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Time to Get Off the Dock (Part 1)

Posted on Fri Dec 2nd, 2022 @ 1:14pm by Yao Ming-Pei & Teague Harrington & Clayton Adams & Shepherd Harley & Addy Stone & Juniper Farnsby
Edited on on Fri Jan 13th, 2023 @ 9:14pm

Mission: Ghost Walk
Location: Xiao Jin, Eavesdown Docks, Persephone
Timeline: Mission Day 48 at 0800

Ming looked around his room and sighed. Aside from the small area of the bed where he slept at night, every surface was covered with the papers, books, captures, printed photos spread among and over top of his clothes, both clean and dirty. His backpack and the box containing his equipment were shoved up under the window where he wouldn't stub his toes trying to get out of bed in the morning. He needed a workspace. Problem was, he needed one he could take with him.

Muttering in Chinese, he found his least dirty clothes, dressed and headed down to the common room for what passed for breakfast. Congee and jiaozi and a fresh pot of jasmine tea. He bowed politely to the elderly woman who presided over the kitchen, and in return, she pushed a bowl of jiaozi, small dumplings filled with shredded vegetables, toward him with a pair of chopsticks balanced on top. She didn't smile, least wise not that he'd ever caught, but now and again it did seem as though she frowned less severely. "Xie xie," he said as he took his bowl and found his seat at the table.

The guests, some borders who lived there, others, transients like himself, came down shortly after. Ming was first because he'd missed breakfast twice and had vowed that wouldn't happen again. The rules were simple enough. Breakfast was served and then it was cleaned up. You weren't here, you didn't eat.

No one spoke and he used the time to give consideration to his situation. The idea of a moving office had taken root in his mind, and he found himself, pushing it around, working it out as he ate. By the time he'd finished his dumplings and a small portion of congee, he had the beginnings of a plan. Provided he could find what he needed down on the docks.

Xiao Jin, Eavesdown Dock, Persephone

Juniper bustled. Or at least something quite close to bustling. There was warm flat bread and fried slabs of protein, seasoned so they even vaguely resembled meat. A warm rice-like cereal, milky with the powdered version of the liquid added in to add cream to the dish. Two small bowls bearing a savory sauce and a sweet jelly were on the table -- meant to be mixed into the cereal to add a touch of additional flavor. It wasn't exactly the most glamorous of breakfasts, but it was filling and warm and she was proud of it. With a flourish she filled a mug with black coffee from a nearby pot, handing it to the red-headed mechanic who had appeared next to her.

"Good morning," she said, and her greeting was singsong with an energy that, if she didn't actually feel it gave a fair approximation of morning cheerfulness.

"Morning," Addy mumbled back. She'd tied her hair into twin braids and then wove those together down her back so they'd stay out of her face. She'd made a promise to Teague the day prior--a guarantee that she'd keep the ship running smoothly and she meant to keep that promise starting with a fresh once over of all the systems. That meant crawling underneath their engine and a body didn't do that with their hair down and accessible to be caught on things.

One hand wrapped around the coffee mug, as if it were a lifeline, she did the appropriate doctoring and then brought it to her lips, sipping and then letting out an exaggerated sigh of appreciation. "Nectar of the gods," she mumbled, her appreciation spilling over to take in Juniper. "Thank you."

Sula walked by Addy and gave a polite "Excuse me," as she obtained some coffee for herself. Silently, she wondered how Addy felt. Some of their last words to each other left them confused and Addy had not seemed to want to broach the situation. However, Sula was taught that patience was the way of all things and that His plan would eventually be revealed. Sula wondered why He brought her to this ship.

So far, she had met Kane. No, that was not his real name but she preferred to think of him that way. The man had been placed in an impossible situation and he did the best that he could. She thought the two of them were reaching understanding and that she was helping him along but he left and did not return. Then, she re-met Clayton. Where he got off to, she was not sure.

Grabbing a piece of bread and some cereal, she sat down in her chair next to Addy. Her elbows sat on the table as she interlocked her hands and gave silent prayer. She was used to the former Captain taking offense at saying Grace and now that he was gone, she was not sure whether to get back into the habit of saying it for everyone aloud.

Dressed in comfortable clothes, charcoal gray cargo pants and soft white pullover that had been mended a time or two, Teague paused in the entry way, waiting until the prayer was finished before making his way into the dining area on willpower alone. "Alright," he said as he passed through, nodding to those already assembled as he walked over to Juniper. "Any chance I can get a cup of tea?"

Juniper's face lit with a grin as she took in the state of her friend and captain. "Sit," she instructed, "I'll bring it to you."

Sitting was easy enough; find the nearest seat and drop into it. There were things to do today, work that needed doing, and it was there, floating in the amorphous fog that was his brain before that first cup of tea. Honestly, he didn't make an effort to work it out either. Tea first. Tea and then the myriad new responsibilities that were his. He flashed a glance around the table but neither Addy nor Sula seemed to be particularly talkative.

She was quick retrieving the tea. The pot had already been put on assuming that Teague would be wanting it, and still getting the lay of the land for the others. Addy was the only crew member for whom she was sure and certain drank coffee. With a flourish and a lopsided teasing sort of smile she placed a mug in front of Teague and then poured the tea, drawing the teapot up so that the flow of the liquid could be seen in one long liquid cylinder. It was a bartending trick, but one that she'd always enjoyed. Nothing wrong with a bit of a show to get folks smiling in the morning when sleep was still trying to tug 'em back into their beds.

"Ta, Junie," Teague said, smiling at the theatrics, "or should I say 'Shabba Ranks'?" He looked up at her, his expression turning mischievous because that was an old game between them, and then turned his attention to the tea, pulling it close with one hand and sighing with pleasure as he did so. Having the mug in hand helped oddly enough and he settled back, content to let it cool to the point where he wouldn't get blistered taking that first blessed sip.

With a pleased smile on her face Juniper turned back to the kitchen, making a few quick trips toting bowls and rice-cereal, fixings and bread. The platter with the fried protein came last and then, as if she fed groups all the time, Juniper waved those who weren't already seated to the table. "Dig in," she said warmly and then, standing halfway up out of the chair she'd selected next to Teague, she snagged a bowl and dished herself some rice cereal.

Addy, used to the bland sorts of breakfasts they'd had for most of her time on the Xiao Jin, made an appreciative noise at the back of her throat as she stirred the sweet jelly into the cereal and then speared a slice of the fried protein. For a moment her mind drifted to Young-Jae, the Asian man who had been her first friend off of Sweethome. She wondered what he was doing now and hoped he was well. "This smells delicious," she commented, the compliment meant for Juniper, but addressed to the table as a whole.

As the tea cooled to a more drinkable temperature, which really just meant no-blisters-but-still-very-hot, Teague took a sip and settled back in his seat. "It does at that," Teague said in agreement as he reached for two slices of bread and a couple of pieces of fried protein. The cereal and sweeteners he left for the rest of the crew. He had no taste for either himself though he remembered how useful both had been in trades back in the days when he was living on the streets. He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully, searching for a way to begin.

"You don't know me so maybe an introduction is warranted," Teague said. "I'm from Dyton originally and I have plenty of experience on freighters and transports though this is my first time as owner and captain. I've never been bound by law, if that's a concern for any of you, and I didn't serve in the war. Did do some blockade running and that's how I met Poe." He grinned cheerfully over the top of his tea. "Now there was a man who never met a sentence he liked. But I digress. The Alliance never caught me, so I don't have a file anywhere. Any questions so far?"

Sula looked at Teague and asked, "So what are your plans with this ship, and us?" I wonder what His plan is for us and this new Captain.

"Same as any freighter," Teague answered with a light shrug. "Haul freight or passengers from one place to another and make some coin doing it. For now, we'll stick to hauling freight. We'll do one run, stop at a few places, and after that, you can decide for yourselves whether this is where you want to be or not. Fair enough?"

"Right now, this is where I'm 'pose to be, even if it is a mystery to me," Sula responded firmly grounded in her faith. "When time comes to go, I'll be lettin' ya know. I doubt that He'd want me to be rude."

"If you don't mind my curiosity," Teague said, "what brings a Shepherd to a freighter? Only one I ever met spent all his time preaching to anyone who would stand still longer than the two seconds it took him to draw breath." He paused long enough to take another sip of tea and then continued on. "Nice enough fellow but ... rather committed to his work."

"I was a medic first," Sula reminded Teague. "And here, I act as the medic." She looked sternly into Teague's eyes and continued, "If you doubt my abilities, you can ask Addy about them. I may not be classically trained but I can handle quite a bit."

Realizing that her voice was rising as she defended herself, she looked back down firmly at her cereal and said, "I'm sorry. You asked a question and I should answer it appropriately. The answer is that I'm here because He brought me here. It was unanticipated but it was in response to a mystery that arose from the war. The quest led me here, though I know not why."

"Medic and deck hand if we're going by job title," Teague said, recalling what Poe had told him, though his mind had already moved on to the more interesting part of her response. A Shepherd who didn't do the things Shepherds did and aggressive at that. "A mystery brought you here? To Persephone? Or to the Xiao Jin?"

Sula lowered her voice and her eyes. "Yes, deck hand too. I am not afraid of the hard work. And yes, a mystery brought me first to Persephone and now here, though I cannot fully understand why here, I'm bound to be where He puts me."

Unlike the newer folk in the room, Addy was less interested in Sula's description of her mystery. She'd known there was a thing that brought her aboard. Skies, Addy had vouched for her to Quinn. That thought earned her a twist to her gut that made her more than a mite uncomfortable as she found herself wondering where he was now. She drew her ears back to the conversation at hand and away from the mire of wondering, avoiding any glances from the Shepherd in the process. For good or ill they'd not ended their last conversations on a happy note and so far as Addy was concerned the Shepherd would only make her missing Quinlan worse.

Juniper had watched the exchange with unabashed interest. She'd not had much opportunity to interact with the Shepherd yet, though she knew the woman doubled as deck hand and medic from what she'd learned upon joining up a few days earlier. But it'd been such a flurry of change that they'd not yet had a chance to talk one on one. And, of course, she knew Teague was one to like a puzzle. Or at least he had been when they'd known each other before.

"What sort of mystery?" she piped up before thinking that may not have been a great idea. If the woman had wanted to say she'd probably have already done so.

"Was thinking that same thought myself," Teague added as he finished off his first cup of tea and went in search of the teapot. Years upon years of hard poverty had left him with habits. Like his need for a hot cup of tea in the morning and how slow his appetite was to rise. He remembered those who had attacked any bit of food they could find like a starved animal but that had never been his way. He poured himself a second cup and listened. He didn't reach for his own meal until the others had taken theirs. "What sort of mystery?"

Sula's head swiveled from Juniper to Teague and then back down to her food. She had never planned on talking about this with anyone but she decided that perhaps the reason that she had not gotten anywhere on solving the mystery was because she had not. Maybe this is why He sent her here. "As Addy knows, I was not always a Shepherd. I never even considered this path. I wanted to be a doctor, but I grew up poor and the Verse knows that if you don't have the money, you don't become a doctor." I don't have to say more but they need some background to understand.

She took a deep breath and looked up, her lips tightened and she released again. "So, I enlisted. Before that, I had read every book I could get my hands on. The human body is fascinating. There is so much that has to work in complete harmony for it to work properly."

Not many had heard the Shepherd speak for so long uninterrupted, let alone talk about herself. Her eyes stared off into the distance, as if trying to see into the past and remember a simpler time. "And certainly the War was a good place to get experience and learn more. So, I did and I enjoyed myself. Addy saw me with Clay. Just one of my many admirers who hung around after I healed wounds." Mentioning Clayton made Sula smile wistfully.

"But, I never got involved with anyone. I had so much to learn and so many to help. Well, that all changed when I literally ran into Donovan. Donovan Atkins. I had never been tongue tied before. I couldn't think around him. I couldn't speak. I was just a giddy, silly girl." She looked over at Addy, wondering at what she would think of this.

If Sula had expected a visible reaction from the redheaded mechanic she was disappointed. Addy's face was unreadable--a careful blandness that gave away only that she was listening. Keeping her feelings off of her face had never been her strong suit, but in this she gave her best impression of Quinlan sizing up a situation. Feelings, frustrations, a sense of the hypocritical, could all be left for later when she was alone in her room and not in danger of interrupting the story that the Shepherd was telling.

"It was love at first sight. It didn't last long, though. We were at Du-Khang, enjoying a date. Donovan gave me a gift, and then the attack started. A bomb was dropped. He covered me and died. I lived and was taken to Shepherd's Moon. The whole thing was my fault," Sula told everyone, her eyes becoming glassy and her throat tight. "Had I not fallen for him, he would not have protected me. He would be alive as he should have been." The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop and compose herself.

She sniffed and continued, her voice daring itself to become stronger. "Six years I stayed there before I was sent on an errand to Persephone. I was charged with returning lost personal effects to the families who had deaths in the war. Some of those effects were Donovan Atkins...." She gulped hard before saying, "My love's belongings."

She firmed herself again, her hands clenched at her sides, as she fought to continue the story without crying. "When I got there, I was allowed in. I had hoped that this would bring me closer to his family. We could mourn together. But I saw pictures of Donovan in the house. It was not him. And yet, that was his name. Everything matched the records from the war. Donovan did not have a brother either. So, now, I don't know who my Donovan is or was. The man who died for me, I don't know anything about him. I have to solve the mystery." Sula looked around the table, her eyes wide and glassy as she decided to look back down, her voice shrinking. "So, now you know."

"I'm sorry for your loss," Teague said quietly. Though there had never been anyone in his life that he could say he loved, there had been decent people who died for one reason or another so he could understand, to a degree, what she was going through, and it was that understanding, that brought the sympathy into his voice and eyes. "As for his name, well, it wasn't all that hard to change your name back in those days. The Browncoats were desperate for volunteers." He shrugged his shoulders lightly. "They didn't always check much beyond how willing you were to fight. But the choice of the name, that's interesting. Could be, it was someone who knew the family. Did you have a capture? Show his likeness to the family?"

Sula shook her head slowly. "I didn't have anything to show them. I had nothing on me when I was saved, just his gift. So seeing everything as it was, I had nothing more to go on, but I knew I had to solve the mystery. So many questions I have and no answers."

Teague leaned back in his seat, sipping on tea, and thought about the problem in much the same way he would a Chinese puzzle box. Turning things around and looking at what little was known from different perspectives. "Well," he said, "that much is easy enough to fix. I know an artist that could do a likeness for you, so you'd have something to show folk." He cocked his head slightly to one side as he considered her. "Do you recall his having any friends? Anyone in particular he spoke to, other than you, or mentioned in his conversations?"

Juniper was nodding along, thoughtful as she considered. "Or mayhap you know what group he was in? Were any from his unit left after Du-Khang? Maybe tracking them down might shed a light."

"I know his regiment but where they went after the war, if any survived, I don't know," Sula responded looking over at Juniper. "I never really looked. I mean, Donovan was dead and there was no mystery until...." She then looked back over at Teague, "I never really paid attention to see if he had friends. Whenever I saw him, the whole Verse narrowed. There was only him. That's all I saw." The Shepherd's cheeks started to flush, as she looked down to hide her reaction.

"I think," Teague said, "that our first stop will be the Georgia system. There's a moon called Box orbiting a gas giant ... Daedalus if memory serves ... We'll be able to stock up on protein." Teague turned his gaze to Juniper. "But NOT the gray stuff. The taste is abysmal." He smiled, to soften the comment, and then returned to Sula. "That's also where the artist I know works. He claims Blue Sun keeps him in paint and canvas. I told him he was a proper fool for staying there but he's stubborn." Teague sighed quietly. "Seems I know a fair number of stubborn people. At any rate, we'll start there. Today, we'll be loading cargo and I'll be out looking for a pilot since Mr. Martin has not yet returned."

"As you say, Captain," Sula responded, her heart becoming lighter. There was something about this new Captain. Poe was not a bad one but he played his cards so closely to the vest that she never knew how to help him or react to him. The simple fact that he expressed interest in her more as a commodity, also was gratifying. With a hint of a smile on her face, she continued to eat her breakfast.

Teague nodded thoughtfully as he poured himself a third cup of tea; he passed over the cereal, which reminded him too much of the home, and went instead for the toast and fried protein. "And for this Captain thing," he said, "I'm assuming you know your jobs which means I expect that you'll come to me if you've need of something and not wait for me to track you down. Course, I know mine as well, and I've a cargo run in mind that will take us to several worlds and the profit from that will be the start of a nice nest egg to put against repairs and unexpected expenses." He took a bite and hummed in appreciation. "I'll look for a pilot that can double as guard for the ship once we're planet- side." He looked around the table. "If you've concerns about security then I'd like you to lay them out for me, so I know what I'm looking for in terms of crew."

Addy had kept quiet through the whole exchange, listening while keeping her apparent focus on her meal. She'd nearly cleared her bowl by the time Teague inquired about security. "Poe was working with me on some of the finer points of security," she commented, cheeks flushing, "before... well... before." She tipped her mug of coffee back to get the last dregs then pushed back from the table to grab another cup. "I'm a fair shot with a pistol and can help with guarding the ramp, but I'm in no way muscle," she commented from the coffee pot, pouring as she spoke. "I'd say outside of yourself you may want to consider someone who can be a touch more intimidating than those present." She surveyed the women around the table. "No offense intended to any present. I'm sure we can all hold our own. But sometimes the best deterrent is the one that keeps trouble from even approaching the ramp. Quinn... Poe... was always good at that."

Juniper nodded as well, though she frowned through Addy's explanation. There was clearly more going on there than she knew. Didn't make much sense to her that the old captain would have spent time training the mechanic if other options were available. 'Course maybe something had happened to make him want to train her up. She'd have to mull that one later. "I can defend myself well enough," she commented with a nod to Teague, "but I agree with Addy. Muscle would be helpful."

"Fair point and the cargo will present an opportunity that some might not be able to resist," Teague added. "So, pilot and someone who can provide security for the ship." He turned toward Addy for a moment. "Am I right in thinking that it takes two to get the ship airborne in case of an emergency? That someone needs to be in the engine room as well?"

Sula doubted that she would be very helpful in a fight and as to flight, that was something that she never learned, so she just continued to eat and listen.

"In emergencies," Addy confirmed, "'cause you're starting the engine cold. But if you've enough time having me in the engine room's hardly required when we go airborne. But I can be there if you'd prefer it."

Teague frowned over his teacup as he thought about what she said. "So ... help in the engine room's not required then? You're sufficient to handle the situation?"

Frowning, Addy considered that a moment. "Help wouldn't hurt, but it won't break us if we don't have it right now. Just might limit some of your choices for who to take off ship for anything. If you want us to be able to move at a moment's notice you'll want me on the ship at all times. It's... how Poe preferred things, but we did have a second mechanics on board for a short while." Her gut twisted slightly at that admonition. She'd been on track to leaving the mechanics' work to someone else before Sweethome. Now... "It's really down to your preference Captain."

"We'll see what's available and then figure things out from there," Teague said. "Sula, you'll be on the ramp with me today. Addy, you'll need to top off the fuel but get back as soon as you can. There will be shipments coming in that will need to be stowed away and we'll need everyone for that." He looked around the small group, busily eating, and settled in to eat his own meal. Early days and all but this captain thing, he thought, might not be so bad.

Continued in Time to Get Off the Dock (Part 2)


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