Back in Denver-Vegas, he had risen to the role of a prominent battlefield commander through experience and luck. He wasn’t someone they sent out to interview prospective pilots and see if they were a good fit for the company. But he supposed that was a lot of the problem. He wasn’t at a company anymore.
New Anchorage was a loose confederacy, not a budding corporation. Given their placement in the middle of nowhere in frozen Alaska, nobody important was concerned about the influence they had been mounting for the last few years. Hell, had it not been for a set of specific circumstances Graham wasn’t sure he would’ve offered his help to New Anchorage. Circumstances that had him regretting every minute of the detail for the greater part of thirty days. Raschke, the principal leader of the community, had tasked Graham with getting the NC Program up to “industry standard”. A standard that Graham had neither the clout nor resources to live up to.
The black-haired Denver native wasn’t sure how he was going to structure New Anchorage into something resembling order when all he had was his experience as a soldier in Denver-Vegas and a enough of foresight to know that independents would flock to New Anchorage out of the need to find work that was a little more secure than going from paycheck-to-paycheck with all odds stacked against them. Graham supposed that was why he not only ended up with a list of pilots interested not only from the American wastes but also overseas. What kind of life in Australia and Europe had led three people to Alaska of all places? How much blemishes did they have on their record? Had he not done some digging already he would have assumed they were raiders trying to legitimize themselves; to run away from their torrid pasts.
Though, that assumption was partly true.
The assortment of pilots had done questionable things, lived through terrible circumstances, and survived by the skin of their teeth in situations that had the odds stacked against them. Every single one of them had lost their families. One of them was a fourteen year old girl who had been piloting since she was nine-years-old.
He wasn’t sure what the consensus would be among the old guard about hiring someone like that, but New Anchorage needed pilots and she seemed eager to contribute to the settlement. He couldn’t imagine what her motivations could have been, but Raschke had told him to take whoever jumped at the opportunity as long as they had never participated in the slave trade. At the very least, not a single one of the recruits had done so. As he continued to make note of such things he looked over to the glass of liquor that was next to him. There was a consideration before he shook his head, deciding that it was not the time for it. There was a long day ahead.
His eyes moved back to the hue of his computer screen.
There was a lot to unpack. Raschke had approved of the pilots coming on for a trial run; to see if there was any latent chemistry issues between the original pilots under his predecessor and these news ones. Graham assumed there would be issues, undoubtedly, but if he could bring some sense of order he hoped he could manage them. He didn’t expect to turn them into the finest soldiers by the standards of a corporate board of directors. There was no way in hell he could take a bunch of wasters and greenhorns and turn them into what he was, or more accurately, what he used to be.
“An hour until orientation.” He muttered, noting the time.
Leaning back in his chair, Graham took a light breath. New Anchorage was a mess, but at least it was far better than when he arrived. He wanted to give no false appearance of the operation being a casualty of complacency. There would be no rookie mistakes if he could help it. With the new pilots arriving he needed to be prepared and while he wasn’t seeking to impress a bunch of edged-out mercenaries and over-eager idealistic kids he did want things to fall into cohesion. A military operation like this needed to be a well-oiled machine. And considering he was getting the cogs, he believed he had everything else to get them started.
When they arrived he would treat it like any other operation with new recruits. Familiarize them with the base, key military officers, and give them one final chance to see if they agree to his terms. While he wasn’t exactly running a corporate military organization he did still need to instill mandatory routines to get things into shape. After all that was finished he could see about getting in contact with his sources from the last fifteen plus years of his life to see what kind of contracts they could deal with. He didn’t need to get in-between the ruling corporations right now and as long as the contracts didn’t interfere with corporate policies or make New Anchorage quick enemies he could work with anybody.
He pushed back up from his chair as he routed his codec to the base’s speakers as he had done when he had decided on announcements.
“This is Commander Graham. I know many of you are still adjusting to the change in military administration, but the new pilots will be arriving within the hour and I need things to be in order. I want all personnel to look busy by that point. I will be reassigning the NC squadron sometime following the acquisition of these new pilots. Thank you.”
“Coffee please. Black’s fine.” The young man shifted in his thick jacket; even in the temperature controlled areas of Smith’s Rest, he still couldn’t find any real warmth. He was used to heat after all; spending years working in the southeast and southwest. He’d braved dust storms, hurricanes, beasts and raiders, but he worried that it would be the cold that would eventually do him in.
“Not used to the cold?” The proprietor of the public house inquired, handing him a steaming metal mug.
“Can’t say I am,” the man muttered, sipping at the mug before recoiling from the heat. “Damn that’s hot! Good though,” he added, attempting another sip.
“You’re not one of those new pilots that have been hired, are you?” The man suddenly seemed a little worried at the young man’s demeanor and attitude.
“Well I’m here for orientation and interview,” he added after another sip. “But it’s not uncommon for pilots to get cut from a job due to lack of information and knowledge. Sometimes you have to build a reputation in an ar-”
“We know about mercs.” The proprietor snapped. “We don’t need mercs. We need pilots.”
The man brought the mug upwards, swallowing the boiling liquid with one gulp, before convulsing slightly due to the heat. He placed the mug on the counter and handed his credit chit over. “That’s good news then, because I am a pilot.”
He stood up, smirking at the man, before stepping outside. It was oddly silent until the sudden howl of the man’s voice sounded through the metal door. “FUCK THAT WAS HOT!”
Alan Fouren stood looking out a thick glass window into what seemed like endless roving snowfields. His mouth still burned, but he felt he’d made his intent clear; at least until he failed to stick the landing with that last attempt to appear tough. He wasn’t here to be a flashy merc, but he wasn't here to be a sniveling yes man either. He’d cut his teeth over the years and had come highly recommended, even though he’d asked his contacts to downplay his achievements. It wasn’t humility he was after, it was insurance.
“Goddamn it,” he muttered under his breath, feeling another chill set him on. Was this psychosomatic? Just the sight of ice making him colder than he actually was? He pulled the neck of his jacket tight, and turned from the window, continuing down the hallway. It was almost time to head to the base for this mysterious orientation. It was going to be a short tram ride to the operations base, and he was supposed to meet some suit there. It was all too formal for what he was used to; back in the day it was simple.
Alan walked into the smoky office in Cutter’s Split, somewhere a few hundred klicks north of Vegas. It was a dry climate, rocky with some vegetation here and there. There was a large expanse of nature north of Cutter’s Split, a giant deciduous forest full of all sorts of violent flora and fauna ready for travelers to get too comfortable surrounded by what little greenery was left. He’d done some work there before, but he knew this was different.
“Got some news for ya, kid,” Old Deek, the main contact for any job north of Vegas, had called Alan in as soon as he’d arrived. If Deek called you, you checked in quick: especially if it dealt with a lucrative contract.
“What kind of news? More work out towards the rainy coast?”
“Nah, nothin about fuckin with Red Star or Volkov shit. This is about that little issue you asked me to look into.”
Alan’s face hardened and he placed both palms flat on Deek’s messy desk, pushing credit chits and papers aside. “Did you find it?”
“Just a rumor. Out in Alaska. I got you an in, too. Old Denver soldier, some folks in my network knew him: he’s apparently calling for pilots up there.”
“Nope. They want full-time pilots.”
“What the hell do they have up there to call for that kind of call?”
“No idea. But the guy’s the real deal. No idea why he went all the way out to Alaska from Denver, but don’t try and fuck with him. He’s a trained killer. Company boy for DV.”
“I ever kill any of his friends?”
“Alright. Get my info out there then. Keep it subdued; don’t put any fancy bullshit about me in there either. I’m just a pilot, that’s all.” It was time to head north.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Alan’s datapad brought him back to reality, and he looked at the time.
He started down the hallway, and towards the tram. He’d arrive just on time, and find a place towards the back of the group, keep his head down and get through it. Graham worried him though. Alan was a scrapper, a waster and a dependable worker. But he wasn’t a soldier. But then again, this wasn’t a City either. He’d have to see exactly what was coming up. He’d improvise if he needed to. He was a survivor, after all.
Smith's Rest, New Anchorage | Inside HQ January 16th, 2677
For the first time in a long time, Percy Moore was having a quiet, but still pleasant, moment with the little human being he held dearest to him. He was sat down on the bed of their shared room, brushing Ana's hair for her while she colored in a coloring book Zach sent with them. There's really not a lot of fun kid stuff on the base, but Percy would rather her be bored with him than at risk with Zach - not after how badly he'd failed Ana and Percy the day of the attack that nearly stole his daughter away.
Oh, why Percy has a room to himself while the others have to deal with barracks? Simple, actually. During the switch-over from Sophia to Graham, Percy took that moment of confusion amongst the higher-ups to demand that he gets his own room with Ana - again, he didn't trust Zach to not fuck up again, so he figured the best move would be to just move Ana here with him. Obviously he won that small victory - likely because there were far more important matters for them to attend to than to argue with him about room arrangements, not because he was a smooth talker. He didn't care why he won, though, because he won and that's what mattered.
After he'd moved Ana's essentials and made sure she was all set that day, he 'stole' a couch-bed from the empty room down the hall so they could both sleep comfortably - while Percy didn't care about sharing a bed, especially if it was just his child, Ana was beginning to. That's normal, of course, and Percy wasn't offended by it. It was a sign of her growing up, but... Percy stopped mid-brush stroke. God, Ana's eight now. He remembers when she was just an itty bitty baby, still wrapped up in blankets and huffy from crying her little heart out - the lil chubby cheeks, the cute little button nose that absolutely had to be squished, and her hands - god, her hands were so, so very small. Now look at her. His tiny, squishy baby girl was eight now. Where the did the time go?
Oh, wait, he actually knows the answer to that - or, at least, he knows where the last year or so's gone. It's gone swirling down the shitter. It started with when he got that positive compatibility test, and it only got worse from there. The recovery period from the surgery was hell on them both (Ana had to be his little nurse for a good while); the first few missions he, Eli Jackspar, and Madison Cole went on together were.. well, nobody died, but it wasn't a walk in the part - the first mission definitely was not, given how non-cohesive the trio were; then the attack on Smith's Rest happened just this past June - Ana still has nightmares about it.
Setting the brush down at his side, he wraps his arms around Ana in a tight hug, resting his chin on the top of her head. He felt her trying to turn and look at him, but she is sufficiently trapped in his embrace. She giggled a little, flinching in obvious preparation for some kind of silliness to go down.. But then she relaxed again, curiosity prompting her to ask, "You ok?"
Percy didn't reply right away - he needed that second to gather all of his thoughts. He knew that Ana knew all of the things he was about to say, but given the hell she's been through lately, maybe she needs to hear it all over again. Maybe she needs to hear how she's strong, intelligent, resilient, hard-working, persevering. Maybe she needs the extra reassurance that everything's going to be alright now. Maybe she needs to hear him say I love you. Shit, how long has it been since he's just said those words out of the blue to her? He used to do it so much, but then everything went all fucking crazy - he could only say them just before he had to go off and do something that could kill him. "Ana, I-"
"This is Commander Graham."
The both of them just about leapt out of their skin when those words boomed over the intercom.. Well, not literally boomed, but it was loud enough to shatter the relative quiet that was there.
"I know many of you are still adjusting to the change in military administration, but the new pilots will be arriving within the hour and I need things to be in order. I want all personnel to look busy by that point. I will be reassigning the NC squadron sometime following the acquisition of these new pilots. Thank you."
Percy mouthed a bit of a mocking "Thank you" and grimaced, causing Ana to stick her tongue out with him in solidarity. After about a beat of silence and recognition, they both giggled. Ruffling up Ana's just-brushed hair, Percy stands up, stretching from sitting there cross-legged for so long. He's already gotten bitched out a couple times for not doing what he was told to do - not usually by Graham himself, but by other staff - and he'd rather not continue to get bitched out - or worse, getting bitched out by the Big Guy himself. Yeah, nah. Not today.
"You better go, Dad," Ana says, apparently having the same idea as Percy.
"Yeah yeah, I know," Percy leans down to kiss Ana on the top of her head, "You sit tight, ok? I won't be gone long."
"I love you."
Well, shit. She beat him to the punch. He smiles anyway, though - something about hearing your kid say I love you makes everything feel... right. Just before he shuts the door behind him, he replies to her, "And I love you, ya brat."
In Transit | Old Harbor-Smith's Rest Tramway January 16th, 2677
The tram was cramped, loud, stunk of dried urine and Demetrius couldn't decide which of those annoyed him the most. Whichever dumbass had designed the transport decided to shove twenty-eight seats into a box that could comfortably fit maybe fifteen passengers; if there were actually enough people there to fill every seat, Demi was confident he would've chucked himself out of the emergency exit half an hour into it. Thankfully there were only seven or so of them, but that was still five too many in his humble opinion.
Maybe it'd be more bearable if three seats down from him there wasn't a passed out drunkard that had soiled himself sometime since he got on the tram. The stench was bad enough, but then he had the audacity to start fucking snoring. Every time he drew in air through that fat nose of his, Demi felt a primal desire to smother him into silence.
'I need to finish this before I actually snap.' He thought, turning his attention back to the plastic and steel box he held in his palm. The front cover had been removed, revealing a mess of circuitry and wiring that it's creator had failed to organize in any reasonable way. It was such a haphazard design that Demi wasn't all that surprised it had just stopped working that morning when he stepped off the ship that had carried him from Vancouver to New Anchorage. Something about the bitter northern cold must've screwed with the internals, somehow.
Honestly, though, he couldn't blame the AutoBeat for not wanting to work in a freezing hellscape like this. 'And here I thought Scandinavia was bad. Christ.'
"You makin' any progress?" A familiar voice from just a seat over called, a slight, unintentional sing-songiness to it.
Demetrius didn't look away from his work when he answered Mara, focusing on soldering a new diode into the music player. "Mountains of it."
She let out a slight chuckle, sliding over from her chair into the one directly next t him. "Y'know, lil' brother, you could always talk to me to pass the time. Doubt you'll be done with that thing before we get to 'Rest anyway."
"I could, that's true," Demetrius slid a pair of safety goggles over his eyes and plucked a mini-torch and a handful of electronic parts out of his toolkit. It was probably a bad idea to do this kind of sensitive work on a train, but he was bored out of his mind and it kept his hands busy. "I won't. But I could."
Mara gave an exasperated sigh and slunk down where she sat, moving her arms up to rest behind her head. "You're a real dickhead sometimes, y'know that?"
"And you're a real airhead all the time. Nobody's perfect."
"It's just..." She sighed again, struggling to come up with the words that she wanted to use.
Demetrius could see that she was flipping her old Black Steel ID tags between her fingers out of the corner of his eye, and he mentally braced himself for a painful and awkward conversation that neither of them really wanted to have; it was necessary, probably, but that wouldn't make it any better in the moment.
"Just spit it out already. No use floundering over phrasing."
Mara shifted, her smile faltering somewhat. "It's just that, like, the two of us are on our own now. For the first time...ever, really." She spoke softly, her eyes shifted down toward the metal she held in her digits, her own name staring back up at her. "Nobody else we can rely on anymore 'cept each other. I figure that means we should probably learn to get along better, y'know? Learn how to talk to each other, and-"
The sound of a heavy guitar rift and the pounding of drums suddenly filled the cabin, thundering out so loudly that it even managed to wake up the passed out drunk. "Finally." Demi grinned and plugged his headset into the AutoBeat, cutting off the blaring music, much to the gratefulness of the two other passengers. "Sorry, what were you saying?"
She turned her head away from him, resting her cheek on the frost-covered glass of the tram's window. "...Nothing."
Demetrius shrugged and lifted his headset over his ears, grateful to have his music back.
Smith's Rest | Orientation Room January 16th, 2677
There was a frozen silence in the air when the electronic commands of the new leader distorted their way through the ceiling speakers. A digital reverberation indicating there was most likely a wiring problem within this one particular room; an estimation which would eventually reveal how some moisture had crept its way through the walls and iced over an electrical terminal — if such a thing could ever be proven. The exact location of such a minor breach would be anyone's guess, but the irritation it caused every time an announcement was made only last a mere minute. It was to be expected given the state that New Anchorage had been left in.
Understaffed, underfunded; Under Continual Construction should have just been printed onto a sign and placed permanently on the front door for the world to see. The current crew was trying their hardest to make a difference to the place but every step taken forward only revealed more work that had to be done. If the word really got out about the real state of the base the major corporations would never even have a second thought in showing interest in the newly growing operation.
However the game had changed wHen the decision was made to obtain a new set of recruits.
A bellowing voice overshadowed the volume of the busted speaker as the doors to the orientation room retracted open with a hydraulic hiss, the cooked smell of coffee beans wafting out as an indication of where the lone male had been apparently hiding.
He had been caught, right in the middle of the act, sneaking another cup, midway through pouring of all things. The sudden summons of his name cause his body to clench up, splashing some of the contents onto his already soiled shirt. He groaned, not for the fact that his adopted daughter was the one who caused this travesty, but knowing how half of a good brew was on his clothing rather than in his belly.
"What's up short stuff?" Duncan replied disoriented and distracted with the task of now trying to find a napkin from within the cupboards, one which would hopefully soak up some of this unfortunate spill.
"What does Graham mean we gotta look busy? That dude hasn't allowed me to do anything and he goes on with stupid stuff like 'You're grounded until further notice'. Like, I'm not twelve, but his double standards are ridiculous…"
Duncan glanced at Madison to see her best childish impression of some smug politician; complete with a voice and pose to suit. "It's all good Mads, I wouldn't worry about it. He's just trying to make a first impression for the newcomers... but you are the only one who busted their NC to a point where you had to be carried back. So of course he's gonna be hard on you."
"But — that's not my fault!"
"Mhmm… and this new coffee stain here isn't my fault either but I'm the one cleaning it up."
He dabbed his shirt, noticing the stalemate expression on her face as it screwed up with complete displeasure, an expression of knowing she couldn't win. There was no point arguing with him now and Duncan knew she would eventually come around, given some time.
"C'mon," he chirped as he walked by, running his hands through her long hair to mess with her mini tantrum. "Don't you wanna see who's arriving?"
It was Duncan's way of telling her what she should be doing without ever actually instructing her with what he wanted from her. Reluctantly, she agreed, and followed him out into the hallway.
In Transit | Old Harbor-Smith's Rest Tramway January 16th, 2677
The tram ride into Smith's Rest was an absolute marvel to behold; the finest of zero-point-five star travel for what appeared to be a bunch of shit-kickers looking for a lucky break. A literal zero expenses spared experience complete with the fresh fragrant aromatherapy of regurgitated vomit and a rattle that was surely rusty metal grinding together within the walls. If this was any indication to what Tahlia would be walking into, she knew that it would turn into one hell of an excursion trip.
She could see the snow through the grime covered window, feel the cold creeping in through the thin glass, and reluctantly pulled her cold body out of her chair for a good old stretch. Even that little moment of feeling the blood rush through the body couldn't be enjoyed fully with the abrupt interruption of noisy rock music blaring out for no more than an eternity.
"Ah, for fucks sake!" Stopping mid way through standing up to cuss at yet another part of this trip which had tested Tahlia's patience. "You know what, fuck ya."
The irritated woman waved her hands dismissively at the unfolding events before an unconscious reaction to reach into her jacket's inner pocket and extract out a scrappy pack of cigarettes. If she couldn't have her nose or her hearing she could at least enjoy the taste of tobacco, and it was now her time to subtly piss off the other passengers.
"Ya got fucken Chucky Chunder here stinking up the joint, and I have to hear that shit?"
The cigarette was being lit as she spoke, choosing to disengage from the group and keep to herself as she stepped over towards the filthy window for a change in view. The former Red Star leader planted her forearm on the dirt smeared glass, resting her forehead on that same forearm and stared out vacantly into the winter white. She could see they were close to their final destination, with civilisation gradually littering the landscape at a growing pace.
Eli tapped her fingers on the table, entirely absent. Even her own thoughts keeping time in her head sounded distant, or so engrained that they were nearly unreal. She sat at a small table by the tram station, eyes transfixed upon the rails like she was waiting for them to rattle with the incoming transport. Her coffee, untouched since she’d sat down, was cold now. Most things at the station were cold, given the open ends. Between the wind and chill, there weren’t many people around who weren’t explicitly paid to be there. She wasn’t sure if that same motivation applied to her. It wasn’t why she was here, sitting alone at a table, waiting for a trolley full of new-blood, but it was perhaps a justification.
A particularly harsh breeze flooded through the station. She adjusted her scarf—the only not-strictly-in-code addition she’d made to her uniform—and sat up straight, legs crossed, fingers trilling, staring.
Her data-tool beeped. It beeped three times before she blinked herself out of her trance and answered the call without checking the ID. It would have been a bad habit, if anyone but her sister ever called her.
“Lizzy?” Vera asked. “Where are you? Did you hear the announcement?”
She sounded strained, Eli guessed she’d been running simulations all morning. Vera was the…proactive sort. Ever since she was tested, even before the surgery, she’d accompanied Eli to the facility’s gym, and started each morning with a run through the hangar so she could marvel at the NC’s. As soon as she could hook up to the simulation pods, that had taken a priority spot in her routine.
It would have made Eli proud, if it didn’t disturb her so deeply.
“Lizzy?” Vera asked again.
Eli cleared her throat. “I did, yes. I heard it.”
“So where are you? Graham said he wanted us to look busy. Guess he wants to make a good impression on the new guys.”
“It ought to be them concerned with making impressions,” Eli said lowly.
Vera was quiet for a moment.
“Are you waiting at the tram station? You’re gonna stare at them, aren’t you?”
Eli’s fingers stopped tapping, her lips pursed. “I’m observing the band of wasters and mercenaries Commander Graham has seen fit to invite into our home, and trust with the safety of our people.”
“God—hold on…” there was rustling on the other end of the line. “I’m on my way down there.”
“I do not need chaperoning, Vera.”
“You’re gonna look like some kinda goblin, I’m coming down. I wanna see’em too, anyway. Maybe try and get’em in a good mood before Graham, y’know, ruins their day. See you soon!”
Vera cut the call. Eli pinched the bridge of her nose, and tried to go back to watching the tracks. But it was no use now, Vera had a knack for making Eli feel entirely aware of herself. It was the sort of social awareness she lacked on her own. So, instead of doing anything useful, she sat there, feeling awkward, trilling her fingers off-time, until Vera appeared in the tram station.
She’d thrown on a uniform jacket and shorts over her pilot suit, and that seemed to be enough for her to deal with the cold. That, and the ushanka perpetually snug atop her head.
“Heya,” she said, taking the seat opposite Eli. She looked out at the tracks either direction. “Not here yet, huh?”
“Not yet. Soon, I imagine.”
Vera nodded. “I’m excited. Not that you all aren’t great, but, man, I can’t wait to meet some new pilots. I bet they’re gonna have so many stories.”
“Don’t get too attached,” Eli said. “Even if they all manage to stay, they still have to survive.”
“I think someone’s afraid they might make a friend.”
Eli shot her a scowl, but it was weak. Vera giggled and sat back, taking the cup from the table and peering down into it.
“People drink coffee,” Eli said, certain of it.
“It’s cold. And you hate coffee.”
Eli rolled her eyes. “By all means, take it.”
“No thanks,” Vera said, setting it back down. “I don’t need to be this short forever.”
Smith's Rest, New Anchorage | Inside HQ January 16th, 2677
It was almost exactly after the door shut behind him that he realized he didn't have any idea what he could do. All Graham said was that he wanted all personnel to look busy before the new pilots got here. But exactly how he was supposed to look busy, he wasn't sure. It wasn't like there was a lot he could do - or, rather, there was plenty he could do, but he'd likely break it and the someone with any actual skill that was hired to fix it would have to both correct his mistake and then fix the original problem. It's happened before, it's likely to happen again. Really, like, he could try to repair the half-dead and flickering lights that he's currently walking under, but if he did it was likely that he'd accidentally snip the wrong wire and whoops, the whole building has no lights! Again, it's happened before, but instead of the lights it was his heater. In the middle of winter. Yeah, that wasn't a fun few days.
With a shiver of remembrance, Percy simply picked a direction to walk and... walked. If he walked with purpose, he'd look pretty busy, wouldn't he? Actually, what does a walk with purpose even look like? Walking quickly? Shoulders back, up straight? Making sure every step has that distinct contact with the floor? Honestly, don't all walks usually have some purpose behind them? Whether it's just to getting from point A to point B, or to get out of the house, or to clear your head after an argument - who just walks for absolutely no reason? There's always at least a small purpose to it. Who just decides that they're going to walk and.. that's it? Well, wait. That's sort of what he's doing right now, isn't it? Walking with no purpose. He's walking just to walk, in some hopes that purpose walks into him, and not the other way around. All he did was choose a direction and decide let's go this way. Why, he didn't know.. But now that he's thought about it, what even is this way?
You'd think after basically living in the base a while he'd have learned where everything was, but all he was sure of was where the barracks are, where the mess hall is, where the hangar is, and (more recently) where his and Ana's room is. If someone asked him where a bathroom was right that moment, he'd have no fucking ide- Oh, wait, he just passed one, actually. Cool, now he knows. Or he'll forget as soon as he's turned this corner after reading the sign above the arch reading 𝙷𝙰𝙽𝙶𝙰𝚁. Maybe he could find something to do in there.. and hopefully not break anything.
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
Alan chuckled to himself reading the heady and verbose language on his datapad. He’d struggled to read Kerouac for years now, but at least he was finally making some headway. He remembered finding this particular holo-novel somewhere odd in the Southwest. Not all cities and settlements shared the same data, and some holo-novels (and even rarer, actual books) had been lost over the hundreds of years and the new corporate wars that were going on.
How many actual novels had he compiled now? Three hundred? Four hundred? His datapad’s memory was vast, and when he had the credits he tended to purchase as many novels as he could. He’d been teased for a long time about it; wasting money on a holo-novel when he could spend a few more credits on a vid. He’d spent many nights on the road with caravans trying to drown out the sound of adult holo-vids while he devoured chapter after chapter of Tennyson or Hemmingway. There was just something about the words and the image he could create in his own head that made holo-novels so enticing. He went back to the next passage and-
The eruption of music caused him to jolt up in his seat on the tram, and suddenly his senses kicked back into overdrive. The smell of dank piss, other bodies pushing against him, and now the jolt of music caused him to quickly shut off the holo-novel and take in his environment. And then came another racket: a female voice; with an accent, he just couldn’t place. She’s a foreigner, with an accent like that. And that kind of slang. Which means she’s got to be a pilot. But why the hell is someone from out of the states here? His attention switched to the murmuring twins, with their accents. Foreign pilots. What the hell kind of outfit was this Commander Graham putting together up here?
As the tobacco began to permeate throughout the tram, he grimaced but did not cough or lobby a complaint; he’d spent so many years in smokey and dingy places the smell of tobacco was a calming sensation in a way. He couldn’t stand the damn smell, but he’d been forced to get used to it, much like many things in his life. He tried to think about his situation in Alaska now, and what he could make of it. First off was the place: Smith’s Rest was independent. None of the big corporations had made a play for the area, and the main issue seemed raiders and the standard animal problems. Usually, that would call for your local NC pilots; settlement pilots driving scraped together NCs, helping protect the place. But here were pilots from all over, and the smoking woman had some years on her.
A veteran. Vets cost money. But beyond the pilots here was the commander himself: a DV vet who had made a name for himself in the past. Alan had talked to a few contacts in the Vegas area and had been a corporate boy until 3 years ago. It surprised Alan that he’d never crossed paths with the man, but the divide was a large area and he was personally happy he’d never met anyone that had climbed the corporate military ladder. But here he was, about to have to meet him.
It was the idea that a military commander leading a settlement’s barracks that unsettled Alan. He was used to the communal nature of so many settlements; everyone pitches in for the greater good. Military meant hierarchy, orders, training and never disobeying orders, regardless of how sick they made you. That last part worried him; he wasn’t a raider or a slaver. He wasn’t afraid of killing raiders for cash, but he wasn’t prepared to get involved in some kind of war.
And who else on the tram could be a pilot? He scanned the tram, squinting his eyes at some of the passengers. Too old. Too frail. No neural connector-oh no. The bright red shock of red pouring from a cap and the petite frame was indistinguishable; hell, he could probably pick her silhouette out in a crowd if it came to it. How long had it been since he'd walked out on her after that last mission outside Denver? He bit his lip and anguished over it all. She wasn't looking his way, but he had no idea if she hadn't noticed him or if she was giving him the cold shoulder. After all, she had the worst damn attitude of anyone he'd ever met.
The jolt of the tram brought him back from his thoughts, and he knew what was about to happen: It was about time to meet the new employer.