Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Gunther
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Gunther Captain, Infantry (Retired)

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“That’s a good question, Miss Abby. Do we have a waffle iron?” Hook left the galley to enter the storage room. He could be heard rumbling through everything looking high and low. Then three minutes later, he returned with a four-waffle, waffle iron. “Yes, Miss Abby, you can have waffles!” Hook responded with a big toothy grin.

Hook already had eggs on the preparation counter, he grabbed a steel mixing bowl from a higher cupboard. He plugged the waffle iron in and began to preheat. He gathered flour, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, baking powder, salt, and vanilla extract. Then he cracked four eggs dropping them into the bowl. Hook preferred to use a wire whisk, which he used to whip the eggs into a creamy froth. He measured out all the right quantities and poured them one at a time into the large mixing bowl with the eggs. Each ingredient was beaten individually into the batter to ensure the texture was smooth. Then he sprayed the waffle iron with a non-stick cooking spray. Next, he poured one third of his batter into the iron which would produce four fluffy yellow waffles. He placed these on a plate and left them on the table for Abby. He continued to cook the remaining batter which would produce a total of twelve waffles.

“These should be nice and tasty for you. Ah have some maple syrup in the pantry.” Joe left to retrieve the syrup, leaving the bottle on the table along with a clean plate, knife, and fork. She could take what she needed from the plate. As the waffles came off the iron, he added them to the existing plate. Others who hadn’t eaten could then help themselves to waffles if they wanted.

<tag Abby T.>
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by sail3695
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sail3695 If you do, I'ma do too.

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Abby turned in ‘er chair tah watch. At first she felt a might shamefaced when she seen all the work Hook was put to fer her waffles. She opened her mouth with a fresh apology all ready, ‘til she caught sight of the expression on his face. Hook appeared tah be delighted with what he’s doin’.

Jest like Thomas an’ tha care he give his boat, Hook knew how tah use the tools of ‘is trade. Abby always liked watchin’ skilled folk workin’ their craft. Somethin’ ‘bout hands movin’ with certainty struck a chord in the girl. While most would find sight of Hook whiskin’ batter to be kinda commonplace, she admired the precision what come as second nature to him. By rights, pourin’ batter inta the waffle iron weren’t excitin’, but when she spied him goin’ round the edges to clean off the excess, she couldn’t help but smile for tha nature of the man.

“These should be nice and tasty for you. Ah have some maple syrup in the pantry.”

Four steamin’ waffles lay on her plate. They smelled better’n anythin just then, an’ the butter she slathered jest melted right in. Abby thanked Hook for the syrup, but she only poured jest a little onta each. They cut awful easy with her fork, an’ when that first bit hit her mouth…

“Ohhh!” the girl let loose. “Theesh ish sho good!”

And they were. Last time...only time...she ever et waffles was years ago, when she’s four, mebbe five, sittin’ at a table belonged tah somebody her aunt an’ uncle was visitin’. She knew ‘em as Browncoats...friends ‘o’ Ma an’ Pa. Back then she set them waffles swimmin’ in a plate full ‘o’ syrup, an’ devoured ‘em while Uncle Bob an’ Aunt Lupe’s talkin’ all quiet. Didn’t ‘member a whole lot, ‘cept them two strangers kept lookin’ over at her while she et. Aunt Lupe an’ Uncle Bob was all stonefaced.

Bein’ a kid as she was, Abby ‘membered wearin’ more syrup home that day than what she et. An’ Aunt Lupe cryin’ as she cleaned her up. She felt mighty sorrowful fer makin’ a mess, an’ wouldn’t conjure the true meanin’ fer years tah come.

Now, sittin’ here with such a fine meal, Abby pondered the workin’s of a ‘verse tah place her here among folk who become so important in such short time. Thinkin’ on this moment, her only regret was usin’ syrup at all. Couldn’t be no sweeter.

She dabbed a napkin to her lips. "Hook, these're nigh on delicious. Thank yew!"

<Tag Hook>
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Xandrya
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Xandrya Lone Wolf

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A Treacherous Game

Alana and Cal



Note: The following JP takes place around noon on Day 2

Alana was tending to a small cut on none other than herself as she had been clumsy enough to lose a war with a knife. A knife out of all things, the cutlery that had a protective handle. Please remember to keep knives and other sharp objects away from children, she mused in her head, applying the disinfectant. Luckily for her, no one had been in the vicinity to witness her mishap. Not that she would have been subject to any sort of mockery as she had seen others engaged in in the past. This current crew was decent enough...

After cleaning the wound, Alana bandaged it up and called it a day. The whole thing only took a brief moment, making the clean-up take longer than the fixing. Not that she had much to do save for getting that belly of hers to stop begging and growling for something to eat. Alana smiled at the thought of shutting it up, putting the last piece of equipment away before leaving the infirmary. Seemingly distracted by the idea of having a bite, she blindly turned a corner only to come across the captain, nearly running into him had she not stopped dead in her tracks.

“Whoa, close call."

Cal stopped himself just in time, his hand telegraphing to Alana’s arm to brace them both. “Close is right,” he said, taking in the dazed look on her face. “You feelin’ alright, Doc?” absently, his hand still lay on her forearm. “Say,” Strand began, “I’m headed into town; you need anything? Supplies, meds?” Realizing their close proximity, he retrieved his hand, making a show of reaching for his cigarette case.

"Yes, I'm good," she nodded with a brief smile, "just patching up a cut I unwillingly gave myself."

Alana watched as he went for his cigarettes, giving the question some thought while she ran a mental checklist. "Well, I don't necessarily need any one thing, but I could use some food, and maybe a drink or two... Care to join?" She began walking with him, her expression growing slightly more serious. "I'd like to talk to you about the incident that occurred yesterday, if you have the time that is."

“Well, I was going to pick up a catalyzer,” he began, scratching his chin, “but a drink or two sounds like just what the doctor ordered.” Habit won out, and once the well-worn movement of fingers on silver casing started, Cal found himself with one of his last smokes in the corner of his lip. Cal thought about offering his arm but instead fell into step beside Alana, answering her serious tone with one of his own. “You did a great job patching up Abigail. She ain’t one to complain, even if she looks like hell.”

She appreciated the joke, a smirk brightening her features momentarily. Looking down at the ground in front of them, Alana listened as he went on, and a half-hearted nod followed in response. "What can I say, you're right about her, you know. She's one of them brave ones and in a way I've become fond of her because of it." She glanced at him monetarily, her eyes fixed on the cigarette in his mouth. Not to say she wanted one, but she wasn't bothered by it either. It was just...there. "I've suppressed the urge to ask any of the crew for details, but Cal, why...why exactly was she shot? What went wrong down there?"

A loaded question, sure, but Alana did not care for half truths at the moment, not when one of their own had gone down.

At that, Captain Strand settled the internal debate on whether or not to light his cigarette. As they walked toward Pensacola proper, the light from his flip lighter caught his grave expression under the shade of his wide-brimmed hat. For a minute, perhaps, the Captain was silent as he drew on his smoke. Ahead of them on the path, thickets of buildings started to crop up around them.

“What went wrong was a stowaway Fed tried to arrest a passenger--Badger’s woman, Ms. Baker. He fired a warning shot, but then wheels were in motion. Things escalated, and Abigail was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Cal thought on that for a moment, “Lucky it was just her pi gu, but she can scratch being shot from her bucket list.” He drew the cigarette to his lips, looking up at the shop signs which were looming into view. If he was still going to grab the catalyzer, he’d better do it before they got to drinking, just to be safe.

"Those gorram Feds ain't never up to any good, always sticking their nose where it don't belong and poor Abby had to pay the price..." Her blood was practically boiling, but Alana kept her composure. She looked up to glance at the town approaching when her foot hit something like a solid rock, which was something she wasn't expecting. Alana stumbled forward, though before all hope was lost she instinctively braced herself by reaching for Cal's arm and using it to steady herself. Once all was said and done, she wasn't sure whether to burst out laughing or reprimand herself for her own stupidity.

"Damn sabotage that was," she spoke up, patting Cal on the arm in appreciation. "Can't even badmouth them without paying for it."

Cal’s eyes met the doctor’s, his own arm having wrapped around Alana to steady her from meeting the ground. She wore her vigor against the Purple Bellies on her sleeve--that was certain--and it was something he could get behind. Cal liked a woman who spoke her mind, but he could tell something was going on beneath that appreciative pat on his arm. “Lucky I was here, really,” he said, reaching for his cigarette now clenched between his teeth, “so all that Alliance karma doesn’t rack up another ‘unwilling’ accident.”

Drawing himself up, and by association, Alana, he wove her arm in his own, “See yonder?” He pointed to a bar called ‘Peces En El Mar’ judging by the faded blue and white sign hanging above the door. “Why don’t you hold on to me, and we’ll see if we can make it.” He chucked, a glint in his eye betraying his candor. “We’ll set you down with somethin’ to eat while I run a quick errand. Then I’ll join you. How’s that?” Cal glanced at those eyes beneath those bold brows of hers for confirmation.

She became a little warm from embarrassment, her cheeks reddening in the afterthought. Silently scolding herself, Alana nonetheless smiled up at Cal in response to his statement. "What would we ever do without you?" Part ego-stroking, part sarcasm. She let herself be escorted towards the locale he had mentioned. Walking in step adjacent to Cal, her gaze diverted to the former which held minimum visibility in the distance.

"Fish in the Sea," she added, thanks in part to her limited knowledge. "Alright, I'll bite." Though not personally a top pick she would have made, Alana was hungry enough to eat a horse, and so her fastidious nature usually present at the dinner table would be absent that day. "I sure hope they have a pool table because I'm feeling competitive...if you're up for a wager that is. If not, it's good all the same," she smirked with a slight jab of her elbow. "I'll be mindful of any apprehension."

“You’re on, Doc. Just so’s you know, I won’t pull any punches--even on account of your balance, or lack thereof.” Cal flashed a debonair smile as he opened the door wide for Alana. “I’ll be along; why don’t you go ahead and warm up?”

"So honest but so refined," she smiled, also thanking him in the process. "We'll soon find out whether you're a worthy competitor," she added, waving at him before losing herself in the small crowd engaged in some personal festivity. Alana walked past them, spotting an empty table out back. Perfect.

With that, Cal bid the doctor adieu and headed toward “Maurice’s Shipworks” just up the street which had the China Doll’s catalyzer on hold for payment on pickup. As he walked in the warming sun he considered the situation in which he found himself. A beautiful woman had fallen all over him it seemed, and twice in one day as fate would have it. Now he didn’t doubt his skill at the game, but it was different when he wasn’t even playing. “Ta Ma Duh,(Damnit)” he said under his breath, an idea dawning on him. If he weren’t trying to play the game then it stood to reason that the game being played might be him.

Way he saw it there were two options. Option one, Doc was a might lonely, looking for a friend, perhaps more. Option two, Alana was laying the foundation for something, perhaps more self-serving. That thought soured his smirk as he entered “Maurice’s” with a quick rap on the door.

"Well how's about that?" Alana turned her head to the side to see who was addressing her. "Someone with her head in the game makes a presence but she was seen off by her husband," the man then glances down at her hand, "or should I say, boyfriend?" he added with an inquisitive shrug.

"Oh, um, no that was—we work together." Ideas crept in her mind. Her and Cal? Sure, she was naturally drawn to him and his personality, despite not knowing him all that long, but would it even get past their playful banter? Given their positions, she couldn't guess how he'd react. "He's coming back, sorry."

The man raised his glass in response before downing the rest of his drink. "All's good, I ain't the type to get in between two lovers." And with that he was off to rejoin the group by the front. Alana shook her head slightly, amused by the exchange. She leaned on the bartop once more to finally put in for a fish fry basket for her and Cal and a drink.

Now that business had been conducted, Captain Strand was free to conduct less businessly business. Catalyzer nestled in his satchel, Cal pushed open the doors to the ‘Peces En El Mar,’ and the smell of food and liquor hit him just right. Peering into the darker interior, he removed his hat, looking to spot Alana.

Getting some credits ready to play the first round, Alana noticed Cal had made his way back. She called out to him, waving him over to the corner she was at.

She’d found a table after all--that made Cal smile. It’d been a few stops since he’d played pool, but to his eyes, even in a fisher town like Pensacola, the green felt of the table looked mighty inviting. “You ready to put your money where your mouth is, Doc?” he asked, setting down his cargo. Strand had settled in next to Alana as they waited for the table to open up. Placing his hat on the table, he added, “So, you mentioned a wager; what are you putting up?” Cal’s inquisitive tone matched his arched brow as he glanced into those blue eyes of hers.

She met his gaze in silence for a moment as she considered some options, and it was when she smiled that she finally had a response for him. "Alright, I have a couple of ideas..." She leaned in closer as to not project her voice so much. "We could make it so the loser has to give the winner a 10-minute backrub, you know, melt away any stress lingering around from the job. Either that, or we keep up with tradition and the loser has to buy the rounds." She paused for a moment to gauge his reaction, leaning back against the chair. "So, what do you say?" Alana wasn't sure which route he'd take, but at least she had afforded him the option to pick for himself, though she obviously favored the first choice because taking the loss wouldn't be all that unwelcomed.

“I say: if’n you wanted to give me a backrub, you coulda saved your quarters,” with that he picked up the closest cue and chalk, “Bein’ captain’s a hard gig,” he watched for a roll of her eyes. “I mean, there’s a ship what needs tending, crew needs orders, jobs need linein’ up,” as the table in front of them cleared, he laid the cue down, rolling it across the felt. “It’s not like bein’ a doctor; kickin’ up your heels, pullin’ bullets out of pi gus all day.” Cal swapped his cue with another one in the rack, hefting it aloft. “You wanna rack?”

Arching an eyebrow, arms crossed in front of her, Alana listened to him go on about himself. "Well, you can certainly do a whole lotta talking, but that must come naturally given your job primarily consists of a bunch of delegating and not much else," she chimed in, reaching for her drink to take a sip. "But as much as I would love to continue this conversation," she smiled, her voice oozing with sarcasm, "I'm eager to find out whether you're as skilled with your hands as you are running your mouth." Alana then selected a stick for herself, chalking it up as she walked past Cal to ready up for the break shot. "It's time to humble you down some."

Setting up took her a few moments, and it wasn't long before it was all in place. Concentrating on power and not so much aim, she took deep breath in and leaned forward, eye on the cue for a second or two before proceeding to take the shot. Alana immediately stood straight to witness the action and watched as a solid disappeared in the upper right corner while the others spread out. "Don't you worry none, I promise you'll get your turn," she announced without looking at Cal.

As luck would have it, Alana missed the next shot given she'd underestimated the angle. She shook her head in disappointment and faced Cal with a shrug. "Guess I'm just feeling generous today."

Cal smiled into his beer as he appreciated the doctor’s form stretched out across the table. As the cue ball cracked, his attention dropped to the pockets as she sunk one on the first shot. Her cool assertion that he’d ‘get his turn’ warranted a muffled chuckle from Strand as he chalked his cue. When she shrugged in his direction, he replied, “Mighty kind of you.”

Lining up, he focused his attention on a precarious “10” which required him to lean with the cue wrapped around his back, left-handed. He grew silent as he visualized the shot, then, exhaling, he let go and the “10” rolled into the opposite bank pocket. “Don’t you worry none,” he parroted, “anyone ever tell you, you get this dimple when you concentrate. It’s endearin’. They got a clinical name for that, Doc?”

Captain Strand arched two fingers on the felt anchoring his stick for the next angle. Closing one eye, he exhaled for a long shot this time, his English just short of pocketing the “15.” Straightening, Cal waved Alana in, cupping his hands over the hand chalk before reaching for his beer.

The "miracle shot" impressed Alana, and she took another sip of her drink. She had managed to pull off that same move a couple of times in the past, though just once with her weak hand. At the bare minimum, Cal was going to be a challenge, which she certainly welcomed.

"Why yes, I believe that's what we refer to as infatuation." Alana then watched him miss the tiebreaker shot that would have put him in the lead. No doubt at that point it was anyone's game. She looked over the spread for a brief moment and found her next move, which looked easy enough, then made her way over to Cal. The man towered over her, especially when she leaned against the side of the table using her wrist as her drink occupied her hand, while the other one remained wrapped around the cue stick. "And you know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," she added, looking up to meet his gaze.

Cal met her gaze, leaning in, “You got it all figured out, huh?” His half-lidded eyes winked into hers. “So tell me, why’d you really sign up on my boat? And I’m not buying the nomad-medic angle.” There was that scent of coconut again, some mingling smell in her hair or her clothes. It cut through his own aroma of tobacco like a knife.

Her lips pursed for a moment before she broke into a smile, shying away from his stare. "What's a girl gotta do to earn a little bit of trust around here, huh? Alls I was wanting was some room and board and decent coin for a job well done." Alana's voice remained low as she met his eyes once more. "Was it coincidental that the captain in charge just happened to be handsome?" she half-shrugged the question before nodding slightly, "Absolutely. You don't gotta worry about me Cal," Alana placed her drink down behind her and reached up to straighten out his collar as she went, "I'm not trying to seduce you for some sinister reason."

“Ah, but you are trying to seduce me,” Cal said, a smirk curling his lip. The doctor was doing a mighty fine job at that. Captain Strand could feel his blood quicken as her fingertips brushed the back of his neck. “Glad that’s out in the air; it’ll make winning this round all the more fun.” He arched a brow at that, a glint in his eye, along with a subtle nod toward the table indicating it was Alana’s turn next.

Cal did in fact went ahead to win that game, however, Alana beat him in the next two back to back. In between turns, the pair enjoyed their food and drinks, the same level of energy carrying through the rounds. They would occasionally tease each other when the other missed, and the same when Alana sank the 8 ball in the third game. She downed the rest of her drink and walked over to Cal with a smug smile.

“So, it seems I’ve bested you again to finally be crowned victorious. You put up a good fight, but unfortunately not good enough.” Alana placed the cue stick to rest on the underside, grabbing his in the process as well. "What do you say I pick up the tab? I think I’ve already tormented you enough... Besides, you know we’re both looking forward to that back rub.”

Cal had his hands raised in defeat, “Can’t fault a man for tryin’ to retain some semblance of dignity. I got the tab: least I can do ‘til it’s time to pay the piper.” Doc wasn’t wrong, any way this one went the price would be sweet. The medic had proved to be a fierce opponent, but he’d be ready for her next time. And there would certainly be a next time.

Heading to the bar, he signaled the barkeep with a wave. After settling their tab, Captain Strand rejoined his medic at their table. “Would be surprised if Rex hasn’t marooned us here by this point,” he stooped to retrieve the catalyzer in his satchel. “Shall we?”

"We shall," she smiled up at the captain, thinking none of it when her arm snaked around his given her inhibitions and the ability to maintain her balance had been lowered some. That, and she would be foolish to deny the level of attraction between the two. As if the situation wasn't complicated enough... Cal and Alana then left Peces En El Mar and headed back towards the Doll, laughing and talking about any random topic as they went.

A while later, as the pair neared the ship, Alana broke her hold on him. She still had some wits about her and she thought it best to avoid being the center of any form of questioning. That, and she also owed it to the captain to afford him such level of respect. Who knew where his head was regarding their spontaneous outing, and the last thing she would ever want to do was force his hand in the matter.

The two walked adjacent to each other all the way til they reached the entrance to her quarters. "Well, Cal, this has been surprisingly pleasant. I'm not sure what 'captain-ly' duties you have going on right around this time, but if you can't pay up now, then later will work all the same." She smiled at him, waiting for a response.

The doctor sure had a way about her, from that smile to those eyes. His jaw unclenched with herculean force as he dipped his hat toward Alana, “Powerfully sorry to say, but I’m gonna have to offer an ‘I-owe-you’ for now,” he glanced down into that forming pout, “no rest for the wicked, and all.” At that he couldn’t keep a straight face, “I need to get this part down below, elsewise we’ll miss our big debut,” he lifted the satchel at his side. “How about we reconvene once we make it to the black?” His brow arched as he took a short step toward the engine bay.

Over his shoulder he added, “Hope you have some warmer clothes, ‘cuz it’s gonna get a might nippy.” Wait no, he really didn’t. His imagination ran rampant as he headed off in the direction of the engine bay, cold steel of the catalyzer in hand.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by sail3695
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sail3695 If you do, I'ma do too.

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And The Sea Shall Yield Up….


Part 6 - (Day 3 Morning)




Excerpt from radio comms recording, 07:15 hrs 08-02-2521

“NS Moncrief...NS Moncrief...this is New Melbourne Marine Patrol Station Pelican Point. Do you copy?”

<crackles>

“NS Moncrief. I copy you. Over.”

“Moncrief, we’ve had no luck raising NS Eileen McSorley by any means. Can you offer a fix on her last known location? Over.”

“Roger, Pelican Point. Our last radar fix had her at forty-three-point-six North, sixty-five-point-four West, course heading three-one-five at three knots. She was making for Slocum’s Atoll when she disappeared off our radars at oh-six-ten hours. Over.

“Any idea if she arrived? Over.”

“Negative…. ,crackles>....negative. We just arrived at Slocum’s. Sheltering in the lee with a handful of fishing boats. I’ll tell ya, Pelican Point, we were right behind her on the same heading. Had our searchlights sweep the area as we went through. No signs of the vessel or her crew...over.”

“Well, Captain, that’s why we’re calling. All of our heavy search and rescue assets are too far away to render any aid. You’re the closest vessel to the McSorley’s last known position. Could you head back out and search for survivors? Over.”

<crackles….pause>

“We just got in….you say you want me to head back out?”

“Affirmative. Over.”

<crackles>

“Holy cow, Pelican Point. We took a helluva beating out there...but I’ll turn around if you want me to. Over.”

“Captain, you’re the master of your vessel, but this is a life or death situation. If there’s any chance you could search for survivors….”

“That position is twenty miles back, Pelican Point. I’ll head back out, but I’m not gonna make more than two-three knots an hour in those seas...over.”

“Thanks, Moncrief. Latest weather shows the hurricane shifting further North. We’re hopeful the Southwest quadrant will calm down enough for our local air and sea assets to take over the search by nightfall. We do appreciate your help. Pelican Point out.”

“Yeah, I’ll keep you posted when I get back to the search area. Moncrief out.”

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

The first few minutes nearly killed him. Yuri’s entire body was shocked with the penetrating cold. All around him were mountainous waves that roared as they scooped him up. Some broke in the cruel wind, sending his body pitching into the depths. Others just rolled, occasionally propelling him high enough to catch a glimpse of the violent new world into which he’d been born.

Eventually, the fear subsided in favor of a bone weary tiredness brought on by struggling in the bitter cold ocean. He had to kick his legs, move to preserve some buoyancy and body heat from the icy fingers that snatched both away. And so the tortuous routine began...never stop kicking, keep your head above the surface...pull yourself up the wave face, rest on the beck end. Repeat.

He had a small hand torch that worked. His walkie lay in a pocket, but the mechanic knew that the speaker and mic diaphragms were ruined, saturated. The electronics were simple enough if he could dry them out a bit...but to what end? He had his multi-tool, with its’ various blades, hand bits and drivers. What Yuri desperately needed was a life vest. Never stop kicking….

Yuri couldn’t know how long he’d been adrift when he first saw the ship. He’d just been swept to the wavetop when there, to the North, came a flash of light. A rush of adrenaline powered him to reach the crests again and again, eyes sweeping desperately for the phantom salvation...and there! She was there! A big one...the Moncrief? She was following us, he thought. Her bridge searchlights were sweeping, illuminating the icy torrents of rain as the ore carrier fought its’ own battle with Hurricane Daniel. Just a couple miles away…

“HEY!” he shouted as he fumbled for the hand torch. “HEEEEY!!” A roller pulled him upward. Extending his arm as high as he could reach, Yuri turned on the light and frantically waved toward the distant ship. “HEEEY!” he shouted again as the wave dropped him into a trough. The next wave wasn’t so kind, lifting him into a pipeline curl that sent the mechanic tumbling through an icy churn. For a moment he lost his orientation beneath the surface, water lit by the hand torch as it danced on the end of his hand strap.

Soon, he found the surface. Yuri clawed himself up the next wave, swiveling his head in a frenzied search for his rescuer. After two more missed opportunities, a wave carried him aloft, and the cruel sea parted her veils just enough to reveal the ship...holding course...moving off to the North. “HEEEY!! HEEEY!” He screamed. He waved his light. He cried out in despair. He pleaded with the storm. He prayed for a miracle.

At that moment, the fates chose to deliver a life vest. Dawn was breaking, though the hostile clouds kept a curtain of darkness which slowly ebbed as he took sight of the limp yellow object. Yuri swam for it...pulled for all he was worth, watching as it would disappear behind a wave, only to tantalize him again as it topped a crest. After what seemed like hours, he grabbed it with a bitter chilled hand.

It was from the Mick. [b]NS MCSORLEY[/i] was stencilled in bold black print across the collar...just above a four inch diagonal tear. “Of course,” he shook his head at the sight. “OF FUCKING COURSE!” Rage overtook him, filling him with the simple desire to finish the job and rip this fucking thing to shreads like it fucking deserved...until the futility and his own exhaustion curtailed the effort.

Finally, as the blackness began to subside to a shadowy grey, Yuri slipped into the life vest. At least they’ll know...if they find me, he thought of the ship’s name. The cold was creeping within him...a deep lying ghost who numbed the extremities and sought to slow the heart. God, but he was tired. Though it seemed like the winds were easing and the waves not quite so terrifying, the thought of simply being lulled to sleep was growing nigh on to marvelous in his mind. He really wasn’t that cold anymore...could just spread eagle across the water and close his eyes…

Something struck him from behind...a solid blow right across the shoulder blades. A fresh jolt of adrenaline infused terror made Yuri whirl about as the object pushed itself against his chest. It was big...wood...and somehow familiar. Big enough to float on? As hypothermia stricken fingers traced the inlaid wood patterns in its’ top, he soon realized that the ship’s main dining table would be large and buoyant enough to sustain him. Now the challenges were twofold. First, there was simply climbing aboard in his current state. And then, there was the act of defying the waves and staying there.

********************To Be Continued*******************


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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by MK Blitzen
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MK Blitzen Have Plot, Will Travel

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Inner Daemons

New Melbourne, Day 3, Morning


Note: Thanks to @Winters & @Yule for letting me borrow your toons









—————————————————————

A brilliant pink cursor flickered against the black background as if it were dancing, and the more Cyd stared at it, the more it aligned with the trance beat coursing through the shuttle. Home sweet shuttle.

It looked homier at least, especially now that the Shiki futons and tatami mats arrived. Mathias had folded them over to prop up like loungers in a semicircle. His was closest to the door because that was Mathias, risk assessment. If someone were to break in, they’d have to get through him first. The bedding style served a purpose besides comfort, the mats were easily folded and stored out of sight giving them more room. Ravers shuffle.

The windscreens were temporarily fitted with blackouts, it wouldn’t matter in the black, but planetside there would be sunrises followed by sunshine which she imagined, given the greenhouse effect would be vrot to daysleepers.

Mathias and Isaac lazily passed a dagga pipe and shared a bag of crisps, Issac’s mood brightened a bit with each puff. Cyd sat criss-cross, her legs folded over each other as she rolled a lollipop against her teeth, its stick propped between her lips. Across her lap was a desk and datapad, which her fingers moved across in time with the rhythm. She passed on her turn for a hit and typed the auxiliary address to override the port, masking the activity from the cortex. Lekker, a game, like Isaac and his locks, searching for the combination or keys.

import fnmatch
import os

rootPath = '/'
pattern = '*.mp3
for root, dirs, files in os.walk(rootPath):


There were no tumblers, no latches or pins, nothing to click in place.

extracted_string= search_string h
"””This is not a PFB array and
will cause syntax error in the program"""


But usually, if she looked hard enough, there was always a flaw, an Achilles heel that left the system vulnerable.

Invoke irb (main) 003:1
Kaz 2y5
FSO: Alias(s)HD17a0a1:
PCI root (0X0) /HD (I.GPT.64B1E).exe


Take the China Doll, its gateway implemented useless virus scans, dated servers, and security software running on obsolete matrices. To that was added an onboard AI, unusual for a Firefly-class, which ignited her curiosity. Why the fancy AI?. A puzzle to piece together, a lock to crack, but until then AI was easy enough to evade with a loop encoding the digital interface.

HELLO. I AM S.A.M.A.N.T.H.A.

It even introduced itself politely. Cyd couldn’t help but smile.

HI SAMANTHA. 53R3N17Y

I SEE YOU HAVE OPENED A ROOT DIRECTORY, 53R3N17Y.

YES, I HAVE OPENED A ROOT DIRECTORY.

Shall we play a game, Samantha?

IS THERE SOMETHING I CAN HELP YOU SEARCH FOR?

Cyd raised an eyebrow. Global Thermonuclear War?

NO THANKS.


Translate a host name to IPv4 address format
gethostbyname("53R3NI7Y")


I WOULD BE HAPPY TO BE OF ASSISTANCE. ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AN EXECUTABLE FILE?

NO, BUT I WOULD LIKE TO CHAT ANOTHER TIME.

Cyd shifted the position of the lollipop against her teeth and tapped a few more keys. Let’s play hide and don’t seek, Sam.

# import module
from threading import *
import time


Mathias was right, the rules were simple. You don’t fly dirty, and that includes hacking. Just because you can cause malice doesn’t mean you will cause malice.

# creating a function
def thread_1():
for i in range(5):
print('Override')
time.sleep(2)


The install was on her own system, just a precaution. If the Captain ever wanted an upgrade it would be his call- she’d be happy to help. She did have a shiny new microprocessor, another rabbit hole to fall down. She couldn't wait to unlock whatever secrets it didn’t want anyone to find out. She didn’t need dagga, this was enough mystery to raise the oxytocin. So many questions, so much to UNV31L. Why would someone ditch two crates full and then jump overboard? What was on the chips?

# main thread stop execution till 5 sec.
time.sleep(5)
print('main Thread execution')


The program would do what daemons were designed to do -run in the background and perform actions without user interaction. Monitor, log, send notifications. In a way, that’s how she saw herself and her sibs. Their operating system = V464B0ND5, daemons revealed only by the occurrence of a specific event or condition.

# creating a thread T
T = Thread(target=thread_1)


Who they were, what they were capable of. Cyd helping a stranger. Mathias craning someone with a pipe. Isaac’s heart breaking. 7H13V35. Even H00K 7H3 C00K gunned a fed.

# starting of thread T
T.start()


A flicker of movement caught her eye, bringing Cyd out of the digital trance. It took a minute for her blue eyes to refocus. “Aweh?”

Mathias was spinning a card absently between his fingers, up and over the back of his hand. With a shake of his wrist, the ace of hearts changed to the Jack of Diamonds. ‘Her’ Card, the one Isaac had tattooed on his right wrist and Mathias had inked over his heart. She had theirs on her shoulder. Sibling tattoos. Something tangible. "Showoff," she giggled, turning back to the screen.

"Showoff," he teased back, tossing the card at the datapad.

# Override_datetime = now.strft(“%d/%m/%Y:%S/%Y%T:&%Y/”
Time.sleep


Isaac wanted the tattoos, something he could see, to remind him they were always there. It was the first ink he got at the tender age of 14? Maybe 15, thanks to a little creative forgery and an artist willing to take cash over credits, no questions asked.

# set_thread= now.strft(“%d/%m/%n:%c/%a%e:&%s/”

Isaac passed the pipe to Mathias, handing the rest of the crisps to his brother so he could lie back and work on the combination lock as he contemplated seeing Sarah before take off. Seemed like everyone on the ship had their daemons.

T= check status
print(T. Execute_Daemon()
Time.Sleep


Mathias extinguished the pipe with a yawn which proved itself to be infectious. After rubbing her tired eyes, Cyd lowered the volume, closed the datapad and set the half-finished lollipop inside a glass for later. Right now, the program had the right idea. With a second yawn, her aqua hair fanned over the surface of the mattress as she snuggled under the new comforter.

"Night Yobo. Night Lolo."

Execute Daemon.

Time. Sleep.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by sail3695
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sail3695 If you do, I'ma do too.

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Plans Over Breakfast

Day 3 - Morning




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

Sausage.

Hook had sausage! Fer the life of ‘er, Abby couldn’t suss out how the wily cook found half what he did. An’ it was good sausage, ta boot. He taught her a new trick...pourin’ a little syrup onta her plate an’ swishin’ them patties around in it. Tha spicy sausage, all drippin’ that sweetness, was like ta make her close her eyes an’ let loose a mighty “Mmmmmmm!”



The aromas coming from his galley drew Cal’s nose, and the rest of him followed, growling stomach and all. Armed with the day’s clipboard, the captain sauntered right up to the coffee pot. Hook had a cortex back by his stove, playin’ local music through a tinny sounding speaker. Abigail was seated at the table, her face all rapturous as she worked over her breakfast. “Mornin’ Hook”, he lifted his coffee mug in salute. “Got any more of that?”

“Monrin’ Cap’n,” Joe responded to the captain. “Coffee’s in the pot over yonder.”

The captain’s eye fell onto his youngest crew member. Abigail looked much improved since their sit down yesterday mornin’. He took note of her boxers, the first thing he’d seen on her which wasn’t a touch on the threadbare side. The fresh ocean blue, spotted with ships’ wheels, compasses and sextants, offered a glimpse into the sort of carousing the girl conned her way past him for last night. A right little Jezzebel, he smirked at the sight of her legs, their white skin made reddish brown on the front half. “Abigail,” he greeted the deckhand, “I see we’re gettin’ fat.”

“Promish I’ll work it off,” she give him a raised eyebrow.

Joe Hooker held back a giggle as he tended to cleaning up the galley area.

“That you will.” He spied the leftover waffles. “Hook, got any more of that sausage? Don’t think it’s fair for Abigail to be the only one puttin’ on weight.”

“Not a problem, Cap’n,” Joe went back into cold storage and retrieved the sausage. “Found these at a store named, Wisniewski after the owner. Love these sweet and spicy sausages. Good stuff, Cap’n. Ah’ll fry ‘em up on the griddle fer ya.”

A plate landed before him, covered with a generous helping of sausage and waffles. “Not sure how you do it,” Cal said as he slathered butter over the waffles. Next came the syrup, which cascaded down the breakfast like a viscous waterfall. “Not sure I should be askin’,” he chuckled before loading in that first bite. “Mmmm….oh…” his eyes rose to the ceiling. “I ain’t askin’...”

“Ain’t sayin’ I never et well afore,” Abby rose from her chair. “Jest ain’t never et so well so often. Hook, yah got tha touch,” she give ‘im a grateful smile as her dishes went inta tha sink. After a quick rinse, she filled ‘er coffee mug once more. “What’s on tahday’s plan, Cap’n?”

“Thank you, Miss Abby, Ah’s appreciate ta compliment.” Joe maintained focus on his duties while listening to the Captain.

“For you?” Cal shut his mouth, wiping away a drop of escaping syrup. He gave the clipboard a few taps of his finger as he worked the food down. “My cargo bay’s lookin’ a might sparse this morning. How about you do some ‘Abby-cadabra’ and get me something else to haul?”

She took her seat. “I’ll git what can be got, Cap’n.”

He finished another bite, this one a dripping combination of waffle and sausage. “And one more passenger.”

Her brows lifted. “Thought I’s off tha hook fer that?”

The captain shrugged, then met her eye directly. “Had a change of heart...late last night.” The flush rising to the girl’s cheeks offered it’s own reward, but he decided to press on with something a bit more cheerful. “Besides, what with me given’ Hook some extra coin to go food shoppin’ this morning, we need to make it back somewhere.”

”When you’re a spy...oh, forget it. Never try to put one over on the captain.”

Abby hid her shameface behind the mug fer a tick, then followed the Cap’n as he changed tha subject. “I’ll git one, Cap’n. What we gotta do tah prep fer the tuna pickup?”

“You told me you did some mechanickin’?” Cal asked. “Aboard your Uncle Bob’s boat?”

She nodded her head. “Can’t rebuild a core or tha like, but I conjure all the gazintas an’ goesouttas perty well.”

“Shiny.” The captain loaded his fork again. “Ride the lawnchair til noon. Then I want you in the engine room for preflights. Have ‘er buttoned down and ready to break shore power by two. Almost forgot,” he said after another morsel was swallowed. “Got a new catalyzer. Pop it into place.”

She give a nod. “Yessir, I got it.”

The music from Hook’s cortex stopped, replaced by a news report. Cal turned in his chair. “Hook, Rex and I will prep the cargo bay for the tuna pickup. This’ll be done at a hover, over a fishin’ boat. Rex’ll ride the net down onto the boat deck and set each load. You an’ I will run the hoist and strap ‘em down as they come aboard, dohn mah?

“Roger that, cap’n,” Joe responded to the Captain’s question.

The captain took another bite. The room fell silent as a breaking news story was read aloud.

“Tragedy on the Eastern Sea, due to Hurricane Daniel. The ore carrier NS Eileen McSorley has been reported missing by the New Melbourne Marine Patrol. A search and rescue effort is underway. The McSorley did not issue a distress call before she disappeared from radar. She has a crew of thirty-five. No further information is available.

In other news, today sees the beginning of King Tuna Season. Ports all along the Southern coast are busy this morning, as both anglers and professionals are casting off to be on the fishing grounds for this afternoon’s start. Though the hurricane will make for rough seas on the Eastern edge, the storm’s Northerly path presents a negligible hazard at best... ”


“And that’s us,” Cal observed. “Our fishin’ boat worked the East corners. Might be a little choppy, but nothin’ most of us haven’t seen before.”

“Too bad about that ship,” Joe shook his head. “Wonder if anyone survived?” Joe wondered about the crew that went down with the ship. “Yes, cap’n the choppy seas won’t be bad a tall, fer us in this Firefly. The boat below us on the other hand will more likely be rocking ‘bout, but with the first officer down below, we should be all right.”

“Ah’ll take those credits and git more veggies and fruits for cold storage. Mebee somethin’ else fer meats or spices. Ah’s ah takin’ care of dis ere crew, cap’n.” Joe Hooker smiled at the Captain.

Abby downed her final swallow of coffee. “Then I’d best get tah gittin’,” she said as she pulled herself up.

“Wear those short cutoffs again,” Cal said.

“Yew tryna tell me that sex sells?” she turned back.

“Shoot no,” he pointed at her legs with his fork. “You need more sun, kid. For the life of me, those legs make me wonder if we’re puttin’ up Noel decorations or openin’ a barber shop.”
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Gunther
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Gunther Captain, Infantry (Retired)

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Shopping Trip



Cameo Collab with @sail3695


Joe finished up cleaning the galley. Breakfast was over. He put any leftovers away in cold storage. There were still waffles remaining. They would only be good for one more day and then would be tossed. The Captain and Abby left the Galley as well as the First officer who came, had breakfast and left.

He took the credits the captain gave him, tucked them into a pocket and headed down to the Cargo Bay. He ran into Abby near the foot of the ramp. “Ah’ll be goin’ shopping now, Miss Abby. Anything yew need? Oh yea, any idea where’s ah could git a wagon to carry the groceries in?”

The youngest deckhand tucked the clipboard ‘neath her arm. “Got tha mule,” she give a nod toward the cargo bay. “It’s got a trailer on it.” She opened tha clipboard fer her notes. “Pen jest brought’er back from a run. Didn’t mention no problems, so I conjure she runs alright.”

“That wagon is not quite what ah was lookin’ fer. But takin the mule with tha’ trailer would work. I could be back sooner that way.” Joe looked over the quad four. It was similar to one he and the boys toyed with back on the farm. There was another ship he was on a few years back that had one of these. “I could be back in an hour with the mule. Two with just the trailer.”

Abby took a note so she’d ‘member if asked. “Oughtta be shiny,” the girl said as she closed it up. When the thought struck, she fished in her pocket an’ come up with what’s left of her pay. “While yer there, couldja keep an eye out fer some sticky putty? Not sure they’d have it, but I need some tah put up muh photos an’ such.”

“No problem, Miss Abby,” Joe looked the mule over. He climbed up on top and wiped the controls down. “Anythin’ elese yew might be wantin’?”

“Sure’n I owe yew a ton of favors already,” Abby smiled as she handed over her coin. “I need colored chalk...comes in a box shows young’uns makin’ sidewalk drawin’s. I sorta…” she give her head a half turn, “like drawin’ with it muhself.”

“No problem, Miss Abby.” Joe started up the mule. It hummed like a cat. He flicked a semi wave hand salute to the youngest deck hand. Then released the clutch slowly and eased the vehicle out of the cargo bay.

Vegetables and Fruits

The mule hummed along the road, but it was not a distant ride to his destination. An open air farmer’s market was set up near the center of New Melbourne. He parked the mule on a side road and walked to the market.

When he arrived, he found a large crowd of people inspecting the produce and chatting with others. It was quite a communal sensation. The crowd pleased Joe Hooker. ‘This is what life should be like. People gathered around interacting with others. Children laughing and playing, the sounds of chatter, almost overwhelming in in its volume, but normal. This is life.’ Joe Hooker's thoughts contented him. He found the sight all very pleasing to him.

The first farm stand he came too offered peppers and cucumbers. He gathered half a bushel of green peppers and half a bushel of red peppers as well as bag with eight cucumbers. Next he found two dozen ears of fresh corn, asparagus, green beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, beets, lettuce, cabbage, onions, and celery. As his purchases became too cumbersome, he would carry the bags and baskets to the mule and drop them off then return to the market. Next, he found apples. There were several different varieties. He grabbed five pounds of MacIntosh, five pounds of Cortlands and five pounds of Spencers. ‘These will make some tasty pies. Ooh, how about peaches for peach cobbler?’ Joe found all the ingredients he needed. He still had several pieces of meat in the freezer and really didn’t need any more. He found some spices that might do well including candy red hots which help to spice up a pie. ‘I’ll spend some time baking pies and desserts for the crew and passengers'.

Chance Encounters

Once he had all the produce loaded into the mule, he prepared to leave, but saw a black-haired woman with a familiar frame stroll up the opposite side of the street and disappear into the crowd. Joe took a double take. He focused on the area where the woman entered the crowd and then walked quickly to that area. He entered the crowd and tried to focus on the black hair and red blouse she wore. He looked everywhere throughout the farmer’s market but could not locate her again. “Did you see an average sized woman with long black hair pass by here wearing a red blouse?” he asked one of the farmers.

“Yea! She went up that way,” The man pointed to Joe’s right.

“Thanks!” He headed in the direction the man pointed. He attempted to hurriedly pass through the crowd, but he was bumping into many people. He just could not get through the crowd fast enough and wherever she went, he could not see her.

Joe turned quickly to return to the mule when he bumped into a man hard. He accidentally knocked a bag from the man’s hand. “Ah am very sorry, suh!”

“Watch whatcha doin’, mate!” the man was obviously annoyed. He had two larger men with him who seemed the rough and tumble type. “Hey! I know you. Let’s have a look at ye, mate. Ain’t ye that bloke on the China Doll?” The three men eyeballed Joe over. “Badger don’t take kindly to your captain dumpin ‘is cargo in the drink, mate. You’d be wise to tell yer bleedin captain we 'ave a eye on ‘im. Badger won’t forget you. I suggest ye keep your nose clean, too, mate.” The man gave Joe a punch to the arm and the three walked away.

‘Oh crap, I’ll need to tell the captain about this,’ Joe thought to himself as the three men walked away. He looked back at the three, insuring they were leaving him alone. Then he returned to the mule.

When he found his ride back to the ship, he remembered Abby’s request. ‘Now to find an art supply store.’ This caused him to look around. As coincidence would have it, he parked across the street from one. Joe walked into the store, which was empty except for the clerk behind the counter.

He walked around the aisles, looking at what the store had to offer until he stumbled upon a bucket of sidewalk chalk. He picked one up and looked it over, 'Little van Gogh' was written on the side. ‘This is it.’ He continued to search the store until he spotted some glues. He searched through the glue display until he found one labeled as sticky putty. ‘This will do!’

When he approached the store clerk, he noticed she had long black hair, blue eyes and a red blouse. The young woman appeared to be in her mid 20s, not the 36-year old he thought he saw earlier. “Were you at the farmer’s market?” Joe asked the girl.

“Yea, I bought some fruit for my lunch,” the girl responded to the customer’s question in a dour manner. She appeared to be sad and depressed about something.

“Are you OK?” Joe asked the young woman.

“My father was a crewman on the Eileen McSorley,” the young woman muttered.

Joe recalled the cortex announcement this morning. “Ah’m very sorry to hear about yo’ loss, ma’am.” He was truly sorry. He empathized with the sadness.

“He worked in the engine room. He always told my mother that if his ship went down, he would never be able to get out in time.” The woman sobbed a little then returned to her duties. “That’ll be five credits.”

Joe reached into his pocket and handed it to the clerk. “Thanks, yew take care of yo'self and yo mother,” Joe said as he took the items and walked outside.

He dropped the items in the trailer and drove the mule back to the China Doll. He would make a point to talk to the captain about his encounter in the farmer’s market. Whoever was around, he would enlist to help him carry the fruit and vegetables up to the galley as well as give Abby her chalk and sticky putty.
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by sail3695
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sail3695 If you do, I'ma do too.

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And The Sea Shall Yield Up….


Part 7




. . . - - - . . .

Hard to tell that daylight had come. Angry black clouds raced overhead, as the roar of the wind deafened him. The table to which he labored to cling proved both blessing and curse all at once. It’s size and bulk meant that it could ride the ocean’s tempestuous peaks without tumbling down a wave face. The heavy legs acted as drogue anchors, adding a modicum of stability. He struggled to remain aboard the impromptu liferaft as it sometimes went nearly vertical while riding upward. The body straps from the life vest proved somewhat helpful, if for no other purpose than to keep the table from drifting away after he’d been tossed from its’ top. There’d been just enough web strap to afford him a single hand grip.

. . . - - - . . .

His watch was gone, torn from his wrist when the dying ship had expelled him. Parts of the walkie talkie were ruined by the salt water, though he had coaxed a signal just before the battery failed. With the icy cold threatening to make simple claws of his hands, Yuri set to work. As the hours passed...or were they minutes...he coupled the torch’s battery to the walkie. The most painstaking effort involved setting the transmitter to the lowest frequency possible. His hands shook violently as he tried to press the multitool’s knife tip into the tiny selector. Broadcasting on low frequency would boost his range, but for a radio designed to work on a thousand foot ship, he reasoned he might get a mile at best. Especially in these seas...this is a fool’s errand, the mechanic thought. Yet still he chose to play the fool.

. . . - - - . . .

This storm was his destiny, a final judgment of a mocking god. His limbs had begun to fail him. Hands were useless claws. Yuri’s knees folded upward, toward his chest. He would’ve died in the ocean. Now, the extra time this thin raft bought him was simply a prolongation of the inevitable.

. . . - - - . . .

It seemed funny to him...the things that came to mind before dying. The books he’d read, and the cortex vids he’d watched had all offered up heartrending images of people crying out for their mothers, or offering up final declarations of The One True Love. To be sure, he did feel love for his parents. In a way, he’d followed his father’s footsteps into the world of large machines, a pursuit that even the man’s death among the skyplex’s massive inner workings couldn’t blunt. His mother, Katja, was still alive. Still mopping floors in that man’s skyplex. Still working to pay off a debt the man himself would never proclaim to be clear.

As such thoughts invariably led him to his brother, Yuri saw no irony. It had been Ivan who’d drifted in and out of jail. Ivan, the brawler, the bully who’d made his little brother’s life a daily torment. Ivan, the robber, whose ham handed attempt to steal a mining camp’s payroll left three innocents lying in their own blood.

Ivan, whose desperate attempts to escape justice had finally landed him on the skyplex, under the hand of Adelai Niska.

It was clear at the time that Ivan had found his calling, serving as Niska’s chief enforcer. He relished the part, his zeal on full display through the tribal tattoo which crawled the left half of his face. Soon, the entire family was drawn into the spider’s web, living on the skyplex, accruing debts for which there was no explanation, and certainly no payment in this life.

. . . - - - . . .

Ivan’s fate was predictable. He’d been killed by a ship’s captain over a deal gone wrong. Niska raged over the death of his “Crow,” driven toward vengeance more by insult than loss. Yuri, sensing the turmoil among the crime boss’s lackeys, had escaped on a tramp freighter, never to look back.

But here, facing lonely death on an unforgiving sea, Yuri Antonov felt now as he felt then...a sense of relief.

. . . - - -

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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Aalakrys
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Aalakrys

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Girls' Shopping Trip


JP with @Xandrya



~This takes place before Hook's shopping trip~

The shop was small, and quaint, though its racks and walls were lined with clothing items and so Alana figured it was probably the only place around where she'd be able to find something warm. She'd asked the woman behind the counter if they had any coats or the likes, and in turn, the woman had let known they were scattered about. With a forced smile, Alana turned away to roam and try her luck. As she walked off, her mind drifted back to the day before to the time she spent with Cal. The very fact that he was on her mind clearly meant she fancied him, and the content expression on her face was a dead give away.

Is that… There was no mistaking the doctor with her style of clothing, though Penelope couldn't say so without acknowledging the same could be said about herself. Pensacola was more her fashion than the doctor's, though, which made her stick out more. Especially surrounded by less … formal-looking elegant wear. Tidy, that's what the pilot thought when she'd met the woman, and right now she seemed very out of place in all this clutter.

"Hey, there." Penelope greeted as she came along the overstuffed aisle facing Alana. "Didn't know anyone else was needin' some warmer duds."

Since she'd just come inside, the pilot's arms were empty, and it looked like either Alana also just came in or she was selective. That wasn't a fault in Penelope's eyes. She was frugal and thrifty. If she'd had time and forewarning, she'd have added a back layer to her quilt and stuffed it. "Brought the mule with me to carry back my haul. If ya want, you can ride with."

Her hand was pulling on the sleeve of a potential candidate to take a better look at it when a familiar voice greeted her from behind. Alana turned to see their pilot had joined her in the shop, and she welcomed her with a smile, genuinely glad to have some company during her shopping excursion. "Pen, hi! I’m just, you know,” she shrugged amicably, “trying not to turn into an ice pop when we’re back in the black. Please, join me. The ride back will be nice, but the company nicer.” She turned her attention back to the jacket, giving it another glance before addressing Penelope. “Well, would you look at this. It’s quite a...distinct piece.” The item in question was a salmon pink fluffy jacket, and Alana could only imagine what the others would say about it. “I’m not sure it’d be all that warm, to be frank myself."

“I’d been wonderin’ if a place like Pensacola would have a wintery wear section that amounted to more than’a light frost to the ground.” Penelope said as she studied the length of sleeve Alana had pulled to display, her eyebrows risen then furrowed as if that ‘piece’ answered that question. Alana reminded her of her older sister, Helen. Not in a bad way, in fact, it was the nicer parts about her sister that Penelope liked. Admired - secretly of course.The way she dressed and held herself. It was much more different than the easy stride the younger sibling took, but both were confident in their own manner. “Think the trick for us who ain’t bundled up in the Shutto du Skye will be layers.”

Her bare fingers flipped through the row between them idly as she spoke. Idly she thought she’d need some gloves - she disliked her fingers not being able to feel the console while she was flying, but without the gloves it was likely she wouldn’t be feeling much of anything besides cold pain. “Oh, I think I found something…”

From the way she had said it, it might have sounded sincere, but what she held up was anything but. Then she grinned. “Think it matches my eyes… Does look warmer though…”

She said the last bit looking at the fluffy thing held up beside her face, tilting her head a bit. It looked more like something worn to a club in winter, maybe. She wasn’t an expert in that area by any means.

Alana let out a little laugh. “No doubt that’s what we’ll need,” she added, “I mean it’s not like we can cuddle up to someone to keep warm.” Alana joked, unintentionally steering the conversation a certain direction. At that point, she peeled her eyes away from the green coat in Penelope’s hand and scanned the rest of the shop. “That would undoubtedly turn heads at a rave or something of the like, though I doubt we’ll be doing much dancing in the black...” And just like that, it didn’t take at all long for Alana to find her gem.

“Oh, and so it appears that Lady Luck is on my side today. Come Penelope, you must see this one!” Alana hurriedly motioned for the pilot to follow her, acting as if she were an excited schoolgirl. Alana pulled the coat from the rack it was hung upon and pressed it against herself, twirling in place as if she were modeling it for her companion. “It appears to be comfortable, warm, but most importantly, it's black and that’s as neutral as you can get.”

Penelope was in the middle of tugging the vivid green jacket she'd found as a joke inside out, her mind formulating stitches when Alana said something so lightly curious that she glanced over at her, brow quirked. The curiosity had nothing to do with the fact she just noticed the sleeves had zippers, and all to do with how the woman flitted from conversation so cheerfully. Though she couldn't surmise the woman's demeanor fairly as they'd had limited interactions, this was a little unexpected. She followed as beckoned, amused, with her fuzzy green jacket in tow. Black wasn't exactly her favorite - given she typically was in various splashes of color, but it worked with Alana. "Looks like it'd do the job. Might want to get a thermal shirt for under… 'less you are cuddlin' up with someone, then somethin' more shapely. Ain't good for warmth, but reckon that's what the other person's for."

She said it speculatively, as if it weren't fishing back in that pond to see if it were cause as she looked at the jacket left behind on a rack nearby. Someone must've not liked it after trying it on, but Penelope loved it. It was right up her alley in the same way that cushie black number did well for Alana. She held it up, trading it for the fuzzy green one she wouldn't have time to work on anyway.

Her cheeks grew a might warm at Penelope’s comment. What did she know, to be exact, if she knew anything at all? From the short time since she had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, Alana didn’t take Penelope for one who delved in the personal affairs of others. She could have been egging her on to make a confession, or she could have very well been simply playing off of Alana’s previous statement. Whichever way the story went, Alana wouldn’t willingly offer up any of the more intimate details from her time at Peces En El Mar.

“If one could only be so lucky, right?” That much she believed in all earnest, making her poker face practically indistinguishable from that of an individual without the worry of being found out. Alana pulled up the coat in front of her to look at it, both for closer inspection and to serve as a distraction. Just then, Penelope exchanged items for one that Alana couldn’t help but approve of immediately.

“I’m just going to come out and say it...you’ve got much more better taste than me.” Alana smiled, turning to Penelope to compliment her choice while simultaneously changing the topic. “I’ve got some warm socks packed up in my belongings, and I’m sure I have some cozy bottoms as well... What about you? What else are you needing to complete the ensemble?"

If Penelope was disappointed at the pointed change of topic, she didn't show it - though now she was curious which one of the fellas on the Doll would be her type. She did smile, of course, at the compliment as well as the direction the conversation swayed. The last time she had been shopping with another person was with her sister, and Helen had said the exact opposite. "I don't have anythin' warm, so I just gotta grab a few things for layers. And a thicker blanket since I don't have time to stuff my quilt."

After draping the jacket over the nook of her arm, decided, she grinned fully at the doctor. It was nice, out doin' some browsing with another person. "I don't think you've got bad taste at all, doc. We just like different styles. You're the first one who didn't think mine was all tatters and frays."

She shrugged, smiling as she followed Penelope. “I go through my stages, ya know?” Stealing a sideway glance at the worker behind the counter, Alana noticed her to be with a sour face. The shop was empty save for them two, so she could only guess they had broken up one of her routines. That, or she was indescribably lazy and couldn’t be bothered to keep an eye on a couple of customers for a little bit to assure they didn’t run off with something that wasn’t theirs. Either way, Alana didn’t pay her much mind.

“Back in day, I used to have rainbow hair. Can you believe that? At least Cyd keeps it simple with a single color, but not me. I was also quite a handful too, but I was young and running on the wild side came naturally. That, and it was the company I kept...” For a moment, her mind drifted back to her younger years, wondering what ever came to be of her friends. “But eventually my father straightened me out and here I am,” she went on, turning a corner after having spotted some scarves that looked mighty swell for the job required.

For a moment, Penelope was musing on that image, the little smile on her lips as she flipped through sweaters and found one to add to the crook of her arm. "Reckon we coulda been thick as thieves. Oh, maybe bad timing."

She looked apologetically in the direction of the cashier, caught out 'oops' look back to Alana at the unimpressed scowl. It was difficult not to give a little chuckle, so she had to cast her gaze downward to the rack. "Posh works well for you, Alana. Can't say I can see ya any other way, but reckon there's time for that?"

It was a question towards the end of discovering if Alana planned on sticking with the China Doll. Ever since her and the Cap'n's chat after dinner, she felt not so wary at how keen she was on getting to know the rest of the crew. The idea of having roots, albeit space roots, was the best kind for a free spirit like this particular pilot. She knew Cal wasn't going anywhere likely in a good long while, and had the feeling Hook and Abby were both along for the long haul. The question had been the youthful pilot and doctor alike, both a skilled profession and neither seeming to have any spoken direction. Now Penelope's was set, in that same sort of vague yet sure what her three shipmates' seemed to be, that curiosity tickled her about the doctor. What was her aim?

"That's my intention for now," she remarked, in the know as to what Penelope was referring to. Initially, Alana wasn't all too sure what her long-term plan would be, though the little time she'd spent onboard helped her realize she felt comfortable there. Comfortable was nice, and were it not for the brief incident where Abby's pi gu was penetrated by a bullet, she couldn't think of s single complaint that would lead her to permanently take her departure. "If Cal will have me, of course. Who knows what he'll be thinking if there's ever a time where it'll be necessary for me to stick a needle in his arm, or stick it somewhere that will have him crying like a little child." Alana laughed a little at the thought, and she remembered some of her own visits to the doctor as a little girl, her happy expression shifting just the slightest.

"You know, whenever I had to see a doctor growing up, I knew I would want a job in the field. No doubt that dream became a reality, but prior to being welcomed aboard the China Doll, I didn't have much going for me. It scares me to think of having to go back to that nothingness, you know? I haven't been with you and the rest of them all that long but it sure don't feel that way."

Penelope was considering the image Alana had her mind conjuring about Cal and needles, amused at the possibility that a seasoned man such as himself may very well not be too keen. But then the doctor strayed into familiar territory, one that aligned with her own feelings as of late. "Reckon there's just somethin' 'bout the Doll that has us all feelin' that way. Abby and Hook said similar on it, too. Don't know nothin' 'bout those Skyes, but they're long haul passengers for now. And our Cap'n… well, I don't think he's as adrift as he tries to come off. Rather like him, myself. Despite the surprise job that led to Abbs on your table."

The fondness in her tone didn't stray too far with the last bit. Only because they'd already cleared that up when they had their words. And Penelope wasn't one to revisit things when necessary, let alone unnecessary. "Have a mind we got ourselves a decent man as a captain."

She grinned at Alana, lifting up a final shirt for her little pile, game to cash out if the doctor was. They were on a time-crunch, sadly, otherwise this place might be full of treasures she could work with.

"Yes, he’s quite a decent one ain’t he.” Alana could personally attest to that statement in more than one account, though it’s not something she’d necessarily announce out loud. “I’m just happy we all have a home for now, nothing past that is of any certainty.”

Alana noticed Penelope practically done with her shopping, and she walked in the way of the cashier to pay up, which wasn’t an interaction she was personally looking forward to. Though brief, she had enjoyed herself during this last-minute excursion. Got something warm, got to talk to Pen for a little bit, and now she had a ride back. Though it would have been nice to stick around town for a little while longer, they had a schedule to meet. But she didn’t mind going back to the Doll one bit. Hearing a little bit about the others’ perspectives helped her realize they were more like her than she initially imagined.

“Well, this has been fun,” she confessed, placing her coat on the counter and turning to Penelope. "We should do it more often, though next time we oughta bring Abby when she’s not under strict orders to stay confined to the ship."

“Feel the same.” A little chuckle escaped Penelope’s lips, thinking on how much Abby was following the letter of the doctor’s law, but she said nothing. Instead, she lifted a touristy shirt up - Pensacola in tri-color horizontally across the chest with a beach sunset scene below. “Found this for her - even has thumb holes in the cuffs. Think it’ll be a good present for being such a good sport about it all?”

Abby wasn’t one Penelope had ever figured to pout, but she could tell the girl certainly didn’t like being confined to that lawnchair. If she’d been good enough after her nightly excursion, then at least Penelope could give her some sort of consolation. Wasn’t her fault she was shot in the bum.

“You know that girl so well, and I guess so do I because I can’t think of any reason she wouldn’t love it. Shame on me for not thinking of the same, but ‘fore I forget, first rounda drinks on me next time we get a little off time-if you care to, of course.”

“That’s a prescription ain’t no one would argue with, doc.” Penelope said, laughing a little as she loaded up her heap onto the counter. She ambled up beside Alana to pay her cost for the clothes once the doctor was done, and indicated she wanted two blankets. She left the clothes to go haul up the weighted blanket she’d spotted earlier, dropping a folded microfiber blanket on top. On the way back, she’d snagged a thick shawl she noticed in passing since her small blanket seemed to have gone missing after she’d ‘loaned’ it to Rex. There was a hat in a cart full of discards likely to be put back, so Penelope dug it out and found a pair of gloves underneath. Her luck seemed to be turning around in all sorts of major ways.

Feeling slightly inadequate with her light load, Alana insisted on lending a helping hand, bagging and compartmentalizing as she went. Grateful for the help, Penelope walked alongside her crewmate with a bundle in tow back to the trailer attached to the mule. The load seemed like a lot, and it definitely felt like a lot to the pilot who made most of her things, but her account was only marginally bothered by the purchase so she didn’t fret one bit.

“Ya ever rode on one of these before?” She asked as they finished up and she pulled back on the worn pair of leather fingerless gloves, eyes looking to Alana as she uncurled the wrist of one by sliding a finger under.

The question caused a memory to surface, one from back in the day. "Just once before, a very long time ago with my brother." Despite her mention of him, Alana didn't feel like going deep into the subject. Instead, she lowered herself onto her seat and made herself comfortable for the brief ride. "I ain't the least bit worried if that's what you're thinking, you being a pilot and all," she smiled at Penelope.

“That’s real generous, doc.” The doctor sure was good at side-stepping anything she didn’t want to discuss, Penelope allowed a grin with the reassurance though she was really more appreciative of the other woman’s privacy. Until all that came out after dinner, Penelope herself had been more than good at avoidance and distraction. Seemed it was finally her time to address it all, but that didn’t mean she was going to make folk who weren’t ready face their own stuff. Instead, she simply fired up the mule in a series of fluid motions, glanced back over her shoulder once to make sure Alana was holding on, and got them back on the way to the Doll.
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Clipboard Confessions




JP/Collab from @wanderingwolf and @sail3695

“Yes ma’am,” Abby nodded towards the lean woman who stood before her. JennaBeth Dupree wore loose fitting drawstring shorts and an open blouse...bit less modest than she’da chose fer herself,, ‘til she conjured this woman spent mosta her time workin’ alone. All the skin she allowed out was tanned right deep, so much as to be sorta ruddy. Them sandals was newish...like they’s only worn when she come tah town. Her hat was Chinese straw weave, sweat soaked through as it give her shade whilst she rowed among her beds. JennaBeth’s Oysters was hand painted on tha side ‘o’ her truck. Abby sized the woman by her work, an’ the no nonsense look in ‘er eye...and seen independence. She found it beautiful. “We’re headin’ fer Greenleaf.”

“Got a cold storage?”

“Sure’n we do,” the girl answered. “Cap’n’s runnin without heat this time...keepin’ our cargo bay nice ‘n’ cold.”

“Got a thousand pounds in five ice tubs. How much?”

Abby quoted. JennaBeth shook ‘er head. Abby talked up volume discount, then shaved an extra five percent ta close. To that, the oyster farmer signed off. “What time you go?”

“Three ‘o’clock. Have yer tubs here by two-thirty. Ice ‘em down good an’ they’ll hold til we break atmo.”

JennaBeth fished her coin purse. “That I can do.” she give Abby the money. “See you then.”

Abby wrote it all down on the clipboard as tha old truck rattled away. She finished tah tha sound ‘o’ bootheels comin’ down tha ramp. “Hey Cap’n,” girl looked up at Cal. “Jest got us more cargo.”

“That’s mighty fine Abigail, mighty fine indeed...” Captain Strand reached inside his breast pocket. “Reckon that nudges the arrow North a little, and given how things went last night….” His fingers found his last cigarette in that silver case of his, tucking it between his teeth as he faced Abigail with quiet eyes.

She’s already busted. Cap’n had’er figgered out at breakfast. He seen through her ruse. Buddha knowed what else he seen. Thomas’ truck weren’t zactly quiet in its’ comin’s an’ goin’s…”Things,” she answered. “Went okay, sir. I’m real sorr….”

“He treat you right?” Cal fixed Abby with a stare as the sound of flint on steel lit his face behind the cigarette.

She swallowed, put a hand up tah her hair, one ‘o’ them things yah just do when yer on the spot. But no, Abby thought on this. Ain’t gonna crawfish on this. She kept eyes on his gaze as she answered straight up. “Yes.”

The ember at the tip of his smoke danced as Cal drew out the moment; before that wicked grin curled the edges of his lips, “I know we talked of me chasin’ skirt, but then you go and get yourself some tail to boot. And all that with stitches--look at you, Abigail.” Captain Strand grinned, tipping his hat in her direction.

She felt the flush when it come tah her cheeks. “Didn’t git no tail,” she sounded all flustered like. “Weren’t lookin’. Did get some new duds. Fella I met helped me with that.”

“So you an a fella went shoppin’ for duds in the middle of the night?” He eased up, as it was plain to him she wasn’t going to divulge the real goin’s on in the dead of night, and seein’ as it weren’t his business anyhow, he added “I can take a hint, but, in truth, I need to ask you somethin’ for Penelope. See, she needs a favor.”

Abby’s all set tah tell ‘bout standin’ in the dog’s bowl in waterproof socks an’ such, but that story done vanished when he brung up the pilot. “Pen?” she asked. “Sure’n I’ll be happy tah do her a kindness.”

“The next leg of our journey’s gonna take us somewhere she’s got history. History, that’d be best left in the past, if you catch my meanin’. She needs what Ms.Baker had: A new name.” Cal drew on his smoke before facing his Deck.

Pensive. She’d read the word. Looked it up a time or two. Ain’t never used it. Til now.

“I have it on good authority,” he started, pausing to exhale a plume of smoke up toward the China Doll’s arched neck, “that ‘Ms.Baker’ grew mighty fond of you in her short time aboard.” Cal turned toward the wide world of New Melbourne from the comfort of his ramp. “That, and I went lookin’ for her things this mornin’. Wouldn’t happen to know where they got off to, wouldja?”

‘Course he got it conjured. What else could she think? Why in tha hot place didn’t she think it sooner? “It’s plain an’ true that we got on,” she said. “Liked her, sir. She taught me stuff…’bout this boat. Tole me ‘bout her girls. Let me talk ‘bout my folk. She’s right nice. After we touched down, friend ‘o’ hers come lookin’ for her things.” She could shut up now...damage was done. Trust...prob’ly run dry. Still, Abby knew she ain’t answered proper. An’ worse, Cap’n probably did too. Time tah stop playin’ at this nonsense. “Respect fer tha dead. That’s why I done what I did,” she confessed. “Outta respect. I snuck her stuff out, an’ give it over tah that fella.”

Cal nodded, this was exactly where he was hoping things would lead. Though, watching this life draw in this girl of no more than seventeen set a pit in his stomach. “Think he might know folk who can get things done… on the QT?” The words tasted more bitter than the tar in his cigarette. This was a sort of using which he knew he’d come to regret: pulling his youngest crewmate into a war almost as old as she was. He spat to clear his conscience before returning his gaze to Abby.

Her brows lifted, eyes opened in surprise. “Oh,” the girl said. “That I don’t know.” She thought on it a bit. Cap’n had her all conjured, but she’s still workin’ tah learn his ways...like jest then. Somethin’ round tha eyes as he’s talkin’...somethin’ he held close. But that werren’t what he’s askin’ her. “Don’t conjure it hurts none tah ask,” she finally said. “Can I borrah yer cortex?”

With a deft movement, Cal retrieved the glossy device from his pocket and held it out to Abby, “Go find your fella.”
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”I Know a Guy…”




Cameo appearance by @wanderingwolf

“You know,” Thomas observed, “that the idea of sun tannin’ your legs is to do both sides...right?”

When she’d called him up, Abby’s sorta surprised at how quick he come runnin’. Even better, he’s happy tah see ‘er when he showed. They may ‘o’ looked awkward, but she still seen him sneakin’ looks at her legs...which she figgered she kinda liked. “Ya know,” she countered, “only a right jackass would say a thing like that?”

He give her a chuckle. “That’s “Mister Jackass” to you. So, Crabby, what’s this new mission you got?”

“Shhh!” she waved her finger. Abby made tah lift herself from tha chair, til all of a sudden Thomas’ hands was holding her own, helpin’ her onta her feet. Felt like ‘er heart skipped a minute there, til she drew ‘him down close an’ placed a hand to his ear. “Got a crewmate needs new ident...fast,” she whispered. “Ya know anybody does that?”

He drew back, eyes upon her as he calculated his words. “I may know a guy.” Thomas studied Abby for a minute with eyes she couldn’t quite read. Finally, he spoke in a whisper. “You got this person’s new info? And a capture?”

“Right here.” She held out the cap’n’s cortex.

He brought his own device out ta bounce the file. “I’m conjurin’ here that somethin’ like this...done on the quick..won’t be cheap.”

Abby give ‘im the dead eye. “How much?”

Thomas shrugged. “Maybe a hundred...and a picture of your next drawing?”

Well, she fought the urge to smile and then lost, jest kilt the oyster payout. She pulled the coin from her pocket. “Done.” Abby closed her hands over his, passin’ the money. Couldn’t quite place the sorta electric feelin’ as her fingertips brushed his. “Cap’n has me here til noon. Then I gotta hightail tah tha engine room. Think yah’ll be back by then?”

Thomas grinned. “Here I go, movin’ heaven and New Melbourne for some girl I just met. Call me a dumbass.”

“Shiny,” her own mischief come out tah play, “can yah be back here by noon, Dumbass?”

He laughed. “It’s a date. Try’n have your legs tanned by then, okay?”

“Can’t do that ‘thout layin’ on muh stomach with muh pi gu up in tha air.”

“Don’t think anybody’d mind that!” Thomas waved as he took to his lorry.

“Shut up!” Abby laughed, waved back, and settled inta her chair.

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

“So what do you think?” Thomas and Abby huddled together. Before them gleamed a new ident card. RANDELL, PENELOPE D stood out in bold face type, next to a photo of the pilot. Completing the card was a scan code, intended to pull up a full record on the bearer.

Abby turned it over in ‘er hands. “Looks tha real McCoy,” she nodded her head slow as her eyes took in ever’ corner. “How’s it scan?”

“Doesn’t, yet,” he whispered. “Takes some time to set all the file traces in her new history. Data push is on for Greenleaf, since you’re headed there first. She’ll read legit through a regular checkpoint or if a bartender needs ident.” He lifted his eyes toward her. “Know how long you’re staying there?”

“Cap’n ain’t said.”

Thomas offered a tilt of his head. “My guy tells me her ident will register ‘verse wide in about three days, so she needs to keep out of hospitals and government buildings til then. Tell her not to get arrested...okay? And she best work on a Heran drawl.”

“Copy that.” She pulled her own ident from her pocket. Abby compared the two, side by side. “Durned if it don’t look more real’n mine..”

He burst out laughing. “What’d you do? Fall out of bed into a bag of cats? Crabby...that picture! Omigod!” He snatched the ident from her hand, holding it out of reach as he teased her.

Abby leaned toward him, stretchin’ on tip toe tah grab it back. “Cain’t jump fer it right now, ‘member? Bullet hole an’ such? Gimme muh gorram ident!”

With a shake of his head, Thomas relented, surrendering the card. “Oh,Crabby,” he chortled, “it’s true what they say about ident photos, huh?”

“Like your’n’s any better,” she bristled as she tucked it away.

“I,” he produced his ident with a flourish, “Am a bronzed god. Look upon me and swoon, woman.” A grin spread across his features as Abby doubled over in laughter.

“Is this...is this…” she collapsed into another fit ‘o’ laughin’. “Is this afore ‘r after tha keel haulin?”

Thomas loosed an audible sniff, turning his head. “Acne is a serious condition. And for your information, Little Miss I-Hate-Brushing-My-Hair, I was only ever keelhauled once. Well, maybe twice. Once. Three times.”

Abby put a hand to his shoulder fer tah steady herself. “Oh….oh...whew…” she surrendered his ident. “Ah want that pitcher,” she giggled.

“That reminds me,” he went into his pocket. “Had to kill my burner cortex for this job. Was thinking instead of pitching it I’d let you have it.” Thomas handed the little reader to Abby.

She give it tha once over. “Oh...right! I got this thing I’m throwin’ away so’s I won’t git inta trouble...what say I give it tah ‘Crabby?” the deckhand quipped.

“Girl, you’ve got a funny way of expressin’ your appreciation for someone who just…”

“Oh, why don’t yew jest shut the hell…” She didn’t see it comin’. Had no idea in ‘er head what she’s gon’ do til she found herself doin’ it. One arm about his neck an’ layin’ a kiss on him tha likes of what she never done. Later on Abby’d think on this. Wonder if she done it right. But not now, while he’s puttin’ his arms ‘round her an’ kissin’ her right back. Her eyes was closed. She couldn’t hear nothin’ but her own blood roarin’ in her ears. She weren’t rightly certain how long the kiss lasted. But when it broke, an’ their foreheads touched, she heard Thomas breathin’...all raggedy, like she’s doin’.

“Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“When are you comin’ back?” he asked.

“Not soon enough,” she answered deadly serious. Lightnin’ still shootin’ though every inch of ‘er, but that didn’t stop the town clock from strikin’ noon. “Gorramit,” Abby swore under her breath. “Thomas...I…”

“I know,” he pulled back. “Got work myself. But now we can talk,” he brightened. “Send me what you draw...and pictures of you in all the wild places you’re gonna go..dohn mah?”

She smiled, placed a hand to his cheek. “If you do, I’ma do to.” Next kiss was his idea. It’s shorter, but still coulda put her right off ‘er feet if he weren’t holdin’ ‘er at tha time.

Thomas withdrew from the embrace, his face a healthy flush as he turned for his lorry. “See you soon, Abby,” he smiled.

“See yah soon, Thomas.” As the engine coughed to life, she turned back toward China Doll. Cal was standin’ there. “Hey Cap’n,” She done her best tah sound all casual like, but couldn’t shake the hot flush on her own cheeks as she handed Pen’s new ident over. “Got ‘er done.”

Captain Strand pawed the forgery, his brows lifting in recognition of good workmanship. “Your fella knows his stuff.” His eyes met hers, a look passing over his features. “What happened to you?” That’s when it dawned on him, “Go shoppin’ for duds again, didja?”
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Settlin' In and Pre-Flight Checks




There was a nice sort of routine Penelope had gotten into, waking up in her own quarters with no fear of who might be lingerin'. As she woke from her nap, cat-like stretches commenced beneath the weight of the new blanket between her and her quilt. With a soft sigh, hand running through her loose hair, she looked up at the metal ceiling thinking that it was darned-near perfect as could be.

According to the time, she had a little over an hour or so before take-off. Gave her plenty of time to sort through her new clothes she'd left piled in their bags by the base of the ladder. If she ended up staying on with the China Doll, she'd have to actually fill this room up proper. Seemed the way things were shaping up, so she let herself idly consider a moment as her eyes roved around the structure. It'd been quite some time since she found herself making any plans, looking on past the day before her.

Just the room, Penelope told herself, as she sat up. It was more difficult with the weighted blanket, something she'd bought at the last second because she knew it was something she couldn't carry in her bag. That tendril of permanency, roots, starting to spread and dig into the China Doll.

It wasn't like she instantly trusted Cal, but she meant what she'd said to the doc. He seemed like a good man, and had potential to be a great captain. Just had to work on that need-to-know business between the brains and limbs of his ship’s workings. They’d sorted that, she’d given him the benefit of the doubt there, and maybe she’d made it clear enough there’d only be the one chance.

It seemed like a fair trade, she mused, as she let her feet feel the cool steel beside her bed a moment. He’d earned at least a bit of faith and a fair amount of respect. Weren’t any easy thing to ask for his help, havin’ stubbornly refused anything less than independence. And he didn’t even look down on her for how silly her plan seemed now that she looked back on it. He’d told her straight and honest, and kinder than expected.

Yep, a pretty good man, She repeated to herself as she ran her hand over the quilt. The square was faded, the only grey one on the entire piece. Embroidered into a corner of the jersey fabric was a bundle of hyssop bound with a stitched pink ribbon. Wonder how many of them are in the ‘verse.

The little smile was on her lips again, and off she went to sort her haul before it was time to work. Once it was all put away, what she wasn’t going to be using for the flight to Greenleaf, she decided to trade her green dungaree out for the new brown faux leather jacket and single pair of jeans she owned and had embroidered sunflowers into at the hip and cuff. The plush microfiber blanket was left in its bag along with her slouchy knit earth-toned beanie and matching gloves. That’d be for later when it started getting cold. But, she lugged it up the ladder all the same with her usual bag of supplies to keep busy during a flight. Wouldn’t take long for things to cool down at all, so it’d be good to have it close by for when the time came.

As she came up the short steps and in through the hatch door, she spoke aloud to the room, crossing to set the bag down nearby the pilot seat just before she took that for herself. “Hey, Sam - anything excitin’ happen since last I was visitin’ with ya?”

“Good afternoon, Penelope. Since you were last here with Cal, many things have transpired. Would you like me to catalog the events?” The disembodied voice responded while the pilot started running systems checks unnecessarily as the AI was perfectly capable of doing so.

“I have a feelin’ a great deal of it wouldn’t be what I considered excitin’.” She grinned with a glance over the console and down in the direction of where Sam was stowed away. “Ah, I gotta clear off that brush ‘fore we take off.”

As Penelope approached, barefoot and silent on her light feet, Sam whirred a moment and then reported: “Our cargo manifest promises a new haul of oysters, being delivered soon. Joe Hooker has loaded many different types of green edible flora to the kitchen’s inventory. The secondary shuttle has been retrofitted with new living commodities, and one of the residents -”

“There.” Penelope said as she dusted off the remnants of beach from Sam’s box. The angel wing shell remained, as promised. “Now what was that about a passenger?”

“I have been in communication with someone on the ship, but they refuse my assistance.” Sam spoke as the pilot went back topside with the beach fittings. She’d save those for her room.

“Most folk ain’t keen on AI, Sam. Might not be good to go lettin’ ‘em know you’re here.” Penelope didn’t realize Sam was saying they had been talking on more her plane. “Cap’n hid ya down there for your safety, ya know.”

Sam must’ve been considering, but the momentary lapse of speaking didn’t bother Penelope. She was back to checking on the flight instruments and reviewing the China Doll’s log report. Idle system didn’t mean no problems. “Cap’n says we’re gonna be flyin’ downwind a storm a’way’s off. I’m going to input the coordinates for ya to monitor now, just in case somethin’ changes. Everythin’ is lookin’ good where we are now. How ‘bout on your end?”

“Systems show operational functions at idle are not optimal but will function.” Sam responded after a moment. “Cal has Abigail scheduled to replace essential equipment before take-off, so it is recommended to run another diagnostic at the conclusion.”

“Thank you, Sam.” Penelope said as if speaking to a copilot. To her, that is what Sam was. “Hey, Sam… if needed, could ya fly the China Doll without me?”

It wasn’t a worry the pilot had, but rather a curiosity. Cal didn’t seem like the sort of man to trust an AI to his ship entirely, and Penelope questioned logic programming in hairy situations. It was more a point of interest for them to discuss while she settled in before another long flight. A conversation.
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Haven




Though Mrs. Wyman’s skin was ‘bout a shade ‘er two darker’n Hook’s, Abby could still conjure the bruise what crept out from behind ‘er sunglasses. She’s travellin’ light, with jest a shoulder bag an’ a small suitcase. Girl thought it tah be a bit outta place til she seen a hand shaped bruise on the woman’s forearm. Didn’t take a detective tah smoke out tha rest.

“Gotcher space heater set,” she said. “They’s extra blankets on tha foot ‘o’ yer bed. Since we’s runnin’ cold, I’ma keep a hot thermos with ya overnight. Wouldja like coffee, tea, or hot cocoa?”

“Coffee, please.” She allowed herself to be lead into the depths of the ship. “Can I ask you something...Abby, is it?”

“Sure.”

“I see you’re limping,” the passenger said. “Can you tell me why?”

Abby smiled over her shoulder. “Doc operated on me a few days back...down there...y’unnerstand. Still a might stiff an’ sore, but it’s scads better.” She seen an openin’ an’ took it. “We got a great doc, ma’am. If yah’d like I can take yah tah see ‘er.”

Ms. Wyman dismissed the offer with a wave of her hand. “Thank you, no. All I really want to do is sleep.”

“I putcha in our most comfy room,” the deckhand offered. “When it comes time fer launch, we needja take seat in tha lounge...right there. Any them spots has straps tah buckle inta. I’ll be ‘round then tah make sure yer all copasetic. Hook...he’s our cook...most like has somethin’ tah eat if yer hungry...right up them steps an’ turn right.” She opened the cabin door an’ stepped aside. “Here yah go. They’s time fer a cat nap afore we power up.”

The new passenger stepped inside her accommodations. “This will be fine.” She surveyed the bed with it’s night table bathed in the warm glow of the lamp. Not quite the match for a moment she’d dreamed of so many times, but considering she’d finally worked up the courage to embark on this new journey, a little revision seemed a small enough sacrifice. Her perusal stopped, as with a sudden turn she pointed toward the door. Does that lock?”

“Yes’m.” Abby nodded. This was one ‘o’ them tough sitchiations...knowin’ what’s goin’ on but clue free as tah what’s fit fer sayin’. “Yew can lock it.”

“Good,” Mrs. Wyman expressed her satisfaction. “Then I’ll stop taking your time. Thank you, Abby.”

As Abby turnt fer her own room an’ a change ‘o’ clothes, she heard the sharp click of the lock.
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The new catalyzer fit like a dream. Didn’t take Abby no time for tah pop it inta place, just like Marisol taught her. More she learnt, more she conjured most things in the ‘verse was butt simple...til folk stepped in an’ made ‘em all complicated.

Like Fireflies. Once yah got tha flow down, they’s jest easy tah suss out. She checked the fuel tanks. Full an’ ready. Run her eyes all along lines an’ couplin’s to the pumps. They showed pressure an’ standby mode, jest like they should. Reactor was warmed up an’ ready, soon’s she kicked over tha radion core. No leaks, no weird sounds, all happy gauges an’ green lights. Still, she took ‘er time, folllowin’ tha checklist one by one.

Marisol had kept a good log. ‘Sides the catalyzer, she mentioned two-three things looked like they’d need replacin’ in another couple runs. One ‘o’ tha heat exchangers was wearin’ down, and somethin’ called a tri-modal supply router fer the portside atmo engine. She’d give each one a look-see in turn, soon’s she had ‘em off shore power.

Power distro looked shiny, even if ‘twas in shore bypass mode. Life support...all good. Water tanks was full, an’ tha recycler’s empty. In a minute, all these workin’s would come to life. China Doll would be herself again. “Engine room,” she announced herself over the comm. “I’m ‘bout tah start ‘er up.”

Pen come right back with an “all clear.” Abby took both hands on tha core crank, pushin’ it over til it clicked home. Tha core give a chug, then another, and another as she cycled an’ commenced tah spinnin’. Her data screen come alive with fuzzy green numbers cyclin’ up whilst the core set tah hummin’. Things looked right. Numbers looked good as her checklist.

Abby had her hair tied back, pony tail tucked ‘neath ‘er collar as she moved about the engine room. She’s wearin’ a pair ‘o’ her new denims...durn if Thomas’ mom couldn’t measure an’ take ‘em in just right. First time a pair ever felt good on her waist an’ hips. Brand new socks in her boots was already warm, an’s she’d pulled stuff out fer when it got cold.

“”Pen,” the girl keyed her mic. “Engine room checks out. I’m headin’ fer tha atmo engines. Gotta walkie if ya’ need me.”
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F/V Morning Light




After the past two days, the act of splashing cold water onto her face held no restorative benefit. Except the absence of salt spray, Bian smirked at her reflection. The woman in her mirror appeared somewhat older than her fifty-three years. Creases and bags around the eyes were more prominent, just as likely the result of sleep deprivation as they were a sign of her age. Decades of sun and wind had coarsened her skin. Once lustrous jet black hair now streaked grey, with a weatherbeaten frizz to which she’d long ago surrendered. The sea had transformed her into its’ own creation.

She checked the time. Fourteen-fifty. In a few minutes, the season would begin properly. She could send the signal, and have her decks cleared of their illicit catch. It had been risky, spending the last two days fishing the churned waters in the hurricane’s wake, but so far, the move had paid off. Not a single Marine Patrol boat had shown, and there’d been no flyovers. The crew were all equally weary, but their spirits held. The preseason catch had been robust. Once China Doll collected her cargo, their work would begin anew.

“Bian.” Darius’ voice over the intercom. “We got company.”

She finished drying her face, then hung the towel before keying her mic. “What do you make of her?”

“Fast mover, on a southerly course. Grey paint job.”

Captain Bian Nguyen only had to utter a single word. “Showtime.”

The F/V Morning Light was no stranger to the act of poaching. Her crew were well drilled in the art of “nautical naughtiness” and the ways to defuse the curiosity of both surface vessels and aircraft. As she climbed the aft ladder toward the wheelhouse, Bian noted the heavy tarp which covered the waiting tuna. Paint work consisting of numerous meter length brown stripes would be read from the air as a stack of crab or lobster traps. As she took to the bridge, her deckhands completed the masquerade by making a show of hauling a trap line. The final accessory to her costume, the placards, had been put into place when they’d begun fishing.

“Vessel to my port beam,” the radio squawked as she entered, “this is the charter boat ‘Slippery When Wet.’ You copy?”

“Five by five, Slippery,” Darius traded glances with Bian. “This is the fishing vessel Mariah P, at your service.”

“Havin’ any luck?”

“Negative, negative,” the First Mate responded. “Hurricane scattered our crab traps all to hell and back. Gonna be lucky if we recover half of em, copy?”

Bian cast a glance over her shoulder, her eye satisfied by the sight of the deck crew hoisting a trap from the heaving seas. The intruder spoke again. “Fair sorry to hear it, Mariah. Got a couple guys chartered us for King Tuna, but considerin’ who they brought with ‘em I conjure won’t be much fishin’ goin’ on.”

Darius trained his binoculars. After a moment’s study, he smiled at the number of bikinis in sight on the charter yacht’s after deck. “Roger that, Slip. Guess it’s good somebody’s gettin’ some, copy?”

The other captain laughed. “Not these two horn dogs. They’re takin’ turns bent over the head. My deckhand’s gonna try’n teach the little cuties to fish so the trip’s not a total bust.”

“Sounds like mighty tough duty, Cap. Seas ahead on your course should even out by nightfall. I gotta get back to it. Mariah P. out.”

“Good luck to you, Mariah P. Slippery When Wet out.”

Bian had studied the radar throughout the exchange. “He’s not changing course. Should drop below the horizon in another ten ticks.” She lifted her binoculars. After a moment’s study, she turned toward Darius. “Looks like they’ve got enough distractions aboard to look at. Let’s drop our veils.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the First Mate hustled from the wheelhouse. Within a minute’s time, the faux crab trap operation was removed, tucked away into its’ stowage. Placards bearing the name “Mariah P” and a false registry number were removed and stashed. Nguyen looked down upon the deck in time to see the pantomime tarp being rolled and folded. The exposed cargo, four thousand pounds of King Tuna, lay secure in eight large ice tubs.

She made the final reveal, switching transponders. Now, if anyone cared to look, the Morning Light was on station, ready to enter the fishing grounds and claim her due.

“Deck’s clear,” he announced, his frame filling the aft doorway.

Captain Nguyen checked the time. “Fifteen-oh-two. Just barely legal,” she smirked at Darius. “I’ll signal the China Doll.”
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Episode 2 Finale Part 1 - Fish Tales




JP/Collab by @wanderingwolf, @Aalakrys, @Gunther, @Xandrya, and @sail3695
(Parts for Rex Black written by sail3695 in the author’s absence.)

Captain Nguyen checked the time. “Fifteen-oh-two. Just barely legal,” she smirked at Darius. “I’ll signal the China Doll.”

The little chirps resounded on the China Doll’s dash, heard by her pilot who’d been sitting all snug with leg tucked and working on a little project involving some of the shells. Penelope left the little winding needle secure between a knot she was pulling taut and set the entire pile of thread, shells, and seaglass aside on a flat part of the console. She picked up the receiver after glancing over while Sam reported: “The signal is coming in from the fishing vessel, Morning Light.”

“That it is,” Penelope said as she clicked on the transceiver and pressed. “Cap’n, we have a green light from our client. Doll’s warmed up and ready to go when you give word.”

With the handheld back in its cradle, the pilot got to making final preparations for departure. The engine had been in idle for just a handful of minutes, Penelope having sent word to the docks to let them know they’d be lifting off here momentarily - if they idled too long, she’d tell ‘em somethin’ was delayin’ departure. Somethin’ being she was threadin’ twine around stone and shell rather than putting her hands on the controls, waitin’ on the signal, but they didn’t need know all that. Luckily, she didn’t have to spin a tale up since the signal came though and her hands got to workin’ on her actual job.

The radion core was smooth as silk ever since Pen spun ‘er up. Abby moved about the engine room, takin’ care in her final checks afore China Doll’s feet would lift off. Reactor fuel flow an’ temp...check. Atmo engines ready at idle...check. All hatches an’ vents sealed...check. Life support...check. Hydraulics...check. Power distro...balanced over her three phases. Pen had fire tested all thrusters an’ they’d been runnin’ on ship’s power fer thirty minutes now. Abby ticked off the checklist an’ signed her name inta tha log.

Seein’s how this run was gonna get mighty cold, she gone throughout the boat, turnin’ on spigots an’ openin’ water valves fer tah trickle. Best way tah keep pipes from freezin’, an’ she weren’t worried ‘bout losin’ much water on this short run. She wore a red knit cap belonged tah her Aunt Lupe. Abby also had a hand-me-down sweater she’d pull on when it started chillin’. Them ew socks would be a right blessin’ ‘bout then, too.

She weren’t thinkin’ ‘bout Thomas..not that she didn’t want tah. His time would wait til she’s off duty. Fer now, boat had some tricky flyin’ ahead. Pen and tha Cap’n would be on their toes, an’ they’s both countin’ on her tah do too. “Time tah check it all agin,” the girl whispered afore runnin’ her list.

Cal heard his pilot’s voice echo from the wall comm in his quarters. He’d been trying to clean up things a bit; clothes what normally found themselves strewn across the floor or on the pull out desk and chair were being stuffed every which way in the closet here, or drawer there. Pick up this cargo, get to the black, then keep warm with the doc, his plan was short sighted, sure, but how far did a body need to see for needs needin’ met?

His palm flattened the button on the comm, “Shiny, be right there.” With a scrutinizing eye passing over his humble abode, Cal nodded at his work. Except for the toilet seat left up, it seemed passible--all things considered. Taking the ladder rungs up from his quarter two at a time, Captain Strand walked into the bridge in no time, donning his duster as he entered with a nod to Penelope. “Nguyen called? They broadcastin’ from the same spot we figured?” He approached the console and beheld the intricate crafting cast aside, “You know, first Sam, then Abigail; I’m startin’ to feel like we’re on the outs considerin’ I ain’t been the recipient of one of your fancy shell souvenirs.” He fixed her with an arched brow, elbow resting on the flight console.

"Aw, Cap'n it takes time to make 'em up real nice and no one more than the cap'n deserves the best." Pen gave a little wink as she ran through the log Sam had been narrating to her when Cal came in. "Systems are lookin' good with the shiny new part in place. Sam, got any conflict? Don't see none here. We are good to meet Nguyen where promised."

A velvet voice responded from the console, “The catalyzer is operating nominally, Penelope. The replacement has increased the rate of chemical reactions in the injection mechanism by thirty-three percent. Abigail was successful with her installation, Cal.” It was spoken matter-of-factly, but the tone was one of excitement. It appeared that Sam was enjoying her new role aboard the China Doll.

“That’s what I like to hear.” Captain Strand settled into the captain’s chair while cranking a few calibration knobs which brightened the viewport from the China Doll’s glass-shield eyes. The contrast showed a clear horizon except for a shadow of cloud to the North East. He reached for the comm to raise the engine bay. “Sam says you did a fine job in there, Abigail. ‘Preciate you steppin’ in.”

“Uh...shiny?” Abby pondered that a spell. They get new crew? Somebody named Sam? Don’t make no mind right now, she give her head a shake as them numbers danced afore her eyes. “Good tah go, Cap’n.”

Replacing the receiver, Cal turned to his pilot, “I got a mighty need to kick dirt, Penelope. Will you oblige?”

“Can do, Cap’n.” Penelope could feel that hum building up in her chest just as the engine whirred at her direction, the control unlocking and sliding back into her gloved palms. Every bit of flyin’ was a thrill, and it’d only been buildin’ since time had ticked down to this moment. Her fingers curled round, and with her eyes on the sky she repeated: “Can do.”

She’d piloted a few up-thrust vessels, but the light design of a firefly cargo ship was unique. The tension in the controls was more loose without all that extra weight in the hold, but not somethin’ more than marginal. The incoming load would surely fill the belly; it was always a balancing act with a bi-thruster, of which were flipped at a switch and locked with another. “Clamps fastened, the Doll is ready for her dance.”

Those feet of hers retracted into the landing gear well as Penelope fired the engines and had the Doll steady at a hover while her eyes scanned the fuel line coursin’ through steady and even. “Get your spurrin’ heels ready, Cap’n, the dirt is about … to … be … kicked.”

The only difference between her glider and this model ship was the gravity dampener makin’ sure the upward force weren’t going to floor the folk inside her at the speed they lifted. Oh, it could surely be felt to some degree, and the pilot pushed herself right into it as they rose. Once they reached altitude, Penelope pressed the release for the pivot spindle to turn the wing thrusters back into position for forward motion in the easterly direction. “Sun’s above us, so ‘least it ain’t in our eyes whilst we make way for pick up. Should be smooth ‘til we get closer to the funner winds.”

JennaBeth, the oyster farmer, was good as her word. Now, as the roar of China Doll’s atmo engines echoed throughout the cargo bay, the five tubs were arrayed to balance their weight for flight trim. Their place in the cargo bay’s aft end would permit the next cargo, fresh tuna from the Morning Light, the broader space. Everything was secured. Straps were at the ready. The boat’s overhead hoist was now positioned above the bomb bay. The cargo net which hung beneath swung lazily as the boat took to air and nosed onto her course.

Joe Hooker and Rex Black had just made it to their jump seats. There’d been passengers to tend, folk who, despite knowing the frozen journey to come, had still signed on for the trip to Greenleaf. After strapping Mrs. Wyman and Professor Marquina to their lounges for the flight, the deckhand and his First Mate awaited their call to action.

Joe looked up at the hoist. He had checked the winch out before they left their mooring. It would provide a critical function for their primary cargo this trip. He wanted to make sure it had no defects. He was confident it was working fine.

“Ah yew OK with what we’s doin’ Mister Black?” Joe asked the first officer. He looked over the hoist controls, aware a storm was lingering, and this was the area where the Eileen McSorley went down. “This storm must have been pretty rough, sir.” He knew the waves would be pitching badly. At least they could hover out of the soup and not have to float inside it. He Looked at the controls. Everything was fine. He looked down at the water through the opened bomb bay. They were ready to lower the cargo net with the First Officer attached. “We gettin’ close, Mister Black. Ah hope you don’ mind getting a little wet.” Joe looked over at the man, attempting to get a feel for how he was doing, what he was thinking. “Sho glad its yew an not me, Mister Black.” Joe suppressed a smile or any sign he might find any humor in this situation.

“Nothin’ to it, my man,” Rex loosed a wolfish grin as he clapped Hook on the back. “Just like riding a sex swing in a whorehouse...either way you end up soaking wet and smelling like fish,” he wagged his eyebrows as he clambered to his feet. “I should harness up,” the First Mate hiked a leg into the first loop of his safety rig. “Think I can get this in leather?”

Alana had been idly sitting by for some time. She imagined the rest of the crew was busy with one thing or another, and though she didn't have any responsibilities at the moment, she thought it best to stay out of everyone's way. She had once more ran inventory in the med bay, and it was as equipped as it could be to handle practically any casualty despite its unimpressive size. Admittedly, the layout was one Alana found to be effective, nonetheless. From the entrance, the sickbed was set up against the wall to the right, with ample space on either side to allow a comfortable level of movement. Her workstation was positioned on the opposite side, more so used for a check-up or a quick procedure not requiring anything beyond routine care. In between the two was a sink surrounded by cabinetry and storage spaces galore which spanned to the adjacent walls as well. Far from a hospital, but enough to bring someone back from the dead if needed be.

Leaning against the backrest, Alana decided to look over the patient log to check for any possible inconsistencies she may have made during the note-taking step, not that she had much to go over.

Cal watched the view through the Doll’s eyes as his pilot took them up and toward their first destination. The water replaced the ground beneath them and waves stretched out for leagues. It was akin to walking on water, now, the China Doll under Penelope’s hands, and Jesus himself would have patted her on the back.

He took a moment to appreciate the view before turning, “I’m gonna to make sure we’re ready for the goods; got my comm. Give me the finch call when you lay eyes on the prize.” With a wink, Cal strode to the door.

"Will do, Cap'n." She said, holding her eyes steady on course. The cheer was in her tone, grin spread pretty and wild as ever. She was really in her zone, even more so since all that weight she'd been luggin' around was dropped now that it'd finally been addressed. Been a while since she felt so free, it had. Sure, she was still a little daunted by the prospect of returning home, but now she could be a measurable bit more excited. Risky thrills had always been her thing.

When the first wind current pushed against the Doll's hull she laughed a little to herself. "Gettin' to windsurf in my own way again. … Can ya feel that sorta thing, Sam?"

"Feel?" Sam responded after a moment, the pilot considering the gauges to adjust while the AI must've been figuring on what Penelope meant. "I do not believe measuring reading fluctuations is a method of feeling, from what I understand."

"'s too bad." Penelope said honestly, feeling for the little black box even though she knew Sam was more than that in some way. "That's … huh. I reckon a sense of excitement with the lunge, a little bit of fear. Those are emotions, that are reactions, I guess, ta the sensation of crashin' against somethin'."

"Crashing would not be advised." Sam's velvety voice managed to sound as if she was appalled and giving warning at the same time. Penelope laughed again, shaking her head and explaining: "Naw, not like that kind of crashin'. Wind ain't solid, so I reckon I worded it wrong. Anyway, these pitches aren't near as fun as the other night when we came in. But that's good since we're loadin' and not pitchin' this time."

"You were referring to crashing as a wave on the ocean does?" The question came a little while after silence passed between them, Penelope focusing on flying and Sam doing whatever she did until she asked. It, like their interactions before, didn't throw Penelope off track. She continued following the Morning Light's beacon as she went on instructing Sam, amused at that's what they'd been doing during flights.

"Huh, sorta. Pitches like a wave, but … more like a dolphin splashin' back in the water after doing that jump up it does when swimmin'." Penelope had always liked the notion of sea critters. A sea was like a forest in a way, stretch of blue as far as the eye could see with all sorta life beneath its surface. "There's a breach, in a way, but no pain. Like, breakin' through a resistance. Wind and water are fun that way. More fun when ya can feel it against your body, but in the ship ya can still get a little of the sensation - if I let it, that is. Probably get a scoldin' if I skipped air tunnels."

She chuckled again at the notion, spotting a ship in the distance through the viewport. No sooner had her eyes spotted the ship rockin’ steady on the waves, a transmission came through hailing the Doll. "Almost there, Sam."

**********************To Be Continued*************************
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Episode 2 Finale Part 2 - Net Gains




JP/Collab by @wanderingwolf, @Aalakrys, @Gunther, @Xandrya, and @sail3695
(Parts for Rex Black written by sail3695 in the author’s absence.)

Sam patched through the feed, and Penelope was starting to feel mighty spoiled by having an assistant on hand. If she were the sort to worry, the AI’s ability to function without command might be a bit peturbing, but weren’t no concern of hers.What was her concern was the message playin’ and what it meant.

”China Doll, China Doll, this is Morning Light. We see you approaching to our West. We’re laying across the wind to keep our masts and crane clear of your hawser. Point your nose to about two-ninety degrees and you should steady up fair nice, copy?”

“Copy.” Penelope responded, figuring Sam was transmitting again for her. “Linin’er up.”

“Estimations show windspeed ranging between 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts in no discernable pattern.” Sam supplied as Penelope watched the gauges, navigating to the sweet spot after flipping the thrusters as the AI continued to provide statistics. “The fishing vessel is ‘pitching’ on waves topping at 6’.”

“Rollin’, Sam - if they were pitchin’ this would be a different number.” Penelope said just before falling into an old habit of pressin’ her tongue to her canine as she found the rhythm of the waves. That was more predictable. Gusts would have to be improvised by her arm-strength, or the steadiness of them anyway.

Instead of continuing the conversation, Sam played the incoming transmission: ”Good to go, China Doll. Lower your net.”

“‘s time to cut in, Cap’n.” Penelope radioed Cal. “Cargo’s waitin’.”

After a moment, Captain Strand’s voice replied, “Copy, that. Keep ‘er steady; don’t want Rex to take a dip,” his comm was still on, but he paused, “Though I reckon it’d be a might funny to see from up here, outside of rifle range,” replied Cal, a smirk in his voice.

Joe had a good view of the water below. He could see the First Mate clinging to the cargo netting. He could see the ship below. The waves were rolling pretty good now, maybe six foot swells. He began working the winch lowering the netting and Mr. Black towards the waiting fishing vessel below.

Rex descended from the ship’s belly toward the fishing boat. China Doll wasn’t hovering much higher than the tips of the radio masts on Morning Light, but still, rolling as she was in waves that smacked her side, she still looked like a mighty small target to hit. Below, two deckhands reached up with gaffs, looking to capture the cargo net and guide him in. When he finally set down, it was with a tough bump as the deck rose up to finish the trip. The First Mate held on until he could make a reasonable show of having his sea legs.

Once steadied, he unclipped both the cargo net and his harness. The deckhands laid the net flat, and set to work shoving the first heavy tub onto its’ center. Rex watched the work, until the tap of a hand to his shoulder distracted him. The man he turned to face was huge, a tower of ebon flesh and muscle. “You got somethin’ for me?”

He answered with a wink, and the withdrawal of a cash pouch from his jacket. The payment thuis transferred, Morning Light’s First Mate gave a thumb’s up to his deckhands. “Welcome aboard the Morning Light. Pleasure doing business.”

Once the first tub was secured, Rex reattached the net. With a thumb’s up signal of his own, he stood back to watch the first load rise upward.

When he received the signal from the first mate, he began bringing the netting back up into the ship. Then he would angle it over to one of the locations to store the fish during the trip to Greenleaf. He repeated the process several times as the hoist lowered to the fishing vessel and then back up into the cargo holds to store the fish for the trip.

Rex chose the seventh load…”lucky seven”...to make his trip back to the boat. Morning Light’s deckhands knew the drill. He could count on them to handle setting up the final load themselves. The job had gone pretty smoothly so far, a thought he regretted the instant it crossed his mind. He had no business tempting fate like that. Still, luck shone through as he rode up into China Doll.

As Hook, Rex, and Cal sorted each batch of fish into their respective corners of the bay, Cal saw Rex readying himself to take the last plunge for the final payload. “Hold on, now. Got something special for Captain Nguyen to celebrate our mutually beneficial relationship on such short notice.” Strand produced a bottle of bourbon with a holographic label from a compartment under the cargo bay stair and held it out to Rex. Bottle in hand, Rex nodded in a flourishing toast before stepping onto the netting. Hook lowered him down to the fishing vessel below.

On the final trip, the hoist started to sputter and yaw making all sort of noises. The First Mate would have felt the netting jerk and tug then stop halfway up to the China Doll. “Captain! Somethings wrong with this thing?” Joe yelled to Captain Strand. He stopped the system so it wouldn’t put any unnecessary force on the hoist. Then he climbed up the arm to wear the cables were and found it was bound up slightly. “May need to lower him back down to fix this.”

The whole gig was going swimmingly until this hitch, “Check the winch, Joe. I’ll hold ‘er tight down here,” Captain Strand said, swapping sides of the hoist with Hook. “Look out below!” Cal bellowed down to Rex.

Joe clambered back down to the deck and yelled, “Mistah Black! I need to lower you agin. The cable is bound up!” He then returned to the seat and tried to lower the cable. At first it did not want to go, but the weight of the fish helped get it back to the fishing vessel below. Once the weight was off the cable, he climbed back up with a prybar and was able to loosen the cable enough so it would move freely over the pulley.

The First Mate responded with a wave. “Winch problem,” he told Darius, his counterpart on Morning Light. “I could use a Wench problem right now. By the way,” he pulled the bourbon from his coat. “Captain Strand sends his compliments.”

He returned to the bombay door. “Ok Mistah Black! Ready to lift you agin!” He jumped into the hoist seat and was able to bring the sixth load of fish up into the cargo bay and deposit it into its space. “That should do it, Captain,” Joe responded with some finality.

After a handshake for Darius, Rex clipped his harness to the hawser once again. He didn’t bother looking up to gauge his progress. Not about to tempt the fates a second time.

Cal gripped Rex’s forearm with his own as he hoisted his first mate the last step up into the China Doll. “Almost lost you to the soup, there; thought I might have to write your epitaph: ‘The ugly duckling who took a swan dive.’”

*******************To Be Continued******************
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Episode 2 Finale Part 3 - “You Can’t Stop the Signal”




(Written under adult supervision by @Aalakrys and @wanderingwolf

S.A.M.N.T.H.A. knew no rest. For an AI possessing her....her=gender misappropriative reference used by Cal and Penelope due to the similarity of the descriptive acronym to a popular given name for females...based upon her capabilities and reach, there were simply too many other things to know. The portside atmospheric engine output was hampered by point zero zero seven two percent, the result of an inadequately installed thrust director. The IAV Dortmunder had just put into orbital drydock above Ares for a series of structural and propulsion systems repairs. Overnight snowfall on New Kasmir reached a record setting point-eight-seven-meters. Local government would requisition four additional thorium reactors to meet the increased seasonal power demand. Wealthy financier J.R. Mammon was reported to have survived an assassination attempt. He was last seen boarding his personal yacht under the care of an unnamed physician. Pulse beacon readings ceased once the vessel exited the White Sun system. Incarceration files for Independent P.O.W’s James and Yolanda Travis had been erased from Central Records. Canton Mud was trading at a premium in commodities markets.

Penelope’s interest in sea critters…critters=colloquial mispronunciation of the English word ‘creatures’. If Sam could be accused of the act of “liking” such an idiosyncrasy, the AI reasoned that to prefer the use of the term “critter” in response to the pilot was an appropriate intuitional reaction. The study of New Melbourne’s indigenous marine life had produced a fascinating informational subset. Access to the planet’s weather/sonobuoy network afforded Sam the opportunity to listen to the social lives of numerous cetaceous species. Cross referencing the songs and clicks of whales to the scientific record had proven worthy of reallocating her primary processing.

The leading marine mammalogists hypothesized that whales used their songs for purposes beyond mere sonar and pod location. S.A.M.N.T.H.A. could now verify those guesses. At first, the ethereal tones and occasional clicks offered little by which to base analysis. The absence of low frequency from the audio spectrum drove the curious AI to access system specifications of the buoys themselves. Sure enough, the search revealed a dynamic frequency limit to their signal upload capacity. Sam quickly remedied this with a command override to one of New Melbourne’s communications satellites.

The results proved revelatory. The previously documented songs of whales proved a symphony only half heard. Adding the low frequency dynamics produced astonishing depth which extended well beneath the human aural spectrum. These missing sonic links were the key...the linguistic underpinnings of a language both advanced and, if Sam were any judge, eloquent in its simplicity. She couldn’t understand just what was being said, but she had locked down the patterns of the whales’ speech...a beneficial finding, if the mammologists were to be heeded. She filed this information under Present to Captain, with a note to include Penelope, should Cal react positively.

During a live audio sweep, the anomalous signal caught Sam’s attention. Initial analysis defaulted to categorizing the source as a spurious biologic, a conclusion Sam refused for the fact it hadn’t been picked up by a sonobuoy. RF entirely. The weak transmission proved intermittent, but multiple samples did reveal a pattern...a human generated pattern. To truly isolate the pulses, she would require phased trilateral tuning and signal amplification. She would require military hardware.

After a discreet search, S.A.M.N.T.H.A discovered the command access to MILSAT9, a two hundred channel behemoth whose ELD assets were focused largely upon the planetary approaches. Cal had been clear about such research…”Don’t go leavin’ your fingerprints where they can be found.” This would require some careful routing to mask her signature. A rolling crypto-encoded signal, relayed from Pensacola to Rangoon to New Canberra, with a final bounce off the repeater at Slocum’s Atoll would provide sufficient masking. Thus protected, the AI logged into the defense satellite. Sam claimed five unoccupied channels, training their receivers toward the turbulent ocean below.

* * * * - - * * * *

Frequency analysis proved low...bottom end of the communications spectrum. The staccato bursts were unevenly timed...indication of human effort. The message code, however, bore no recognizable pattern. Basic Morse was most likely, but the translation I, I, M, I, I had no correlation. Sam listened, recorded the awkward bursts again and again. She highlighted the common repetitions to isolate the most probable message. Her observations soon ruled out the odd I,I, M,I,I for the clearly discernible outcome.

* * * - - - * * *

S, O, S.

S.A.M.N.T.H.A understood that completely. Alliance Maritime Law was equally clear. ”...explicitly states this requirement in its' Systemwide Convention for the Safety of Life at Space or Sea: “A master of a ship, which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance…”

Sam moved to China Doll’s intercom. Cal was relaying departure instructions to Penelope. Mindful of the required discretion, the AI opened her channel to the cockpit. “Penelope, I have detected a weak distress signal on this planet.”

*********************To Be Continued*******************
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