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Underworld Underhandedness - Part 1




JP/Collab from @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695



“Well,” Cal spoke plain and dry as he looked about, “we’re sure to blend in here alright.”

All around them, the organized chaos and postured anarchy of The Underworld, Capital City’s most well known counter culture bar, seemed to point Cal, Hook, and Yuri out for the three ‘sore thumbs’ they clearly were. The entire space was festooned with posters from either bands who’d played upon its’ stage, or stylized images of historical revolutionaries. “Rebellion chic,” Yuri said as he took in the spray painted Viva Zona Libre! slogans as the music blasted from a high quality speaker system. “Never seen so many children with such thick beards,” the first mate observed as the captain led them toward an open table. “Then again,” he chuckled, “I gave up wearing sunglasses in the dark first time I barked a shin.”

“The birth of wisdom,” Cal replied as they settled in around a sticky table. “Sister said she’d be right along. Anybody want anything?” he asked. “One-Arm’s buyin.”

“Ah’ll have a whi-, err, How ‘bout some ah that bob’s cola, Miss Abby always be drinkin’?” Joe would have enjoyed a whiskey, but he swore to the captain, he would quit. Now didn’t see the time or the place to go back on his word. “Thanks, mister Yoo Ree!” Joe smiled at the first officer.

Yuri, caught off guard, looked every bit the deer in the headlamps as his eyes darted from one to the next. “Oh…uh…shiny,” the first mate replied as he took to his feet. “Three Captain Bob’s…comin’ right up!”

“Uh, wait, get me a…” Cal held an index finger aloft, a futile gesture as Yuri hustled away toward the bar. “Ah well,” the captain’s eye met Hook. “Listen,” he leaned toward the cook to speak in quiet. “You know how this plan’s ‘sposed to work, but plans got a funny way of goin’ sideways. You’re here because we need a man inside the blackout zone. Somebody to act like our job foreman…give the guards their daily bread…and see to it that we march some of our folk out each day. If anything crawfishes, I need you in there lookin’ out for The Sister and helpin’ us come up with a Plan B…copy?”

Joe listened to the captain. ‘Ah’m gonna be the inside man, eh?’ he thought to himself. “No problem, captain.” Joe considered how he would do this. He knew all he needed to do was appear confident, he belonged there and knew exactly what he was doing, even if he didn’t.

And so it was with baited breath that Ly quit the Club Banebdjedet, her message successfully passed in and among the community. The plan was in motion, even as footsteps carried her toward an uncertainty; it all rested on her shoulders now, and she knew what must be done for the people which she championed. Once she arrived she paused, collecting herself: she had a job to do, and the end was finally in sight.



The back door swung open and Sister Lyen entered the Underworld, with a nod to the closest busboys and bartenders. Once inside, the darkness of the club morphed into shuffling bodies in and among each other, but it wasn't hard for the Sister to spot her quarry, if from nothing else than the look of distinctive dissimilitude on the captain and his crew. Like water passing downstream, the nun picked her way toward the conspiratorial pair as the captain righted himself in recognition. She returned his nod with a veritable smile, turning toward Hook.

"Amituofo, I am Lyen Giu. I don't believe we've had the pleasure," the nun said, bedecked, as ever, in her orange kasaya robe, her hand outstretched for his.

Joe quickly took the nun’s hand to shake. “Very nice to meet ya, sister. Name’s Hooker, Joe Hooker. Most folks call me Hook.” He didn’t feel it necessary to discuss the first time he saw her. They had more important issues to deal with.

"Mr. Hooker," Lyen replied, taking an open seat at their table. In the brief connection they shared, Ly felt something heavy inside the man whose hand she returned now. The 'Verse seemed to be telling her that there was more to Joe Hooker than met the eye, and at first glance the eye revealed a man who clutched a soda bottle like it was an old friend.

The woman’s look at him made Joe feel uncomfortable. He didn’t know what it was, but it made him uneasy. He remained vigilant around her even though he felt probably did not need to be.

“Sister,” Cal settled back in his chair after rising to greet the nun. “We think we’ve cooked up a plan, but you need to hear it out and let us know where the holes are.” He gestured toward Yuri, who’d just returned with three bottles. “Got you a soda,” the captain said as he passed his own cola toward her place at the table. “You met Yuri last night. It’s pretty much his plan, so I’ll let him lay it out.” He cast meaningful eyes upon his first mate. “Without the joke this time, One-Arm.”

The presence of The Sister had created a quiet stir among the college aged counter culturalists in the club. Little groups huddled together, murmuring excitedly as the trim figure in the orange kasaya robe made her nondescript passage. Yuri watched as along her way, she paused, delivering comfort and blessings through the simplest of gestures. A kind word here, a touch there. It was clear that to these idealistic young minds, Sister Lyen Giu was a living embodiment of the better angels they all hungered to develop in themselves.

“Yes sir,” he replied before dutifully taking his seat. “Hello, Sister. Here’s how we think it works. We’re salvaging old bricks for a trendy restaurant on Pelorum…” Over the next few minutes, the young man explained the job, cleaning and hauling bricks out of the Blackout Zone to load them aboard China Doll. One of theirs would play the role of a well to do client who’d make arrangements with the guards. “Mr. Hooker will be the job foreman,” he continued, “somebody on the inside for you to pass messages and help keep us organized.” As Lyen sat quietly, he explained the notion of swapping out the Anabaptist refugees for volunteers. “Once they push their wheelbarrows aboard China Doll,” he whispered, “we’re hoping you can supply volunteers to take their places for the return to the Blackout Zone?”

As she listened to Yuri lay out the particulars of their plan, she felt herself tuning into his frequency; the scheme taking shape in her mind, too. When he finished, Lyen sat for a moment, absorbing the information. 'Look for any holes' the Captain had said, but from where she sat, Yuri ran a water-proof plot. "It's a good plan," she concluded, "I wager we may have more than a few selfless souls among us willing to join the cause." The wheels turned as she ran down her mental list of who she could call on in this time of need.

Time was getting short for the Anabaptists; the local establishment was of no help in waylaying the slaver ships who arrived unscathed, somehow, in the Blackout Zone, and the Anabaptists were too gentle a people to see that enslavement and serving their God might be two paths diverging. The idealistic students here in the pulsing Underworld who stole glances at the four of them seated there, heads craned together, were beginning to quiet their murmurs as Lyen's calm gaze swept over the club. Many of them were the children of wealthy aristocrats and politicians; untouchable to the local constabulary or slaver alike. A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she considered the statement of what Yuri's plan could become for the Blackout Zone, even to all those important and powerful men and women, if it didn’t get swept under the rug. "Yuri," she said, returning vibrant eyes to him, "That is one blessed plan, and now I'd like to hear that joke, if you please," she shot a belaying look at the Captain.

Yuri’s smile conveyed his satisfaction. “Thank you Sister,” he replied before dropping his voice to a whisper. “Just one thing that eludes me right now is the checkpoint. I’ve watched some folk come and go…headed back this evening to watch a bit more. When people walk through, the guards may stop them to check bags or pockets…but I never see any ident come out. That vexes me a bit. How do they track folk going through the checkpoints?”

"No idents," the nun's brow pulled down, her eyes sharpening, "The Anabaptists didn't arrive of their own accord; they were brought in like cattle, and branded. Tech injected into their arms so they can't go astray." Lyen chewed her cheek for a moment before continuing, shaking her head. "The arches above the checkpoints scan for the chip when they come and go... product on loan to whichever foreman paid the slaver's price."

...to be continued…
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Underworld Underhandedness - Part 2




JP/Collab from @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695



As the four conspired around their table, the Underworld began to fill with an army of young people. You couldn’t look in any direction without catching sight of leather jackets, high top sneakers, torn denims, or the big neon sign that was somebody sporting a Mohawk. As was natural, the murmuring conversation got that much louder, forcing some genius to crank up the music volume.

Cal held a stony silence as One-Arm and The Sister seemed to fall right into accord. While he was all kindsa glad that she cottoned to their plan, that little voice, the one warned him about “gift horses” and “too good to be true” was busy clearin’ it’s throat. Good news was Yuri stuck right on task and asked what needed askin’ despite an obviously pretty woman’s diversion, nun or not. Maybe it’s just Quill gets him tongue tied, the captain thought of his new first mate. In that case, he could forgive the man. There was a lot about the Companion could throw a man right off his balance. Hopefully she’s busy usin’ her feminine wiles to grease the wheels of the local law in their favor…

He leaned into Hook, cupping a hand over the cook’s ear. “You’ve seen how rough it gets in there, but I can’t have you walkin’ through that checkpoint packin’ a pistol. ‘Bout as close to weapons as we can get is chisels to knock mortar off those bricks. That bike gang…the BZ Kings…I’m gonna hand you some extra coin to work out a protection deal. We want this to go smooth as silk.” Cal’s jaw lowered, his eyes and brows lifting to communicate just how serious he was. “You walk in every mornin’. Spend the day cleanin’ bricks and loadin’ wheelbarrows, and then you walk ‘em all out every evenin’, dohn mah? Stick close to the Sister. Just live in her hip pocket every day ‘til we get ‘em all out..”

Joe Hooker understood what was expected of him. He didn’t speak Chinese often, but this phrase was one he was confident about, “dohn mah.” The captain didn’t want him carrying his Ruger. The tool had become part of him, he had been carrying it for so long. “What about a knife?” He carried a K-bar on his belt, right behind the pistol holster. “Ah can hand over the protectin’ money, cap’n. Ah’m also pretty fair fighter, but Ah think ya knew that.” Joe didn’t smile on that note.

He leaned back from the captain and looked around. He noticed a few men in the corner drinking what appeared to be beer and others with shot glasses. The thoughts of drinking beer and whiskey appealed to him. It was a difficult temptation. He wondered if he would be strong enough to resist this. He promised the captain he would quit. It was very difficult. It took all his strength not to imbibe.

“So they’re chipped,” Yuri replied thoughtfully. “Like cattle…bought and paid for, just marking time until the slavers drop in to swoop them up for a contract.” As Hook and the Captain spoke in whispers across the table, he considered the new challenge of the tracking chips. Like an RFID scan, he mused over his untouched bottle of cola. I conjure it records folk leaving for work in the morning, and then when they return before curfew. Simple tracking… That could explain the guards’ nonchalance. But what about someone like Lyen? “Tell me, Sister,” his eyes lifted to meet hers again. “Are you chipped as well? Can you show me on your arm where they implanted it?”

Ly shook her head, "No, humanitarian aid policies to address the 'non-issue' occurring in the Zones are in place so that organizations like my Order can move freely through the checkpoints." She rolled up the sleeve of her kasaya robe in the darkness of the club's strobing lights, "The Anabaptists have tech under the skin here," she marked the spot with a slender finger. "Even if we remove them after they leave the 'BZ,' the guards will have a list of all lapsed scans. It'd make replacing them with our volunteers superfluous," she said, chewing her lip in thought.

“That’s easy enough,” the first mate leaned across the table toward the nun. “If the chips are just injected beneath the skin, our doctor can extract them. We tape them onto the arms of your volunteers. That, plus a clothing swap,” he added, “should do the trick.”

Cal shook his head. “I’ve seen your knife. One gander says it ain’t for cuttin’ bread. Anythin’ looks like a weapon’s gonna get you singled out. If what One-Arm thinks is true, the guards don’t much study the man, but they’re all kindsa curious ‘bout what he’s carryin’. I got just as much unease in my gut about sendin’ you in empty handed, but Sister goes an’ comes every day.” He thought on that. He also thought on the mindset of his man..a slight tremor in Hook’s hand and nervous eyes darting compulsively toward the bottles behind the bar. He’d gone off the rails once. To tell it true, that’s why they were here with The Sister. It’s clear that if liquor was Hook’s demon, he was fighting the battle to shake it, just as he’d promised.



And now, here was Cal, considering dropping a struggling man into a mighty tetchy situation. “I trust you, Joe,” he finally whispered. “I trust you to think about this an’ not make hash of the plan. If you can hide that knife to keep it free from a pat down, then take it if you gotta. But most important,” his eyes touched on the man’s nervous hands, making his point before he gave it voice, “ain’t no shame in backin’ out if you need to. You tell me you’re good to go, I’ll take you at your word. But if you do, you gotta be on your right game…for your crew, for her,” he dipped his head toward the Sister, “and for forty souls we gave our promise. You good?”

Lyen stole a glance at the Captain as he extended a steady hand toward Hook's shaking one. She glimpsed the look in Hook's eye which she recognized immediately: guilt. Even now as the man thought of some response, she sensed some history here that could play a role in this plan, for better or worse. She returned her attention to Yuri as he puzzled over the issue she proposed.

“Mebee Ah should jus’ take up smokin’ agin?” Joe allowed the words to roll off his lips in a playful manner. “Nah, Ah’m good, cap’n. Ah kin handle this.” Joe’s tone quickly became more serious. He glanced around the bar for a split second, then looked into the captain’s eyes, his voice soft and low. “Ah really don’ need the knife or the pistol. It’s jus’ easier ‘sal. Ah kin fight with jus’ mah fists. You seen what ah kin do with jus’ mah fists.” Joe’s tone became a bit more serious. “Not countin’ the war, ah’ve planted many a men…not just the two you know of. But ah kin control it, ‘specially if ah’m not drinkin’.” Joe didn’t bother smiling. It was not something he was proud of. In fact, he still felt he needed to confess his sins to a shepherd, to do penance, to gain redemption for his sins. He wondered if the nun would count. It was something he planned to ask her later when there was time. The weight of the guilt and shame he carried on his shoulders was overwhelming. It was time to unburden himself.

“Control..that’s the thing,” Cal nodded before turning toward the whole group. “Sounds like we got this all sussed out. Sister Lyen,” he said, “Hook and Yuri’ll meet you at the checkpoint tomorrow at eight…”



“Nine, actually,” Yuri cut in. “Doc’s taking me to get this arm mended. We’ll have wheelbarrows and chisels..everything we need to look legitimate…”

“Plus a little grease for the guards,” the captain added. “Have your first ten or so ready and Hook here’ll put ‘em to work,” he instructed Lyen. “Get your vols to start showin’ up at China Doll mid afternoon. Have ‘em come in ones an’ two’s…spread ‘em out, so they don’t raise eyebrows…that make sense?”

"Duhn Ruhn," she said, nodding to the Captain. The plan Yuri had set out was a simple one, but now the bows needed to be tied by her hands. Ly was confident the Underworld's clientele would make the very volunteers she sought. The only task left to do was to organize and motivate them to help the Anabaptists. She was confident in the outcome, even if it stepped on the toes of hubris. Before she left tonight she would make sure her call to assemble at Club Banebdjedet would meet the ears it needed to.

Her eyes lingered on Joe Hooker, a man who seemed to be struggling with his worse demons here in the middle of the pulsing lights and techno-schism bass drops of the Underworld. This place had once touched the very same nerve for her, in the smell of alcohol, the unveiled delivery of corporal anesthetic. But the healthy don't need a physician; only the sick. And here she found plenty who needed tending.

“Shiny,” Cal answered as he took to his feet. “Love to stick about and listen to this…music…but we gotta round up wheelbarrows. Sister,” he offered a formal nod as his crew all rose. The captain turned for the door, falling into step beside Hook as Yuri brought up the rear. “Tune really is kinda catchy,” he looked sidelong towards the cook as they stepped outside.

”...and take your money…”
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Reconnaissance




A band of women approached the checkpoint. They all wore matching uniforms, short sleeved, pale blue janitorial dresses that dropped to mid calf over whatever shoes they happened to own. Their hair was bound beneath matching peasant scarves. From his seat at a dingy cafe across the street, Yuri trained a monocular toward the guards’ station, zooming in to the glow of a large data screen. As the women passed through an archway, , he noted lines of text, flashing onto a growing column of data.. “Looks like names,” he whispered, “and some sort of ident code. I’m guessing a chip registration.”

“Waiter’s coming,” Edina cautioned. As Yuri slipped the little device into his breast pocket, her face blossomed into a grin. “Why, yes, honey,” she laid a hand upon his, “I’d love to. Friday?”

She’s good at this, he thought, his own face lighting in reaction as their fingers twined. “Friday’s good,” Yuri’s own smile was tempered as the waiter arrived. After ordering sandwiches and drinks, they played the role of the smitten couple, planning their romantic getaway until the server moved out of earshot. “Nice,” the first mate nodded approval as he resumed his surveillance.

“When you’re a spy,” she quipped, a soft laugh escaping her lips at his confusion. “Something Abby taught me. She’s quite the little secret agent.”

“Do I want to know?”

“Probably not.”

Yuri watched more of the uniformed night shift women passing through the checkpoint. “The good news,” he whispered, “is no photo ident pops up onscreen. The system tracks chips, not people. Ohhh man,” he muttered, “there’s a child.” As he watched, a mother led her daughter to the guards’ station. The little girl, perhaps eight or nine, he guessed, wore the same pale blue work uniform. She stood nervously by as her mother beseeched the guard’s favor. After a moment’s obvious pleading, the guard lumbered away from his station. He took the child by the left arm, pressing a pistol-like device to her upper bicep, before squeezing the trigger. The little girl flinched, her face registering shock and sudden pain. As her mother crouched before her, Yuri could see the child nodding, her lip quivering as she fought to “be a big girl and don’t cry.” Meanwhile, the guard concluded his efforts by spraying something onto the fresh wound, which he then bandaged with a piece of duct tape ripped from a roll. “Like animals,” Yuri’s eyes blazed as the mother led her child off to a life of servitude. “The bastards treat them like fucking animals.”

Edina, mindful of her role, hadn’t turned to witness the spectacle. “But if we do our job,” she laid a hand upon his cheek, “at least forty of them will get a shot at their own lives.”

Her eyes offered him calm. “Thanks,” Yuri put the monocular away. “We understand how it works. Now it’s all up to the doc.”

*********************************************************

“You promised me a drink,” Edina teased. They strolled together, arm in arm to keep up appearances as a pair of lovers.

“And I promise I’ll make good on that,” he replied. “After we find this place.” Though quite serious about their plan for the night, Yuri was coming to find this particular bit of theatre to be very pleasant. “Besides,” he gave her hand a gentle squeeze, “after that lead brick of a sandwich, the walk’s feeling pretty good just now.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?,” Edina asked. “Is that the only reason?”

“Um…our mission’s going well?” He feigned a playful ignorance. “Did our friend ‘Abigail the Spy’ offer any tips of the trade about distraction?”

“Is that all I am?” she asked. “A distraction?”

“The more beautiful the woman,” Yuri fixed her with a smile, “the more unnoticed is her counterpart. Thanks to you, I’m completely invisible.”

“Aren’t you smooth?” She leaned into his arm. “Keep that up and I might force you to take me dancing.”

He laughed. “You can’t scare me…well, maybe you can.” He stopped, confusion evaporating his smile. “Thirteen-twenty-three,” he pointed toward a small corner market. “And thirteen-nineteen. I don’t get it. His shop should be right here.”

Edina gazed into the empty lot, an illicit dumping ground for trash and discarded furniture. “You sure of the address?” she cast a dubious eye toward Yuri.

He checked Hekubah’s business card once more. “1321 Wright Street,” he read off the address. “This is the place.”

“Maybe he moved?” She offered. “Why don’t we step in there and ask?”

The little market was universal in its’ appearance..tidy enough to pass community standards, but not entirely clean. Some of the overhead lighting cried for replacement, casting a generally dim, gap toothed illumination upon the cramped space. Narrow aisles led them past overflowing shelves toward the lone clerk on duty, a man who barely looked up from his cortex as Yuri stepped forward. “Beg pardon, sir,” he extended the card through the gap in the anti-crime partition. “I’m looking for this place, but the address must be wrong. Do you know where it is?”

The clerk passed the card back. “Seen that before,” he didn’t bother lifting his eyes. “Never been a clothes shop next door, but every now and again, somebody comes in with that card.”

“Curious,” the first mate remarked. “He gave it to me this morning.”

“You don’t say.” The clerk shifted back to his capture show. “Sounds like a con to me. Watch your back, son,” he offered before restarting the comedy.

“Looks like the joke’s on me,” Yuri muttered. The program’s audience erupted into laughter as he turned toward Edina. “No dice,” he tilted his head with a weak smile. “Sorry for the fire drill.”

Once back on the street, she took his arm again as they retraced their footsteps. “I saw three men’s clothing shops on our way here,” she volunteered. “We’ll get you spiffed up to play your role just yet…and not just the suit. I insist you buy yourself some new day-to-day clothes.”

As they walked, Yuri’s mind whirled over the nature of Hekubah’s deception. Just doesn’t add up, he thought of the little man’s tale, a purveyor of fine men’s clothing with a distinct fear of flying. He was interested in getting a tour of the boat, the first mate recalled, a pretty sketch move as he thought about it, but then… He saw the Sister, Yuri remembered. He was really curious about her business aboard. His eventual conclusion offered no comforting thought. Could make him out for a slaver…or a cop…

“...and some denims,” Edina said. “You could use at least two pair.” Derailed from his thoughts, Yuri caught sight of the glowing sign ahead.

*MACGREGOR’S MENSWEAR*
Work Attire For White Or Blue Collar Professionals


“Looks like the place!” she offered brightly. “And after we’ve had our drink, you’re gonna let me trim that beard.”

I need to get to the captain...”what?” Yuri’s brows lifted. “What’s wrong with my beard?”

“It’s getting sort of…patchy,” Edina’s fingers went to work, gently tugging at the little bits of uneven growth along his jawline. Despite himself and his concerns, Yuri found himself gazing into those brown eyes. Close as she was, her fragrance filled his nostrils. He smiled at the sweetness, his expression revealing a quiet pleasure, until she suddenly realized the way he was looking at her. “What?” Edina asked, her smile softening as she met his gaze.

“Nothing,” Yuri chuckled. “I’m just glad you’re looking out for me, is all.”

Her eyes sparkled. “Somebody’s got to.”

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The Healing Arts - Part 1




JP/Collab from @Xandrya and @sail3695

“Finished. Now turn over and we’ll get the front.”

Abby rolled onta her back. Tha table’s padded, so it didn’t feel half bad. Nekkid as she was, she thought tha room could use a tad bit more heat, but that thing Alana’s runnin’ over ‘er skin give off a warmth what carried down inta tha muscles underneath. She lifted ‘er head fer a second tah watch the doc workin’ a big bruise on ‘er right thigh. The tool in ‘er hand, a “dermal somethinerother,” looked kinda like an axe handle, ‘cept fer bein’ all white an’ tech-like. It let out a blue light as she pressed it down. Then, she would rub a straight line over the bruised skin. One pass, two passes, three passes later an’ that bruise was gone! “Like it never happened,” Abby said as tha flesh of ‘er thigh got tah lookin’ all normal again. “Thanks fer this, Alana,” she said as tha heat climbed up ‘er body. “Won’t feel so shy ‘bout showin’ muh face, now.”

"Well, your face was always too pretty not to be showed off." Alana's expression was hidden behind a surgical mask and glasses. Not that it was medically necessary, but extra precautions didn't hurt. Her movements in trying to wipe away Abby's bruises—and in turn, the ugly memories that came with it—were meticulous and precise. It might as well had been her own flesh and blood on that table.

The blue flash lit up once more, its reflection on her glasses present just as well. Alana had moved to the next bruise, happy with the results thus far. The efficacy of the treatment was promising, but seeing it work right in front of her eyes was something else. "Feeling alright still?"

“Uh huh,” the girl give a nod, then stopped ‘erself just in case she had tah keep still. “I’s kinda stiff where I got hit alot,” she said, “but that’s makin’ everythin’ loosen up. Feels good.” She’s glad Doc signed off on bringin’ ‘er along with Yuri this mornin’...even took her in first while he’s waitin’ outside for ‘is turn. “Been readin’ ‘bout Pelorum,” she offered. “Cap’n says we might git a few days’ leave. They got beaches there sposed tah be tha finest in tha ‘verse. “Thinkin’ I oughtta git a swimmin’ suit an’ go see for muhself.”

"I'm thinking that's the right choice, evenin' out your tan an' all. You'll have eyes on ya for days..." Having finished up on the lower extremities, Alana moved on to her abdomen. Pretty nasty bruisin going there, seemingly the preferred location when someone's turned into a punching bag. She made sure to be extra gentle, gloved hands softly making contact with the girl's skin only when necessary. "I may just join you for a while, make sure you're getting your R&R without interruptions...whatcha think?"

Abby took that with a smile. “Well, yeah!” she give a light chuckle. “That’d be all kindsa shiny. We could have some real fun,” she smirked, “stead ‘o’ me bein’ patched an’ yew doin’ tha patchin’.” She felt tha good warmth spreadin’ ‘round ‘er belly an’ below ‘er ribs. “An’ I’s wonderin’,” the girl’s brow creased a bit. “What kinda swimmin’ suit should I git? Never had one afore, so I ain’t sure if it should be a onesie or a bikini?”

"Well for that the style depends on you and what you feel most comfortable with. I tend to get a two-piece simply 'cos the more wet fabric on me, the less pleasant it feels. I take it if you do more moving aroun', a one-piece may be better for ya...don't gotta tug and pull pieces of the bikini from your pi gu." Alana imagined themselves laid out on a sandy beach with Abby complaining about the fit of her swimsuit to Cal, and a smile formed behind the mask.

Tha girl listened, shock wrote all over her face. “But…” Abby’d been lookin’ at pitchers. They’s more types ‘o’ swimmin’ suits than she ever conjured. Some she seen sounded like what tha doc’s talkin’ about, with nothin but a skinny strip or a string up tha backside…nothin’ she’d be caught wearin’, sure an’ true. But…even them’s covered over tha whole pi gu? Don’t seem right. She tried putin’ ‘er words together, mouth movin’ silent til she could figger out jest what tah ask. “If’n bikinis are like that, why d’ya wear one? How much time yah spend pullin’ yers out?”

She paused, her hand holding the device hovering over the next bruise looking to get erased. Alana thought on the question for a bit, her head angled slightly as she stared off into nothingness. "Yeah, I remember whenever I wear a bikini, it does tend to get itself wedged in there quite a bit, ya know?" she shrugged her shoulders as she continued. "It happens just 'cos the material covering your behind is narrow so it's easy for it to...get lost. But I wouldn't worry none, it happens to women all the time, but a quick tug later and you're good as new!" The light went off again as Alana resumed her work. "My personal advice? Don't get a string bikini, those are the worst! Get one that has medium to full coverage of your pi gu and you're less likely to be pulling at the material often."

“Oh,” Abby conjured she might be overthinkin’ this a spell. “Yer real pretty, Alana,” she observed. “Knowin’ whatcha know ‘bout wearin’ bikinis, ya think we could go shop fer mine together? I hear they’s all kindsa things tah sus out, like skin tone an’ hair color. Promised I’d send a capture tah Thom…a fella I like, an’ I don’t wanna mess it up.” The smile come back tah her face as she conjured her an’ Alana, spendin’ their day playin’ together in sand an’ waves. “Some pitchers I seen,” she offered as the doc’s work moved to her shoulders, “showed big floppy kinda hats an’ matchin’ sandals. Should I buy them too?”

Genuinely delighted by the news, Alana stopped for a moment to look at Abby. "Oh, so you sending a capture to this Thom guy, eh? Then we no doubt gotta go rummage the stores in search of the perfect bikini! An' I promise, one that's comfortable with matching hat and sandals! I really got a feelin' he'll appreciate the effort..." Sorta feeling "big sister proud", Alana was looking forward to their upcoming outing. She imagined a plain, black piece at first, but then thought about how nice of a match an emerald tone would make with her hair. Yes, there were quite a few options for Abby, and Alana couldn't wait to try them all.

Moving on, Alana got to working on her wrists, the bruises there quite dark from the restraints. "Woulda been nice to double date, maybe next time he's around?"

She woulda blushed, but she durn near give up tha whole thing, anyway. “His name’s Thomas,” Abby said, surprised to how good it felt talkin’ about ‘im. “Met ‘im on New Melbourne. He’s real nice…an’ we been sendin’ waves ever since.” The smile faded as she ‘membered their call yesterday. “He saw me…lookin’ like this,” she said. “I should’na showed him, but he could tell somethin’s wrong. He got powerful mad. Wanted me tah quit tha Doll an’ hop a boat fer New Melbourne. Guess yah could say that’s our first fight,” Abby said. “I’ma call ‘im after yah fix muh face…git things smoothed over.”

"Ah well, I'm more than sure he was only concerned about ya... Some fellas can sometimes be a little overprotective of their lady, and it looks like he ain't any different." Alana moved on to the second to last bruise, glad she had a hand in helping fix Abby back up to her old self, especially now that she had someone to look good for. "Talking it out will do ya good. You know what they say, communication is key. Plus..." she smiled once more, her eyes giving her away if one were to pay attention, "...I believe he'll forget about that argument the moment he sees you in your bikini."

“Yeah.” Abby thought on that a second. “He did tell me I’m pretty on muh worst day, so I conjure I don’t mind sendin’ ‘im a capture from a beach on Pelorum. Weird tah think about,” she said as tha doc took away more of her bruisin’. “Never saw muhself as pretty…most times it seemed fellas’d look right past me. Yew, Ms. Wyman…” she snickered. “I think she an’ Yuri are gettin’ sweet on each other, but she’s way pretty. An’ the new lady? Quill? Honest, I take one look at y’all an’ conjure I’m kinda on tha rough side.”

All kindsa rough if she’s bein’ honest with ‘erself. Beatin’s she took from the Headhunters was one thing. But since bein’ kidnapped…since Lido tried takin’ tha one thing she had was still pure, things just ain’t been right. Yeah, she put tha rapin’ sumbitch on tha deck, but not afore he planted hisself in ‘er head. And there he lives, just waitin’ tah make ‘er relive it all…’bout anytime she closed ‘er eyes. ”Aaaby…”

It’s startin’ tah tell on’er. Mirror showed ‘er tha tired look in ‘er eye when he scared ‘er outta her bed ‘round three A.M. this mornin’...an’ pretty much ever’ night. Kinda worked in a way…makin’ ‘er coffee an’ breakfast at that hour steered ‘er clear ‘o’ Hook.

"Nah, don't sell yourself short...beauty doesn't have a standard, least that's the way I look at it." Her voice was soft and friendly as she addressed her young patient. "I'd kill for your hair, and if it's done up real nice and paired with a dress, it's a done deal!" A moment later, Alana was finished. She placed the tool down beside her and removed her gloves before also pulling off the glasses. "I'd say you're ready enough to send as many captures as you want to your Thomas..."

Abby sat up. “Can I see?” When Alana held up tha mirror, she gasped. Fingers touched ‘round ‘er eye an’ where her jaw had been all swole up. Nothin’...her skin was fair an’ even. She turnt ‘er head, lookin’ all about, an’ seein’ nothin’ but ‘er own skin, plain’ an’ regular as any day without bikers. “Jiminy,” the girl looked down at ‘erself. She twisted ‘er body, even took that mirror tah catch a glimpse of her pi gu. All clear, ‘cept fer a small scar on tha right cheek from that bullet. “Alana,” she smiled big first time in days, “it’s all gone! Thank yew!”

Weren’t a minute later as she’s given’ Alana a big hug that Abby conjured clothes might be a good idea. “Sorry,” she give a sheepish smile as she slipped inta her things. I’ll go git Yuri.”
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Undercover Shopper




The crew hadn’t let the grass grow beneath their feet. Since Captain Strand had given the order to pick up bedding for forty smuggled souls, a respectable stack of those goods was now sitting in the galley lounge. Edina went through the heap, organizing the disparate items into individual stacks. One pillow each, she ticked off the mental checklist, One blanket…

Someone had brought in a shopping bag full of towels, a riot of mismatched colors which she distributed among the refugee kits. She concluded the job by laying out the kits in a neat row, then arranging the rest into organized stacks for easy counting.

“Toiletries,” she said aloud of the single greatest deficiency. Combs. Toothbrushes. Little “travel size” bottles of shampoo and toothpaste. A few menstrual pads, a handful of razors, and lots of little bars of soap. “No bulk shoppin’,” Captain ordered plain as day…but to pick up these little items in ones and twos could eat up half the day, whereas an easily believable white lie told to a bored shop clerk would provide the cover for a perfectly forgettable transaction.

As she made her way toward the stairs and the city beyond, Edina concocted her little white lie, a contented smile rising to her face.

********************************************************************

“Whatterya doin’?” the clerk asked. “Settin’ up an army?” He lifted the first toothbrush from a pile the woman had landed before him.

“There are forty of those,” Edina offered. “In fact, forty of everything.” She gave the man a warm, natural smile. “Young Adventurers. Our pack is headed to wilderness camp for a week.”

“The Y. A.’s” he said as he rang in Toothbrush - Qty 40. “I didn’t know that was still a thing.”

“Don’t tell that to my girls,” she quipped. “They’re seriously worked up about it.”

The cashier’s eye met hers. “Forgetful, too,” he added, “if you’re pickin’ up all their kit like this.”

“It’s self preservation,” she grinned. “I don’t know if you remember what girls are like in their early teens? Amazing what they’ll forget when they pack.” She punctuated the remark by adding two packages of Ultrapad - Max Absorbency to the stack. “I really don’t want a crisis when we’re forty miles out in the woods,” she smirked.

“Yeah…yeah!” his brows lifted sympathetically as the last items were scanned. “Tell you what. You’ve bought a lot of stuff here today, ma’am. Seeing as it’s for such a good cause, let me give you the manager’s discount…thirty percent off.”

Edina’s eyes grew wide with her smile. “Really?” she exclaimed. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

The clerk shrugged it off. “Least I could do for the Y.A.’s.” He smiled as he handed her two shopping bags. “With a rambunctious pack of kids like that, I need to leave you some coin for the liquor store down the street.”

“That’s true!” Edina laughed at the little joke. “You’ve been more than kind,” she hefted the bags and turned for the door. “Thank you!”

The surrounding neighborhood reminded her of her own childhood. Here resided the working class, those whose labors in the dirty underbelly permitted the upper castes to live in gleaming towers or the opulent communities on the city’s eastern side. Once a flourishing middle class urban scene, the now weathered three and four story walkups seemed to be sagging, their brick edifices slumping over the dingy street as if about to fall. She was only guessing, of course, but Edina conjured that for the folk who lived among this declining world there were only two more stops along the line, the blackout zone…or a penal colony.

If there was an upside to this place, it was the reduced number of image captures monitoring the streets. she ducked into an alley, taking shelter behind a large bin. Once hidden, Edina reached inside her sweater to remove a folded canvas tote bag. She hurriedly transferred all the toiletries. The two store bags, printed with loud titles proclaiming the store’s name and locale, landed in the bin as she set off down the alley. The local metro rail station was two blocks over. She’d make it back to the boat in time to help with the first wave of refugees.
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The Healing Arts - Part 2




JP/Collab from @Xandrya and @sail3695

Thank the Buddha. The cast was gone.

Yuri cooperated as Alana positioned his arm on the treatment table. “I’ve got a little money,” the first mate offered to China Doll’s resident medic. “Not sure what a place like this costs, but I’m glad to put some coin down for both Abby and myself.” He smiled at that moment. “She walked out of here pretty as a picture, Alana. Amazing work.”

Shaking off his remark about payment with a smile, Alana placed the device directly over his arm, the small light shining green once it was positioned in the right spot. It took a quick scan of the arm, a 3D rendering materializing on the screen showing the break. “I’m more than happy to help the crew, no coin needed... Benefits of knowing the right kinda people.” She stepped to the side, switching on another setting which would start setting things in motion.

“I’m glad for that.” He craned his neck to view the screen past Alana’s shoulder. The 3 D imagery was remarkable. His arm had been mapped entirely, allowing the doc to delve through layer upon layer until she could view the fracture itself. Even to his untrained eye, the break was obvious. “Then maybe you’ll let Abby and me buy you drinks when we get to Pelorum?” He smiled. “And yes, we’ll let the captain come along…”

"Well who can say no to drinks..." She glanced at him before the machine began its work. Yuri's arm would first be anesthetized, then the fixing would take place. The procedure was nothing overly complicated, it would simply consist of a special type of material being inserted in the correct spot to speed up healing right from the time of insertion. "What about you, you bringing anyone...special?" Alana would see his reaction, whether he’d bring up Edina. She was slightly curious after Abby had mentioned the possibility of them two as a couple.

So Abby’s right, Yuri thought to himself. The rumor mill is up and running... “Got someone in mind?” he teased.

"Just wondering, is all..." Alana shrugged her shoulders, smiling innocently. "Cal and I ain't a secret no more; the cat's outta the bag. But I didn't mean to pry..." she added with cheeks slightly reddened.

“Hey,” he laughed, “if anybody’s got the right, it’d be the woman who pulled me out of the drink and patched this arm.” Yuri gave the doctor a smile. “I could ask Edina, I suppose. Then again,” he yielded a mischievous chuckle, “she’s just as apt to turn me down. After we’re away with our refugees, I’ll work up the courage to ask her.” Alana’s blush hadn’t gone unnoticed. The pleasant smile remained on his face as he added, “What do you think, Doc? Would you put a good word in with her for me?”

Nodding, Alana exchanged glances with Yuri. "She's a pretty one, and personally I think you two would make a great match. But I'll make sure to pass on the message, see how she feels about it." Alana then took a step back, watching the machine. "You'll feel a tingle now and some pressure, but you shouldn't feel much pain." There was a brief glow, then the whirring from the device being set in motion. "You barely escaped the grasp of death, I think you owe it to yourself to at least ask."

The first mate nodded agreement. “She and I were out together last night. It was actually for the current job, but I think we both enjoyed the company.” He could feel the tingle as it spread throughout his arm. Yuri didn’t find it to be overly painful. Instead, the sensation reminded him more of having slept atop the limb overnight. “I can feel it working,” he said. “So, last night, Edina and I were out to learn a few things about getting our new passengers out.” His voice dropped to near whisper, barely discernible above the machine’s whirring. “We found out how they track blackout zone captives.”

As the systems healed his arm, Yuri described both the nature of the tracking system, and the crude method of implanting chips. “Right about here,” he tapped his left bicep, just short of the shoulder. “I saw them implant a little girl.” His face darkened with the memory of the child’s pain. “So here’s our plan, Doctor. Once we get them aboard, we need you to extract the tracking chips from their arms. Captain’s git Sister Lyen rounding up volunteers. They’ll swap clothes with our people, and we’ll tape the chips to their arms to wear back through the scanner.
“The trick,” he hadded, “is to avoid damaging the chips when you extract them.”

Her heart hurt upon hearing about the methodology in dealing with the passengers. It made Alana realize just how needed she and the crew were to these people when they execute this job of theirs. She listened to Yuri as he went on about the idea they had in mind and her eyes were a little saddened after hearing it all. "That's a mighty fine smuggling plan if I ever heard one. I can remove the implants with no issues. As far as the chips, I'll surely do my damn best to get 'em back to you all working and in one piece. As of now, I only foresee a problem if there are complications with the patient. At that point, I'd rather something happen to the chip and not my patient. I'm sure you more than understand."

Complications.

He hadn’t thought at all there might be complications to removing a chip beneath the skin. Then again, he’d only seen a disinterested guard fire it right into that little girl’s arm, and from a distance, at that. “I do…I think I do,” Yuri nodded unconvincingly. Another reason why I should stick to machines, he ruefully considered his options. “The trick to this, doctor,” he responded slowly, “is that each chip has its’ own registration code that gets read by a scanner at the checkpoint. It’s recorded when folk exit the blackout zone, and again when they return. If we don’t show up with an exact match for each chip, that’ll alert the guards.”

His mind raced. It was too late to change the basic plan; as soon as his arm was mended, he and Hook were all set to meet the Sister and a dozen or so Anabaptist workers to begin the day long ruse of collecting and cleaning bricks. The Sister also had her volunteers showing up this afternoon. He thought he had it all worked out. Silly of him not to consider the anomalies of the human organism…

He needed a technological Plan B, and he needed it quick. I should talk with Sam, Yuri silently added to his checklist as he replied, “yes…I do. Just hadn’t factored that into the plan.”

"All fine and dandy, I simply like to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Never quite know what you're dealing with without a proper history...allergies, blood thinners, etc. Highly unlikely, but not impossible."

Smart move with the chips. Of course, that's the route to go with tracking hardware, and were she in their shoes she would have done the same. Alana checked the progress on Yuri's arm, and it looked like the treatment was going quite beautifully. She could tell he had some thoughts going on in his noggin, but of course, with something of this magnitude who wouldn't. "We'll do right by those folks, Yuri. I'm sure everything will turn out alright."

Alana was hopeful; she had to be.

“So,” he thought out loud, “I hadn’t conjured the chance a chip could be destroyed when you remove it.” But there was that truth, plain as day. He knew the doc to be careful and precise. Her treatments were both deliberate and exacting. But now that he thought about it, even cautious hands can slip when holding a scalpel. Durak, he chided himself in his native tongue. He had just a few hours to resolve this.

“it sounds like I need to get a few of those chips for backups...and a way to read or program them…” His brow furrowed ruefully. “Wish I’d thought of that sooner,” he looked up at the doctor. “That one’s tough…I know I could get RFID chips and reading gear from any business supply house…but these? Designed to be forced through the skin? I mean we won’t be doing that…the chips we get from our passengers will just be taped to our volunteers’ arms, but…I don’t know. Dr. Lysanger, have you ever had to deal with tracking chip implants? Any ideas where I could get something like that?”

"Unfortunately, logistically-speaking I'm of–"

The machine beeped, prompting Alana to look down at the screen. Apparently the fixing was going great with progress up to 50%. Good, halfway there. She then cleared her throat.

"Like I was saying, logistics is not my strong point. Sure, I've dealt with tracking chips before and I can perform the job you've described, but that's as far as my knowledge goes..." She then looked pensive, as if trying to remember some piece of information. "I do...I have someone I may reach out to and you know, probably get the answers you're looking for. They're trustworthy enough for me to ask them such a favor, and they owe me one. So tell you what, once I'm done here, I'll grab my cortex and hopefully have some good news for you. How does that sound?"

“Shiny.” For his years of working with ships’ systems, biotracking chips had never entered his study. Yuri knew the basics…RFID was RFID, after all, and any reader/programmer should be able to latch right onto a chip’s registration code. But those chips were simple, designed for parcels and cargo, not to be jammed beneath a person’s skin. Adding the fact that this was a government operation gave chance that one more layer of complexity might be lying in wait. “I’m due for a little cortex time, myself,” he admitted, “but if you’ve got someone who can help, I’d be grateful if they make this little challenge go away.”

"Your challenge is my challenge..." Alana cracked a half-smile, eyeing him momentarily. For a quick second she felt a little helpless being unable to provide him with any type of answer, but the reasonable side of her quieted that down. She couldn't help what she didn't know, after all. "We'll get this sorted out, promise. Just like we'll sort out your arm."

With that, she checked on his progress once more. This last portion would take longer, so naturally the process would slow down.

“And you’ve got no idea how glad I am for that,” the new first mate chuckled. “The mechanic work can be a handful for two good hands, but one?” His expression lightened. “I’ll tell you true, Doctor, if that girl we brought along hadn’t jumped in to help with the wrench turning, I’m not sure I could’ve pulled it off.”

"Well count your lucky stars the timing was perfectly right on that one... One-armed Yuri just doesn't roll off the tongue all that pretty, so you know I'd no choice but to fix ya right on up back to your prior self." She smirked with the statement, looking him in the eye. "And I don't know how the captain would feel with a one-armed mechanic aboard his ship."

He watched the treatment of his arm take place, the warmth accompanied by a mild tingle as the bone within steadily knitted itself back together. “Not sure how he’ll feel without one,” Yuri avoided laughing or movements as he spoke. “He’ll have to give me a new nickname,” he observed.

She chuckled, "He shouldn't have an issue with that...he's Cal after all. I'd be surprised if he doesn't have a nickname for everyone in the Doll."

A low beep broke Alana's attention away from Yuri. The screen display indicated they were entering one of the final phases of the treatment. Good.

They were interrupted by a light tap at the door, soon opened by a fresh faced Abby. “Hey Yuri,” she said, “now I’m fixed an’ all, “I’s wonderin’ if I could go pick up beddin’ an’ stuff fer the folk we’re carryin’?”

“Well, I don’t know,” the first mate cast a sidelong glance toward Alana. “Did you get our doctor’s permission to be out and about?”

“Uh,” the girl’s face kinda deflated, “no. No I didn’t. Powerful sorry, Alana,” she’s near fidgetin’ in tha doorway. “Can I go? Promise I won’t do nothin’ moonbrained.”

Funny man, that one. "It seems as if Yuri loves giving ya a hard time..." Alana smiled at Abby, "I didn't have doctor's orders for ya to stay put after the procedure so technically you're free to roam as you wish...as long as you don't overexert yourself, dohn ma?" The last couple of words were spoken in a slightly more serious tone.

Abby’s smile come roarin’ back. “Yes, ma’am!” she nodded all emphatic like. “Jest pickin’ up some blankets an’ stuff!”

"And you, mister," she turned her attention to Yuri, "it may be karma possibly doin' its job but you won't be as lucky as Abigail. You're gonna be on light duty for quite a bit longer so I hope you're not easily bored."

He couldn’t help but notice a certain mirth in Abby’s eyes as she watched him on the receiving end of a classic “Alana” lecture. “Well that’s perfect, Doctor,” Yuri reacted smoothly. “My part in today’s caper is to wear a nice suit and play the sophisticated client. I won’t be lifting anything heavier than a coin pouch.”

“Nice suit?” The deckhand’s jaw dropped. “Yew mean yah actually boughtcherself some proper clothes?”

“I did.”

“All by yerself?”

“Ms. Wyman helped me.” Yuri pretended not to notice the knowing look in the girl’s eye as she traded glances with the doctor. “Keep receipts for any supplies you get,” he cautioned her. “Captain won’t pay without seeing receipts…copy that?”

“Copy!” She smirked. “See yah back on tha boat!” In an instant, Abby was gone, makin’ tracks fer tha door an’ tha city outside.

The thought of teasing him crossed her mind when he referred to Edina as "Ms. Wyman". It was a little too formal, regardless of whether he was only being polite. But Abby was around and even then, it simply wouldn't be right.

"A suit, huh? Not quite what you'd expect to see on a mechanic but then again, we all gotta clean up once in a while." Another notification. Progress was now at 75% and judging by the looks of it, everything was going smoothly. Were it not, one of the first signs would be Yuri squirming in pain, though that'd more so depend on his tolerance level.

Considering his ragged appearance since coming aboard, Yuri couldn’t help but laugh right along with everyone over the thought of him…him...getting all gussied up in a fine suit. “I tried to convince her that a shirt and tie would look good with my coveralls,” he quipped, “but she was having none of that.”

"We're almost through now, how are ya feeling?"

“Not bad,” he answered. “A little discomfort, but I read that the rapid knitting of bone can be a little off putting…like people whose old fractures might ache with a change in the weather.” The words took him back for a moment, to the time when he’d broken the arm. Funny, Yuri thought to himself, I still can’t remember the exact moment. Though his engineer’s mind had settled on the moment when the dying ‘Mick’ hed ejected him through a ventilation shaft, that particular memory was little more than a blur when compared to the eternity of being lashed to the ship’s crew dining table, soaking and chilled through as the waves towered all around him.

A pensive Yuri possibly reminiscing about the good ole days. What exactly, she wasn't quite sure. Alana simply stared, her head slightly cocked to the side. He was lost in it, his expression not cluing her as to whether the thoughts in his head were good or bad.

As he thought on that calamity and the improbable rescue that had brought him aboard China Doll, Yuri considered again Alana’s use of the word ‘karma.’ He wasn’t one for mysticism, but he could definitely agree with the old assertion “what goes around, comes around.” This boat and crew had gone out of their way to save his life. Now, he had the chance to square the cosmic balance by helping them save forty more. If a ‘weather arm’ was the price of his salvation, Yuri Antonov could still barely comprehend his good fortune. “Good,” the thought escaped his lips. “I actually feel pretty good.”

She grinned. "Good, that's the best outcome we can hope for. I'll be back shortly" Her voice was low, almost as if she were afraid to wake a sleeping baby. Alana then left him to his own devices, walking away and out of sight to get a start on some paperwork prior to their departure. He'd probably appreciate the space to himself, deal with whatever was going on in his head if anything at all.
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”The Institutions of Men"




Cal Strand appears courtesy of @wanderingwolf

Some things about refugees never change.

They always wear their finest clothes, a sign that they’d been uprooted, forced on the dodge with just a few ticks to think about what possessions they ought to stuff into pockets. These Anabaptists all had their Sunday best on, the church clothes now worn and dirty from rough livin’. It occurred to Cal that they’d been at it for awhile, since those same duds hung loose on frames going all gaunt.

But none of that seemed to matter in their eyes. They greeted Hook with open hands and welcome smiles, while Yuri passed an envelope to the captain of the border guards. Those folk clapped onto the wheelbarrows like they’d just been given a great gift. For whatever sufferin’ led them to be in this place, the Anabaptists still took to their new labor with a kinda joyful purpose. From his place on the mule, the captain pondered their nature. He might not buy the stories what shaped their view, but that didn’t stop him admiring their method.

He could see ‘em all, stopped just inside the checkpoint as Sister Lyen called ‘em together. Cal watched as she turned their focus to Hook. He couldn’t hear what the cook was sayin’ to ‘em, but when Joe Hooker started handin’ out chisels it was pretty obvious they’d been given the 4-1-1 on the day’s work. After a little back an’ forth, Lyen gestured ‘follow me,’ and led the whole lot deeper into the blackout zone.

Yuri stepped up, all dapper in his fine suit of clothes. “Gotta say,” Cal offered as the cigarette case flipped open, “you clean up real nice.”

“We could have a problem.” The first mate’s eyes told his level of concern.

The captain cupped his hands over the flaring match as the first blessed smoke passed his lips. “We usually do,” he replied. “What’s it this time?”

“The chips,” Yuri’s voice dropped low. “Doc’s not sure she can remove ‘em without destroyin’ one or two along the way.”

Cal met that with a thoughtful nod. “Sounds reasonable,” he pocketed the case as the cigarette propped between his lips. “Didn’t plan for that, did we?”

“No, sir.”

“So what are you thinkin’ now?” Cal’s eyes were leveled upon the checkpoint, with its’ many comings and goings. Thing about border guards, he observed as Yuri struggled with a response, was that they never, ever changed. Women got groped. Men got pushed about. Anything of value got took. Them as was in charge treated their unders like la shi, a practice ain’t changed ever since one man conjured he could boss another…

“I need backup chips,” Yuri said, “and a way to read and reprogram them.”

The captain exhaled, releasing the smoke through a corner of his mouth. “That you do,” he agreed. “You said it’s all RFID, right?”

“I think so,” Yuri near stammered. “Yes, sir.”

“So what’s the problem?”

Yuri glanced over his shoulder. “It’s government…Alliance,” he whispered. “I can’t just buy their tech on the street.”

After another pull from his cigarette, Cal took it from his mouth. It hung between two fingers of the hand he draped over the mule’s handlebars, a lazy curl of smoke rising to be dashed on the breeze from the street. “Couple things, One-Arm,” he replied. “You know who builds Alliance stuff?”

“Who?”

“The lowest bidder.” the captain inclined his head toward the checkpoint. “Don’t take more’n one look at all those scarecrows inside the BZ to conjure the Alliance is stackin’ folk on the cheap…”

“Like animals,” Yuri repeated his thought of the night before.

“Like animals,” Cal agreed. “Makes a body think that for the kind of trackin’ they need, mayhaps they signed off on somethin’ just sittin’ on the shelf?”

“Yeah…” the younger man followed his lead. “Yeah! Makes sense!”

“Leastways,” Strand concluded, “won’t set you back much to find out. Now Alana’s got a powerful light touch, but she’s a careful woman. I’d wager she won’t harm a single chip pullin’ ‘em outta arms, but she’s smart to get you thinkin’ on backups.”

Yuri nodded again. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I need to find a veterinary supply company.”

The cigarette butt was ground beneath Cal’s bootheel. “Copy that,” China Doll’s captain gave a nod as he kick started the engine. “Hop on.”

“I’ve got a ride,” Yuri said as he gestured toward a pretty deluxe looking personal shuttle which idled in the distance.

Cal raised an eyebrow. “Well ain’t you all fancy?”

“Playing the part, sir,” Antonov grinned. “I can’t be seen riding with ‘the help.”
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Thinker, Deckhand, Shopper, Spy




Felt good to be workin’ again.

This weren’t really workin’ like she knowed it, but Abby took comfort in bein’ busy on cap’n’s orders. Osiris, Capital City in partickaler, wasn’t winnin’ no love from her fer its’ way too clean streets, its’ way too ‘spensive stuff tah buy, and especially its’ way too fancy folk. Stares she’s gettin’ made ‘er first think all them bruises on ‘er face come back, leastways til she checked ‘er reflection in a high toned shop window. It was then, seein’ ‘er hair layin’ where it chose on a grey work shirt an’ denims hitched on ‘er waist that she conjured just what a sore thumb she was amongst folk dressed like they’s goin’ to a weddin’...or a funeral.

After sussin’ out tha trains an’ talkin’ with some actual workin’ folk, she got ‘erself onto tha poor side ‘o’ town. On these cracked sidewalks, only ones givin’ her a second look was them’s had ideas about tryna hook young girls into whorin’....and she had answers all set tah send them on their way. After grabbin’ some breakfast at the counter, a friendly waitress tole her jest where she had tah go.

“Wally’s Second Chance, hon. Got all kinds of used clothes, blankets…just about everything you need, and cheap. You want another shot of coffee?”

“Yes, thank yah, ma’m,” Abby lifted ‘er cup.

“I’m good with accents,” the waitress poured rich, black coffee, “but I’m having trouble placing yours. Where you from?”

The deckhand swallowed a bite of egg, then washed it down with fresh coffee. “Hard tah say. Born on Santo, but I been livin’ on boats afore I could put two words in line. Conjure I take after muh uncle when it comes tah talkin’.”

“We don’t get many like you on Osiris, especially in this part of town. What brought you here?”

Abby thought on that. Wouldn’t do tah say “I’s kidnapped by some bikers who whupped an’ near raped me cuz they’s mad one ‘o’ ourn done killt one ‘o’ theirn.” Her inner spy taught ‘er takin’ a sip ‘o’ coffee could stretch time tah put a good answer tahgether. “Cargo run,” the girl said all simple. “Conjure I should pay up,” she brought questions to a close.

*****************************

Far’s thrift stores went, Wally’s Second Chance had jest about anythin’ a body could desire. Abby coulda loaded ‘erself right down with all make of things fer her quarters, ‘cept fer the fact that what she bought she’d have tah tote back. After a spell she settled on two of everythin’....blankets, pillows, towels an’ bath rags. They’s one thing she had tah have, a blue an’ green striped mechanic’s work shirt what had tha name Tyrone embroidered onta tha pocket. Havin’ that, she conjured she’s good tah go.

Or so she thought.

She’d made a short cut down an aisle whet held lotsa toys an’ Noel decorations when she come up short. Abby turned, findin’ ‘erself starin’ tace tah face wih about a hunnerd doll babies. She stood fer a spell, just lookin’ at all of ‘em, and them doll babies just looked right back. That’s when tha idea come, alongside tha voice ‘o’ her inner spy.

”...When you’re a spy, distraction is your friend. The more embarrassing the distraction, the more effective…”

Tha notion got Abby tah smilin’. None ‘o’ them doll babies smiled back. “‘Scuse me, ma’am?” she waved down a clerk. “How much can I git a dozen ‘o’ these for?”
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Gunther
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Gunther Captain, Infantry (Retired)

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Groundwork


Collaboration with @wanderingwolf

Hook and Lyen followed a group of Anabaptists as they picked their way toward the very same patch of dirt they found themselves on when Hook watched the standoff with the King’s and the Headhunter’s through the scope of a rifle. In the immediate vicinity, several piles of disheveled bricks provided the perfect backdrop and impetus for the Captain’s hairbrained plot. As they arrived, the Anabaptists fanned out across the area with their wheelbarrows, preparing their work space for the labor ahead.

The man beside her exuded at once calm and measured attentiveness to their surroundings. Lyen’s head tilted as she ventured a guess at some military background in the way he mapped his exits with his eyes. She adjusted her braid from one shoulder to the other as she watched the Anabaptists toil in the heat of the suns. They began their work: chipping the mortar from loose bricks and loading their quarry into the myriad wheelbarrows in tow.

“Joseph Hooker,” the nun pronounced, eyes scanning the sweating brows on the men and women surrounding them, “do you know what you’re doing here?” Her gaze remained fixed as she patiently awaited his reply.

Joe looked at the men and women pushing the wheel barrows, pulling mortar off the bricks and depositing the items into the carts. Then he turned to face the woman. “Ma’am, ah have a pretty good idea of what ah’m doin’ here.” He looked the woman in the eyes, meeting her gaze, or was it a stare? It was fixed and hard. This was a quality Joe suspected but had not seen until this very moment. Her concern and compassion were asunderous.

Lyen watched as her own reflection was returned to her in his resolute eyes. The first words out of his mouth were honest, thoughtful, and encouraging in tone. As he continued, a buoying smile began to taut her cheeks.

“The captain has placed me in a position where ah can offer a certain level of protection if needed. If the day goes accordin’ to plan, that level of protection will remain unnecessary and ah will only sweat no more than yo’ anabaptists out here.” Joe waved his arms toward the people performing their work. “In the meantime, Ah am performin’ a ruse to those who do not need to know. Let them think ah’m their foreman. This, Miss Lyen. I kin do.” Joe’s words were carefully selected. The tone of his voice was quiet, confident and well intentioned.

He then wondered if maybe she asked the question because he serves as cook aboard the China Doll. “If you’se a wonderin why ah is the cook on the ship and not somethin’ else, quit yer worryin’. Ah have experience in other areas. Technically, ah is a deckhand like Miss Abby. She does the launderin’ an’ ah do the cookin. Ah juss’ like cookin’ is all. My momma taught me cookin’ when ah was a boy.” He rested his right hand upon his hip. He felt naked, noticing the Ruger was not there. It would take a little time for him to get used to this. He wore that piece for several years.

“How long you been working as a sistah? Sistah?” Joe asked with a pause between the two utterances of Sister.

Lyen’s smile was no secret now as she faced the man who had given much of himself, even in these seminal moments before their work began in earnest. He’d shown parts of himself, errant thoughts, troubled fears, perhaps, and all in an effort to instill trust in her. Lyen could already tell what cloth this man was cut from–and she was impressed.

“I’ve served under the Order of the Interverse for thirteen years now, ten years at the temple, and three or so years here on the outside,” she paused, surveying their surroundings again, “but for no greater work have I wandered as for these Anabaptists. They came here out of moral obligation to their higher power, and for that they met shackles–still, they sing songs and keep praying.” She shook her head in admiration.

In a deft movement, the nun slipped a slender hand onto Joe Hooker’s shoulder, “What you’re doing here, for them, is setting the captives free, Joe. That’s why you’re here. And I know you can do that; do you?” Her brown eyes met his.

Joe responded favorably to the sister’s touch on his shoulder. He’d experienced harshness in his life and always appreciated a show of kindness. There was no hesitation or discussion necessary about that question. Joe knew the answer. From his time spent as a foster child working on a farm, to experiencing the horrors of war to serving as a crewman aboard various freighters in the verse. All those experiences served to build the man he had become. “Ah do, sistah,” Joe said immediately.

“Mah family on Hera believed in God or a higher power. Ah nevah felt a callin’ as some folk did to serve.” He then looked at her, “like you, sistah.” Joe looked down at the ground, up at the people working and then back at sister Lyen. “Ah grew up with a family who took me in as their own. They was eight of us boys and they had they own chillen’, a boy and a girl. We was all family with the McGinnis’. Every Sunday, we went into town to attend church services. Ah always felt warm and loved in those meetins. It was one of the few times ah didn’t have to worry about gettin’ beat by Leo. Leo was a bully. But if his treatment was bad, it taught us how to fight. For that ah appreciate the whoopin’ ah took on a regulah basis.” Joe caught himself. “Ah’s gettin’ off topic. Pardon me, ma’am. The McGinnis family instilled a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. We also learned to love our creator and worship him. To remain free from sin and to confess those sins when necessary. To perform a penance to make up for our sins. Then and only then would our immortal souls be allowed to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Ah certainly want to go to heaven, Sistah Lyen, but I have a lot of sins on mah conshuns.” His eyes panned the soil at their feet. He didn’t want to look at her after admitting that. It was his biggest shame. He hated to admit his weakness, but he was humble enough to know it needed to be said. He didn’t get too many opportunities with a person of the cloth. He took a chance with this one.

Ly listened, attentive to the struggle on Joe’s face as he recounted his youth and the challenges he faced. Her visage stiffened when he spoke of the beatings he received as a child, chewing her lip in silent observation. When his sharing turned toward confession, she watched him carefully. Any absolution he sought could be achieved, she conjured, but it may not be in the way he expected.

Her gaze swept the surrounding area in search of some space that could serve as the man’s confessional; in luck, or by divine providence depending on the viewer’s faith, a resolute alcove of a dilapidated brick structure still clung to its struts a few meters away, providing a secluded and separate place they could speak privately.

“If there’s something you’d like to get off your chest, I’m listening,” her features were relaxed now, just like her gentle tone. Her almond eyes searched his.

“Ah appreciate your offer, sistah, but this is not the time or the place. Ah would like to talk with you later on the ship after we jump into the black. Ah would prefer to focus on this task here. Gettin’ yo’ people to safety.” Joe had been holding onto this baggage for so long, he didn’t mind holding on a bit longer.

She nodded, “Of course,” offering a smile. If this was the man’s way of turning her down gracefully, the message was received. As it stood, she knew she had much more work to do here on Osiris and in the Blackout Zone. She’d spent time cultivating connections, friendships, and saving those she could from the bondage inside this place. She could think of no greater work than serving these Anabaptists and others like them until they could be free once more.

And so it was with renewed fervor that the Sister latched onto Joe’s pronouncement. “We have much work to do,” she said, raising a hand to shade the sun from her eyes.

“Thank you for what you’re doing here,” Lyen said, still watching the Anabaptists toil brick by brick. “I need to make sure our volunteers know where to meet once you’ve dropped off your cargo. Amituofo Joe.” The Sister turned to leave the site, on her way back to the derelict Club Banebdjedet.

“Ah-me-to-oh-fo, sistah,” Joe gave a two finger salute off his forehead as she walked away. Joe turned and looked at the people working. He never liked the idea of being in charge, but was fine with acting a role. But to stand here and watch people do work? That was intolerable.

A young woman, maybe a teen with scraggly dark hair wearing a tan colored dirty top and navy blue cotton trousers was picking up chunks of brick with a boy who could have been her brother, two years younger. Joe walked over to them, gave them a nod. He then bent down, picked up a chunk of brick and placed it in their wheelbarrow. He continued the process with just about every person on this work detail. He never spoke to them nor did he care to listen in on their conversations. Just help them pick up the chunks of brick and mortar.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by wanderingwolf
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wanderingwolf Shiny

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Unforseen Circumstances


Osiris, Suburb


The 'Verse is a big, wide place. There's plenty of folk running around, and Osiris is no exception. Cal picked his way through the crowds of the shipyard and into the city proper with its high skyscrapers and pristinely modeled architecture. The suns seemed to shine brighter here, every shop window a perfect reflection of the manicured world just across the street. The duster and hat he wore, let alone the sullied boots he tromped in showed he didn't belong same as any billboard might've.

Even the Gorram street curbs were embelished with inlaid moulding. The Captain may have unintentionally scuffed a boot on said moulding while crossing the street. The place reminded him of Londinium for more reasons than one, and that unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach was exactly what propelled him forward on his errand now.

He checked the scrap of paper scrawled with his destination; just a little further now. The skyscrapers thinned into older buildings, buttressed, nonetheless, in brick and mortar in addition to the city's typical plasteel. A corner emerged which finally realized the sharp relief between 'Osiris' proper and a neglected suburb. He glanced at his watch, the hour walk from the China Doll was necessary for the privacy he needed, and this time it was from S.A.M.N.T.H.A.

The digital entity was the very reason for him traipsing around rather than taking the mule to get where he was goin'. With no com or cortex on his person, Cal hoped to obfuscate his trip from the AI, in order to get ahead of things may or may not be coming for the Doll and its crew. The contact, he'd sussed through old fashioned word of mouth on Greenleaf; man went by the name of 'Dmitry' and not much else.

Way he heard it, Mr. Universe left behind a whole lot of tech that was still piped together. And even as he was survived by his sex-doll-turned-wife, the place lay wide open to for just about anyone to send a 'Signal.' Dmitry, way he heard it, was just one of those 'someones,' and he could use it to answer a question gnawing at the back of Cal's mind.

Ever since Cal purloined SAM from Londinium, he'd been meaning to check her at her word for her tracking capabilities, just to know without a shadow she wasn't coyly playing the long game for the Alliance afterall. And now, on the stoop of a shady looking apartment with boarded windows, Cal gave the nonedescript door a solid rap.

---

An hour later, the Captain reappeared with a cigarette in his hand, lighter cupped around his face. What he learned seemed to have made a deep grimace all the deeper. The paper in his hand now gave additional instructions from the hacker in unsteady handwriting. Strand folded the note into his breast pocket. As he checked his watch, Strand loosed a stream of smoke before hitting the street back to the China Doll.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by sail3695
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Setting The Stage




“Here we are,” the driver announced, an unnecessary gesture given the sight of China Doll was plain as day to his passenger. The luxury shuttle glided onto its’ skids for a touchdown so smooth that Yuri could feel nothing beyond the overstuffed plush leather seat. As the door ghosted open, he leaned forward to offer the driver a tip. “Thank you much!” the man cheerfully pocketed the coin, a bit of money not to be traced by the credit pinching bastards he worked for.

China Doll’s first mate stepped onto the pavement, shopping bags in hand. Among his treasures were an RFID chip programmer and forty veterinary grade ident chips. “Startin’ a puppy mill?” the clerk had asked. When Yuri delivered the god’s own truth with a smirk, the man had laughed. “You picked the right ones!”

No risk, no reward, he thought as he stepped up the cargo ramp. Still clad in his crisp new suit, he lugged his treasures into the space to find Edina and Abby, busily sorting a large pile of bedding and bathroom linens. “How do?” he greeted the women. “I brought a couple blank…”

“Hooo, lookit yew!” Abby grinned ear tah ear at sight ‘o’ the usually shabby mechanic/first mate. She put ‘er hands on ‘er hips, eyein’ him up an’ down. “All suited up an’ way too purty!”

“What she said!” Edina laughed. “I’d give a wolf whistle if I knew how!” Her eyes carried a private sparkle as she grinned. “Lookin’ very sharp, Mr. Antonov.”

“Thank you kindly, Ms. Wyman,” he smiled in return. “I had some good advice.”

“I’ll say,” Abby took notice the way they’s lookin’ at each other. “What’dja bring us?”

“Oh.” Yuri lifted the larger bag. “Two more blankets. Should I just…”

“I’ll take ‘em,” Edina reached for the bag. “They should finish off the kits we need for today. How many folks will Hook bring in?”

“Fourteen, by his count.”

Edina nodded. “Then I need to build two more.”

“And I need to get out of this suit,” Yuri agreed. “There’s real work to get done before they arrive.”

“C’mon, Pretty Boy,” Edina teased. “Walk with me.”

“Sure thing. Abby, I had an idea about a hiding place for some of our folk.” He pointed toward the two deck plates that concealed the boat’s belly hatch. “What do you think about down there?”

Tha girl frowned as she thought on it. “Not when we’s in tha black, dohn mah?”

“Strictly on the ground,” he replied. “I thought if we stacked cargo on top it’d conceal the two hatch plates from…surprise visitors.”

“Surprise visitors,” Abby took wise. “Yew expectin’ trouble?”

“Always.”

Tha deckhand stood there, head bobbin’ slightly as she sussed out what she knew an’ what she conjured might work. “Uncle Bob’s boat got boarded sometimes,” she’s thinkin’ out loud. “Alliance knows most places on Fireflies where smugglers stash stuff…leastways on tha cargo deck. I seen ‘em open up ever’ bulkhead panel, but now that yah say, ain’t none of ‘em yet gone fer tha belly hatch.” Her eyebrows lifted on that idea. “What sorta cargo?”

“We’re about to have alot of bricks on our hands,” Yuri smiled. “You can wrap and band them down to pallets for flight. About as boring a thing to search as there is, I’d guess.”

“Worth a try,” Abby agreed. “Could be a might heavy fer them hydraulic deck panels, but we can test it fer sure.”

“Shiny. I’ll be back in two shakes. Ms. Wyman? Are we walking?”

Edina took Yuri’s arm. “How could I refuse, Mr. Antonov? And cheers for getting the cast off.”

The pair headed off toward the upper deck stairway. Once through the aft hatch, Edina spoke. “Yuri,” she asked, “how much do I owe for the next run?”

“Captain and I haven’t spoken on it, but I’m pretty certain that’ll be zero,” he answered.

“But I’m a passenger…” she protested.

“...Who’s put in work all over this boat, stood shoulder to shoulder with us to help bring Abby home,” he interrupted. “As far as I’m concerned, we should be cutting you in on a crew share.”

“You’ve all been good to me,” Edina said as they rose to the galley deck. “I owed her one for the way she treated me when I came aboard…a bruised up, blackeyed mess.” She shook her head. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else now.”

“Good,” he offered s sidelong glance and a smile. “We could use more of your help in the future. Captain and I have plans for that girl back there,” he confided. “She knows a little bit about everything to run one of these boats. We aim to get her off the cargo deck. Keep that between us, if you would.”

She nodded her understanding. “Mum’s the word.” As they passed the passenger lounge with it’s arranged refugee supplies, she stopped. “So, Mr. Antonov,” Edina grinned mischievously, “got any plans for Pelorum?”

It seemed that Yuri’s smile came of its’ own accord whenever he looked her way. “Come to think of it, I do. We’re delivering artifacts to the Earth-That-Was museum. Thought I might finagle my way in. How about it, Ms. Wyman?” he teased. “Care to crawl around a dusty old museum with me?”

She laughed. “You sure know how to show a girl a good time.”

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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by sail3695
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”The State of Me”




JP/Collab from @wanderingwolf and @sail3695

Cal’s bootfalls announced his ascent up the ramp of the cargo bay where he spotted Abigail looking over a pile of supplies for the coming wave of refugees from the Blackout Zone. The stage was being set, and in no small part to Abigail and Edina shouldering the work of preparing the China Doll. The Captain nodded; when he’d spelled out the plan, he’d expected some reservation from the crew and passengers, and when none came, it spoke to something deeper in the lot of them. Cal reckoned even the way Abigail worked intimated some buoyant spirit driving her attention to detail for sake of their precious cargo.

The Captain squared up beside the deckhand, folding his arms as he took in the sight of supplies what she’d accumulated. Blankets, pillows, sundries, and–were those dolls? He bent to pick one up, showing it to the Deck.

“Now I know we been scarce on free time, and y’had a rough childhood, but I conjure loadin’ the Doll up with dolls is, well, a mite on the nose, doncha think?” He moved the arm, swiveled the head.

Abby’s busy sortin’ an’ foldin’. Crew all did good, headin’ out an’ fetchin’ stuff fer their refugees. Tha pile they done built here in tha cargo bay would do a body proud. “Just wish they coulda folded what they brung,” the girl muttered as she pulled a sheet outta tha mountain. Contour sheets, she ruminated, [/i]how do yah fold a thing like this?[/i]

She’s still puzzlin’ over that contraption when Cap’n stepped up aside ‘er. “Don’t like dolls, sir?” she asked, face gone deadpan ‘cept fer mischievous eyes what she turnt away from his sight. “Kinda creepifyin’ how they look atcha, ain’t it, sir?”

Captain suffered an involuntary shiver as he turned the head back round so that its eyes matched that same dead expression of all the other ones lying in the heap. The one in his hand emitted an electronic ‘wah’ through a fractured speaker somewhere inside the abdomen. “I prefer dolls of a ‘different’ variety, if you catch my drift,” his eyebrows arched as he turned the doll upside down to halt the crackling sound coming from the pseudo-Victorian terror. When it only produced more ‘creepifyin’ sounds at his efforts, he spoke over the cacophony to Abby, “So do I need to be concerned, here?”

“Don’t think so,” Abby glanced toward Cap’n an’ tha toy in ‘is hands. “Way I hear it, they’s lotsa’ dolls talk out their pi gu’s. Lotsa folk, too, from my experience…or we talkin’ about somethin’ else?”

Cal shook his head and unceremoniously tossed the crying doll on the pile. “I mean to say, what are you doin’ with a gaggle of childrun kit in my cargo bay? Didn’tchu take to them lucky cats we have ‘round here somewheres?” Captain removed his hat and turned to face Abigail, “I don’t remember my list callin’ for the mess of frills I see on my ship.”

“It’s all shiny, Cap’n,” tha deckhand answered. “Just a idea I had, most like won’t amount tah nothin’. But don’t yah fret, sir,” she said. “Paid fer ‘em outta muh Greenleaf coin.”

“On the subject,” Strand’s tone changed, “Since you got took, to when you showed up wearin’ biker’s patches–I got a million questions about the in-between part of that story.” Cal’s silver cigarette case was in his hand, hat under his arm, but he saw Abigail’s face change at his question, choosing to add, “If you were lookin’ for an opportunity to bull, this here’s your shot.” He took his eye off the Deck as he held the flame to his smoke.

She give up tryin’ tah put some kinda fold on tha contour sheet; Abby jest rolled it up tight an’ set it aside. “Yer muh Cap’n,” the girl said as she tugged a blanket from tha pile. “Yah got right tah ask me anythin’ yah wanna know.” She held that blanket up full height so’s it didn’t touch deck, give it one fold lengthwise, then dropped ‘er hands tah catch it midways afore it could fall. “Yah seen tha state of me when they turnt me loose,” she said as she shook out wrinkles. “Turns out them Headhunters got codes an’ rules they live by. After whuppin’ on me an’ takin’ what shots I could give ‘em back, one of ‘em went tah their rule book an’ sussed it that I done everythin’ tah “patch in.”

This was all stuff she’s tryin’ so hard tah put in some little box…just cram it all away in a back corner of her mind til she could make sense of it her own self. Bein’ here, doin’ work…that’s what she wanted. In tough times it was always puttin’ ‘er head down an’ gettin’ tha job done what saw ‘er through. Abby flipped tha blanket fer one more fold, then set it down to grab another. “After all they done tah me, I conjured wearin’ their cut an’ bein’ treated like a little sister was a fair sight better’n t’other.”

Listening, the ember of his cigarette glowed and faded as her tale wound on, all the while her hands kept busy, like she were trying to fold away the thoughts she laid hold on now. The Captain’s eyes kept course on Abigail as she recounted the way she took hits and fought back. “I reckon you’re right,” was all he could muster. His thoughts forayed into the labyrinth of what her experience might have been based solely on the images of her from the video their leader sent as ‘motivation.’ “Sounds like you gave ‘em a taste of their own medicine.” He exhaled a pillar of smoke upward.

His brow furrowed as the Captain placed a hand on Abigail’s shoulder, “Weren’t no power in the ‘Verse could’ve stopped us comin’ for you. Goes for the whole crew. They was all behind the rescue,” Strand retrieved his hand to don his hat, “not least of all Joe.”

Weight of Cap’n’s hand stopped ‘er dead. Abby let ‘is words wash inta her. Words she tole herself over’n over, when them as took ‘er had ‘er blind and beaten. “Never stopped believin’ that,” tha girl lifted ‘er eyes to meet his. “Sight of y’all standin’ up tah thrice yer number ‘o’ men an’ guns…over me,” her voice cracked, “ was somethin’ I’ll take tah muh grave.” She thought on it some, knowin’ there’s more what needed sayin’. Cap’n spoke of Hook fer a reason. He had tah…ship needs ‘er crew pullin’ tahgether. Rifts don’t do no good. Still, she ain’t none too clear about tha how an’ why things crawfished between ‘em. “Cap’n, “ she said in all honesty, “I ain’t mad at Joe fer what them bikers done tah me. Uncle Bob always tole me sometimes they’s fellas jest need killin’. I got no truck with Joe makin’ that call. Dead guy’s friends come ‘round lookin’ fer payback,” she said, “an’ they found me. I can live with that. I ain’t never put that on him. But I ain’t gon’ be all sweet when he done nothin’ since ‘cept treat me like I’s just a hole in tha air.”

Cal met her eyes, “That Uncle Bob done taught you right, Abigail. Some fellas do just need killin’.” Strand knew what Joe had shared with him, vis a vis his drinking problem, ought to stay between the pair, but maybe he could drop a seed along the path for Abigail. “But Hook? Put yourself in his boots for a click. ‘Magine he don’t know what you just said, an’ he’s carryin’ a powerful weight knowin’ what he did led to what brought you back lookin’ worse for wear–no offense.” He raised his cigarette for another drag, “Just somethin’ to ruminate on. You mightn’t hold a grudge, but sometimes it’s harder to see the grudges we hold against ourselves.”

Now she could feel ‘er dander comin’ up. “That whut yew’d do, Cap’n?” Abby’s eyes grew hard. “Stead ‘o’ squarin’ up? If you’s carryin such a gorram ‘powerful weight’ thinkin’ yew’d done wronged a body, wouldja go on an’ la shi on ‘em right tah their face? I ain’t tryna be all churlish, sir, but I reckon when it comes down tah bein’ ‘tha bigger person,’ I done took my turn.”

Hands raised in surrender, Cal nodded, “And then some, no denyin’. It ain’t how I’d handle things, but you know me: I’m all sentimental.” The Captain paused, thinking whether he’d overstepped. He considered Abigail near close to kin, if there was such a station left for him to bestow in the ‘Verse. Last thing he wanted to do was cause a rift twixt them, too. Hells, then he’d be left only with the stellar thing he had going with the medic.

Snapping to, he could see he’d upset Abigail from that hard look in her eye. Taking a drag from his smoke, he nonchalantly added, “Say the word and we’ll leave ‘im here packin’. I hear Imani can make a mean sandwich.” Dropping his spent cigarette to the bay floor, he ground it out with his bootheel.

Abby let loose a gasp, flinchin’ like she been stung. Her eyes dropped, studyin’ tha pile ‘o’ linens fer some kinda words tah say…but ain’t nothin’ there. Was that a joke? She couldn’t suss it out. Was he makin’ light ‘o’ me? Am I playin’ it up too much? She didn’t think so. All she done was pay silence fer silence.

Her hands lashed out, snatchin’ up a blanket from tha heap. Abby poured ‘er anger inta foldin’, movin’ swift an’ harsh as she done tha job. Shoulda kep my mouth shut, she cursed ‘erself fer a fool.

He watched her tear into a blanket like it were a punching bag, and he had a sneaking suspicion that in her mind at right this moment, that was him. Cal had scorned enough women in his time that the signs read plain as day, but it triggered something in him. Something stubborn. “Suit yourself,” he said, watching her from the corner of his eye. “Why I meddle, I’ll never know…” he added under his breath, quitting her company for the bay scaffolding on his way to the bridge.
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Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Bugman
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“The Least Of These” - Part 1




Part 1 of a JP/Collab from @Xandrya, @PatientBean, @Bugman, @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695

“Just don’t seem right,” Brother Raphael muttered under his breath.

Hadn’t Brother Jebediah preached of the virtuousness in looking after your neighbor before yourself? He heard the words aplenty. “Blessed be the giving of bread to those who hunger. Blessed be the sweat of your brow in service of those who need.” Plain as day. But now, here he was, nudging a wheelbarrow full of bricks through the checkpoint. To hear Brother Jebediah and that Sister Lyen tell it, the hour of deliverance was at hand.

But it didn’t seem right.

Everywhere he looked was misery and suffering. The blackout zone was teaming with desperate souls…grim faced men who fought for their own and bore the pain of not being able to provide better. Their women, stoic and resigned to this fate, taking whatever form of work, no matter how unseemly, to put bread into the mouths of their children. And those children, lost little innocents forced to learn life’s harshest lessons at such a tender age. As an Anabaptist, was it not his mission to “ease the burden of all within thy sight?”

“Just don’t seem right.”

“It ain’t raht, brother,” Joe Hooker explained to the boy. “This is why we’s takin y’all away from here. Git you tah someplace better. Mebee make a new start for yerselves.”

Brother Joseph Hooker seemed a decent man…a man who in quiet moments told of the righteousness of delivering Raphael and his sect from lives of slavery and want. Seemed an-ti-thet-ical, the seventeen year old weighed the job foreman’s words against his lifelong views. Mayhaps he could seek the man out for further counsel. Brother Joseph was not of the faith, but didn’t Brother Jebediah say to “drink well the minds of men and women, for wisdom lies there?”

Joseph Hooker had once belonged to a Protestant sect not too dissimilar to these Anabaptists. But then he really didn’t know what they stood for. The McGinnis family took him and his brothers to Sunday meetings every week. We prayed to God and listened to the gospel frequently. But everyone worships their higher power differently. Joe Hooker would not judge these people because their manner of worship was different from his own. The differences were irrelevant. Freeing them from a life of servitude was paramount.

Sister Emily was a mere girl of nine. She labored ahead, her arms beginning to tremble with the weight of bricks she carried in a burlap sack.

Elias would stoop down, reaching out a hand to grab the sack from the girl, trying to smile as he worked to ease her weight. With the scarf wrapped around his mangled face it was unlikely she’d see much of this but he hoped that the raised muscles of his upper cheeks would still convey some friendliness to the child that might be startled at the sudden intrusion. Given his size, he was already ordered to carry far more than anyone else. While he was certainly stronger than more or less anyone he could see, the tasks he was given were proportionally far greater than what others would have to compensate for. Still, he couldn’t particularly bear to see a child suffer like this. The weight of all he carried cut into his flesh far more than any overloaded bag of groceries could upon hands but at the same time it was nothing compared to what he had experienced at the hands of the reavers and thus could be taken in stride. So much time had passed for Elias to live in such a state, he knew already to not bother wiping accumulated sweat away: it would soak into his facial wrappings. The lack of comfort was something that he kept reminding himself would end soon. It would, it had to. Then he would be free, though this thought brought him less comfort than it may have when he was first imprisoned. It wasn’t exactly that he came to enjoy spending time with the Anabaptists. They were still alien to him after all this time. But in his enslavement the man came to see that this wasn’t all that different to his past time. His lack of freedom now was more apparent, but was he ever free before? Working at the threat of poverty seemed to now not be to different to working at the threat of being disposed of as would likely be his fate just as the other slaves. Now that his situation was so much more clear, all the other coercion he experienced in retrospect now seemed all the more obvious. Perhaps this was a way to cope with his reality, but it felt like a damn good one.

The group of refugees stepped into the shadow of the China Doll, Hook posing as their foreman, himself the back-renter of these ‘wheelbarrows’ filled with bricks. Captain tipped his hat to Joe as he led the group; from where he stood, it looked like the man was working hand over fist to atone for what had happened to Abigail, though without communicating such. Maybe there was some cosmic balance the man catered to, but Cal always preferred an unfeeling, empty ‘Verse.

As he watched, a behemoth of a man stepped up the ramp among the much shorter Anabaptists. Strand’s brows arched as he appeared to be carrying a wheelbarrow’s worth of brick in a sack over one shoulder. He didn’t much look like a member of their sect, by the way he wore a scarf over his face and sheer size. Still, he paused his ascent to help the burden of a little girl who struggled under her own load. With a glance over the stream of the oncoming ‘fugees, Cal turned his attention toward the chain of stations that would lead them to their makeshift berths throughout the China Doll.

Despite his upbringing, Brother Raphael couldn’t help but feel the wary curiosity rise along his backbone. The Stranger had simply appeared one day, much like an abandoned dog attaching himself to the next kindly humans in his path. Though he chided himself for his sinful reaction, there was some comfort in noticing the same from Sister Emily’s wide eyed staring at the masked giant. The man never spoke, though he listened earnestly and gestured in reply, some form of sign language Brother Raphael had yet to comprehend. But despite the mystery swirling about the man, his kindness toward the little child was undeniable and dispensed with no expectation of return. Raphael would think on him some more. And pray.

“The ship’s over yonder, y’all! We are nearly there!” Joe shouted to the Anabaptists as they neared their finish line. He felt like Moses leading his people out of Egypt on Earth-that-was. It made him feel good. The thought warmed his heart and brought a smile to his lips.

...TO BE CONTINUED…
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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Xandrya
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”The Least Of These” - Part 2




Part 2 of a JP/Collab from @Xandrya, @PatientBean, @Bugman, @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695

“China Doll,” Brother Raphael read the boat’s name aloud. He followed his elders and Brother Joseph toward a yawning opening down beneath her front end. Though at seventeen Raphael considered himself a strong young man, his attempt to force a brick laden wheelbarrow up the inclined cargo ramp proved too much for his strength alone. He rushed forward, relying on speed and momentum. He’d only made it halfway up when the effort ground to a halt. The teenager struggled, refusing to yield ground as the weight steadily drained his strength.

“Here…lemme help yah.” The girl threw her weight into the task, taking the right grip with both hands. “On three. One…two..three.” Together, they shoved with all their might. He caught sight of her bicep as it strained into the job…before the wheelbarrow gave way. In unison, the pair wheeled their cargo up onto the expanse of the boat’s inner deck. “Ku,” she said as they eased it onto its’ rests. “Yah got it from here?”

“Yes,” he answered. This girl was so unlike any he’d met on his life’s walk. She was strong, with a wild mane of red hair that reminded him of the Parable of Medusa. Her clothing wasn’t modest, like his sister’s, nor was she a Jezebel who revealed herself to a lustful eye. Her face was pretty, but the eyes in her head betrayed their own buttressing. “Thank you, Sister…”

“Abby,” she give a polite smile. “Call me Abby. Jest push it over there with tha others, an’ then go aft..that way.” She pointed toward tha open hatch where the first mate stood. “That’s Yuri,” she said. “Go see him next.” She watched the fella, makin’ sure he didn’t wander off afore Yuri could code ‘im in.

When she turnt back, Abby’s startled at tha sight of a man…a right tower of a man. He stood there all silent like, a sack ‘o’ bricks draped over a shoulder like he’s carryin’ naught but loaves ‘o’ bread. His clothes was rough, but not all Sunday churchy, like them Anabaptists. Face all wrapped up in a towel or cloth made ‘im look less an’ less like he’s of them they’s sposed tah be carryin’ out. The man didn’t say nothin, jest looked down on ‘er with eyes what made ‘er feel like there’s somethin’ she’s fergettin’...til she conjured what that was. “Uh…yer bricks,” Abby caught ‘erself stammerin’. “Jest put ‘em down on one them wheelbarrows over there. Then go see him,” she pointed toward Yuri.

Elias grunted something between appreciation and acknowledgement of the woman’s words, not bothering to waste time by trying to write something with the piece of chalk and blackboard he kept about his person for communication. Thus he simply lowered what he was carrying with care, if lack of ceremony, and turned to go to the man he was directed to along with Raphael and the others.

An obedient Raphael set his loaded wheelbarrow among the others. His arms trembled slightly from the exertion as he hurried toward the friendly looking Brother. “Blessed Day,” he greeted the man Yuri. “I’m Brother Raphael.”

“Welcome aboard the China Doll, Brother Raphael. I’m Yuri. Please roll up your left sleeve. All the way…that’s right.” He watched as the crewman pointed what looked to be a pistol toward his left bicep. When Raphael flinched instinctively, Yuri’s tone was reassuring. “This won’t hurt. I’m just recording the chip before our doctor takes it out.”

“Takes it out?” he asked. ‘Will that hurt?” After all, it had certainly hurt when the border guard jabbed it into him.

Yuri smiled. “Not a bit. We’ve got the best doctor in the ‘verse. There, finished. Now, kindly step through here,” he directed the teenager into the aft hatch. “More of our crew will help you with new clothes and get you ready for the doctor.”

The spirits of those aboard seemed to be tentatively higher since the Anabaptists reached the China Doll, with every crew member waiting in a line to help from station to the next. Lyen’s part in this chain meant that she would be managing the change of identity between the Anabaptists and the volunteers who had generously agreed to help–mostly students of well-to-do families from the local university, all looking to make a mark and change the world. The first group of volunteers had been ushered in hours before the Anabaptists would arrive, in order to appear less suspicious. Now, the bright-eyed rebels crowded–standing room only– into the passenger berths of the China Doll, awaiting their doppleganger’s clothing. “Peter,” Lyen called to the group, “you’re up first.” The well kept young man stepped forward, eager to take his place.

Lyen waved to the first Anabaptist, a young man who looked just about the same age as Abigail Travis. “This way; let’s get you changed.” Her smile never waned, even as the boy looked unsure. She led him to two passenger rooms side-by-side outfitted as their designated changing rooms. A volunteer would go into one, disrobe, and hand the clothes out the door to Lyen who would pass them to the Anabaptist and vice versa.

“Hey man…I’m Peter.”

A young brother stepped forward at Sister Lyen’s bidding. This fellow seemed to match Raphael in his height and the overall state of his frame. He carried a few extra pounds, merely the result of a regular diet. Raphael’s stomach growled at the thought of food. I wonder if they’ll break bread with us? he pondered, before dashing the sinful thought from his mind. “Blessed day, Brother Peter,” he greeted his counterpart. “I’m Brother Raphael.”

“Shiny,” Pater gestured the thin Anabaptist to follow him. “C’mon, Raphael. We gotta swap clothes.”

Raphael’s eyes sought out Sister Lyen, whose reassuring nod informed him that this, indeed, was part of the plan. He permitted himself to be led to what appeared a guest room for the momentary indignity of undressing in the company of a stranger.

As Peter entered the first room, Lyen and Brother Raphael were left standing outside for a moment. “How are you holding up, Brother Raphael?” she asked, as they waited. This gaunt, young man had possibly traveled thousands of clicks to get to Osiris, and then been met with enslavement and abysmal living conditions inside the Blackout Zone. Sister Lyen regarded him with soft eyes, hoping that their efforts would afford him a new life.

Raphael met the Sister’s question with a brave face. “Blessed day, Sister Lyen,” he smiled over his shoulder as Peter led him away. I’ll be right back!” That much was true; he’d make this “clothing swap” go as quickly as humanly possible, with the Lord’s grace.

For his part, Elias waited patiently behind the… Monk, he supposed, waiting for Yuri’s attention to eventually drift to him once done with Raphael or perhaps as he was processing the man. Regardless, if and when eye contact was made, Elias would make the complicated gestures to sign “Do you know sign-language?” It was a rare talent but the man seemed at least slightly better spoken than the girl he couldn’t stop mentally referring to as a hick, a rural bumpkin of some sort, and there was some slight chance this fellow would be learned in it. Yet, already anticipating the worst he would immediately after start reaching for the chalk and piece of blackboard.

This man was imposing. His height alone would give pause to the much shorter Yuri who met eyes eager to communicate, and hands that made an earnest attempt at the same. He watched the gestures. Certain patterns did emerge, but short of some of the more universal pantomimes, Yuri had to eventually shake his head. “I’m sorry,” he admitted, “but I’m not completely understanding you.” He lifted the RFID scanner. “Please roll up your left sleeve.”

Though Yuri read some frustration in the giant’s eyes, he noted the man’s comprehension was not lacking as a soiled sleeve gave way to a soiled left arm. He brought the scanner to bear, and was rewarded with the ident code of the embedded chip. “All finished,” the first mate offered. “Please step through this hatch. Sister Lyen’s waiting inside. And friend,” the first mate spoke again as the big man turned, “I’ll seek you out later. We’ll talk.”

Elias relented, though annoyed, allowing the process of the scan to complete before he started to write on his little blackboard. “YOU ARE LYING THAT REMOVING THE CHIPS WILL NOT HURT ARE YOU NOT???” Once satisfied that the large letters were legible, he would raise the small cutting of blackboard demonstratively.

Yuri blinked at the accusatory message. “I trust our doctor,” he met the man’s eyes with his own direct gaze, before calling attention to the waiting hatch with a tap of his scanner. “Please step through.”

The man shook his head, crushing the tip of the chalk between thumb and index finger with some annoyance before writing again. “THEY PUT A BIT OF ELECTRONICS BENEATH OUR SKIN IT WILL NOT BE PLEASANT TO GET THAT OUT.” After showing the piece of blackboard and confident the man before him would have read it, he would flip it over, and erase what was there before and replace it with new words. “YOU SHOULD NOT LIE TO PEOPLE EVEN IF IT WILL MAKE THEM FEEL BETTER.”

“I did promise to seek you out for further conversation, friend,” Yuri responded. “But for now,” he cast a glance toward the growing queue of people, “please move along.”

The man yet again shook his head, annoyed. But at the same time it was clear Yuri wasn’t interested in what Elias was saying and regardless of the reasoning he supposed it would be a waste of time trying to get through to him after the insistence that Elias get going. Thus, with a soft exhalation through his face wraps he did indeed step through.

Yuri paused as the towering refugee crouched to enter the hatch. Beyond lay the Medbay patients’ lounge, base of operations for Sister Lyen and her student volunteers. As he watched, a tall, gangly young man unfolded himself from one of the chairs. The nun did a fine job matching body types, he thought before greeting the next guest. “Hello, Sister…Margaret? Sister Margaret. Welcome aboard the China Doll. Please lift your left sleeve…”

...TO BE CONTINUED…
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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Gunther
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Gunther Captain, Infantry (Retired)

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”The Least Of These” - Part 3




Part 3 of a JP/Collab from @Xandrya, @PatientBean, @Bugman, @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695

Joe Hooker helped the young woman push her wheelbarrow up the cargo ramp. The same one he helped back at the demolition site where they gathered the bricks. Her load was heavy, but he had no difficulty getting it up into the cargo bay. Then he helped her brother and three or four other Anabaptists get their wheelbarrows into the cargo bay. “Those certainly are heavy loads,” Joe mumbled loud enough for others to hear.

The dark haired girl he helped turned to him, held out her hand with a warm smile on her face. “The name’s Mary. Mary Wright.” Joe took her hand to shake. “Thank you for all you’ve done for us Brother Joseph.”

“Nice makin’ yer acquaintance, Miss Mary. Take yer brother and go with the others through that aft door. See the bearded man with the thing that looks like a gun? Go talk to him. He git ye squared away. It’s OK. You are safe. It isn’t a real gun. He needs it tah scan the chip in yer arm.” Joe smiled back at the young woman. She had the same eyes as Sister Lyen. Maybe they came from the same planet? Joe wondered quietly to himself.

Joe watched the people head through the door to have their chips removed and their lives restored. He knew his place was in the galley. He ran up the stairs to begin working on a sandwiches. I wonder if Mistah Yoo Ree found someone to help me in the kitchen? Joe thought to himself. The number of mouths to feed had quadrupled.

Alana stood waiting, one hand wrapped around the other in front of her in a welcoming stance. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail to avoid potential distractions. First in line she saw a man, younger-looking therefore quite possibly an adolescent. Others followed, part of her relieved they looked to be on the healthier side and not so much ill, because given the bunch they were helping, that was a very likely possibility.

"Chip removal? This way please..." Alana motioned to have him follow her into the infirmary, a friendly smile on her face. "I'm Doctor Lysanger, but we don't need to be so formal around the Doll so you may call me Alana." She then addressed the others before allowing the young man his privacy from them. "I'll be with you shortly pending a quick procedure with no complications."

The clothes felt…strange to him. They were comfortable, and obviously well made by the precision of their stitching. Brother Elias now wore a pair of denims, a soft flannel shirt, and a simple covering that Brother Peter called a “hoodie.” His feet were covered in calf length stockings adorned with a colorful pattern, and these shoes. They were so comfortable! Not at all like the hard soled boots with wooden heels he’d known his entire life. There was a springlike sensation to his step…he felt as if leaping might send him higher than he’d ever flown before! He thanked Brother Peter for his kindness, and with a last glance toward his old clothing on the boy’s frame, followed the smiling doctor into a frightening room.

“Yes, Sister Alana,” Raphael felt himself shrinking into himself at sight of the array of tools she laid out. “What should I do?”

"Uh, yes... First, answer me a few quick questions about your medical background," as she spoke, Alana went over to grab her datapad even though she knew the questionnaire by memory. That, and she also needed to record his responses.

"Are you allergic to any medication?"

“They tell me that when I was a babe in arms, I was allergic to mother’s milk,” he admitted. “Nowadays it’s just cats…so, no? Guess I’m not,” he answered.

"Cats, got it," she smiled. "Are you currently taking any medication?" If she were to be playing a guessing game, Alana would bet the answer was no. Nonetheless, she looked him in the eye and awaited his resonse as with the other questions.

“No, Sister Doctor,” Raphael said, his confidence growing.

"Alright… Have you ever had any serious illnesses or surgeries in the past? I don't mean to pry, but you'd be surprised the reactions people have had from a simple procedure such as the one you're about to undergo."

The young man thought hard over that. “Never a surgery. Couple catgut stitches now and again for a knee or a lip. “There was a fever…swept through our flock back in aught-nine. A dozen of us were called home. I was four at the time. Remember bein’ real sick, but momma pulled me through.”

"What would we do without our mothers..."

Alana turned away to fetch one last item for her tray as well as hide the pain in her eyes.

And then…he was finished. The device so crudely ground beneath his skin was gone, with nothing left but a small bandage to tell of Sister Doctor Alana’s work. “Thank you, sister,” Raphael nodded his gratitude as he was shown out of the Medbay. The tall man he’d come to know as Brother Elias was there, patiently waiting his turn. Somehow, his presence in this place seemed other worldly, as if he were part of a dream that had followed Raphael into wakefulness…the outsider who’d sheltered in their midsts. He’d shown them kindness, and the Anabaptists had returned the grace. There’d been rumors that sometimes he was an avenging angel, stepping outside the codes of their conduct to smite those who were cruel…but Raphael had never witnessed such. As he looked up into those expressive eyes, he’d only recognize the goodness. “Thank you, brother,” Raphael touched the giant’s arm. “We owe you a debt.”

Elias recoiled the slightest bit at the touch, for in his waiting he had fallen into the slightest bit of a stupor musing upon what he would do when he was free. He didn’t bother signing anything, nor writing anything down. Instead he simply grunted a reciprocal thanks, returning his own pat on the arm of his counterpart. He knew it was in the way of the congregation to thank people for so much as smiling in their direction, such was their hospitality. But still it made Elias uncomfortable a slight amount, namely because he felt in their relationship the Anabaptists had done more for him than vice versa. His past as a soldier, his size, none of it had come into significant play. Sure he hefted a few heavy things for them, and he had used his education to repair what knick-knacks they might have needed fixed up that their captors didn’t particularly care to maintain. But still, he knew that without them he’d probably be dead, whilst without him they’d be… well, in about the exact same spot minus one man. Realizing he was again stuck in his own mind, he would hastily retract his arm from the man and nod to him again, raising an eyebrow in question regarding whether or not that was the end of their interaction before moving on if it was.



With Raphael done, Elias would step in to the medical facility to similarly have the chip removed. Eager to have the damned thing out of his meat he had already rolled up his sleeve going as far as scratching a small star where it was upon his skin.

Her eyes widened in surprise after she noticed the scratch while examining his arm. "Eager to get it done with, huh?" Alana was quick to switch out gloves, having gone over the same few questions as before. "Typically I'd advise against taking measures into your own hands, but you've beaten me to it."

The man nodded in the affirmative when asked a rhetorical question, looking about the scenery. Despite his scale, Elias still found himself a slight bit uneasy at the sight of the medical tools simply because their mirrors were toys for the reavers that had been used upon his mug enough to cause his bandana-wrapping predicament. His hands made the signs for “Yes, I want it gone yesterday.”, but almost reflexively his hands went down to the piece of blackboard and chalk to write down: “YES. THE SOONER IT IS GONE THE BETTER. IF I DID NOT HAVE THE ANABAPTISTS TO CARE FOR ME AND ME FOR THEM I WOULD HAVE CARVED THE THING OUT MYSELF.” After a brief look at what he wrote he would present it to be viewed and then erase it to append a small addendum. “BEING A SLAVE SUCKS. IT SUCKS A LOT MORE WHEN YOU ARE ME.” The former an understatement, to say the least.

She could only nod in return. He had so much to say, yet he could not. Alana was empathetic, being more expressive beyond spoken words to communicate. She grabbed the datapad and refreshed the page to load an empty questionnaire. "See these?" Alana turned the screen to have it face him, tapping the edge. "I'm going to need you to answer these questions so I may know how to best proceed in the event you have any relevant history. You can nod or shake your head and it will be noted. I promise it will take but a minute or two..."

She was tiny next to him, making the encounter a smidge interesting if anything at all. As she went over the questions one by one just like she had done with Raphael, Alana paused to look at her patient. The doctor could see the same desperation in his eyes as she had previously seen in others throughout her career, but like in the past, she forbade herself from being attached in any shape or form.

The man turned his head to the screen, squinting to what was on it. Well, that made sense enough. He’d had gone through a similar process in the fleet all them years back. Not wasting time, he simply nodded and gave a further thumbs up, but held on to his small piece of blackboard nonetheless in the not unlikely event he might have to elaborate with more than a binary answer.

She placed the datapad down once done, motioning for Elias to lie back and get comfortable. "We can get started now, I know you're eager to." Alana switched out trays as she had prepared them in anticipation of the Anabaptists' arrival. If nothing else, Elias would appreciate the quick turnaround.

"First I'll apply a mild anesthetic for your comfort," she explained as she simultaneously put her words to action.

Going through the questions, he would answer rather simply. No allergies, and then after a short laughing fit remembering his mutilations he similarly noted no surgeries.

But as the offer of anesthetic came he recoiled somewhat, raising both hands in an effort to demonstrate a request to stop. More or less unrelated to religious sensibilities, he had decided some years ago that he needed complete lucidity after all the mind altering nonsense he pumped himself in youth, and then was forced into him by the reavers.

This was all far too much to recount on a small piece of blackboard however, and instead he simply wrote down “I WANT MY MIND WHOLLY THERE TO FEEL FREEDOM RETURN.” It was only slightly less nonsensical to explain, but at least it was far more brief and would hopefully elicit less requests to elaborate. After a brief moment of thought, he raised his sleeve a little further to reveal the scars from drills, hooks, and all other nasty implements that were used by the worst people in the whole verse. This would - he hoped - be enough of a tough guy routine to remove concern of pained reaction to the medical intrusion into flesh.




“Mistah Yoo Ree,” Joe yelled when he caught sight of the First Officer. “Might ah have a word with ye?”

Yuri had just ushered the last of the refugees through to be clothed and dechipped. “Sure,” he nodded amiably. “What’s on your mind?”

“With all these extra mouths tah feed, is there someone that kin help me in tha galley? Ah was plannin’ to make stew, but would need a lot of vegetables and pots. Lots of potato peelin’ tah be done. Lots of cuttin’.” Joe needed help.

“For now,” Yuri replied, “Imani Ozuka has stepped up. I think she’s got simple stuff, sandwiches and the like, planned until you’re back aboard. Once we’re in the black,” he added, “if Imani’s not up for the job, get with me and we’ll find you a galley helper.”

When the first officer left, Joe brought loaves of bread, cheese, ham slices, butter and tomatoes out of storage. He turned the heat on the large griddle. With a knife, he placed several pads of butter on the griddle which began to melt. Each pad of butter he placed a piece of bread on. Then a slice or two of cheese. A few he placed a slice of ham or slice of tomato on. Then a second piece of bread and a pad of butter on top. He made sure the heat was not too hot to burn the sandwiches, but enough to brown the bread to an appealing tone.

When the sandwiches were cooked enough on the bottom, he flipped them over with a spatula and then stacked them on trays to be laid out on the galley table. “Grilled cheese, grilled ham and cheese and grilled tomato and cheese. Take what ye like. Also some potato chips and corn chips tah go with yer sandwich. Ah’ve made some coffee. We have Cola and a cherry-flavored drink. Plenty of cups, help yerself.” Joe repeated this to the small groups that filtered through the galley. He set aside a grilled ham and cheese for himself which he ate along with a cup of coffee.

...TO BE CONTINUED…
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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by sail3695
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sail3695 If you do, I'ma do too.

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”The Least Of These” - Part 4




Part 4 of a JP/Collab from @Xandrya, @PatientBean, @Bugman, @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695

Foodie duty...great.

Imani placed the trays of sandwiches and pitchers of lemonade on the table as soon as she heard footsteps approaching a while later. Prior to then, she was leaned back on a chair with legs crossed atop the space that was now occupied.

New faces poured into the galley, and Imani glanced them over. Yes, they looked about to be starving...she might as well be their savior.

“Ah...you’ve made it. Welcome. Please, gon and help yoselves to these extraordinary snacks, not that they were prepared by me,” she shrugged her shoulders, “but they still delicious! And no, don’t be shy now..."

All the sisters on this ship are so pretty! Raphael felt a pang of shame over such a thought, yet he couldn’t help smiling brightly as the lovely woman set food…appetizing food!...before those of his sect who’d made it upstairs. Knowing full well that gluttony was a sin, he fought the urge to pile his plate high with the delicious looking food, opting instead for what he hoped would be regarded as a much more modest pair of sandwiches.

He prayed, both for forgiveness over his blushing admiration of Sister Imani, and also in thanksgiving of the good fortune she and her shipmates had bestowed upon he and his. Over time, he could sense the spirits rising. They took of the life giving meal, its’ invigorating effects raising smiles and outright laughter among the Anabaptists. It warmed Raphael’s heart to see the growing cheer and relief upon their faces. They had been blessed. There was joy in this room. “Sister Imani?” he asked as she strode confidently past, “would it be alright if I had one more?”

It seemed someone had taken a liking to her...it was beyond obvious and not just from blushing but Imani pretended not to notice. He then was apparently ready for seconds.

She stopped him in his tracks, one hand held out in front of her so he wouldn't have to get up to fulfill his own request. "It would be my pleasure, we're here to serve..."

After a cheeky smile, she grabbed a napkin and stretched out over the table to take another sandwich before placing it in front of him. It then dawned on her, after observing some of their faces, that such a small gesture as getting fed made these people rather content. "Fancy another drink?" she motioned towards his almost empty cup.

In his experience, kindness was a rarety, a treasure to be shared among his Anabaptist sisters and brothers. By virtue of his faith’s teachings Raphael had given it freely to those on the outside with no expectation of reward. A bit of wisdom, he’d realized, as precious little ever came his way from outsiders.

But today was a day of revelation. There was kindness in the outside world, and those who would give it with abandon, from Brother Joseph who led his people here to Sister Doctor Alana…to the attentive Sister Imani. “Yes, thank you,” Raphael smiled, then felt the flush rising to his cheeks once more. “Please forgive me,” he averted his eyes from the beautiful woman as she delivered another bottle of cola. “I don’t mean to…”

"Dear don't apologize, you gotten a thing to worry about..." She knew. Obviously she knew. Imani decided to sit down next to him and gauge his reaction as the others, well, they were consumed by the aliments they had been offered. She went on to place a hand on his left shoulder as if reassuring him. "Never feel bad for killing off your hunger...it is indeed a blessing."

He was young, chances were he wouldn't catch on to her playing clueless.

Now, he was flustered. If he weren’t already blushing, Raphael knew that the jolt of Sister Imani’s hand upon his shoulder was like to turn his face a deep crimson. “Uh…um…” he stammered. “Yes…yes it is.” The new cola offered a chance at concealing his befuddlement. With nervous hands, he scooped the bottle up, gulping swallow upon swallow of the fizzing drink to buy time. When at last Raphael thought he’d mastered both his nerves and just what to say to her, he set the bottle upon the table. With a smile no longer trembling, he turned to look her in the eye, opened his mouth to speak…and loosed a massive belch.

From down the table, young Sister Emily doubled over in laughter.

“Oh!” Raphael could barely face her now. “I am so sorry, Sister Imani!”

Her instinct was to chuckle, similarly like the reaction of one of his peers, though not as profound. She didn't do it to be cruel, but Rapael's bodily function was no doubt unexpected. Another apology and Imani might as well start countin' purely for her own amusement. Poor kid only seemed to be digging a deeper hole for himself...and he was quite aware of it.

"Watcha expect when you gulp down that cola, eh?" she added playfully as if castigating him. Raphael had drawn the attention of some of the others, and Imani then thought it best to throw him a lifeline. "For what it's worth, some of the girls here gotcha beat..." she feigned with a smirk, "you definitely gotta work on your delivery."

Sister Imani proved even more kind than he could’ve hoped. And pretty. Really pretty. When she smiled at him, it felt as if his chest was fit to swell up. For a minute he wondered if such fraternizing was not of their way. An upright young Anabaptist man socializing with a beautiful woman who wasn’t wife or blood. One quick glance down the table confirmed that if his elders thought anything amiss, they weren’t offering anything but chuckles and contented belches of their own from China Doll’s bounteous table. “I conjure I should,” Raphael’s grin was sheepish. “So,” he tried to change the subject, “what’s it like to live on a…”

...TO BE CONTINUED…
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”The Least Of These” - Part 5




Part 5 of a JP/Collab from @Xandrya, @PatientBean, @Bugman, @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695

Quill had set up a station for herself. She provided resources when needed, of course, but that was not the best use of her skillset. Instead, she opted to provide the refugees with something thay maybe had precious few of, if any. Hope. Comfort. Like a therapist, she offered to listen to their problems, their struggles, but also their hopes and dreams. This was different than her usual clientele, of course, but it hit the same veins. People needed to vent. It was all well and good to have a belly full of food and a warm place to sleep, but it meant little if your mind was not free from its hangups also.

Quill was finishing up with one of the refugees, a young woman who has a child and not much else to her name. Quill sympathized with her story. The love can have for a child and the decision to do anything, ANYTHING, to ensure that child had the best possible life. The woman cried a lot and Quill used her skills to provide some comfort to her, through guided meditation and breathing. Soon after, the woman was calmer and left.

Quill glanced around, waiting to see who else would approach her or to see if she could be valuable elsewhere.

Elias had spotted the woman, and seeing she had been chatting everyone she could up he figured that she certainly wouldn’t have anything better to do than helping out his likely difficult request. Approaching her, he repeated the drill of first using his hands to sign “Can you help me?”, and immediately after pulling out his blackboard and chalk to write down a brief message assuming that just like the rest of the crew, she would not be able to read sign language. Thus he presented the chalk markings on his black square reading “DO YOU HAVE A PAGER OR SOMETHING SIMILAR ON BOARD? IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO COMMUNICATE WITH NONE OF YOU HAVING LEARNED ASL.” He looked up meaningfully, hoping his counterpart would be able to understand his predicament and aid quickly.

Quill watched the man come up to her. Expecting him to say something, it caught her a tad off guard when he started signing to her. She mentally chastised herself for assuming as the man stopped and grabbed a blackboard and wrote on it.

A companion is someone who makes clients feel cared for and relaxed. This often meant that, along with classes on dancing, etiquette, and so on, they were also taught languages. She knew many. ASL was one that some companions scoffed at privately. How many clients would use ASL to speak when it was the action they were after? Sure, some could use it, but they most likely had enough wealth to have technology at their disposal that could communicate if need be.

This man did not strike her as such. So she could imagine his surprise when Quill, doing her best, signed back “I can help you. Please, come sit.” She did not know a lot. She was definitely more well-versed in other languages, but she knew some. She would not speak as to why (that was her own private story) but at least it would help in this instance. She gestured for the man to follow her into a private room, so they could talk and listen privately.

Truth be told the man was the slightest bit surprised at the response he got, but then raising an eyebrow some realization dawned as he cycled through the other bits of information he had regarding his counterpart. Her talkativeness and paired charm, the instant offer to help, and her undeniably broad knowledge… as he concluded her profession, he couldn’t help but shift a little bit uncomfortably from one leg to the other whilst praising God his facial wrap concealed a rather childish blush.

Yet, to the actual contents of her reply was a slightly different response from the man. He had to suppress an urge to pinch the bridge of his nose; while it was always somewhat annoying to be stereotyped as deaf for his use of sign language, it would also be very stupid to show any degree of ingratitude to his spaceborne saviours.

Instead, he simply signed back: “I am mute, but I can hear you, you can speak. I don’t need privacy, I was just hoping you had a pager or similar on board for text to speech. I’m sure you can by now assume the rest of your crew does not have your skill.

Quill had wrongly assumed the man was deaf and that was on her. “I apologize, my intention may have been good but I still should not have assumed. I am afraid I do not have any such technology on board, but I am sure one of the other crew members here should have something.”

Quill figured that the others wouldn’t know ASL, but surely they had some technological means of communication. Not everyone spoke English or Cantonese. “I am sorry I could not be of help in that matter, but I have been talking to the refugees, listening to their stories and providing what assistance I could. If you would like to share your story, if even for a moment, I would listen. Otherwise, we can see about someone else on the crew having some device for you.”

The galley was full of happy faces as the Captain strode through like a ghost among the living. Each ruddy face was being fed, and Hook was doing his damnedest to make it so–along with the statuesque Imani who looked to be making some of the boys blush. He continued until he found another such vision among the activity: The silent and brutish Anabaptist sat with the beautiful Quill, him making movements with his hands, she comprehending and responding. From a leaning perch, he curiously watched their exchange.

The man waved a hand when the woman apologized, vaguely shorthanding that statement to not bother. When told about talking to listening to stories, he coughed out a suppressed chuckle. All the Anabaptists were glad to tell sob stories it seemed, but Elias? Traveling the stars just like the crew of the China Doll, he certainly didn’t have any to tell. None he’d be happy to, anyway. “Sorry, miss. I’m a bit of an ugly soul, my stories would just ruin your day. Who would have such a bit of electronics, then?

Quill felt saddened at the man’s words (or rather, hand movements). “Everyone has stories, be they good or bad. You would be surprised at what I have heard and helped others get through. Again, the offer is there if you want it, but I will not force you to share.”

Quill pondered a bit. “I’m fairly certain we have an AI onboard, though I have not spoken to it. I am sure the Captain could allow you to, if asked.”

Cal failed to comprehend the man’s signs, but he did catch Quill’s reply. Seemed to him she might be writing a check she couldn’t cash. Though it was surely true that among the China Doll, S.A.M.N.T.H.A. wasn’t exactly a guarded secret, even if the Captain himself wasn’t one-hundred-percent on all the inner workings of the Alliance-born artificial intelligence. Thus far, SAM had proven she could be trusted, and as Quill pulled toward their common goal here, much the same could be said about the Companion.

Again there was a very brief chuckle, the tongueless sound reminiscent of a coughing fit. “Well thank you but I’ll politely decline. There’s already very healthy ways to deal with trauma like drinking or jumping off a skyscraper.” Elias signed, hoping the bit of gallows humour would be a refusal without insult.

But at the mention of an AI his brow creased. He had served on a pretty damn top of the line boat, and it had nothing of the sort. For a second he considered dismissing it as the woman simply being out of her depth, but given all the things he had seen in the verse he decided to not make the same sort of assumption that lead Quill to believe he was deaf. Looks are deceiving, right?

Instead he simply signed “You mean artificial intelligence? I am something of an Engineer by trade and truth be told I have seen nothing of the sort on most vessels. I’d want to see that, even if just out of professional curiosity.

Quill could appreciate a good joke, even at the expense of herself. But considering where the refugees had come from and what they had faced, but grew more concerned over the man’s words. “Well, the option is there if you want to use it. We don’t even have to talk. There are other ways to process trauma than speaking about it or ‘jumping off a skyscraper’ as you put it.”

The man seemed interested in the A.I. and Quill felt a bit out of her depth. She hadn’t interacted with the thing thus far and, perhaps, she overextended her reach. “I am afraid that would be the Captain’s decision. I am sure he would be willing to show you if you asked.” Quill was curious about the man’s time as an engineer, but felt it best not to probe him. “Shall we go see him together? Provided there is nothing else you wish to ask of me?”

The man frowned the slightest bit behind his mask at the reproach he got. He didn’t want to be a hardass pretending to be emotionless, but he knew for a fact all the prodding about whatever he had faced wasn’t going to make him feel any better. Hoping to end the subject the way with (admittedly proverbial) silence, he simply went on to the more interesting subject.

Well, if he could afford the time, this would certainly be something to witness.” He would reply.

The Captain’s mind was made up as he approached Quill and the big fella. Arms crossed, Cal intoned to the Companion, “Can I talk to you a second?” It wasn’t a request, even as his tone did nothing to conceal his ire. He moved a few steps away from Elias as he began his tirade.

“Look, I appreciate what you’re doin’ here for the group, but that don’t change you’re a guest in my house. What and who’s in my house is my business. As I hear ‘discretion’’s one of your buzzwords, I’d prize a mite when a fella I don’t know gets mightily interested in my boat, Dohn luh mah?” (trans. ‘Are we clear?’)

Quill followed the Captain, leaving Elias alone. Given the Captain’s demeanour, she expected he was not pleased with their interaction. However, Quill had done nothing wrong. At least, not to her. So to be told off like a child didn’t sit well.

“Well Captain, I respect your authority. But I would like to point out a few things. As you said, I am a guest on your ship, which I appreciate. I did pay for passage. You came to everyone on the ship asking for help in this matter, both crew and passenger alike. You came to me, specifically, asking for help with a pass. As far as I can see, we have long since moved past me being a simple guest on your ship. I am here offering services to these poor folks, that man included. There is something dark underlying him, but I can’t get him to open up, so I made a suggestion. I had no intention of letting him run amok and had intended to speak to you before I allowed anything. And if we are speaking about discretion, standing close to where we are talking, listening to our conversation falls way out of discretion. I apologize if I am stepping too far, but you asked me for help and I follow through with promises I give, even if my methods don’t align with yours in all the same ways. We want the same thing, even if you can’t see that just yet.”

Quill folded her own arms and looked directly into the Captain’s eyes. “Hope I made that clear enough for you Captain.”

The Captain watched, his arms still folded, as the Companion said her piece. The fire in this one was hot enough to singe, that much was for certain. She made several good points with her assertions, sure, but Cal sensed a fine line between dressing down and her so-called respect for him. The way a teacher might address a student. Or a doctor levels with a patient. All them smarts in her quiver was enough to make a man wall up.

“If you wanted to apologize, a simple ‘I’m sorry’ does the trick. Apology accepted,” he said, with a pat on her pristine arm. With that good and proper captain-ing sorted and stowed, Cal left her side with a nod to the silent giant beside them.

Having stood exactly where he was left, Elias couldn’t exactly hear much, but he certainly wasn’t stupid to not notice the changes in body language and expression among both the Captain and the companion. He would shake his head, realizing that there was no chance that he’d get what he had asked for and thus simply slunk off to the shadows to check up on the other Anabaptists. Well, at least to pass the time there would be the entertainment of trying to figure out if the Anabaptists had been able to discern what Quill’s profession was.

...TO BE CONTINUED…
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”The Least Of These” - Part 6




Part 6 of a JP/Collab from @Xandrya, @PatientBean, @Bugman, @Gunther, @wanderingwolf, and @sail3695

Joe checked himself in the mirror in the head. He washed his face and hands and returned to his room. He put on dark trousers, his work boots and a dark button down shirt. He had on his black watch cap and black gloves, then returned to the cargo bay to help move the people back to the black out zone.

“We ‘bout ready to go, Sistah?” Joe asked Sister Lyen.

She nodded, regarding the ‘foreman’ as he emerged from the bowels of the China Doll. He had transformed into a figure clad in dark clothing, from head to toe. His change of clothes affected something deeper, it seemed to her, and he was something of a new man as he asked his question. “We’re almost there; just adding some last touches,” in her hand the nun held a smear of ash aloft as she spread it across the cheek of a female volunteer who smiled in return.

“And Peter,” Yuri called the last name from his list. A young volunteer stepped forward. It seemed to the first mate that Sister Lyen had put in some work to dirty the faces and hands of her volunteers to match the shabby clothes they’d adopted. “What’s your Anabaptist name?” he quizzed the young volunteer.

“Brother Raphael Hendricks,” the college student answered.

“Shiny. Roll up your left sleeve.” As the boy cooperated, Yuri pulled the final chip from a dish of disinfectant. He passed the scanner, and satisfied that he had the proper match, tore a piece of the same silver grey duct tape he’d seen the border guards use as ad hoc bandages when they implanted their victims. Once the chip was firmly taped to the young man’s bicep, he met The Sister’s eye with a nod. “They’re ready to go. Everybody? Everybody!” he raised his voice. “Grab a wheelbarrow and follow Mr. Hooker. Stay safe in there!”

Picking her way to Yuri, Lyen addressed him in a softer tone, “And you stay safe out here.” Her precious charges now lay with this crew and their ship. As she drew one last look of the cargo bay, Ly began shepherding volunteers toward their temporary burdens. There was hope, resounding here, even as she fought her ego in the name of dukkha. These people would know metta and karuna at last, and that was enough.

As Joe walked past to lead the way, Yuri offered the faux job foreman his hand. “Like clockwork, my friend,” he said as they shook. “We’ll see you same time tomorrow.”

In tha cargo bay, Abby jest stuck right ta her task, that bein’ stackin’ all them bricks onta a pair ‘o’ flattop pallets. She din’ say nothin’ when Hook an’ them volunteers trundled wheelbarrows past, just kep ‘er head down and ‘er hands busy. ‘Bout the time they’s all down tha cargo ramp, she wrapped both stacks with sheets ‘o’ cardboard, then banded everythin’ down tight.

Inside, she’s fit tah boil. How could he say a thing like that? she pondered Cap’n’s askin’ if she wanted Hook off tha boat. I ain’t lookin’ fer no tea an’ biscuits, but gittin’ mah feelin’s played fer sport? Kinda thing was that tah do? She conjured it’s good she’s down here by her lonesome, slappin’ bricks around an’ wangin’ ‘em down tight with tha bander. Least I can say y’all ain’t goin’ nowhere, Abby pondered.

Tha deckhand stood up straight, satisfied with what she done. She’s stretchin’ out, pressin’ a hand against small ‘o’ her back when Yuri come up alongside ‘er. “I set ‘em up, jest like yew said,” she offered.

Yuri admired the girl’s handiwork. “What do you think?” he asked.

“Ain’t no reason fer it not tah work.”

“How’s about a test run?”

“Shiny.” Abby stepped toward tha hatch controls. With Yuri watchin’ them pallets, she turnt a heavy switch, then slapped ‘er palm onta one ‘o’ tha big red buttons on tha little console. All sudden like, both them pallets ‘o’ bricks lifted right up afore one slid left an’ t’other slid right; both halves of tha deck movin’ aside tah show tha actual hull hatch about a meter unnerneath.

She took once more tah Yuri’s side. “Purty sharp idea,” she said. “Yah might get twenty…twenty-five full growed folk all hid down there.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Hopefully we won’t need to. You can close it back up.”

“Aiight.” She give tha kill switch another hard knock, sending’ them two pallets back tahgether as tha deck plates closed down.

Yuri watched her for a moment. Something in her movements…a decisive sort of jerk punctuating each action, reminded him of his mother…when she was mad. “Good work today, Abby,” he observed. “You should grab some food.”

She din’ bother lookin’ up at Yuri. “Later,” Abby said plain. “Got more stuff tah do first.”

“Something on your mind, Abby?”

“Just doin’ muh job, sir.”

Oh yeah, Yuri mused in silence. Something…or someone…had definitely put a burr in the girl’s saddle. She’d been fine this morning, in great spirits after Dr. Lysanger cleared her skin of all the bruises from her time spent with the bikers. Busy as he was, Yuri hadn’t set eyes on her in a few hours, but one thing was certain. If he could apply the scale of his own mother’s eruptions, Mount Abigail was definitely on a buildup. “Shiny,” he responded. “Well, if something ever does bother you, you know that you can come talk to me about it, dohn mah?

“Copy,” she answered. “I gotta git to it.”

The first mate nodded approval. “Me too. I’ll see you later.” And they both went their ways, intent on the necessary, aware of the damage, yet unwilling to address it. “I should talk to Alana about Abby,” Yuri conjured as he climbed to the upper deck. “Or Edina.”

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Story Note


It is now Day 3, early afternoon.

By this point, Joe Hooker and Sister Lyen have successfully brought another band of Anabaptist refugees out of the Blackout Zone. With Alana Lysanger to remove their chips and see to their overall health, the rest of China Doll’s crew are attending to their passengers’ comfort and feeding.

Elias Riemen has demonstrated a talent for engineering and mechanics. Though he and Yuri Antonov are still communicating via some rudimentary sign language and his handheld chalkboard, they successfully set up a power distribution network and secured lockdowns for six climate controlled artifact shipping containers bound for Pelorum. The busy First Mate/Mechanic is coming to value and rely upon Elias’ proficiency.

Imani Ozuka has been charged with security. She, along with Cal Strand, are conducting a series of “quick hide” drills in the event of unwelcome visitors. S.A.M.A.N.T.H.A, the boat’s AI (and worst kept secret,) is assisting in these drills by playing a single song.



The Anabaptists have become pretty good at hiding, shutting themselves away in the boat’s upper deck crannies in seconds. Those who find themselves on the lower deck leap into the belly hatch space, to be hidden by the bricks stacked on hydraulic deck panels.

Quill Cassidy has been called away from her counseling duties to an errand only known to the Captain and herself. Abby Travis is currently cleaning the lower deck lav. In the cockpit, Tommy Pearson is taking the current lull as a chance to get in some early preflight preparation. Edina Wyman has volunteered to “ride the lawnchair” outside, to greet curious passersby and generally act as lookout.

The last group of refugees is expected in just under four hours’ time. Once they’re aboard, China Doll will break atmo. So far, everything is going exactly to plan.

So far…
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