This is something I wrote very early on in Slim & Crow’s development. I had an idea of their personalities and wanted to get them on paper to see how people reacted.
Crow came out pretty much the way I wrote him here. Stoic. Laconic. Sometimes pauses in the middle of a sentence for no obvious reason, because it’s been so long since he’s had regular human contact he sometimes just forgets how conversations work.
Slim changed more. In this, he’s also stoic and has an air of menace around him. The original concept art made him look more like a gunslinger and I imagined him being a foil for Abe. More dangerous than Abe. More serious.
It wasn’t until I heard Lou Santini’s audition for Slim that I realized he shouldn’t be that guy, he should be the regretful hero, the tragic hero. The WWI soldier who signed up with all his school chums only to watch them get slaughtered right in front of him.
There are still some Slim lines where he’s got this cowboy-attitude, but in general I’m proud of where he ended up. We got enough Men (and Women) With No Name on the team.
Khovalyg watched the alien pack up its camp. The creature didn’t like water, he noticed.
Three days of following it, watching it, and Crow finally realized the thing’s twice-daily ritual of rubbing ointment on its body was the equivalent of bathing for the alien. And alien it had to be.
It wore a gun at its hip, in a holster, like a man. And clothes. And tech. But the wings puzzled Crow. They had membranes, like a dragonfly wing, but metal vanes and what looked like hover-assist. Straps held it on. He’d yet to see them in action.
Something else had come to Shear, hunting the monster. It followed Goliath tracks. They were both following the same tracks, Khovalyg knew. But had the alien come for revenge? Sport? Or something else? An owner, looking for a lost pet?
He’d watched it fight off blitzers and reavers. It didn’t know Shear as well as Crow, who could move through the jungle undisturbed. Normally. Currently he was nursing a wounded, splinted leg. This slowed him down and the wound wasn’t healing quickly, but he was still making progress.
Crow stood at the edge of the clearing, leaning on his long rifle, saying nothing. Being polite.
Eventually the alien noticed him, but tried not to let it show. One pause in its movement as it packed its camp, the only betrayal of awareness.
“Two days you been following me,” the alien said, its voice deep and sonorous.
Crow’s eyebrows raised in surprise. It speaks.
“Three,” he said once he’d recovered.
The alien…alien? The hunter nodded. “Don’t worry. I didn’t see you,” it said. “I saw your pet. Never got a glimpse of you.”
Crow was impressed. He looked up to the sky, produced a whistling noise that didn’t sound like anything human.
He stretched out his arm and a batray flapped down onto it. Began grooming itself.
“Got a name?” Crow asked.
The bug-man looked at him with a million-faceted eyes. “Not anymore,” he said. “Folks call me Slim.”
Crow nodded. Looked around the clearing. " Crow," he said.
The bug-man sniffed. “You got a bum leg,” he said, nodding at Crow 's splinted leg.
Crow looked down, as though seeing his leg for the first time.
“It’ll heal,” he said.
Slim removed a small box from his belt. Pressed a button on it, and tossed it into the air.
The box transformed in mid-toss, sprouting wings and a small mechanical head with beetle-eyes, like Slim’s, but mechanical.
It hovered, surveying the area, then darted toward Crow who took a step back, then held himself still. He couldn’t outrun the drone, anyway.
The drone hummed and a green beam washed over Crow’s leg. Seconds later, Crow was able to pull the splint off, put his full weight on the leg.
“Thanks,” he said. The drone sped back to its master.
“Sure,” Slim said, snatching the drone out of the air. It folded itself up, and Slim replaced it on his belt.
“You speak English,” Crow said, taking a few steps forward.
“'Course,” the bug-man said, as he went about loading his pack. “Born on Bode’s World. What should I speak?”
Long silence again. Neither of them seemed to mind. Slim continued about his business.
Eventually, “You don’t look like a man,” Crow said. It felt rude to say.
Slim paused his packing, straightened up. Fixed his bug-eyes on Crow.
“Never heard of the war?” Slim asked.
Crow’s impassive face gave no indication he had, or hadn’t, or was even listening. After a few moments silence, he said “They got a lotta wars.”
Slim considered this. It was hard to argue with.
“The Mutagen War?” he said.
Crow shook his head. Pulled something out of a pouch on his belt. Fed it to his batray.
“Bode’s World. Half dozen other planets in the Basilisk Nebula. Rebelled against Hub?” Crow said nothing. Slim continued. “Spliced our DNA with insects. I’m third-gen.” He paused. “You don’t want to meet a first-gen.”
“I bet,” Crow said. “You used to be a man?”
“Still am,” Slim said. All evidence to the contrary.
“Huh,” Crow said. “Now you hunt the monster.”
Slim shrugged, a human gesture that did more to convince Crow of his story than anything. “Came here to get far away from everything. But eventually,” he said, “everything found me.”
He looked at the man with the blitzleopard hat and pet batray. “Lots of stuff comes out of the jungle now.”
Crow nodded. The planet was different now. More savage. Crow didn’t mind. Didn’t seem like Slim did either.
“What about you?” Slim asked.
“Survey,” Crow said. That was enough. Survey rangers were…well, they were basically Crow. People Celestial could drop off on a planet, alone, come back years later, pick them up. Learn the kinds of things satellites and robots couldn’t tell you. Being the only human being on an entire planet for three years took a special kind of person.
“What’s the uh…,” Crow said. “The goop. You put on yourself.”
Slim stared at him for a while. Then rummaged around in his pack and tossed a tin of the stuff to Crow.
“Coconut oil,” he said. “Some linseed and flax. Honeycomb dissolved in it.”
Crow opened the tin, smelled the contents. Smelled nice. Took a dollop out and spread it on the back of his hands. “Hm,” he said.
“Water’s bad for us,” Slim said. “Not lethal just…annoying. That stuff’s antibacterial, antifungal. Protects against the sun. All that.”
It left a waxy residue on Crow’s skin. He rubbed some on his blitzleopard pelt. It seemed a good match, keep the pelt supple.
“Keep it,” Slim said. “I got plenty. I’ve got an organ where your salivary glands are, secrets something similar but we don’t like to…,” He stopped mid-description. “It’s sort of…,” the two men stared at each other for a while again. Then Slim shrugged. “It’s gross.”
Crow thought that sounded likely. He looked around the clearing.
“Hunting this thing,” he said. “Not a race. Endurance run.”
Slim nodded. Hefted his pack onto his back. “You want to go fast, go alone,” he said.
“Want to go far,” Crow said, “go together.”
“Figure this thing’s about three days out. Not sure it needs to rest.”
“We’ll find it,” Crow said.
“Might need help bringing it down,” Slim said.
“We’ll find that too,” Crow said.
Slim looked Crow up and down. Crow did the same to Slim.
“Figure we will,” Slim said.