“It’s a chassis of thoroughly disinfected carbon fibers over a partial cardiac implant scavenged from a dead man, and some arterial clamps as well,” said Tobe. “It will require the occasional charge, but you’ll live despite the harvester drone’s best efforts to plant you like a daisy seed.”

Caleb ran his hand over the stitchwork on his chest twinging at the pain even as he marveled at the steady, even hand that had wrought it. “Why would you do this for me?” he said. “I barely even know you.”

“You fix a man up, and the first thing he wants to know is why. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished.” Tobe laughed, which quickly turned into a racking cough; he pressed a dirty rag to his mouth and turned away until it subsided, and then threw the now-crimson cloth into a bin overflowing with them.

“Sorry,” Caleb muttered. “Not always the best with words, but…thank you. I just like to know where I stand with folks, that’s all.”

“Hm? Oh, you’re waiting for the bill, is that it?” Another wheezy cough-laugh from Tobe. “It’s all right,” he continued. “I’m sure your insurance is good. You can work out all the details with my nurse.” He gestured at the corner, where a blasted-out harvester drone was slumped, with a crude nurse’s wimple on its sensor dome and a red cross painted on its chassis.

Seeing Caleb’s strange look, Tobe snickered joyfully. “Please forgive an old man his amusements,” he said. “I want to cram in as much laughter as I can before the clock runs out. Let me be square and plain with you, Caleb: you owe me nothing but to hear me out.”

“I’m listening.”

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