Hidden 2 mos ago Post by wanderingwolf
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When the Night Makes You Numb, Part 1 - (Day 3, Evening)

A collab between @Xandrya and @Wanderingwolf

She sat by her lonesome self, the barstool to her left as empty as the barstool to her right. Idle hands cupped the tall glass of wine which had remained untouched for some time as thoughts of what could've been danced around in her head. Alana was still not over Cal, but that was her business and her business alone.

"Got a worry or two up in that noggin o' yours, don't ya?"

She looked up, the bartender was leaning on the edge of the counter with his back to her, but he'd turned his head to speak. He held a mug in one hand and a white dish towel in the other to remove some water stains.

"None of your concern if I do."

He shrugged off her response. "The safety and wellbeing of my customers kinda is my concern..." He fully turned to face her, slinging the rag over his shoulder as he set the mug down.

Pelorum ought to have been the vacation destination, even for working folk. There were all sorts of fun to get into, and if that weren’t your speed, the beach (what free beaches were left after the mega-resorts) offered some sun and the sound of gulls. All that in every corner of this town, and Cal still felt lower than la shi. Drunk would take his mind off his troubles, he conjured, and for once it weren’t the Doll or the job: it was his gorram heart.

The doors to this establishment proffered a tiki-themed, exotic island vibe, with bright and fruity drinks on display, but Strand found comfort in the line of amber bottles behind the bar. Since he and Alana had ended things, he’d felt more on edge, prone to anger, and less willing to stay sober, though that behavior hadn’t yet spilled out of his quarters. With Imani in tow, Cal made a b-line for the teak-looking bar and anchored an elbow while waiting for the keep to pay him mind.

Taking off his hat, he turned to his compatriot in an attempt to fill the silence, “You got any plans for leave this stop?” His tone was curious but offhanded. “Hard not to love a party town like this.” His face said he didn’t love it.

"No plans 'sides me enjoying ya company and leaving any trace of sobriety at the door."

That got a smirk from him, as he lifted his gaze to meet hers; there was a kindness, even a camaraderie behind those tough as steel eyes of hers.

Her statement was free of implications, though to Cal or another pair of listening ears such words could've easily been misconstrued. Any woman with half a brain could admit to his charming looks, but the fact that his personal life had taken a nosedive meant Imani would keep her distance from a man she'd otherwise pursue. In all earnest, she hoped he was okay.

"First round on me? We can't always abuse the rich," she smiled, waving over the bartender after briefly locking eyes.

“Hell, just the first?” Cal’s smile nearly reached his eyes. While his vivacious drinking partner conferred the particulars of their poison to the tender, he caught himself staring into his upturned hat. That nagging feeling gnawed at the back of his mind: regret. The rub of it, he reckoned: he was too blind to see it coming. Things with Alana had been hot and cool, sure, but never cold. Never, he surmised with a nod, was the wrong word.

The bartender poured Imani’s order in front of the pair, an amber swirling liquid Cal reckoned would dull the pain a mite after a few more. As he wrapped two fingers ‘round the rim, he lifted the glass, “To leavin’ sobriety at the door.” He held it aloft for Imani to clink her drink to his.

She toasted, and a moment later gulped down a mouthful. The strong, fruity taste burned as it traveled down her throat, her face contorting briefly from the aftertaste.

"This might just be the one drink I need for the night," Imani joked, setting the glass down in front of her. The bartender had been rather charitable with the serving portion, and Imani noted to give him extra coin for it.

Cal followed Imani’s lead, except he downed his drink and tapped the bar for another. He fully intended to embody his toast tonight. The China Doll was safely docked, they had a stretch of shore leave ahead of them, and Strand had no one to go home to tonight, even if the last made him a mite bitter.

Some lively music started playing. With her drink in hand once more, she started moving to the small dance floor which a few other patrons were currently occupying. "Join me!" she yelled over the music.

Strand shook his head but vacated his stool just the same, taking a little off the top of his new drink along the way. The dim lights accentuated the pulse of the music, some sort of electronic-Islander mix, with a choral arrangement to carry the melody. It wasn’t his usual cup of tea, but the alcohol was already making its way to his nerves, easing the senses in the warm embrace of a buzz brewing.

Imani, beautiful woman that she was, exuded both playfulness and spontaneity, which he found a mite alluring. His gaze took in the gentle curve of her cheek and the piercing set of those almost almond eyes. Perhaps against better judgment, the Captain joined her on the meager dance floor, bouncing to the beat, drink raised.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by wanderingwolf
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When the Night Makes You Numb, Part 2 - (Day 3, Evening)

A collab between @Xandrya and @Wanderingwolf

The music slowly dulled. Alana found it odd but left it alone as she took another sip. Most likely, her already empty stomach would not see food prior to her ending her evening.

He finally let loose, she smiled as Cal made his approach, not wasting half a second closing the gap between them both. "I hope your feet do not tire easy," she leaned in close to his ear as to not yell over the music, her body still moving to the beat of the music with one arm off to the side as to avoid any spillage.

The way Imani moved near, his neck could feel the warmth of her skin; the way the rest of her flowed to the music, her admonition made him grin. “Honey,” he answered, sour face beginning to thin, “these boots were made for dancin’, and that’s just what they’ll do.” The beat set in deep and strong, now. “If you ain’t careful, Darlin’, reckon these boots’ll dance all over you.”

With another pull on his drink, Cal began to follow the way Imani’s body moved, keeping step but keeping space between them. With a glance over his shoulder, even in the strobing light, he swore he saw a familiar head of blonde hair near the bar. Shaking the thought from his mind, he returned his attention to his companion.

A sudden sharp pain caused her to drop her glass and instead reach for her head. Alana made a fist with one hand and pounded the bartop multiple times in response to the pain, but nonetheless it was persistent. Some of the patrons surrounded her to see if everything was alright, but they had to act quick when the young woman tried to get on her feet and instead dropped to the ground unconscious. They struggled to catch her at first, but then they were able to gently lower her onto the ground. Unbeknown to anyone there, however, Alana Lysanger had officially passed away that very moment from her brain tumor.

“Must be the alcohol talking!” She made a bold move and pushed her body to his while grabbing his drink off his hand. Their faces mere inches from each other, Imani turned to the side to take a sip, all the while she didn’t stop dancing. Since both hands were busy, once she gulped down the alcohol she returned his drink. At that point he didn’t stand a chance. Before he could possibly pull away, Imani snaked two fingers around his waist, eventually inserting them in one of the belt loops above his behind. And that’s exactly when she heard the commotion.

At first she thought nothing of it, but the alarming shouts became more obvious. The music was lowered and she stopped, looking in the direction of the huddled guests.

Here he was, trying his best to numb the sound of his last words to Alana--to the woman he cared for the most--but the whole scene, this bar, Imani, felt at arms length. He'd tempted fate when he showed her the door and dared her to walk through it. Stubborn as he was, he knew she was even more so. Call it pride or any other fancy Latin term, but it had bit Captain Cal Strand and sunk its teeth in deep. Once it let go, now he's stuck nursin' the wounds his own pride left behind.

Even now as the sound pulsed in his ears, he was still in the medbay, squared up with Alana. That look on her face, it made the bitterness well up inside him again. The sound of her dismissing him, all due to the thought that he fancied someone else on the ship... The kicker bein' Imani here.

And then that kicker leaned into him, pressin' every inch of their bodies together as they moved up and down to the music. He let her take his drink, transfixed for a moment at the abrupt closeness of someone filling the void. That's when he felt her intentions by way of a hand at the small of his back.

If he were honest with himself, the feelings of shame conjured by how he'd left things with Alana, and the scenario unfolding right now betixt him and Imani were two sides of the same coin. The intoxicating pull drug him down deeper, but the feeling of falling made him wary. That blonde head at the bar. Alana's lips. Then, that look in her eye when she told him to git.

Shouting brought him out of it, along with Imani extricating her hold of him, her eyes darting in the direction of the sound. They were yellin' for a doctor. Normally, Cal don't stick his nose into situations that don't concern him, but the pit in his stomach drove him forward through the crowd. When it parted, and he saw that phantasm before him, it drove him to frenzy.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by wanderingwolf
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When the Night Makes You Numb, Part 3 - (Day 3, Evening)

A collab between @Xandrya and @Wanderingwolf

"Alana!" he barked, kneeling at her side, hands at her shoulders, "Alana! Somebody call a doctor!" His wide eyes didn't break from her pained face, even as her hair lay across her cheeks. He shook her, gently, "Alana, wake up!" But she didn't stir. He looked her over now, signs of an injury, some sort of wound to treat, but there weren't no hide nor hair of blood. "Alana," his voice was raising now. His gentle shakes rocked her shoulders, but her body only quaked in limp response. That pit in his stomach swallowed him whole. He felt like he needed to retch. His shaking hand sought out the vein at her neck, but in the seconds he took to read her pulse, the tears began to come. "No," he croaked, his throat collapsing. "No..."

I thought we had more time,
Time to get things right,
Some days the sun won't shine,
Some days we fuss and fight,

But still I thought of you,
Our picnic on the beach,
You watched the scenic view,
I watched you within reach,

Now I hold you, but I don't,
Come on back to me,
The kindness that you've sown,
By your love, I was free.

Heartbreaking. No other words to describe it. Imani watched as Cal poured himself over Alana, desperate to find any sign of life in her. She was gently shoved as someone's curiosity got the better of them.

"Back up, they need their space!" Imani turned to address the crowd, spreading out her arms in an attempt to keep them from suffocating the two. In response, someone slapped her hand away, and she wasn't having it. Imani's eye fell on the man as she forced her way in front of him. "I said stay back!" She placed an open palm on his chest and in a not-so-gentle way pushed him back into the crowd. When he gripped her wrist, Imani used her free hand to wind back before delivering a blow to his jaw, one that would catch him off balance, sending him into unsuspecting witnesses. She felt a tug, pulling her away from him. Imani then decided it was enough and she shook them off, barging her way to the captain's side.

"Is she gone?" she knelt down beside him, looking her over but failing to see any indicators of life.

Cal became stone in that moment, the tear streaks on his cheeks quickly wiped away. It wasn't lost on him, beside himself as he was, that Imani had made space for the trio, and pulled a punch to keep things from escalating. Now, he stood, eyes of the crowd glued to him, Alana, and Imani. Parting the bodies, they fell away as he made a b-line for his hat at the bar. Minutes before he had been trying to forget the woman lying on the floor, with some help from his companion; now, a new host of emotions ripped and pulled at him like a current. Strand returned to Imani and Alana, and knelt beside the motionless woman. "Dédào m zi," he said, looking down at Alana. With an arm gently placed beneath her neck and shoulders, the other at the fold of her knees, Cal lifted the lifeless Alana, her head lolling against his chest.

There were no words exchanged during the solemn trip to the hospital. Imani focused on the safe transport of her captain and his girlfriend. The great and almighty Buddha would ideally spare her from suffering through such misfortune in the future if she were to find an adequate man to settle down with. She'd faced plenty of death in her life, but to lose your partner had to hurt enough to crumble a soul. Whom else if not said partner to grow a family with?

Imani took a quick peek behind her to see Cal holding on to any last bit of hope that they were able to work some life into her. But if experience served her any, time was simply working against them.

Another notification chimed from the cortex, letting them they were arriving at their destination very soon. "We're almost there," she finally added, breaking the silence.

The hospital was the only place to go. Not the Doll; no doc there. He'd made sure of that. Her body was beginning to cool in his hands. His brows pulled down permanently. Somewhere deep inside, he clung to the threadbare hope that docs could work miracles. He looked down into Alana's face. This one had, afterall.

Upon their arrival, Imani hurriedly-near on desperately-exited the mule and rushed to get the nearest medical staff available, forgetting Cal was left behind with a limp body. She rushed through the entrance and flagged down who she assumed to be a nurse.

"We've got an emergency, our doctor has no pulse!" Imani could've waited for a response, but she gripped the man's arm and dragged him outside.

As Imani rushed in to find help, Cal carefully stood from the mule while holding the limp form of his medic. Her hair was disheveled from the break-neck pace they'd taken to get here, but her face fell almost restfully. She looked like she was sleeping; like he'd watch her sleep hundreds of times from their shared bunk. The pit in his stomach drew at his insides like a black hole.

The rest was a blur, from the man Imani brought out, to the hospital waiting room. Now he sat shoulder to shoulder with Imani, though he'd said very little throughout the whole ordeal. In the silence, he waged war against the phantasm army of memories: her smile and those striking brows of hers; the smell of her hair and the way her biting wit put him in his place more than a time or two. The minutes felt like hours, and what with all their fancy tech, they had all sorts of ways of imaging and scanning and processing Alana. But Cal knew that wasn't Alana any more. The black coffee clung to the paper cup in his hands, tilting its contents this way and that.

"Excuse me," the clear voice of a slight man in teal scrubs approached the pair. "For Alana Lysanger?"

Cal looked up at him without a word.

The man's brow lifted as he continued, "Ms. Lysanger suffered from a massive aneurysm caused by a tumor in her brain." He paused for a moment, gauging the reaction of both Cal and Imani, then added, "I'm sorry for your loss."

The Captain stood, put on his hat, and beat a trail through the buzzing medical staff back to the mule.


Imani followed with a defeated sigh as she watched Cal disappear. She looked down then locked eyes with the uniformed man. "I reckon that's a best-case reaction from him given the news." Against her better judgment, the young woman then made a request which quite possibly would anger the captain to no end. She was overstepping into matters not of her concern, but in that moment, Imani saw it right to do what she did.

"You have a fairly quick cremation process, right?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by wanderingwolf
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When the Night Makes You Numb, Part 4 - (Day 3, Evening)

A collab between @Xandrya and @Wanderingwolf

The moon of Pelorum hung low in the sky, like a bird lazily carried by the tropical breeze. Cal's jaw was slack as he leaned against the mule; his silver case leapt into his hand. He watched far off as a couple of young folk carefully clutched a bundle of pink flesh to their chests in turn while waiting on the night bus. The lighter flipped on, he held out the cigarette. That yellow moon hung low and bright, he could almost see Alana's eyes there blinking back beneath those dark brows--"Da Shiong La Se La Ch’wohn Tian!" (trans. explosive diarrhea of an elephant)

Captain Strand's expletives played second fiddle to the show the man put on as he wildly beat out the fire that had engulfed the brim of his favorite hat. "Lio Coh Jwei Ji Neong Hur Ho Deh Yung Duh Buhn Jah J’wohn!" (trans. stupid son of a drooling whore and a monkey)

Eyes from the newly minted parents turned to the man who now held a smoldering hat and a defeated expression, "Shuh Muh?" He said, throwing up his hands at the pair who decided to forgo the bus in favor of walking. (trans. what?)

Cal leaned backward against the mule, before sliding to the ground. Propping his elbows on his knees, both hands held the still smoking hat by what remained of the brim. She was gone. She was really gone. He'd been trying to forget her--and now? He looked at the moon. And now he never could.

She waited, and then waited some more. Imani practically melted into her seat, finding herself being entertained by passerby and the occasional rush due to an emergency. But an undefined amount of time later, the doctor returned with a holyman in tow, the latter holding an urn with both hands. His expression was slightly apologetic, but mostly serious. Probably the very same face he presented whenever he dealt with a death, and given his profession, that must be quite often.

"Ms. Imani, I'm Father Francis. Here are Dr. Lysanger's ashes..." he stretched out his arms to offer her the urn. "If you're up to it, I can say a prayer from any faith you follow."

She took the urn, wanting to already be out of that place. "Mighty kind of you, and the effort is appreciated but I'm not too keen on religion." Imani then wished them a good day and turned on her heel, hoping to find Cal nearby and not be a stranded hitchhiker.

But as luck would have it, he was still in the area. Imani picked up the pace, settling in next to him once she was at his side. "I had her cremated...otherwise I believe her body would have been used for some students to poke around on, and I dunno, figured she deserved a better send-off than getting used as a lab rat." Imani waited for his reaction, whether that was an angry outburst or a simple acknowledgment devoid of emotion, he was completely within his right.

He let her words sink in while still staring at the skies. Not only was Alana gone, but she was dust. Breaking his brooding gaze for the simple, utilitarian urn in Imani’s hands, his mind cast backward–would she have wanted to be an experiment? As a medical professional, it weren’t out of the question. Selfishly, he didn’t want that for her. If he were in Imani’s boots, he probably would have done the same, and so he finally said, “I reckon you’re right.”

Cal stretched out a hand to touch the urn’s lid in Imani’s lap. The old adage was something like, ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust.’ The saying had a finality to it, true, but what he got most from it was the insignificance of everything in between. One day you’re riding across the sky, the next, dust. He swallowed hard.

“It’s late,” he said, rising. Mounting the mule, he kicked it to life, tossing what was left of his hat into the gutter. He idled there a moment; waited for Imani to saddle up. Waited for something to touch him in the void he was swimming in. He’d had his anger already. When Alana left he was plenty furious. Now he was left with the hole left behind by anger, pain, and grief. The last words he said to her still tattooed his brain: ‘you do your gorram job and I’ll do mine.’ And now it’d keep playin’ for a spell, he wagered. Keep playin’ until he drowned it out with the usual suspects.

His face said it all; no words needed. Imani helped the captain secure the urn as they prepared for their return to the Doll. She could only ponder as to the many thoughts racing through his mind in that moment. Imani had never had a significant other whom she'd be devastated over losing, thus she didn't have many empathetic words of consolation to offer Cal, nothing really other than her company.

"Trade me?" she gently placed a hand on his shoulder, hoping he'd take her offer.

Cal didn’t have to think about it, feeling the tap on his shoulder. He threw his leg over the mule and stood, not making eye contact with Imani as she took the driver’s seat. Once she was settled, he saddled up behind her and placed one arm around her side for stability. Hours ago she had wrapped her hands around his waist to the beat of the music; sober yet sotted, and just plain sad, the Captain didn’t lose sight of the irony.

Imani glanced over her shoulder, confirming Cal had plopped down and readied up for the ride. She didn't further speak as she revved her up, and a moment later she welcomed the breeze making a slight mess of her hair.
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A Captain's Eulogy - (Day 3, Evening)

The tropical breeze was thick and warm as the mule cut through to China Doll’s berth. Singing frogs had begun their nightly chorus, humming beetles joining in staccato. Humid air swallowed stale cool pockets as Imani wove her journey, and Cal, cropped hair pulsing in the wind, snaked a reassuring hand behind himself to touch the lid of the urn lashed to the mule’s cargo rack. Yes, it was still there. Yes, this was all really happening.

Boots hit the steel of the cargo bay, and Strand freed the urn from the mule. Without a word to his companion, the Captain strode to the comm on the wall and lifted the receiver.

“Crew, set aside what you’re doin’ and meet me in the galley in five. I got some news,” he killed the comm and inhaled sharply, urn under arm.

“Strap that down, we’re leavin’,” Cal eyed Imani and pointed to the mule. “And… thank you.” Turning, he made his way up the stairs.

Setting the urn at the head of the table, Cal stood, arms crossed, and waited for the crew to filter in. His hands were mighty steady, but empty. His jaw set, but he still craved a cigarette. The silver case flipped open, a smoke jumped into his hand, and he took in his first puff as the room began to fill. As the smoke curled to the ceiling view of the night sky, Cal’s mind played over the events of the evening one last time.

He’d gone to drink and forget Alana. The booze and music had started to do its job in that cliché tourist-trap, then, as a cruel twist of fate, she’d been there at the bar the whole time. She collapsed, he tried to revive her; he weren’t no medic. The doctor’s said it had been instant. She was gone before she hit the floor.

His smoke lay smoldering in the crux of his forefinger, hands planted on the table-top, eyes in a hundred yard stare.

Sister Lyen cleared her throat.

His gaze landed on her first, a patient smile, concern in her eyes. The rest of them were watching him with a cousin of her concern on their faces. He brought the cigarette to his lips.

“You all know Alana took off when we touched dirt. She sold some story or other about helpin’ clinics or gettin’ supplies, but that was la shi. She’d quit the ship, and it was my fault. We had our reasons–personal reasons. She packed her things and collected her share, and that was that.” His face went cold.

“Tonight, fate or coincidence, brought us to the same waterin’ hole, tryin’ to forget it all. She was at the bar when it happened; an aneurysm, the doc said, from a tumor.” Cal’s eyes were hard, “She didn’t suffer long, but there was nothin’ they could do for her when we got her to the hospital.” The Captain’s gaze fell on the urn in front of him.

“This here’s her ashes.” He took another pull on his cigarette, smoke weaving to the heavens like a soul seeking absolution.

In the moments that followed, the crew traded glances, but none broke the silence that had descended on the Captain and crew of the China Doll. Alana was gone, almost in the blink of an eye, and this simple urn held what was left of her.

Like awakening from a trance, Strand straightened and eyed each member of the crew in turn. Abby’s eyes had glazed over, her stare bore through his chest. Imani’s gaze had fallen to the floor before returning to his. Sister Lyen’s almond eyes were watching him with that same veiled concern. He shook his head.

“Sad as this is, I need y’all sharp. We got no medic–so don’t go doin’ anythin’ stupid. We keep flyin’, like we always have.”

He dropped his cigarette and ground it into the grate of the galley, “Now get back to work.”
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by sail3695
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Cold Comfort

For a crew whose minds had given over to their respective dalliances these past three days, the people of China Doll took the harsh lift of the veil with practiced silence. One of theirs was gone, and with her, the common fantasy that everything would end up shiny. Cap’n would put it right, Alana would return, and they’d all fly away with big smiles and tales to swap.

Instead, they had an urn, and an account of a time bomb to the brainpan. Tumor and aneurysm, words whose meanings were frequently clouded in medical hopespeak…until one was faced with the cold shen of the burial urn before them. Alana Lysanger, their doctor, shipmate, friend…was truly gone. Cap’n didn’t waste words on the topic or the ensuing tale. Instead, he stood up, shouldered what burden was his to claim, and reminded this crew of their own stations. The first mate found himself struck by the hidden kindness of the man’s no nonsense approach.

Yuri let three beats pass before speaking. “Alright, people,” his voice attacked the heavy pall of silence, “the man didn’t stutter. Elias,” his eye found the mechanic, “spin ‘er up. SAM and I will start preflights in five ticks. Abby,” he proffered the clipboard. “See to our passengers. Get ‘em all strapped and wrapped for upthrust. Then make sure we’re buttoned up and cut loose from shore power. Copy?”

As the girl and her towering counterpart rose to their tasks, Yuri’s gaze touched on the rest of China Doll’s current crew. “Imani…make sure Medbay’s all squared. Sister,” his tone softened as he addressed the nun, “I’d be most obliged if you could give Edina here a hand with locking down the galley and the topside lounge. As for Edina herself, he felt he could barely meet her eye. What she’d become to him, and what they’d shared during a few days in this paradise bore no weight in face of the stark world now crashing down around their ears. To look into her eyes and see such glimmer felt as alien a notion as the cold light glistening upon Alana’s gorramed urn.

Instead, he covered with bluster. “Skids up in fifteen!” Yuri called after the dispersing boat crew. He turned to make for his quarters and a change of clothes when his eyes fell once more upon the porcelain urn. Angel, Yuri mused of the first time he’d seen her, a dazzling figure who snatched him from a violent sea. He wasn’t sure that such creatures existed; they belonged to the dogmas his mother had forced upon her husband and sons with no evidence of truth to be found in this ‘verse.

But as Yuri hastened to get into his working clothes, he found a bit of comfort in the thought of Alana’s ascension.
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Hidden 24 days ago Post by sail3695
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The Leaving

”Don't yah cry, Chick Pea…”

She ‘membered how things looked that day, an’ how they felt. Santo was cold, enough tah make tha ground hard, was what them diggers said. She recalled seein’ em, blowin’ warm breath inta their hands afore lowerin’ the pine box with ropes. Her hands was warm, one all wrapped in calluses of Uncle Bob’s palm. T’other she kep in a pocket, fingers workin’ the casin’ of Aunt Lupe’s locket.

She ‘membered a grey sky, an’ a grey world spread out beneath. Seemed like when Lupe passed, she took all tha color in tha ‘verse with her. Uncle Bob tole his niece that this here was Aunt Lupe’s fam’ly, all laid out in neat rows of a plot they claimed nigh on a hunnerd years hence. She ‘membered ponderin’ that…countin’ headstones an’ wonderin’ how such a sizeable number ‘o’ folk din’ yield up none tah stand alongside them, tha shepherd, an’ them gravediggers.

”Don’t yah cry, Chick Pea,” Uncle Bob whispered. “Folk come an’ go in tha ‘verse. An’ sometimes,’[/i] she’d never fergit hearin’ tha hitch an’ crack in ‘is voice, ”tha leavin’s fer good.”

Abby felt tha wet try’na come upon ‘er eyes as Cal said ‘is piece. Ann-you-rizzum...she weren’t altogether sure jest what it was, but knowed enough tah conjure such a thing tah be mighty serious. Tumor was a word carried plenty ominous meanin’ fer her. From her readin’, she knowed tumors tah be tied up with cancer, a cold hand she seen take many a soul in tha black. And Alana had both..her life cut short by a ‘snake eyes’ roll of the dice.

She din’ move…just stared a hole inta the buttons on Cal’s chest as he give ‘em words. He owned up, but as she sat thinkin’ ‘bout what tumors did inside a person’s head, Abby couldn’t rightly agree that Cap’n was the sorta heel he made hisself out tah be. That thing was inside ‘er, she reflected. Colorin’ her thinkin’. Buddha only knows what tortuous thoughts it give ‘er afore it took ‘er away.

”Don’t yah cry, Chick Pea…”

Then it was Yuri, gettin’ ‘em all on their feet, handin’ over tha clipboard an’ her orders. “Copy,” Abby said as she scooched ‘er chair back Time to work. Think later.


“Mmm, I smell the ocean on you. And in your hair.”

Somethin’ ‘bout tha helpless nature Rev. McDermott put on tah git her strappin’ him inta his seat had Abby wishin’ she’d changed outta her shorts an’ tank top. Fer a man ‘o’ tha cloth, he sure studied what lay under hers with all kindsa interest. “Bless you, child,” the Shepherd’s hand grazed ‘er thigh as she sidled off tah Mrs. Hewitt.

“I’m all set,” the woman announced, her adjusted shoulder straps and neatly buckled safety belt on display. “Tell me…Abby, is it? How soon will a girl be able to get a cup of joe on this boat?”

“Prob’ly fifteen ticks after we break atmo,” the deckhand replied. “Most like there’ll be a plate ‘o’ cookies ‘r’ somethin’ out tah go with.”

The third passenger, Mr. Eleanor, was in no mood for such trifling. “I thought we were leaving in the morning,” he glowered at the teenager with the annoying twang in her voice. “Why the sudden launch?”

Abby give a shake of ‘er head. “Plans change,” she offered as she set ‘is straps just so. “Cap’n says ‘go,’ we go.”

“I’ll be sure to ask him,” the bitter little man growled.

The young girl shrugged. “Cap’n’s never short fer an answer,” she replied. “Now y’all jest stay strapped in. I got a couple more things tah do afore we giddyup, but I’ll be here tah take tha ride out with yah.” After two nods an’ one set ‘o’ eyes walkin’ ‘er hips, Abby made for an escape through tha cargo bay hatch.

It’s like ever’ other launch; button up them passengers, take a jog outside tah dog tha umbilical hatch, and then raise tha ramp. “Muscle memory” she’d heard it called, like ‘er body had a whole list ‘o’ cues it just knowed tah do afore they put spurs to the boat. She passed Medbay, an’ seen movement within…Alana’s doin’ ‘er preflights that part ‘o’ her checked off a box.

Then she stopped. Alana weren’t here no more.

Fresh eyes peered through tha window, and she recognized Imani goin’ about her tasks. Time would come when this sight would be as normal as ever’ other part ‘o’ prelaunch. Time would come when she might not feel tha pang ‘o’ hurt when she looked at Medbay.

Folk come and go in the ‘verse. Sometimes, the leavin’s fer good.

Abby reckoned she might outta talk tah Sister. But now, they’s work.


“Damn, Cornflakes. You look downright sexy turning that big wrench.”

Lorraine done come up behind ‘er as she bolted tha umbilical hatch shut. “Yah oughtta see me pump a shotgun,” Abby quipped as she heaved one last turn.

“So,” the waitress cum partner in crime huffed, “you were just gonna run out on me, huh?”

The deckhand lowered the big wrench to her side as she turned. “Had a ‘mergency call. I git that, I’m s’posed tah skedaddle,” she shrugged. “Did look for yah, though. Didn’t see yah.”

The woman nodded, spiky black hair dancing in the stark pole lighting of the docking berths. “I mighta been…busy,” she grinned, “but not too busy to track you down. Emergency, huh?” she asked. “What’s brewing?”

“Our doc,” Abby managed.

“The one you were looking for?”

“Yeah,” the deckhand said. “She died tonight.”

Lorraine’s jaw dropped. “How?”

“Had herself a ann-you-rizzum.”

“Man. but I’m sorry. That sucks.” Lorraine closed the distance, her hands settling upon Abby’s shoulders. “What about you?” she asked, her gaze fixed upon Abby’s eyes. “Are you okay?”

Weren’t time fer no words tah form. Abby didn’t reckon she had a good answer fer that nohow. All she conjured was when Lorraine pulled ‘er in close she let it happen. Next minute her face was buried in ‘er friend’s shoulder, an’ she’s sobbin’ all get out as she’s held like a babe in arms.

Don’t yah cry, Chick Pea…

“Sorry,” Abby pulled ‘erself back, wipin’ ‘er eyes. “Should’na done that..”

“Fuck that,” Lorraine caressed an errant streak of red hair from the girl’s face. “You don’t bottle that la shi up inside, or it’ll poison you.” She hadn’t entirely released Abby. Now, with hands on her shoulders, the criminal said, “to tell you the truth, I came here to ask you to join our little crew.” She dipped her gaze briefly, then with a crooked smile continued. “We could have a helluva time. I’m scoping out a sweet job on Silverhold. If I bring the right folk, it robs itself…”

Abby found ‘erself laughin’ as she wiped ‘er last tears. “Might need more slutty clothes,” she chuckled.

“Gotcha covered!”

“Ah cain’t.” She lifted eyes toward China Doll. “This boat’s been home over two years. Cap’n took me on when I jest lost it all.” She seen the disappointment in Lorraine’s eyes. “He lost a powerful lot tonight, Lorraine,” Abby finished. “Ain’t no way I’m backin’ out on ‘im now.”

Lorraine took the bad news with her characteristic smirk. “You’re predictable, Cornflakes,” she offered a smile gone wry. “Gimme a goodbye hug, okay? Only don’t club me with that wrench.”

“No promises.” The two friends laughed as a moment froze around them in a firmly shared embrace. “Folk come an’ go in tha ‘verse,” Abby offered. “I reckon our paths ‘ll hafta cross some fine day.”

After a vigorous rub of the girl’s back, Lorraine pulled free. “And that,” she winked, “will be one helluva time. Til then, I’m in your cortex.” She was smiling that wicked smile of hers as she said “See ya ‘round, Cornflakes.”

“See yah, Bugsy.” Weren’t no time fer long farewells. Abby had a job tah do. An’ China Doll had tah fly. Two ticks passed as she sealed ‘er up tah break atmo. “Yuri,” she tapped tha com. “We’re buttoned up below. I’m strappin’ in.”

“Copy that, thanks,” the first mate’s voice squelched over the tinny speaker.

Home, she pondered as she made ‘er way aft. Without Alana. That’d make for tough feelin’s all around, Abby considered as she found ‘er seat with tha passengers, [i]but home ain’t always gon’ be white picket fences. She hurt tonight; they all hurt. An’ somehow, just knowin’ that grief was shared made it feel a skosh better.
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Hidden 24 days ago Post by Xandrya
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Xandrya Lone Wolf

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No Words

The crew solemnly exchanged glances with one another. Somehow the reality hadn't quite settled on her yet, not entirely at least. Imani hadn't known the doc for all that long but if she were sure of something, it was that Alana was truly cared about. She cleared the scratchiness in her throat, silently tapping her index finger on the table. Mindlessly staring at her other hand resting on her lap, Imani figured it best to forgo offering some sort of response to future inquiries as to what'd occurred. The least she could do is offer that level of privacy to Captain Strand and his dearly departed.

Soon after Yuri was delegating work. He called her name and her blood ran cold. She stared at him blankly, feeling herself nodding her approval yet wishing to do anything but work the medbay. With a perceived sense of urgency, Imani got to her feet and walked out of the galley, leaving the chair halfway out with no intention of returning it to its intended position.

Once she arrived at the medbay, Imani stood at the doorway, staring inside. Walking into the medbay and handling Alana's gear and equipment would feel as if she were violating her sacred space. Nothing was further from the truth but it should go without saying that this simple assignment was certainly not at the top of her list, though she would nonetheless get it done.
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Hidden 10 days ago Post by wanderingwolf
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wanderingwolf Shiny

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Goodbye and Good Riddance, Pelorum

As the crew and passengers saddled up and strapped down for their journey, crates were lashed, the new-ish mule was clasped down, and passenger cargo was stowed. Abby was quick to her work, though the bounce in her step was decidedly not present in full force. Elias began his pre-flight checklist, wordless as ever, though the tone of the engineering bay was pointedly somber as lists were checked, cupplings were adjusted, and shore power was cut in favor of the China Doll's reactor. As conflicted as she was, Imani fastidiously locked away the former medic's tools and supplies in preparation for upthrust. Sister Lyen and Edina worked in tandem to clear away and strap closed the pantry and cupboards in the galley. When Edina came to clearing the table, Alana's urn stood undisturbed in the wake of their captain's eulogy. With careful hands, she picked it up, eyes glancing to Lyen full of questions as to what to do with it. With outstretched hands, the Sister accepted Edina's burden and carried her precious cargo to her quarters for safe storage until a better place could be chosen.

Yuri made his way to the bridge at a solemn pace, after delivering his orders. He could see Cal sitting at the pilot's chair; just sitting. His hands weren't busy with preflight checks, nor was he scanning equipment as Elias brought the ship's reactor to bear. The moons of Pelorum hung before the viewport of the China Doll and Cal appeared to be watching them. As Yuri entered, his boots sounded his ascent, which triggered the Captain to wipe his face with a quick hand. Leaning forward, Cal cleared his throat and began pre-flight checks. With a nod, he regarded his first mate and reached for the comm.

"This is your Captain speaking. We'll be buttoned up and leavin' Pelorum in a matter of minutes, so strap in and a member of crew will be by to check your belts. We have a pit-stop to make before we reach our destination, but our total travel time will be about eight days. Once we're in the black, feel free to move about the ship to the galley and your accommodations, but the rest is off limits 'less you're with a member of crew. Crew, situate our passengers then strap in. Upthrust in ten. Captain out."
Hidden 10 days ago Post by wanderingwolf
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wanderingwolf Shiny

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Episode 6 - Honest Work

STORY NOTE: After leaving Pelorum behind and heading to the Heaven system, the China Doll will spend a long seven days in the black before touching down on Urvasi, a terra-formed planet which has become largely depopulated by casualties in the war. The time enroute was spent largely in somber silence by the Captain and his crew, aside from subdued meals in the galley. In concert with Yuri, Cal went over the particulars of the next job with Henrietta Cornwall, and made plans to get the China Doll strutted up with extra fuel, air, and supplies, and generally prepared for the journey to AN-3872: an asteroid supposedly rich with jettisoned cargo crates from Earth-That-Was.

PLAYER NOTE: We will have one central plot driving this episode with opportunities for all characters to engage or disengage as their writers see fit. In this episode we will, to some degree, be requiring all players to take part in the plot that Sail and I have cooked up, but we won’t fence you in too much. While there is plenty planned out by your humble hosts, there will be ample opportunity for your own character’s aspirations to fit in. Please feel free to engineer your own character subplots within reason (Not sure? Just ask!) as we head from Urvasi to a skyplex, then on to our main destination of Asteroid AN-3872, which only reaches this side of the Verse once in a blue moon.

We begin Episode 6 with China Doll about 2 hours away from landing on Urvasi and picking up our new pilot, Boone, which the Captain has yet to announce to the crew at large. As we entered the Heaven system, the mood of the crew improved slightly when the Captain promised a short bit of leave on the skyplex before the coordinated effort that would be the trussing and stuffing of the China Doll for its three-month journey to their job site.

Now strap in, it’s time for us to get a proper pilot for this tub!
Hidden 8 days ago 6 hrs ago Post by Little Bill
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Little Bill Unbannable

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The Tiger Who Changed His Stripes

“Prisoner number five-four-four-six-seven-one-eight-two-six, step forward.” The warden’s commanding voice boomed through the intercom even strained through a layer of static.

Thunk thunk. Two chained feet plodded forward, perfectly aligned with the weathered pair of footprints painted on the metal floor, though covering them by a few shoe sizes. Boone stood alone, save for the two guards flanking him, facing the warden. Not really facing him, of course. The warden was a voice in the intercom system, as far as any of the prisoners of the Urvasi Penal Colony knew, to be heard and not seen. The prisoners bandied whispers and rumors about their faceless warden like ghost stories, weaving a tapestry of tales wherein their unseen warden was some sort of nefarious robot or rogue AI experimenting on imprisoned test subjects, or at best, an amalgamation of recordings meant to outsource guard commands to automation.

It was a mystery none had solved, though a modest betting pool of cigarettes and canned fish seemed to favor the likelihood that he was a collection of recordings after an inmate facing a disciplinary hearing swore up and down that he had heard the warden cough. Throughout the years, which slowly stacked on top of one another like so many bricks, Boone managed to keep his senses and not fall prey to flights of fancy like whether or not the warden was some sort of shadowy tin man. Boone knew good and well that he was a man like any other – made in the image of Boone’s forgiving God. A man able to see the goodness that lay in Boone’s soul that perhaps his data file, or some kind of robot, couldn’t. Presently, the intercom housing the warden was above a pair of silvery steel double doors, which Boone craned his neck up to gaze at like a lifeguard or judge. He had never passed the doors that stood guard beneath the warden, and the very idea of being somewhere he had never been was starting to make Boone sweat.

“Prisoner number five-four-four-six-seven-one-eight-two-six, your sentenced imprisonment of fifty years – commutated to twenty-four years and six months in accordance with your continued display of exemplary compliance with Alliance institutional disciplinary rules and regulations – has expired, and you are set to be released today.”

The words rung out in his head like a bell. Sentence. Expired. Released. Feelings of warmth bubbled up from Boone’s gut, through his spine and into his brain. The warden’s speech, and the rest of the world, was sucked into a swirling vacuum, from which the only things to escape were a few scant words: Sentence. Expired. Released. His face was hot with excitement and fear, and a pressure rising in his ears made him so lightheaded that hearing most of the warden’s words became impossible. He flexed his abs as hard as he could – a trick he had learned in sim-flight school to resist passing out from G-forces – and forced blood throughout his body to keep himself upright.

He had known this day was coming for some time, having given away his personal affects and accrued snacks to the old, graying lifers well in advance, though there was little he could have done to prepare for the extremity of his feelings. He felt strangely thankful in that moment that the warden may or may not have been an unfeeling robot, as his sweating palms and weak knees seemed to warn that he might expel his breakfast onto the floor at any second.

“...In accordance with Alliance interstellar law, you are hereby registered as a felon subject to Alliance penal colony commutation protocol level five. You may not own or operate a firearm within Alliance space. You may not enter any area or event subject to Alliance Interstellar Security Level 2 or higher, such as an Allied Planets Diplomatic Embassy. You may not participate in current or future Alliance parliamentary elections. You may not decline any future Alliance communication attempts, be it through sanctioned Alliance officers in-person, audio-visual Wave transmissions through the Cortex, or through ship hailing frequencies. Failure to follow these constraints will constitute a possible breach of your release terms. Due to your previous opt-in for post-release work placement, your data has been submitted in advance to a worker’s contract auction house and is awaiting acquisition. Be advised that your identity card status as a felon subject to Alliance penal colony commutation protocol level five permanently prohibits you from seeking private sector employment by companies registered within the Union of Allied Planets outside of this and other sanctioned work contract purchase arrangements.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Boone lied, snapping back to the waking world of responses and yes-sirs.

“You will collect the belongings you arrived with in the next room. As per Alliance penal colony commutation protocol, as overseeing warden for the expiration of your sentenced imprisonment, I will now discharge you in the form of disengaging your cuffs and addressing you by your full name during a mandatory handshake.”

The doors opened with a hiss. No warning, no fanfare. There he was. Bald, bespectacled, mustached, and several heads shorter than Boone had expected, decked out in a slightly more formal version of the gray uniform he had seen countless guards wear, with dark purple epaulets on the shoulders, a badge on the center of his hat, and a little headset connecting to a microphone. There were two rows of guards flanking him on either side, and behind him, another set of double doors. No wires, no faceless robots, and no AI. Boone stepped into the room slowly, now craning his neck down to get through the doorway. It took a moment, but Boone realized that he had been in this room before. It was, in fact, the first four walls of imprisonment he had known. Which meant, on the other side of the next set of doors…

The warden's thumb met a scanner nestled between Boone’s restraints, which then disengaged with a mechanical hiss and a reverberating clank as they met the floor, with his leg cuffs disengaging in unison. The warden extended one hand, looking Boone straight in the eye.

It felt like a little bird in Boone’s. Fragile and hollow-boned, whisking him off to freedom.

“Congratulations on your rehabilitation, Len Boone. You are hereby discharged.”

“Thank you, Mr. Warden. I’m glad to see your face.”

The warden squinted at Boone for a moment, gesturing with his free hand to the door and ending their handshake, giving Boone a perplexed look that belied an otherwise authoritative presence. A guard stepped towards Boone, handing him a clear plastic parcel containing what he must have been wearing when he was first arrested. He couldn’t remember the last time he wore something that wasn’t his gray prison uniform, let alone the colorful number he saw through the plastic.

He exited through the second set of doors without so much as a “Good Luck”. The air was still thin and cold, the sky still milky white, and everything as far as he could see was still gray. And yet, it had to have been the most beautiful thing Boone had seen in years.

He checked the parcel in his hands. On top of his old clothes, there was a sheet of yellow paper with his personal info, the current date, and the worker’s contract the warden had mentioned. Boone began to give it a read, with little else to do but stand in front of the prison and shiver. Cal Strand, China Doll caught his attention, along with Contract Purchased and Pickup: DOR (Date of Release). Before Boone had a chance to read further ahead, the low roar of what sounded to be a Class 3 Firefly engine caught his attention.
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Hidden 11 hrs ago Post by sail3695
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sail3695 If you do, I'ma do too.

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”What’s a Fella Like You…”

OOC: JP collaboration from @wanderingwolf and @sail3695

Urvasi was pretty enough, floating there with its vast oceans and green pastures, lit from the nearby star. Clusters of life dotted the planet, with vast spaces between them. Urvasi, if his memory served, had suffered some of the heaviest casualties during the war. He heard some one in fifty volunteers didn't make it home. Most like, that left mining operations without an owner or altogether failed settlements void of folk, Cal conjured, as he scanned the planet's sparse surface.

His hand guided the yoke of the China Doll through open space as he prepared to break atmo. From his seat in the pilot's chair, the Captain flipped the switch to engage the orbital maneuvering engines and opened comms to the engineering bay.

"Elias, we're ready to break atmo; power up the OMS." Cal waited for the telltale code for 'O-K' tapped out in comm starts and stops--a shorthand they had adopted over the last leg. Sure as the mail, Elias faithfully tapped out three longs, followed by a long-short-long, to which Cal replied, "Heard."

Cal picked up the comm again, flipping the dial to general, "Passengers and crew, this is your Captain speaking. I'm bringing us into Urvasi. Won't be time for dawdlin', we’re just pickin’ somethin’ up 'fore we high-tail it to the nearby skyplex. Strap in, and a member of crew'll be by to make sure you’re situated."

Slowly at first, indicative of the seasoned mechanic in his bay, the power eased up his gauges in the console. He dialed the knob to route the energy to the positioning engines and begin to break orbit. Leaning on the yoke, Cal stuck the China Doll in a backwards spin away from Urvasi as the OMS eased them into its gravitational pull.

Stuck with its nose to the black, Cal recalled the first time he'd watched a pilot by the name of Caesar maneuver the Doll into this awkward position, ass to land and nose to sky. As the younger Cal had quirked an eyebrow, Caesar, who loved his quips, replied, "Just givin' the planet another moon," before sniggering like a fool. In the present, the planet's gravity began to take hold, and the pilot's console jumped to life with calculations of G-force and pressure changes.

With a jerk on the yoke, Strand brought Urvasi into view, nudging their descent to forty degrees--so the Firefly's belly and heat-shielding took the brunt of the burn-in. The pilot's dash view screen flashed green as the text 'angle of attack' displayed, and Cal clapped the 'Hold' button beside the console to engage the automated flight guard.

Before long, the China Doll's burn-in was complete, and Cal called down to engineering for atmo engine power. Fighting gravity, Cal strained with the yoke as he leveled them out, and they began their on-planet flight to the coordinates he'd been given in the slim dossier belonging to their next pilot.

Yuri clambered up the steps, his footfalls announcing his arrival in the cockpit. “Ready for our little touch-off,” he reported, his voice betraying the dubious sentiments currently weighing upon him. Of course, the incessant rounds of ‘Twenty Questions’ he’d played with the crew had done little to set his own mind right about the mysterious hire. “Looks nice,” he observed of the green landscape, dotted by numerous wind powered mills passing beneath their viewpanes. “Doesn’t look at all like the captures from that battle. You’d conjure,” the first mate said, “that the war never touched this place.”

Cal turned to his mate who had a good point, “Lots of good folk on Urvasi. Reckon most were stuck here from their lot after the war. Could be our next pilot flies for one of these mills, plenty of them around.” Indeed, the beautiful landscape was dotted with large mills turning gigantic paddles in the Urvasi breeze.

Antonov leaned against the copilot’s handrail, his posture intentionally casual, eyes forward as he offered, “Can’t wait to learn what’s what about this fella.”

He nodded, “Contract didn’t exactly paint me a picture. I got flight hour history and contract cost. ‘Nough to prick my ears.”

The Mate considered that. Cal wasn’t the first captain who’d made calls based upon his gut. Even a mechanic had to rely upon a certain level of intuition. But as the mills and their rolling landscape gave way to a barren, hardscrabble swath of ground, Yuri had to wonder if this gift horse needed a dentist.

“Huh, scanners say to go further–straight out to the prison.” The hulking gray structure looked like a marriage of Alliance utility and some strange citadel with satellite disks and gigantic radar arrays circling on the outcroppings across the buildings that made up the anterior wall.

Cal wasn’t lying; a quick glance at the NAV display on his console told it plain enough. China Doll was riding the beam, her course and angle of descent placing her on final approach toward a broad, dusty square of ground splayed out before the main gate. Yuri thought to speak up, voice his concerns. He knew his words might veer toward prejudice, but thought of introducing a convict from an Alliance supermax prison to a boat full of passengers felt all kinds of wrong…not to mention the women among the crew.

But he also knew Cap’n’s mind was made up. Yuri recognized the set of Cal’s jaw, a tell that he’d brook no second guessing of his calls. In for a penny, in for a pound, he relented with a mild shrug.

Standing just outside the entrance, a bear of a man stood looking up at the sky holding a bundle in his arms. “I got a sinkin’ feeling that’s our guy, right there…” Cal said, pulling up on the yoke.

China Doll came in low, her nose lifting as the atmo engines brought her to hover. “Abby,” Yuri keyed the comm mic, “stand by to lower the ramp.” When the girl’s voice crackled her affirmative, the First Mate’s eye fell upon the Captain. “Want me to bring him up?” he asked, “or do you wanna meet him at the ramp?”

“Come ‘ere and take over; I’m going to give our new pilot a warm welcome,” with that same look in his eye, he locked the control column and traded places with Yuri. The ex-con on the ground was a gambit no matter which way he sliced it, but the Doll needed a pilot and desperate times called for… well, he probably wasn’t that bad. Chances are he hated the Alliance, right? That was something, at least. Arching his brow at any quip Yuri might have on deck, Cal grabbed his duster before taking the stairs two at a time to the cargo bay.

“Uh…okay.” Yuri slipped into the pilot’s seat with a raised brow. He needn’t worry; Cal had set the boat down onto her skids, and the man they were taking on board had at least passed the flight hours portion of the smell test. As to the rest? That, the first mate conjured, would all depend upon how he sized up in the eyes of the man who’d come across the ‘verse to secure his freedom.

For now, his task was simple. Keep her on the ground, engines idling, til Cap’n and his new pilot came to claim the cockpit. A wise move, considering all the flight training that Yuri possessed was conducted by Abby…

Down at her station, Abigail was ready and waiting to lower the ramp. With a nod, Cal gave the order, and while the hydraulics whined, he looped an arm through his coat and asked, “How do you feel about ex-cons? They did their bit; shined up for what they done, right?”

The deckhand give a shrug. “Kinda hard tah say, sir. ‘Lliance throws folk inta stir fer a hangnail, I hear. Uncle Bob always said “ever’body’s got crime. Take a man fer hisself…’cept kiddie rapers,” Abby said flatly. “I’ma straight up kill a kiddie raper afore he can say ‘howdy.”

Her mouth hung at sight of tha man stood afore ‘em. Cap’n was a tall man; Elias was a tall man. But this fella was a gorram mountain, all muscled up an’ tattooed over like a warnin’ sign fer twenty mile ‘o’ bad road.

Back ‘o’ her mind said somethin’ bout it bein’ impolite tah stare, but she reckoned if a body come face tah face with a tiger broke free from tha zoo, manners din’ always stand. Fer now, she gaped at this man, eyes wide an’ mouth open. “Howdy,” was tha only word come tah mind as tha barest whisper.

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