Old Acquaintance in a New Setting
Posted on Thu Jun 2nd, 2022 @ 3:12pm by Quinlan Barrett Poe & Clayton Adams & Shepherd Harley
Edited on on Mon Jun 13th, 2022 @ 4:16pm
The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Xiao Jin, Eavesdown Docks, On the Ramp
Timeline: Mission Day 20 at 1330
He moved slowly because he wasn't in a particular hurry and because his leg wasn't up to any great feats of calisthenics. Serenity Valley's gift to him as if the nightmares weren't enough. He'd been idealistic, fired up as they all had been to protect their way of life, but truth be told, he shouldn't have gone. Course, he wasn't one to share his truths easily or often so that was a confession that stayed within the safe confines of his skull. He moved slowly also because he was looking ... for a ship, for a new start, for a way forward out of the morass that life on the losing side of the war was for him.
He was canny enough to recognize the barkers and their well-rehearsed patter and had mastered 'the look', the one that veered them away in search of an easier mark. He might not have been meant to be a soldier, but he had survived, and he certainly wasn't prey. This was his third tour of the docks in as many days and nothing much had caught his attention though, in pressed, he wasn't sure he could explain exactly what he was looking for either.
And then he saw her. His gaze slid past and returned to her almost immediately. She was ... familiar ... though he couldn't immediately place where. And so, he approached, because the vague memory attached to her held nothing fearsome within it. Curiosity, if nothing, else led him in her direction. She seemed out of place on the ramp of a Firefly. Not engaged enough with the crowd to be a professional barker that much was certain.
Sula was looking around aimlessly into the crowd. She honestly did not know what she was looking for. Certainly Poe could not have had her here to attract attention as an attractive woman. Certainly Sula did not view herself as ugly. For some, she might be considered quite pretty. However, her reluctance to smile and the collar that she wore would scare most people away. And, perhaps, she reflected, that was part of the point...to have only serious applicants come forward.
Poe was a very strange man. He was introverted until Addy came around. He trusted nobody and yet he seemed to trust his crew without reservation. The man was a study in opposites. And why did she come to him? Some childish whim to find out who her her deceased love and savior really was? It was terribly irresponsible when so many needed her guidance. And yet, here she was. Perhaps that is how it should be. After all, was it not said that God put you where you needed to be? But why am I needed here? she wondered.
It was then that she spied someone staring at her and walking towards her. She bent down and squinted, trying to get a better idea of who was coming towards her. Memories of the war came back to her and recognition was arriving. She stood back up straight, her mouth opened wide and she covered it promptly as she called out excitedly, "Clay?! Is that you?! What are you doing here?"
Clay smiled, softening his features, as he came closer. He hadn't been sure who she was but the change in attitude, serious bordering on grim shifting to youthful and animated, brought it back. She'd been a medic one of the times he'd been hurt. Not after Serenity Valley. Before that. The name swirled up out of the dust and darkness of his memories and he found himself grinning as he approached. "Sula Fawn, as I live and breathe," he said as he came up the ramp to meet her. "Looking for a ship same as everyone else." He turned his attention to the docks, crowded and not entirely respectable, and shook his head lightly. "Coz' who would want to stay on world when you could be out in the black eh?"
He turned his attention back toward her and took in her appearance. "How you been, Sula?"
"Sula Fawn?!" she replied, putting her hand lightly upon her chest, shocked that anyone would remember her middle name. She then took it away and gave him a playful push. "Get off, you! Most people call me Shepherd Harley nowadays." She shuffled her foot on the ramp of the ship. "I was knocked out of the effort earlier, ya know? Taken away to Shepherd's Moon and well," she hesitated for a moment before continuing, "I learned the craft."
Her head bowed down slightly as she retracted her arms, her tone becoming more somber. "Everyone I ever was close to is dead, Clay. There was nowhere else to go. No money for a proper medical education, so," she said shrugging, "Why not? God puts us in the places we need to be, right? And so, here I am. Now working on this ship. God certainly works in mysterious ways and this is the most mysterious of them all, at least to me."
She shook her head and looked back up at Clayton. "I'm sorry. You didn't need to hear that." Sula put on a better front of a smile. "I mean, before all this, I wouldn't get all philosophical. I'm sorry." She hastily changed the subject. "So, you need work? We're looking. What can you do?
"Shepherd, is it," Clay asked, feigning a bit of horror, "things must have gotten mighty grim for you to go that route. I do recollect that back in the day, the only time I heard you speak the Lord's name was in vain." He grinned, a dimple showing in his cheek, that softened the weight of his expression, shearing away the old beyond his years look that haunted his eyes now and again. "Shocked my delicate sensibilities right back onto the path of good health, it did."
"Had thought just to book passage with you, maybe even the use of one of your shuttles, but if you're hiring, there is a thing or two I'm good at," he said. "Believe it or not, I'm a good cook and spry enough to handle security for the ship when the crew has to be out and about. Would that be of use to you, do you conjure?"
"It just might," Sula replied, holding her breath. "And you can call me Sula. You've known me long enough," she replied with a giggle. "Lā shǐ, you even called me Sula Fawn." She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "You're living life dangerously...." Something in her words told Clayton that she did not mind that he remembered or used her middle name at all, despite her words. "I probably should introduce you to the Captain and let him decide." Hastily, she grabbed one of his hands with hers and started rushing into to the bowels of the ship.
"Wouldn't dream of calling you anything else, Sula Fawn," Clayton said. The giggle he remembered from his earlier dealings. In and out of a fog of pain, brought back to reality by a girlish giggle that didn't fit the place or the people. Nice to know that someone had survived when so many hadn't. She moved quicker than his leg could manage though and he tugged back on her hand to slow her down. "How about we walk rather than run, eh? We'll still get there and you can tell me what you can about your fine ship."
For an answer, Sula lightly punched Clayton in the meat of his arm near his shoulder. "Call me Sula Fawn again and I'll really whack you." She snickered, as if daring him and slowed her pace to a leisurely walk, still not letting go of his hand. "Sorry. Just a bit ahead of myself. As to the ship, well, I never much knew about them. This is a Firefly class ship as you can see. Nothing too special. Captain Poe has a nice crew. Addy maintains the ship. Ashe is the pilot and well, I fix people up when they get into trouble. The Captain doesn't much care for religion though," she informed Clayton with a shrug and slightly downturned lips. "One day I might find out why. Patience is a virtue."
"Do any of them," Clayton asked, "care for religion, I mean?" He noted the ship as they went, aging but tidy, a place that felt comfortable. This wasn't a crew content to live in a workplace. Nothing decorative but still, not as horrific as some he'd seen. "Got to say, Sula, that I never would have guessed you for the religious type. Holding prayer services over breakfast and all of that. But then, ain't none of us the same, are we?"
"I don't rightly know if any of them care for it. The Captain shut it down fast when I tried to say grace, so now I try to keep it to myself. But, it slips out and I guess some of it is now part of me. The slightest mention and he shuts down conversation. Makes getting to know him a might bit difficult but he seems to care about the ship and crew, so I figure that he'll come around in time." She snickered and laughed, "Listen to me go on.... Training is something, isn't it? Becomes second nature, like suturing a wound. I can't say that we are the same. After everything...." Sula's eyes dropped. "And Donovan...." She shrugged and tried to put on a brave face looking back at Clayton. "I never was religious. Always seemed that He had something against me, so I might as well have something against Him, right? Maybe this will work better?" She meant the last phrase as a sentence but it came out as a question.
"Might work better," Clayton said after a moment's thought, "If you tried approaching things from a different angle. If God gets in the way, then leave him to one side. Talk about ordinary things at least until you breach the barriers." He shrugged lightly. "It's worked for me anyways." He slid past the mention of Donovan, though he remembered him well if differently than she did and turned a speculative look on her slight form as the second part of what she said registered. "So, you're working out your differences of opinion with the Almighty from within, so to speak?"
"Since when did you become a Shepherd?" Sula asked with a short laugh, not answering his statement about ordinary things or his question?
"Perish the thought," Clay said, his free hand flat against his chest, "I'm a heathen through and through, I'll have you know." He noted her conversational shift and followed her, willingly enough. Truth be told, he'd just been one of her patients, not a friend or confidante, and while it wasn't in him to keep his opinions to himself for long, he made an effort in this case. "So ..." he said after a moment, "exactly where are you taking me?"
"To find the Captain and meet him. See if he wants to take you on either as crew," she replied simply enough. "If I can will you to life, I think I could will a Captain into hiring you." Sula gave Clayton a generous smile. "After all, you were a good patient. Followed instructions and did not give me too much trouble." She gave Clayton an amused wink. "So, maybe you won't cause him any. Logical enough."
"Mmm," Clayton murmured. "Then again, I wasn't my usual effervescent self then either so, maybe a bit short on the logic." He grinned cheerfully. "Course, it should be said that I never really plan to cause trouble. I purely don't. Ain't my fault that sometimes, it comes looking for me."
They came upon the captain drinking a cup of tea while he poked through the kitchen stores. He was useless in the kitchen, always had been, but they'd need provisions and there wasn't anyone on the crew who could take over kitchen chores. He looked up as he saw the Shepherd, tiny little enigma wrapped in a stern face that was nearly always frowning when she saw him, and the stranger she had in tow.
"Captain," she told Poe, a hint of a giggle being stifled, "meet Clayton Davis." She then looked at Clayton, her eyes brightening, "Clay, meet Captain Qunlan Poe." Sula immediately turned back to the Captain, a small amused smile on her face. "Captain, Clay here may suit some of the crew requirements that you were seeking and he's interested in a job. He prefers the black of the 'verse to the ground. Different strokes...." There was something of a rambling quality to the normally articulate thoughts of the Shepherd.
Sula lowered her height slightly, perhaps in a short form of curtsey as her smile widened even more. Perhaps Poe even heard a stifled giggle as her smile widened. Shrugging, she said, "So, perhaps you would like to talk to him?"
Clayton stuck out his hand to the Captain, "That's Adams," he said. "Clayton Adams."
It seemed to Poe that the Shepherd was acting more than a little out of character and that made the newcomer interesting. More than a little. Poe accepted the man's handshake and in the way of things, the two took the measure of the other though what they thought in that moment wasn't readily available to anyone other than themselves. "You and the Shepherd know each other," he asked.
Clayton nodded limping forward and taking a seat at the table. "During the war, she was a medic and tended my hurt the first time I was wounded." His expression turned from a gentle smile to serious as the war intruded, dark tendrils threading through his mind, as he added. "Or maybe it was the second, not sure now, but one of the two. 7th Volunteer Infantry out of Muir, that's in the Qing Long system."
"I know it," Poe said. "I'm from Deadwood myself." He recollected that the 7th had a good reputation though he'd never met any of them personally before. Easy enough to check up on it if it came to that. "I was in the 75th myself." He paused for a moment, letting the weight of the memories settle between them, and covered the gap by taking a sip of tea. "So, is that the right of it? You looking for work?"
"Originally, I had thought to pay passage, maybe rent the use of one of your shuttles now and again. I'm a musician. I play the violin, share a bit of news, world to world." He nodded toward Sula, his expression softening again, "Sula here says that you're hiring, and I can offer one or two skills that might be of use. For one thing, I can cook. Better than cook, I can make what little you have not only palatable but downright tasty. For another, I'm good with a gun and while I wouldn't be any good wandering around, I'm very good at ship security. If that's a need."
Sula looked over at Poe encouragingly, a small gesture of the head suggesting that he should take him on as a crew member. However, Poe was the Captain and this was his decision. "I never saw him in action, Captain," she informed Poe. "But, he always had a good attitude, no matter what my administrations were."
"We can talk," Poe said and he gestured for Sula and Clayton to join him at the table. What it came down to was a hard-bargained nominal fee for a passenger dorm and use of a shuttle when he had a gig. In return, Clayton promised breakfast and dinner and, when there was need, to watch the ship provided that work didn't interfere too often with his music. Both men seemed to enjoy the bargaining and by the end, they had an agreement.
"Welcome aboard the Xiao Jin," Poe said.
"Thanks," Clayton replied. "I'll just go and get my gear, left it with a friend that lives nearby. Should take maybe a half hour?"
"No rush," Poe answered. "When you get back, if you could see to putting together a shopping list, I'll make sure it's filled before we leave port."
Clayton nodded, tipped an imaginary hat, and headed out of the ship. Sula Fawn, he thought, as he walked down the ramp and out onto the docks. Imagine that.