He sat like that so long, head in hands, brain spinning at a thousand clicks a second that Aru finally nudged his leg after some minutes had passed. Corwin looked up with a classic thousand-yard stare.
“I really wish I could remember what I did to get this kind of treatment,” he said finally. He couldn’t come up with a single thing he could’ve said or done that warranted what amounted to a death sentence. Death sentences can be repealed, he told himself firmly.
The text on Aru’s display had updated. “I can’t help with that.”
“No, I guess you can’t. But maybe there’s something you can help with.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “How many people are stationed on-world?”
He sighed. “That’s about what I figured. Not many people would want to work somewhere like this.” He’d been lucky to end up in a scrap region. In areas designated for bio-waste, he’d have been far less comfortable. Maybe he’d even have been dead already. “You organize the scrap as it comes in?”
The haphazard piles around them didn’t look terribly organized, so he took a guess. “And this is the receiving area?”
“Okay then. Two things. First, is there anything around that I can eat?” He was starving, he realized. “And second, where do you keep the ship wrecks?”
There was a long pause before the display updated this time. “Food you can eat: Maybe. Ship wrecks are located several hundred kilometers away to the south.”
Corwin frowned. Several hundred kilometers was a long trip. But on the other hand, a maybe on the food was better than he’d hoped, given that the world was uninhabited except by bots. “What do you mean by ‘maybe’ there’s food?”
The response was much quicker. “Wrecked star ships often have many things left aboard after transport to Haruna. Most food would be inedible. There may exist emergency ration packs that could have survived.”
“Sounds better than eating this,” he said, grabbing a handful of reddish dirt or rust or some combination of the two and letting it run through his fingers. “How can I get there?”
“I’ll have to take you.”
Corwin nodded. “Guess you have to have some sort of vehicle that can move stuff around to do a job like this.”
Aru tweeted the affirmative. “Transport chassis is en route. ETA: 2 minutes.”
He sat back to wait and reviewed his plan, such as it was; it was really more of a distant hope, he thought. Corwin was a pilot, not a professional mechanic, but nobody flew the stars without learning enough about ships to perform emergency repairs. If he could find a ship that wasn’t too badly damaged, he might just get off this rock. Problem is ships don’t usually end up in places like this if they aren’t that bad. He tried not to think about that any more.
After two minutes, as promised, Aru’s transport chassis arrived. It was a powerful, bulky repulsor-truck with a flat bed. Corwin looked to the cabin by habit, only to find there wasn’t one. “Um, I hate to ask the obvious question, but … am I going to have to ride on the back?”
The answer was disappointingly quick. “Yes.”