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Just dropping in to withdraw interest, thank you regardless
Are you still accepting players? I may have one other to join with me if so.
With no relative star to provide a day/night cycle the Roanoke's lighting system mimicked a dawn and dusk to the best of its abilities. Oftentimes Abigail was lit, a scrappy silhouette in the maintenance LEDs, in the middle of night making her adventures to the toilet and the officer's lounge. Seldom did she stay in her quarters if it wasn't to sleep in them. She had an aversion to the space and claimed it was cramped. But when the princess left Abigail's quarters she remained inside and did not leave the room for the entirety of the evening, claiming that the battle and rough landing tired her out enough to get some rest.

Jakunta banged on the door with a heavy hand that could only be him. Abigail's gaze flickered to the door for a moment before she got up and clicked on the speakers for the door lock.

"Yeah?"

“Hello.” he spoke, staring at the door.

"Heyyyy." Abigail thought about it for a moment.

The keypad flashed green and the door hissed open. She gestured for him to enter.

Jakunta entered and looked around the room. “Empty.” he said, void of any emotion indicating whether that was a good or bad thing. “Are you going to be a soldier, or the poster girl?” he asked next, straight to the point as he sat himself down.

"The soldier," Abigail responded. "But it's hard to give the poster girl up."

“You will give it up. Or we die. You die, I die, ship die.”

"Firstly," Abigail sat down on her bed - sheets still tucked in neat, "the only fun I get out of all this Child of Savonia shit is the bragging rights and how people look up to me. Second, it's not a goddamn risk. You sound like Aleks. Did it ever occur to either of you that the mistakes I made this year might have something to do with me being a shitty pilot, overpromoted to this rank because of who I know and the terms of my contract?"

"Because the contract's key here, Jak. It's not a...a lifestyle choice, it's a fucking legal obligation. Failure to uphold my part of the bargain means they'll fail to uphold theirs. Best case scenario I get kicked out of the Direwolves, probably kept out of a MAS, shunted back into Jaatikar where I can finally live out the life I was supposed to live - ODed at thirty five because I don't know what the fuck civilians even do other than watch me on the TV. Worst case scenario, they get all maliciously compliant to the terms and conditions and choke me to death on a loophole."

She tugged on a part of her sheets. "This isn't something you can beat the shit out of until it stops twitching, nor do I think you can get it redacted. I signed the papers. I'm gonna have to do my fucking job." She pulled a face. "Right now they aren't allowed to bother me while I'm on duty. But the moment they catch wind of what's happened here, I'm fucked. They'll dreg up every scrap of footage they can find, every audio recording, security cams, body scans and make as much material as they can out of it."

Jakunta furrowed his brows and rubbed his forehead, seemingly annoyed at something. “No. YOU do not understand.” he pointed at her, dramatically, before gesticulating his hand into a gun. “Bullet only throws if the gun works! You are the gun. They need gun to work.”

"...You're right. I don't understand your strange, vodka infused Zalavi wisdom." Abigail pulled a face. "And I think it's going to be vastly blown out of proportion. We're going to just take her back to UEE space and I can deal with the fallout...I dunno. Immediately, it sounds like. As soon as we land."

"Only thing that will blow up is you if you keep playing pretend instead of doing job, child like." he nodded firmly as if he had the ability to peer into the future.

INS Roanoke
Hyperspace
Local Time: 1030

“-we’re going to be exiting hyperspace in the middle of the FEZ.”

Silence.

Where Ingram expected protestation - especially from the mouthiest, shortest member of the crew - he found an impassive expression and complete silence meeting him. Her eyes narrowed slightly but her expression was blank. He might as well have mentioned a change in the lunch menu for all she seemed to care. However, taking a professional actress at face value was a dangerous presumption; she sat with a too-straight back as well, and seemed far too composed for Abigail's usual first-thing-in-the-morning routine.

Jakunta picked at his teeth. "We get extra pay? Emperor fuck us, he take us out to dinner?"

Abigail's gaze briefly flickered to Aurelia.

When Ingram sealed the lounge and explained the fears of a mole, their new roles as the Princess' personal bodyguards and the importance of maintaining Aurelia's anonymity, Abigail decided to pipe up.

"Are you fucking serious? The FEZ? Emperor's going to be more willing to let Jakunta fuck him than find out his youngest's traipsing around in some smelly Merc fuckpit!" She leant back in her chair. "I vote we call Auri Overtime. That's got nothing to do with her royal status."
The small girl and the giant Zalavi both looked on in amazement at the broken blender as it continued with its brief parade of clicking and electrically groaned protestations.

After a moment;

“What the fuck?” Aleks asked, rhetorically, in as deadpan a tone as any. “Did you break our blender?”

"Stress tested it." Abigail stopped tormenting the little machine and grabbed a pint glass. She took the lid off and tipped the blender jug upside down. It took...a while, a worryingly long few seconds, for the viscous slush to peel off and slop into the glass.

“You broke our only blender to make soup. Why are you making soup.”

"That's not soup."

"Could be soup," Jakunta pointed out.

"It's not-...soup is supposed to be warm, this is, this is, uh. It's a smoothie. A combat smoothie." Abigail held the glass to her brow, grimacing. The contents looked like muddy snow with grit in it.

“Soup can be cold. Gazpacho is a vegetable soup, and it is only ever served cold, because it is meant to be refreshing in summer. Additionally and in relation to this fact, I find the Spanish to be a very strange culture.” Aleks came closer and inspected the blender personally. “I hope one of the engineers can fix this, or we will be in some trouble with whoever needs it.”

Whatever godawful concoction Abigail created smelt chemically sweet, like wiper fluid or antifreeze, with a bitterness that Aleks couldn't - or didn't want to - identify. There were no broken pieces of metal in her hellish drink. She'd only busted the motor and loosened the blade with her recklessness.

"If you want a glass for yourself, go right on ahead." Abigail gestured with her drink to the cabinets.

Aleks nodded, retrieved a pint glass for himself, and filled it from the jug. Whilst still looking rather serious, he then proceeded to give it a quick sniff, and then immediately empty it into the sink.

“I would like another.” He looked back at Abi, expression blank, gaze like a dead fish.

"Cowardice doesn't suit you, lieutenant commander." Abigail took a swig of her glass and coughed profusely. "GAWH. OH MAN. HOOOOH." She recovered, ruminated over it, and took another swig. She regretted that one a little less.

“Jakhunta, help me restrain her, she needs a psychological evaluation urgently.”

Jakunta quirked a brow and didn't move - not yet, anyway.

Abigail was still drinking the damned thing. "I am efficiently making sure my body contains all the vital nutrients it needs. You can't throw me into psych for that. You'll have to get Gansu for his death cocktails - this hasn't got a lick of alcohol in it." She sniffed the glass again. "Not unless some sort of…chemical reaction took place in there."

“I think that drinking this much sugar is suicide. But ok.” He went for a coffee cup and started preparing himself some hot roasted caffeine bean water. “How are you two feeling?”

"Crack open one of these bad boys alongside my combat smoothie and I'll be able to fight the gods," Abigail patted a small cylinder on her belt. "I'm tired, cranky. Jakunta won't let me nap. A bit beat up."

"Also tired," Jakunta rumbled.

"Mhm. I agree. I have spoken with the Princess." Aleks added bluntly to the end of his sympathy, with all the decorum and warning of a pebble dropped into a bowl of soup.

Or a bowl of whatever Abi had made - though it occurred to Aleks that whatever Abi had made was indeed liable to contain pebbles already.

He waited for them to ask.

"Is she hot?" Asked Abigail - despite knowing full well what the princess looked like.

"Single?" Jakunta ventured.

"The only way she'd marry you is if you had Zalava in your inheritance, old man," Abigail grinned.

Aleks smirked.

"I don't know if she is hot. I didn't ask if she is single. I have enough for myself in engineering, for now. If you are interested I can only suggest that you ask her on a date - but I say, titles don't suit you, Abigail. Princess-Consort is too fancy for you, you still-" he sniffed.

He frowned.

"I was going to say you still smell of Jaatikar. You do still smell of the battlefield. Perhaps we should have the medics shower you in isopropyl alcohol before you meet your crush."

"I have…literally just hopped out of the shower," Abigail protested. "That's just Abigail smell. That's my musk you're getting at." She took another swig. She stopped smiling. "Get on with it, then."

“The Princess seems to understand that her decision to inappropriately issue conflicting orders was the result of a poor reaction to intense emotion and combat stress. Ingram has explained that we would prefer her to work through the existing chain of command and leave tactical command to her more experienced juniors. I explained that it is her job to make tough decisions and to give unfair orders, so that she might better appreciate why some must go before her into the line of fire. I believe she listened.”

Aleks nodded, relaxing a little and gazing around the empty room for a second. In the chairs and sofas, gathered at the kitchen counter, reaching for beer in the fridge - he could see the 7th Direwolves. These were memories, he was sure, of a night he didn’t remember.

But here and there, between folk crossing paths and in the flicker of the fading light of the ancient lava lamp and disco ball that had been there for longer than him, just out of the heart of his sight… he could see the princess.

He could see the princess fitting in.

The quiet frost of the hunter’s heart thawed, softened, warmed; the living thought in the back of his mind, half formed and young, at last awakened and burst into its fullness - no longer a thought, but a certainty.

“She listened. She has potential as an officer. If she can overcome her ideals and if she can take instruction, then I think she will even start to fit in.”

"Don't get your hopes up loverboy," Abigail grinned. "Us fodder-folk aren't the sort that she hangs out with. We'll get her back to the inner systems in a few days - if that. Then you lot can go on leave."

“Us lot. I approved your leave request a week ago, I was shitting you at the debrief. Don’t worry though, I have an instinct feeling that we won’t get any leave for quite a long time anyway.”

"Where'd you get that from?"

“Princess is here to stay. In fact she comes with orders, orders that include her assuming direct command of our battlegroup. She is not coming with us, we are going with her.

Perhaps a testament to Abigail's alchemical prowess, the sludge she'd been drinking retained its shape long after the glass dropped to the floor, bounced a few times and rolled to the side. She stared at the spot where it impacted with a dull stare as everything seemed to shift gear in her head, then back up at Aleks with a smile.

"Cool!" She chirped. "Happy to have her aboard."

Abruptly, Aleks put his glass down and reached out for the smaller pilot.

“What the fuck.” He echoed, much more seriously than before.

Jakunta sighed, finishing his glass of ice water as he rolled back into a seated position. His elbows rested on his knees as he absentmindedly ran his fingertips across his knuckles.

"Pips! Did you break the blender again by cramming as much as you could into it? You're gonna get your blender privileges taken away like your Eva-"

"Yes LIEUTENANT MATHEN? How ma-"

"Damn it! Go away! Go away!"

"Gansu!" Abigail beamed, spreading her arms out wide, shouldering past Aleks as his gaze tracked her across the room. "I never even heard you coming. Made me drop my drink, you lil' bastard."

"I need your assistance Pips! You too Griz, D-eye, if you're up for it. We just had a successful mission saving Royalty from the evil clutches of the Coalition, and the rookie didn't get killed! That's a cause for celebration! Especially since we might not get our leave for a while with a Sunnie on board! And since Zoom has never celebrated with the 7th or had a Gansu-Special, I figured the best way to celebrate would be to find her and introduce her to the horrible concoction I made! Plus I'm going to get drunk before we go back into the field again before the politicians change their minds! You in? It'd help shake off that post combat nerves!"

"We're not out of the woods yet," Abi pointed out. "Not until Sunray's back home safe. And you know how I feel about drinking on duty. These two degenerates, though," she gestured to the two Savonians behind her - stoic, tense, silent, alert and very much not at ease - "would be up to it if they weren't convinced yet again that I've gotten a brain injury."

"She needs rest," Jakunta grumbled distractedly. "Somewhere quiet. Out of the way."

"Besides, there's a fifty-fifty chance Sunny's gonna find me and know who I am. I gotta be sober and on call for that. But where is that FNG anyway?" She looked around, her gaze briefly lingering on the security camera in the corner of the room. "Is she alright? Didn't even get a chance to say hi before the Coalition decided to ruin my day. Tell you what." Abigail stopped to pick up the glass, inspecting whatever was left that hadn't slid out onto the linoleum. "You're enough of a handful as is for a sane, shy-looking thing like her. Try and drag her back to the Lounge if she's not too preoccupied spit-shining her MAS. If she doesn't kick off and start pulling evasive manoeuvres, and I don't end up getting whisked away to do some damage control, then I'll have a drink and we can...I dunno, play Mancala or something. How's that sound?"

Abigail's smile was broader and toothier but lacked the glint that came with it. Behind her, Jakunta and Aleks loomed like two dark shadows - watching him and boring holes in the back of her head with their attentive glares.

Abigail and Jakunta - Officer Lounge


The sound of the officer lounge blender being abused was prominent in the surrounding corridors, followed by various clatters and thumps. Abigail had put some clothes on (thankfully) but still bore the minor injuries of negative G forces; in particular the bloodshot eyes, speckled and threaded redness around her forehead and some puffiness of the face. It wasn't often that she ended up this way after a battle and it was indicative of a rushed, hasty descent into atmosphere. Jakunta wasn't looking too great either, with similar effects but to different degrees of severity. He was sprawled out on one of the couches with an ice water. He lazily watched his companion as the poor, poor blender received another fistful of ice in the machine.

"Nutrition," Abigail broke the silence that had comfortably rested between the two for a while now. "Nigh essential for anything with a pulse. But especially for soldiers getting gunned down by pretty much any Coalitionist with enough know-how to pick up a gun."

whhrrRRRRRZZZHRRRRRHRHRHRZZZZZzzzhhrrr

"And lo, since the order came down from on high that there is to be 'no napping' - I will have to handcraft a liquid that will replace a full meal and a couple coffees." Abigail wandered over to the cabinets, pressing on the door slightly so it slid aside. She pulled out Jakunta's protein powder and dumped several hefty spoonfuls into the mix. "Do you think the coffee is cold yet?" She asked him. Jakunta merely grunted in the affirmative.

"It'll have all the basic food groups. Protein, caffeine," Abigail sloshed half a mug of coffee into the blender and followed it up with a bunch of vitamin supplements which she crushed in her fingers before tossing into the slurry. "Vitamins, sugar...I mean, what else do you need, really?" In went a froot skwurt.

whhrrRRRRRZZZHRRRRRHRHRHRZZZZZzzzhhrrr

"I'm a bit anxious to have a proper meal in case we come out of hyperspace and there's another battalion just waiting there for us. I think the next twenty four, seventy two hours are going to be a little nervy but after that it should be smooth sailing. I mean, they can't get too far into UEE territory unnoticed and, by the Gods, they sure did let themselves get noticed out there, huh?" Abigail looked at Jakunta. Jakunta was watching her - lazily, impassively, nonchalantly - but his gaze was steady and unblinking.

There they stood for a long moment, just staring at each other.

Jakunta slowly blinked once and looked away from her to have another sip of his ice water. "Stop worrying," he rumbled. "We move on. Adapt, don't worry."

"You know what I'm worrying about," Abigail muttered ruefully as she slammed the on button on the blender.

whhrrRRRRRZZZHRRRRRHRHRHRZZZZZzzzhhrrr

"She's human."

"It's not her. It's everyone else involved."

"You are a soldier. Is their job to make you look good. Your job, right now, is to bring her home."

"It's not that simple-"

"You are the one making it not simple."

whhrrRRRRRZZZHRRRRRHRHRHRZZZZZzzzhhrrr

Abigail regarded her masterpiece with scrutiny and fished out a bag of chocolate nibbles that has been sitting in the freezer. Abigail liked frozen snacks, or very cold food, in moderation. She started pouring the little cubes into the blender. "But she's lonely," she pointed out and her tone was softer now. "She's lost and she's alone in a different way than you can understand."

"Not your job," Jakunta reminded her.

"Maybe so, but I didn't get here by doing the bare minimum." Abigail straightened her back and stared at Jakunta again. "Do you like it when I'm alone out there?"

It took Jakunta a moment longer to respond as he mulled it over. "Do not forget your objective in all of this," he warned her.

"Precisely. The sooner she's home, the better."

whhrrRRRRRZZZHRRRRRHRHRHRZZZZZzzzhhrrrclickclickclick

"Serious?"

"Ah fuck."
"I can shower. I know how to bathe myself damnit, you lot just keep insisting-fine, fine, just don't make me raise my arms or anything."

Abigail pulled a face at the squinted looks from the medical team as she passed by. It wasn't just the fact she was nude save for a little biodegradable plastic surgery gown; she reeked. Stank like a whipped hound after a long hunt. She was grimy, unpleasant, battered and bruised but otherwise acting normally, much to the chagrin and relief of the professionals keeping an eye on her vitals - because it also meant she wouldn't shut up, either.

"Jakunta, they're damaging my self esteem. The doctors. They're judging my nubile body with their cold, hard stares," Abigail nudged the silent figure plodding beside her. He was also wearing a plastic gown. Abigail looked at him fully. "I'm a little worried my joke didn't get past the language barrier. It happens. You've been bred for war, and skull thickness was probably an evolutionary boon to your ancestors. See, 'nubile' means-"

“You’re talking a lot.” Jakunta sighed.

"And you're not listening," huffed Abigail.

Thankfully, Abigail had to stay quiet during the head scans. She was given an antibacterial wipe to clean her face up (which she then promptly used on her armpits and creases), plopped herself down in a machine, sat very still for a while as some flashes and whirring noises happened then got up again. Jakunta followed suit. Abigail had enough sense not to do or say anything that might interfere with the scans so she waited around as a nurse gave her a quick once-over to ensure none of the superficial injuries were hiding anything serious.

"Did they get your good side?" Abigail asked as she slid off the bench and waited for the scan results whilst Jakunta also received a quick check-up.

“There is no good side.” Jakunta snorted. “Are we done?” he asked up at one of the techs.

"Oooh. That's deep. S'got dual meanings and shit. You think the landing knocked some wrinkles into that brain?"

"Are we done?" Jakunta asked a little louder.

"Yes sir, there don't seem to be any serious problems. Any difficulty remembering things, feeling slow or confused - report back to us as soon as possible," reassured the technician.

"See? We're indestructible. I need a shower. I want a bath." Abigail strode off confidently down the corridors, her surgery gown flapping in the breeze.

“Mhm.” he nodded at the technician. He stood himself up and lumbered after Abigail. “Home will wait.” he remarked at her. Trailing ever so slowly behind.

There was a brief pause as Abigail processed what Jakunta said to her. "I mean, our home's here - when you really think about it. Home is not where the bath is," she turned and took a different route to the changing rooms - one that took them through lesser frequented sections of the ship rather than the main corridors that departed into most areas aboard the Roanoke. «When you're in Savonia you get to sit in some cabin and whittle out a small standing army of wooden ducks. When I'm in Savonia I get to go to a photoshoot while still suffering from a bout of the shits from the night before.» the transition to Savonian was seamless. In the zero gravity, Abigail twisted around to look at him as they floated along. «Home can wait for as long as it needs to.»

«Maybe I’ll get to do a photoshoot one day too.» he guffawed, his harsh and ugly laughter rattling off the panelling alongside Abigail's loud cackles. The conversation didn't pick up afterwards and they floated in a comfortable silence. They made it to the changing rooms in a roundabout way and planted their feet on solid ground. Abigail was quick to turn all the showers onto the hottest setting, save a few - and stood in one of the end stalls for the longest time. Her surgery gown lay discarded in a heap on the floor and the water ran muddied by blood and sweat and vomit.

Minutes passed, one by one - then in dozens at a time. The changing rooms filled with steam.

«Don’t fall asleep in there, we’re not on leave. You’re taking too long.»

«We were going to be on leave until Princess showed up,» Abigail pointed out ruefully. She reluctantly pried herself from the shower, sloshing her way to the lockers for a towel. «Not everyone is a genetically engineered supersoldier like you. The crew's tired already. At least we're zooming our way back into UEE space.»

«It’s expected of us. We don’t get to have lives. Not until we’re too old or broken to move.»

«No, not until you've stopped being useful. The only geriatric out here with a gun in hand and a MAS to his name is you - because you exceed expectations.» Abigail towel dried herself. «There's nothing stopping us from amicably retiring from the military except the overwhelming implication that post-military life is going to blueball us and our own fucked up addiction to killing people legally.» Abigail shot him a couple of finger guns. «Oh and my contract, I got another five years on it at least.»

«Is that the way you talk on camera too?» he scoffed.

«No, which is pre-cisely why I get to do it here.» Her smile turned into a frown for a moment. «You know what having the Princess on board - having rescued her ourselves - means for me, right?»

«You won’t have to jerk off anymore?»

And just like that - the frown was gone, a sputtering cackle skirting across the hiss of the showers on the tiles. «What a speedy way to end up court-martialled but by the gods - a legacy to be proud of.» She wiped a single invisible tear from her eye. «No, no. You know what? I'm overreacting. I need to get into the Zalavi headspace.»

«That won’t be hard. Not many went to school.»

«Yeah. Just gotta…» Abigail slouched down on one of the benches beside Jakunta, tilting her head back. «Theeere we go. Head empty. I don't have the hairiness to match but it's all about being immersed in the role.» She lazily scratched her nonexistent chest hair. She rolled her neck just enough to tilt her face at him. «I know we're not on leave but can we just chill here for a bit?»

«I’d rather get to whatever comes next. But sure, for a little.»

"Oh thank everything that's holy on this ship you two were here already. The showers aren't cold, you guys aren't hurt, and I can ask you guys the burning questions I've been dying to know about our Sunray!"

Abigail and Jakunta made the exact same disparaging look at the exact same time, but Abi couldn't stay mad at Gansu forever. As the pilot stripped she gestured at the showers lazily. "I've turned most of them on full blast. It's no Sauna - but it's getting there."

"Also, Griz! Great job with the laser cannon! Excellent level of destruction and you hit the Coalies too! Nice work!" He walked by, stark naked, offering a hand up for a high five. Jakunta didn't leave him hanging.

Gansu continued into the showers, yelling as he turned on the water and steam. "So! Pips! Tell me how our Royal is! Did we get the one who actually knows what they're doing? The really idealistic one who just wants 'peace' with the coalies? The one who the troops actually like? The one the troops hate, but thinks he knows everything there is to know everything? I overheard Sunnie's attempt at giving orders, and I can only imagine how Boss and D-eye are going to react to that! Do you think we're going to get our leave after we get Sunnie outta our hair or are we stuck on guard duty? I noticed there weren't any ISS dogs running around going 'OH, LOOK AT ME, I'M A SECRET COP WHOSE AFRAID OF REAL COMBAT SO I GO AROUND BULLYING PEOPLE AND GETTING ALL THE BEST MAS UNNECESSARILY'. You'd think we'd get like fifty of them yelling on our comms about how they're about to come here and take control of the situation by now!"

"Inside voices Gansu, this is a place of serenity," Abigail shut her eyes as she processed the torrent of questions and picked them apart piece by piece. "You can't just compartmentalise people - not even princesses. And it's unwise to make assumptions based on a brief and very out-of-the-ordinary initial visit. I know of her, what she thinks, how she likes to be treated... but I wouldn't comment on it just yet," she warned him. "People change in emergencies. You know that."

"I think the brass would be very ballsy indeed to thrust their finest pilots into a rescue mission by accident, watch them flawlessly bring back a royal, then continue to deny them leave when they were meant to be off duty the day it all started. And the reason the ISS haven't shown up yet is because they're all dead. Ferryman's a smear in the cosmos. Sunny's not going to like that, so try not to mention it all that much until she's had time to wrap her head around it." Abigail continued to slouch into the bench, practically melting into it until she was lying down next to Jakunta.

"No napping," he reminded her.

"I know," she sighed.




Goodnight


The Staff Room with Audrey






Just like many things that the fresh bootleggers were subjected to, this also felt like some sort of examination or test. It’s the way Audrey held herself - quiet, observant. She wasn’t just watching who spoke, she watched everyone; all the little side glances, the shifts in demeanor. Nobody could manage a sniffle without her picking up on it (and, in Angeline’s case, she definitely did). They were being measured, that was certain. What remained shrouded in mystery was the standards to which their behaviour was being compared to.

“We need to get a lot of things out of there. Can we steal one of their delivery trucks, that way we can really load it up instead of just getting a few bundles in the billy bus?” Ellen asked. “If we could get an idea of what uniform the loaders wear, perhaps we can disguise ourselves in the evening. Confidence can go a long way to getting you ignored. Could even fake some paperwork for a recall on meats, so if we do run into security, we could play it off as having to get the ‘tainted’ meat out of the store.” Ellen began. She barely paused between thoughts to let Audrey interject with feedback.

“Long haul vehicles tend to have GPS trackers and black boxes that’ll alert the company if tampered with,” Audrey responded. “It’s been considered, but the risk of being discovered is far too great. We can supply up to three supplementary vehicles if necessary - but we’ll need drivers for each and places to park them. I can get people working on finding some parking zones.”

Ellen looked up at Audrey for her next question. “Would you consider setting a fire to another building to redirect some attention from local authorities? A building on the opposite side of the station maybe near some roads with roads so the police need to work on traffic redirecting? It might reduce the chance for a random patrol to be nearby. And if there is a call made, we might buy a bit of extra time for escape.”

Audrey quirked a brow and said nothing for a moment. “If I gave you a map of the city, would you be capable of choosing a building to set on fire? We haven’t the time to scope out a building in person. There might be people in the one you choose.” She waited a half-beat longer. “If you feel up to accepting the consequences in that decision, I’m more than happy to provide you with a larger map of the area.”

She left the question to hang in the air as her gaze slipped to Abigail, watching her as she watched Audrey.

Ellen looked back down at the map. “If we do go in through the truck bay, that gives us great access to the fresh meat and bakery items. Perishable, but they will go a long way with morale. The produce is close, too, so assuming these connect, maybe through the chilled produce room, we can have someone go out and grab some of the fruits and vegetables as well.” Ellen paused. “To get us in at night, I think it makes the most sense to leave someone behind after we scope it out. Abigail is tiny and could hide among some of the giant stacks of food items. Or… I can hide in the freezer. The cold won’t bother me and security won't spend much time looking there for a person.”

Zephyr also spoke up after a moment. "I think staying behind after we check out the place is a good idea, the main problem with that is the time between close and when we'd want to go in is probably a lot longer than you think." Zephyr said in response to Ellen's plan, "the rest sounds solid, though if we do the fire thing I'd prefer it's a place where not too many people would get hurt." He turned to Audrey to ask something, "I do have a question about recon though, how many of us will be doing that? I just feel like we'd look strange walking in together considering we don't exactly look like a family going shopping together."

Audrey nodded. “Zephyr is right, we’ll have at least a three-hour wait time on our hands. If there’s four different vehicles to shift then people who aren’t doing recon can work on that, then all rendezvous at the bus to wait it out. Ideally I don’t want the bus hanging around in the parking lot for very long, so the addition of a normal car or two waiting near the entrance would be helpful.”

Audrey ran her tongue over her teeth as she considered how best to phrase her next statement. “Well,” she started carefully, “Brooks and Abigail should go together because they’re…” she waved a hand at the general presence of Abigail as if struggling to find the right way to put it.

“We got at least seven folk to our disposal. We can set up two teams of two that go in for recon. Different times, for different reasons. Rest of the three can work on getting us rides. Abigail should be in recon because she can’t drive.” Brooks interrupted Audrey.

“Of course,” Audrey agreed. “You can organise the specifics amongst yourselves.”

Before Angeline spoke she glanced around the room, ensuring no one else had anything to say. “Alright. So I’ve had a decent look at this floor plan while you guys were talking and Ellen, your idea is pretty good. One thing I want to point out, though, is that if the security is situated anywhere it’ll probably be here-” She pointed at the ‘main office’ section of the layout “-which is the total other side of the store from the truck bay entrance. So I suggest we try to get someone in through the main entrance or exits, or maybe, if we do have someone hiding in the store after hours, they could look along the side wall where the offices are for entry later. I mean one suggestion is having someone open a window in the bathroom if there is one as long as it isn’t locked or anything, you know?” She pointed at the bathrooms which were just above the main office.

“My other suggestion sort of builds on Ellen’s plan, I think everyone should have a planned route in the store we take, and we should have a ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ objective, primary being important stuff, and the secondary is just add-on nice things we could take on the way back to the truck loading bay based on our routes.”

“Excellent idea Angeline,” Audrey acknowledged the bootlegger with a split-second smile, “consider how much your team can carry when delegating out who goes where, as well. Goodnight is a big place, so when I say ‘as much as possible’ I truly mean it.”

Angeline then launched into an in-depth description of the possible routes the Bootleggers should take whilst Audrey watched her with intrigue. She glanced at Brooks, but the other man was too busy following Angeline’s finger as it skirted across the map. “Don’t worry,” Audrey reassured Angeline (and most likely the rest of the Bootleggers, especially Abigail who was starting to wear her signature look of utter confusion) “once you’ve figured out a definite route - or routes, in this case - across the store you may plot it out on the map.”

Angeline continued. “Anyways… My last points are: here right at the entrance to the truck loading area are cleaning items, probably aisle 403. Grabbing a few tubs of bleach could be great for preventing disease spread and keeping things clean and toilet paper here too. Just last minute items we can throw on if needed. Finally, here-” She stabbed her finger at the top right-hand corner of the page. “Gas station. I’m not sure what the need is at the moment for fuel but that’s an option we could consider.”

“Given we may be taking out multiple vehicles, it’s definitely something to consider. However, we’ve not got a lot of intel on the gas station as it stands. The trip would carry its own risks and consequences if you don’t get it right...Brooks?” she looked at the other bootlegger. “What are your thoughts on this?”

“We don’t need robbing a gas station too. We can task others to deal with that. We’ll keep our objective focused purely on the store.”

“Mhm. We can organise a separate mission for gasoline - probably the next thing to get after filling those cars with so much stuff. Focus on the store,” Audrey agreed.

“How many people is that… 1 on meds, 2 on fresh food, 2 on preserved food.. That’s 5. How many people are coming with us? Uh… Anyways I know my plan is a bit over the top but it’s better to have a defined set of goals you want to achieve and then underachieve them than not know what else to grab if we have more time than we thought we would,” Angeline said.

“No, you’re right. Having a clear, well-defined goal for everyone going in reduces the amount of time wasted hesitating and gives them something to reorient themselves with once the disruptions start happening,” Audrey agreed with her. “We’ve got seven, as Brooks said, though if Ruby tags along that’ll be eight.”

"Y'all forgot about the janitors n' guards n' shit," Abigail eventually mumbled. A far cry from her usual boisterousness. "All I can do is set fire to 'em. 'Cept Audrey said the alarm's activated manually, so somebody's gotta get to the alarm n' set it off before any cops even know we're there. But people have phones n' shit too. Before y'all even start stealin' stuff you gotta find and shut up every single feller in and outside the building so's they don't call the cops on us. I don't know how, though."

Brooks let out a grunt of acknowledgement at Abigail. “The camera room, assuming it’s not being operated remotely, is the highest priority. We need to make sure everything inside is locked down before we even think of pulling the vans up. That means breaking in and carraling all the workers and guards together.”

Abigail raised her hand a little bit. "I can break the lock," she offered. "Sentex keypads, a lotta Yale locks...but they're prob'ly usin' a keypad."

Brooks looked down at Abigail for a moment before nodding. “Good. Impressive, if true.” he raised and lowered his brows at her exactly twice with a smile. That brief moment of liveliness in the otherwise deadpan Bootlegger caused a significant shift in Abigail's demeanor as she snickered and held herself a little taller than she did before. Her mood lifted.

Audrey took note of that too.

"Okay then, it's time to talk specifics. I want to know who's doing what and going where," Audrey moved the conversation on a little bit. "More intel for you; there's one security camera on each of the exterior walls of the warehouse monitoring the wall it's attached to. There’s also one pointing at the truck bay and the main entrance. After hours we've seen one bodyguard patrolling between the main entrance and the truck entrance, and the number of employees that arrive just after closing varies between two and three, hard to tell what their jobs are from a glance." She leant down and marked some crosses where each security camera was on the exterior of the building using the map.

"Nobody brought up the emergency exits either, so I ought to mention to you now that most fire alarm systems work differently from security systems. Smoke detectors are automated, and opening emergency exits usually triggers an alarm regardless of if there's any danger. Don't set any fires alight in the store," she glanced at Abigail again, "and don't depend on those exits unless the cops are already en route or in the building."
Maybe it was the argument. Maybe it was something to do with her self imposed sleep deprivation... whatever it was, Abigail had changed once she woke up the next morning and wasn't showing any signs of reverting back to her usual self.

Firstly, Abigail had withdrawn from the rest of the group. Gone was the word vomit, the galloping ramble in a southern drawl and the erratic movements around Goodnight; she was around in the evenings to make small talk and oft deflected prying questions by claiming to have had a very dull, average day for every single day during the last few weeks. When she didn't need to be around the others she oftentimes wasn't; rather she existed in the distant peripheries of their lives. Ellen and Hans had passed Abigail on their way out to create a shooting range. Zephyr had noticed Abigail and Brooks disappearing even further into the woods during one of his treks. Angeline had spotted her perched on an old shipping container, crunching through an expired pack of Reese's pieces and watching as the woman tended to her garden. When approached she was evasive and uncomfortable. She doesn't talk much anymore and actively avoided conversation where she can until everyone got the gist that she wanted to be left alone.

From a practical standpoint, Abigail was getting worringly good in her training. Since she kept getting hurt due to her magic, her pain tolerance was gradually increasing. She could run further, faster and hit harder than she was able to when she started, but the improvement was relative to the fact she's still much smaller and lighter than her peers. She slept like the dead whenever they had training that day. Magically, she had a much better control over her fire; jets of sharp violent flames that could reach three metres ahead of her, narrow and white-hot, striking her mark time and time again. But the casting had disfigured her hands into warped masses of scar tissue. Her fingers were stiff and hard to move, and the skin needed to air out in order to avoid sealing together as her body healed itself at a rapid pace. She was constantly, ceaselessly starving. She ate whatever she could get her hands on and still had this gaunt, famished appearance despite getting just as much - more if you included the smuggled sympathy snacks from Billy or Brooks - than everyone else.

Abigail also started reading a lot. That was a weird, left-field development that very few were expecting. Upon finding the remnants of the library it appears Brooks gave her a book and a notepad to write on. She seemed to be researching something, perhaps working on something based on the book. She oftentimes found nooks and crannies to hide in and work on it. She also had a litany of other weird projects going on as well; for example there's an entire claw machine in pieces way off by the sportswear section that Abigail has been fastidiously defending and yelling at anyone who messed with it, to the point that she's firmly established herself as the weird antisocial kid best left alone. Since nobody except the odd bootlegger or two goes through the Sports section, it's been idly glanced at and kept an eye on by a handful of people but whatever it is she's doing is slow progress as she doesn't always work on it. She's collecting old beer bottles under the broken staircase leading to the boutiques. She waters a patch of rock pansies growing out of a cash register every couple of days. She's been watching an ants nest by one of the benches in the food court with due diligence, and wherever there's a broken tile or shelf or something similar that's had its pieces carefully arranged to reform it back into its original shape (without the adhesive to repair it), chances are one was looking at the traces of Abigail's handiwork.

Abigail remained silent throughout the discussion of the plan, looking from face to face and soaking it all in. When there was a lull in the conversation she fidgeted with her mottled fingers and looked at the map. "Y'all forgot about the janitors n' guards n' shit," she eventually mumbled. A far cry from her usual boisterousness. "All I can do is set fire to 'em. 'Cept Audrey said the alarm's activated manually, so somebody's gotta get to the alarm n' set it off before any cops even know we're there. But people have phones n' shit too."

"Before y'all even start stealin' stuff you gotta find and shut up every single feller in and outside the building so's they don't call the cops on us. I don't know how, though."
The Kolibri's chassis was gradually dented and scraped by the onslaught of debris, stray rounds and angry Riverdrakes that assaulted it. It wasn't an act of shoddy engineering; simply put, the MAS wasn't built to take sustained firepower. It was designed with the skill of the pilot in mind. Abigail was meant to be evading these blows with her sophisticated radars and electronics that she'd overheated half to hell. Unfortunately the circumstances no longer allowed that - she couldn't dodge anything that might end up striking the princess - and the Kolibri made it well known to it's pilot that each impact was taking a toll on the machine.

For Abigail, the rush back to the Roanoke was starting to look more like an endless trek of increasingly painful ordeals. Each time the Kolibri was hit, she was roughly shoved in her cockpit. Even with the seatbelt on her body was thrown this way and that. She didn't have the time to take her hands off the controls and put her helmet back on; not to mention that trapping her hair under the visor would ruin her visibility. Whacking her head against some sturdy metal or plastic piece in the cockpit was becoming more commonplace than it ought to be. Her mood had soured, her muscles were tensed at all times to try and brace for impacts she didn't know were coming and the sweltering heat sent drips of sweat from her brow into her eyes.

No wonder, then, that when the Princess gave her one of those compulsory requests, Abigail was too fed up and tired to argue. She kept her Comms switched off and kept the pace consistent. She didn't even have the drive left in her to crack a smile when Ingram swiftly put Aurelia in her place and took control of the issue.

It was only as the Seventh made their way across the clearing and into the lake to board the Roanoke that Abigail started to take stock of her combined injuries and gradually start to realise that she might be a little more roughed up than she thought. Her breath was coming out in ragged, angry huffs. She couldn't tell if it was all the humidity and sweat or her vision blurring. The pain started to kick in - full body, aching throbs. She let loose one low, strained moan in the final stretch.

It wasn't normal for Abigail to have her Comms switched off for this long.

Abigail was second in the hangar bay of the Roanoke, following closely behind Aurelia and the Helmheimr. The Kolibri's pace finally started to flag as she skidded across the bay, a horrible crunching screech emanating from the broken landing strut as its massive metal arms stabilised itself to slow down it's movement. Various engineers and hangar staff were quickly scurrying out of the way as the MAS clumsily clambered to its feet and trudged back to its dock. The huge cables plugged into its charging ports one by one as Abigail powered down the Kolibri at last; a steaming, dented, dishevelled mess of its former condition. The damage was superficial but it was present all over. It would take time to repair.

The Krakono was one of the last. The behemoth stomped into the hangar, soaking up the blasts from coalition weaponry and acting as a shield against the oncoming firepower as the Sparrowhawk zipped in and the doors began to close. Jakunta was much more patient and methodical, entering his bay without issue and powering down the MAS gradually. He stared at his HUD with a frown, tapping a finger on the static-filled square that ought to be Abigail's portrait. His frown deepened when the Kolibri shut down and he tried to call her on her holopad.

”Medical to the hangar,” Ingram echoed across the hangar bay. Abigail squinted up a little in the pitch darkness of her cockpit as she tried to discern who might have been wounded. In gradual increments, she began to unbuckle herself from her seat - completely unaware of the faint regular buzzing noise coming from one of the glued-on storage pouches in her cockpit...

”Medical team belay that, all hands brace!”

"Fuck oooOOFFF-" Abigail groaned as she slammed one foot up against the console, one arm up on the ceiling, shut her eyes and took a deep breath. It wasn't a massive explosion like she thought it would be, but the familiar dropping, lurching feeling of the warp kicking in. As uncomfortable as it was she knew the feeling was short-lived and that it signified their prompt and hasty retreat from the battle. The relief alone was enough to make Abigail sink back into the chair, utterly exhausted. It was at that point she noticed the buzzing noise and blearily fumbled for the holopad, but it stopped ringing before she had a chance to answer. Instead she messaged Ingram.

A_HARLOW: goin to medical
A_HARLOW: lookin like shit
A_HARLOW: sunray might not want to see that

Meanwhile, Jakunta shouldered the hatch open to the Krakono and slid down the ladder, plodding across the hangar towards the Kolibri. He waved off some of the medics ("Not here, not here. We'll go to Medical.") and climbed up to the Kolibri's cockpit where Abigail was gingerly rubbing her temple and trying to compose herself.

KTHOOM KTHOOM KTHOOM. Jakunta slammed his fist against the cockpit.

“Come. Medical awaits.”

Abigail glowered at the metal shell.

After a few more seconds the Kolibri cockpit hissed open. Abigail was in her full EVA suit still, the tinted glass of her helmet showing a distorted reflection of Jakunta's impassive stare. She shot Jakunta a pair of finger guns and followed him down the ladders, similarly brushing past the medical staff as they both wandered back to the elevators for a proper check-up.
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