as she saw the cars had screeched to a stop and were doing their best attempts at quick turns.
Ahead, just cresting over the horizon as she reached the top of a small hill, was an imperial storm, the largest type of dust storm. The imposing walls of roiling dust and wind rose up a good few hundred feet, appearing to touch the sky. The rumble of it could be heard from miles away and she felt it in her chest. While it was quite close to them, it was headed east, perpendicular to the colony. Otherwise, safety measures in the settlement would quickly go into place. She took a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself, which was not an easy feat while on top of a galloping horse going over ninety miles per hour, trailed by a squad of guard cars.
She yelled out as they rocketed towards it. "Tango you wanna do something real stupid?! Cause we're about to do something real stupid!"
They had been going at a diagonal angle to it, but now she squeezed the right hand rein and nudged him into position until he was headed directly for it. The cars slowed behind her, probably wondering why the hell she was headed straight for an imperial storm. The colonies had cars designed to withstand these forces of nature, but these were not them. No humans dared enter them. It was widely accepted knowledge that without the protection of the buildings with storm hatches, the winds would knock one over as easily as a leaf, the air swept from their lungs before they could get a proper breath, and their eyes and mouths dried out within seconds.
Bug swallowed. This was something even she hadn't dared to do yet, but it was her only option. The dry lands stretched out for miles with no cover, the ground perfect for leaving tracks. She barely even noticed the cars come to a full stop behind her, then turn and drive in the opposite direction.
The storm was so loud she could barely even hear the beats of Tango's hooves as they approached it. She had never been this close before. The walls loomed ahead of her, impossibly high. Wind whipped around her, threatening to tear her off the saddle. Then, she breached the wall.
Dust hit her like a speeding truck, pelting her face, instantly making any exposed skin feel like it was being cut with a knife. She hoped Tango's fur would protect him better. Tango braced, spreading his legs out and digging in with the spikes extending from his shoes made for this exact purpose, though normally they only experienced smaller storms. His neck craned forward and his mane whipped violently in the wind as he squinted and huffed.
On his back, Bug was hanging on for dear life. Every buffet of wind threatened to blow her from the saddle, but she held the horn in a vice-like grip, her legs squeezing into his sides to get as much traction as possible. As predicted, her mouth dried out if she so much as opened it a millimeter, and her nose sent spikes of pain through her entire head with each breath. She would just have to grit through it, trusting that her body could survive this even if everything was screaming to her that it wouldn't.
Tango pulled one of his back legs from the ground and extended it out, planting it again solidly. Slowly, they started to move, he only ever had one foot off the ground at a time, advancing at a glacial pace. Imperial storms were massive, but they were also fast. Hopefully it would rage over them for only a few minutes. The further they went into the storm, the darker it got, until finally there was no shred of light whatsoever. Bug couldn't even see her own hands, much less Tangos head. She couldn't even tell if they were actually moving or not. Hunkering down, she closed her eyes and hoped to God this wouldn't be the end of her.
The hell of the imperial storm only lasted around five minutes, which was short enough for a storm of that size, though it felt like hours. As they finally saw the light leaking in as the dust in the air thinned around them, Bug breathed a sigh of relief. Soon, it had entirely left them behind, leaving its normal path of destruction in its wake.
Bug slowed Tango to a halt then got off him, bringing down small waterfalls of dust off his back and saddle as she did. As soon as she was off, he spread his legs out and stuck his head forward in a very recognizable position. She barely had time to get her arms in front of her face when he shook, spraying the red dust all around him. When he was done, Bug lowered her arms and gave him a look. He couldn't see her face under all the coverings but hopefully he got the memo.
He simply looked at her with his huge eyes then stuck his tongue out as he licked his lips. It was obvious that his entire mouth was coated with dust as his normally pink tongue was brown.
"Ah, whoops. Here lets get that sorted out." She pulled a metal water bottle from her bag, simultaneously checking to see if the parts had survived. They seemed a little dirty but otherwise fine.
After helping clean out Tangos mouth, a difficult process given he didn't really understand what was going on and kept letting the water dribble out between his lips, she decided it was time to go back. As she got on him again and gave him a pat, a small cloud of dust billowing out from his fur, she sighed.
"How angry do you think Indie is gonna be."
He didn't respond.
"Yeah, I agree. She's gonna be pissed."
She nudged Tango up to a comfortable natural gallop pace, no use sprinting now.
As she headed back towards her and Indie's farm, her mind was far away. They would have to go after other colonies, ones that were farther away and she was less familiar with. They would figure it out. They always did.
A noise behind her jolted her back to the present and she turned her head to see another horse, a piebald her and Indie had sold a few months ago. It was going a different direction but for a brief moment it galloped along with her, about a hundred feet away. The rider sat up in the saddle and gave a salute. Bug grinned and saluted back.
Horses were popular amongst those on the outside of the law. Every car engine had a tracker built in that was impossible to remove without destroying the engine. Any attempt at making a new engine from scratch was always slow and ran out of electricity easily. Horses however, horses were natural engines. Sure they weren't as fast as cars, but that's what modders like Indie and Bug were for. It was a good business.
The piebald slowly turned off to the east, curving away from her trajectory.
When she finally got back, she could see Indie was working with one of the newer horses, Jelly, lunging her in the round pen, getting her used to the mods. Horses were flighty and scared easily so when getting used to the mods, Indie would use a sort of remote so that they would start out with minimal effects until the horse got used to it then ramp it up. A mod horse bolting was much different to a normal one.
Bug grinned under her bandana and shouted, "I'm baaaaaaack!"
As Indie saw her, she immediately abandoned Jelly and scrambled over the fence, rushing towards her as Bug swung her leg off and slid down to the ground. Her brows were furrowed and her mouth agape.
"Bug! You didn't," She said, registering the dust that had settled into every possible nook and crevice of her clothes and hair.
Bug took off her googles, showing white rings around her eyes that had been protected from the enselaut of dirt. She gave a guilty grimace.
Indie grabbed her head, looking her in the eyes. "What is wrong with you?! You could've died! You can't count on everything working as planned, you know that."
"Yeah but I didn't die."
Indie pulled her into an almost violent hug. "You're such an idiot. You're such an idiot."
Indie was still holding on to her. "Stop doing this! I don't wanna lose you." She pulled back, her front was now coated in the same dust that covered Bug's entire body. Bug slowly pulled her bandana off.
"Listen that was one hell of a thrill but also… pretty hairy. I definitely won't be doing that again."
"Good." It almost sounded like she was scolding her.
After patiently sitting through the chewing out that Indie gave her, Bug went through the process of taking off Tangos tack, as well as deciding to hose him down before putting on his flexible solar panel blanket, turning him out with the others with a good scrub on the neck and a carrot. As she did, she described the new security measures on the settlement to Indie. She could see very clearly that Indie was almost bursting to say 'I told you so.' But she didn't. Sometimes she was too nice. Bug would certainly be rubbing it smugly in her face if their positions were switched.
The rest of the day had Bug falling asleep on her feet. Finally, Indie ordered her to go to bed, and that she would finish feeding and bringing in the horses. Bug happily agreed.
It was the next day when Indie dragged Bug out of bed at a frankly criminal time in the morning. "C'mon, time to work on Red."
Bug groaned. "Aw, you didn't get beaten up by a storm, let me sleep."
"Oh I wonder whose fault that is. Get up Bug."
Bug groaned again, then got up. Practically every muscle in her body was on fire, which was to be expected, but it was much more manageable than any other time. After she groggily went about her normal morning tasks, she joined Indie in the workshop. She had Red standing on the metal surface that was flush with the ground. She pressed his withers with her hand while nudging the inside of his knee with a foot. Obeying the pressure points, he sank down until he was lying on his side. Her hand gently pushed on his neck until he had his head on the floor. She spoke to him the whole time in a soothing voice.
"Good boy Red… good boy."
Once he was calm, she grabbed a large syringe full of anesthesia and pushed it into him, still holding his neck. He lifted his head slightly at the poke and made a whicker noise. She rubbed his fur. "It's all good, that's the last of it."
Soon, he went limp. Once he was, Indie stood back and pressed a button on the wall. There was a hiss as the pump filled with gas and the metal surface rose into the air until it was at waist height.
Bug helped her with the plethora of next steps, sticking a breathing tube down his throat, attaching a heart monitor and blood pressure cuff on, sanitizing the room… It was a long process.
Finally, he was ready. Indie and Bug both wore sterile jumpsuits along with masks. A pair of magnifying glasses perched on Indie's nose. She held her hand out to Bug who placed the end of a scalpel in it.
Indie worked with a quick efficiency that came from years of experience. Soon, Red's chest cavity was open to the world. Inside, among the blood and organs glinted metal.
Where his heart used to be sat a metal contraption that made slow hydraulic sounds as it pumped blood. His lungs were now just two filters, much faster and much better than the natural alternative. A tiny bit of his front leg could be seen, where the bones had been supplemented with metal supports and hydraulic powered joints. If they could, they'd replace the bones altogether but they produced blood cells, so they had to keep them. Indie carefully cleaned the part then walked over, moving the sleek filters out of the way. "Other than Tango, he's gonna be the only one with the extra chambers."
Eight chambers on the false heart meant that the flow of blood was steadier and faster. As opposed to just having to increase the rate and volume, this made it so there were essentially two hearts, one beating in the pause of the other.
"Really? Do we want to have others as good as Tango?"
"Don't worry. He won't have the more advanced leg joints. He'll be fast, but not as fast."
She glanced back, pausing from her work. "Everything on your end work good?"
Bug traced her hand down her chest, touching the slightly raw scar through the jumpsuit, then took a deep breath in, feeling the faint hiss from the filters, and let it out in a smooth exhale with a smile. Her heartbeat whirred and as she shifted her weight, she could feel the slight movement of hydraulic pumps inside her thighs. "Yeah. Everything works fine."