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There's a hole in the world like a great black pit

Posted on 21 Sep 2018 @ 2:18pm by Zhong Qi & Xiuling Brooke & Lucas Bird

Mission: I Don't Care, I'm Still Free

Luke had been working in his cabin, with brief visits to the cockpit and a stop off in the galley to grab some water, he'd smiled at the sound of someone playing a guitar but hadn't been close enough to hear the abrupt stop or the shouting. He'd been writing Nick and Reeve's notifications of contract termination following a wave to Alice yesterday, the notifications themselves were fine, it was the short reference he'd decided to give each of them. He needed a break from trying to wrangle his words into a statement that while true wasn't so harsh they'd never get a job again. That would only come back to bite him in the ass, he didn't want either of them holding a grudge for too long. So he'd gone up to the cockpit, and was stood in the middle of it looking out at the black. Watching the stars go by always seemed to help him think.

It was there that they found him, stood at the top of the steps to the forward section of the cockpit, his hands clasped behind his back. Wearing black jeans, boots and his leather jacket with a oriental patterned shirt underneath. He heard footsteps coming up the steps and turned. He was about to smile when he saw who it was, but then he saw their grim expressions, Xiuling's red eyes and slightly blotchy complexion.

"What happened?"

Xiuling was fiddling with the hem of her dress, it was one thing for Qi to believe her considering she'd come in at the tail end of it... but she'd spent so long being forced to hide everything the men in her life had done to her that she was used to dealing with things alone. Telling someone about anything that went beyond the brief version she gave Tabitha a couple of days ago was something she had never really figured she'd have to do. Sergei knew what his cousin was capable of, Tabitha didn't need to know, and she had never had anyone else to tell.

"I wasn't trying to cause trouble, I was just sat in the cargo bay playing my guitar and..." she started, but then realised that she didn't know what to say exactly. Or, more to the point, how to tell him without crying. Having people underestimate you was one thing, but bursting into tears at the drop of a hat was another thing entirely. "Could we all, sit down, please," she said as she realised half the problem was that she didn't think she could stand for much longer. And if the Captain was sat down he'd be more likely to hear the whole story than flip out and not let her finish. She took the Navigators chair, behind the seat designated for the co-pilot and waited for the other two to sit down.

Qi laid a hand on Xiuling's shoulder for a brief moment, giving a squeeze, then reached for Nick's gun in her waistband. "This is Nick's. I told him that you would decide when, if, he got it back. I'll let Xiuling tell you what happened." She held the weapon up for Luke, handle pointed at him.

Luke took the gun, and quickly checked it over. He knew it hadn't been fired, that he would have heard. He nodded at Qi, set the gun on the side and took a seat in the co-pilots chair looking at Xiuling. "There's no one gonna be going no where, so take your time," he said gently. He had a feeling he knew what she was going to say, and that she probably wouldn't be here if Qi hadn't been there to suggest they find him. He was glad Qi trusted him, but he understood that he hadn't earned their passenger's trust quite yet. With men like Reeve and Nick in the verse it was no mystery as to why...

Xiuling watched as the gun was handed over. She was halfway to reaching for the chain round her neck when she paused, realising that it would do no good for her to be pleading poverty and for them to see the ring on that chain. Instead she twisted her fingers together, and looked down at the floor. Luke spoke and she glanced up at him for a brief moment before looking back at the floor again. She kept trying to remind herself that this was nothing to be ashamed of, that at least this was her and not Tabitha.

"So, I was playing my guitar, sat on the platform in the middle of the steps, minding my own business really, and Reeve came up, made a lewd comment, and another, so I decided to leave, only I hadn't realised he was distracting me while Nick was sneaking up behind me..."

- - - - -

Luke was beyond furious.

How dare they try to pull that kind of shit on his ship? Who the hell did they think they were? As Xiuling had spoken his expression had grown darker. He'd made sure to confirm that she wasn't hurt and that they hadn't done any more than what she'd explicitly stated. He clarified about Reeve's lewd comments, and he was pretty sure both women could hear his teeth grinding when she said they were doing it to make her pay for her trip.

He'd left both women in the cockpit, and headed for Nick and Reeve's bunk. He didn't bother knocking as he opened the hatch and climbed down the ladder with such speed he may as well have just jumped down the hole. his boots slammed into the metal plating of the deck and he looked up at the two men. Reeve visibly paled at the sight of him. He wanted to beat the pair of them to a pulp, and then throw them into an airlock and let Xiuling press the button to send them out into space. A very small part of him wanted them to feel that same kind of terror they had just inflicted on another person, but he knew he wasn't the kind of man to deal out that kind of justice.

He looked at one, and then the other, daring one of them to speak or make a move.

"She pulled a knife." The words tumbled out of Nick's mouth after a pregnant pause. He stood staring at Luke, eyes wide.

With a growl, Luke was on him in a heartbeat grabbing him by the front of his jacket and slamming him against the wall of the cabin.

"You wanna start at the fucking beginning you Joo Bah Jeh?" he spat.

"You ain't gonna take the word of a woman over mine, are you? I ain't the one who was messing up your ship, after all." Nick couldn't look Luke in the eye.

"You trying to bait me into changing the subject Nick?" Luke snarled at him. Behind them, Reeve moved and Luke very deliberately placed his forearm over Nick's throat and pressed before he turned his head to look at Reeve. "Stay on your fucking bunk, or I'll smash your head on the edge of it and leave you bleedin'." He turned slowly back to Nick. Luke wouldn't have come down here if he didn't know he could take both of them on in a fist fight. "Do you wanna try that again?" his eyes narrowed in fury as he pressed a little harder on Nick's windpipe.

"Were Reeve's idea," Nick choked out.

"It were as much your idea as it were mine!" Came the indignant shout from the bunk behind them. Reeve was off his bunk and moving towards them, Luke didn't waste time in grabbing his hair and slamming his head into the cabin wall. His focus was on Nick, so he'd not been paying attention to Luke, and his momentum only helped. His head his the metal with a resonating thud and he dropped to the floor with a scream of pain.

"You two can argue the finer points of the situation once I'm gone, I'm just here to inform you how gorram lucky you pathetic excuses for pigs are," he snarled. "You're gorram lucky that girl had the self control not to stick you like a pig, cause from what I hear you'd have bled out 'fore anyone could help you. You're gorram lucky I'm a decent man or you'd be experiencing exactly what you were going to put her through at my hand. And you're gorram lucky she's the kinda woman with the ability to hold her own and stop you, cause if she hadn't I can guarantee you'd be missing the inside of my boat."

Luke grabbed hold of Nick's hair and pulled his head away from the bulkhead before slamming it back into it with as much force as that small movement allowed. He stepped back breathing heavily.

"You will be surrendering all weapons to me, right now. Then you don't leave this cabin until you're walking off my boat the second we make landfall." Part of him really wanted them to fight him on this, give him a chance to smash their faces in. Reeve's nose was already bleeding probably broken, and Nick should have been at least dazed, but both seemed incapable of letting any kind of moral lesson penetrate those thick skulls of theirs. He wasn't stupid enough to turn their backs on them either.

"Stupid bitch took my gun, claimed she was givin' it to you," Nick slurred as he slumped to the floor. "Extra bullets are in my trunk, is unlocked." He leaned forward and rubbed the back of his head. "If you weren't so big, like a gorram Norse God..."

"I was talking to both of you, and don't pretend like you've only got one gun." Luke himself owned two, which he regularly walked around the ship with, as well as a shotgun on the wall in his cabin. There was no way someone he'd hired to shoot people if he had to only had one gorram gun. The one he'd handed over to Qi was practically a peashooter. Despite it all, Lucas almost smiled, "I've worked hard every single day of my life, and I've got the respectability and physique to show for it, maybe you should think about that..."

Meanwhile, Reeve was dragging himself off the floor, he opened up his trunk and pulled out his ammo and the heavy pistol he favoured. He moved closer to Luke, his eyes narrowed. He was seriously pissed off now, Nick had tried to pin the whole fucking thing on him, and Luke was treating them both like criminals when all he could prove was that they'd grabbed her. The blow to his head may have had him not thinking straight but as Luke's head turned to look at him there was no mistaking the determination in his eyes. Apparently Reeve didn't care that he was built like a viking because he raised his arm and swung with the pistol, intending to clock Luke on the side of the head with the grip he'd been holding out in surrender a moment ago.

Without thinking, Luke moved to the side a little, grabbing Reeve's wrist and twisting his arm. The scrawnier man howled in pain as Luke dislocated his wrist and then used his weaker arm to punch Reeve hard in the face and then in the gut. The gun clattered to the floor and Luke practically threw Reeve onto his bunk. He lay there whimpering and cradling his hand. He turned to look at Nick, praying the other man would have a go too, somehow he figured Nick had a little more fight in him than Reeve, who was clearly just an idiot.

Nick just sat at the base of the wall and stared up at Luke.

"So are we all done being ruttin' ornery?" Luke asked the pair of them. "Do you have another piece stashed somewhere? Cause if you do, and I catch you with it, I'm shootin' you with it." His tone was less threatening and more matter of fact. He was done with being lied to and undermined by his own gorram crew, apparently even money couldn't buy any kind of loyalty from some people.

"Evi is stashed in the false lid of my truck." Nick referred to his favorite gun, the one too big to carry around regularly. "As are her spare power cells."

Luke moved to Nick's trunk, keeping him in sight at all times while he undid the catch and lifted the lid. Feeling round the rim of the lid he found the catch for the false compartment and true enough, the gun was there, pulling a bag out of his pocket he loaded the spare power cells, Reeve's gun and ammo into it and grabbed 'Evi' before backing up to the ladder. The pair of them may have looked pretty defeated but he wasn't stupid enough to turn his back on them. While at the foot of the ladder he punched in a code to lock the door into the crew corridor to the galley. Only his security code would unlock the door and he wasn't planning to do that until the two men were off his boat.

"Don't look so glum Nick, I'm not cruel, we'll still feed you..." And with that he climbed up the ladder. He pulled the hatch shut as he stepped out of the hole and sighed, shaking his head.

Qi was perched on the small set of stairs that lead up into the cockpit, and when Luke emerged from the bunk that Nick and Reeve were sharing, she silently raised her eyebrow in question as she waited for Luke to notice her.

Luke could feel eyes on him as he tried to shake off the anger and adrenaline coursing through his veins. Another couple of deep breaths and he headed for the security panel at the end of the corridor.

"How much of that did you hear?" he asked as he looked at the light above their bunk went red and then looked up at her. At least he could breathe easier now that neither man would hurt anyone else... Except maybe each other.

"A companion's ears know when to shut themselves and mind their own business. Even if one's washed out of the guild." She winked at him. "Mostly wanted to make sure that Xiuling wouldn't have to face them again before I walked her down to her room. Maybe get her some tea and a comforting ear if she wanted it? How you doing after that?"

"I don't mind what you heard, was just curious." He shrugged. "They won't be seein' nothing but the inside of that bunk until they're walkin' off my boat for good." He would take them food, but it was his fault they were here so he was the one who was going to be dealing with them until they left. If nothing else he owed Xiuling the privilege of never even having to look at either of them again. "Just wishin' they'd given me an in the moment excuse to beat the go shi outta them. And now I might go hang up the punch bag I've got stashed in the cargo hold, cause I am way too wired right now."

"Truth be told, acoustics ain't great for eavesdropping from here, so I didn't really hear much of anything." Qi chewed her lip. "I suppose its a testament to self preservation of a sort, that they figured out not to keep pushing when faced with someone easily twice their size. I would be lying if I didn't want to see them spending the rest of the ride in the airlock though, if not on the other side of it. Their bunk is the next best thing I suppose."

"If they... If she... Hell I'm just glad she had the wherewithal to stop them before it got too far." It was killing him that something like this had almost happened on his boat. This was the kind of thing he'd been avoiding for the last six years, that feeling of responsibility. It had been different with Huang Long, the company was responsible for it's employees and he a vessel of that same company. The company had policies, the employees signed contracts, ultimately he was just a middle man and while he had responsibilities he didn't need to get emotionally involved. Sure he'd had friends, and colleagues that he liked but things like this hadn't happened on his boats. There were always too many people around, plus all the cargo bays were always sealed apart from loading and unloading, and they all looked out for each other.

If he was being honest, the fact that this had nearly happened on his boat made him feel physically sick. But he knew this was nothing to how he would have felt if Xiuling had been found battered and abused in the shuttle pod. Especially as, the way she said it, it sounded like Qi wouldn't even have been in time to stop it. "And if I'd put them in the airlock at all, I'd be a murderer by now, and I'm not doing that to myself for them."

"I can respect that. I suppose I'm more flippant about it because I've worked in whore houses on the rim, where sometimes the only thing between you and someone like that is a weapon." She stood and directed a look at the hatch into the men's bunk. "I don't think I need to tell you, how easily some men stop caring about a woman's bodily autonomy. I haven't had to kill nobody yet, but I was ready to a few times. And not just to protect myself, but on occasion to protect someone who couldn't defend themself."

"I've killed men before Qi, and I'm not looking forward to the day I have to do it again..." He sighed and turned. Yeah, now he really needed to beat the shit out of the punching bag he kept in the cargo bay.

"I figured you had, I heard you talkin' to the Doc about her sister and the war. I ain't gonna pretend I know that it's like, and it sure says a lot about you that you don't take doin' it lightly, but sometimes, it's all that'll stop a person who ain't right in the head. I know there ain't enough push back in society against folk who try to do what those two Feh Feh Pi Goh tried to do to Xuiling, and as a petite woman who's only been able to defend myself with threat of deadly violence and the training I got at the very skilled hands of the Guild... Well, don't really matter, they're contained for now and won't be on this boat much longer."

Luke felt his jaw clench when she mentioned the war, he didn't like talking about it. He and Coby had only talked long enough to say he was sorry for what happened to her sister, and to admit he hadn't known she had a twin. Since then, he'd been pretty tight lipped about the whole thing. "They'll get what's coming to them, but not by my hand. I can't kill in cold blood like that, no matter how much the Bei Bi Shiou Ren in front of me deserves it." If they had succeeded, they would be dead already, there was no doubt in his mind about that. There wouldn't have been a question in his mind about whether those two pieces of scum deserved the worst. But they had been foiled, and they both knew what they'd done was wrong - judging by their reactions anyway - so maybe they were going to turn over a new leaf. He could hope anyway. Somehow, he didn't think Xiuling wanted them dead either. There was a strength in her eyes as she'd told him what happened, a haunted look that he hadn't seen before, she wanted someone to die, and looking at her he had no doubt that they would once she stopped runnning, but it wasn't the two men locked in their bunk.

"How's she doin'?" he asked, concerned about the passenger he'd pretty much pulled out of the frying pan and dumped in the fire.

"She was pretty quiet after you left. I told her I'm here if she wants to talk about anything more, and haven't moved from this spot since you went to confront them. I think pushing her to talk more right now isn't going to help, just making sure she knows we're here if she wants anything is best." Qi glanced towards the cockpit. "I might go make her some tea if you want to stay here, so someone's here if she wants something?"

"Yeah, I can..." he stopped talking when Xiuling appeared at the top of the stairs. She was standing taller now, looking more like she had when they'd first started talking about her need for a ride into the black, the way she held herself when she sat with them at dinner every night.

"Tea would be nice, but I need a punching bag more than I need a babysitter right now," She was done with the kiddie gloves, and the quiet, She fully understood and comprehended that this was a traumatic experience and no one knew quite what to say, but it was quickly becoming tiresome. She'd been through worse, but they weren't to know that.

"Xiuling I'm..."

"It's no more your fault than it is mine, and while I hope I never have to see either of them ever again we all know how unlikely that is. Bad pennies have a habit of turning up..." Her voice was stronger now than it had been when she was telling Luke what had happened. She felt a little more like herself again too. She wasn't the break down and cry type. She was the hit back and keep on moving type. Luke finally managed to meet her gaze and nodded.

"Punching bag I can help with," he said, the corners of his mouth finally lifting in a hint of a smile. He wasn't sure if he wanted punching it out to lead to talking it out, but if that's what happened then that was fine. "But I will be keeping you company, cause I need to take a good swing at it too. Qi, would you mind bringing us both cups of tea?" he asked, turning to her.

"As long as I'm allowed to watch the bag abuse and provide commentary." Qi grinned, but sashayed off towards the gallery before either of them could respond.

Luke grinned and looked up at Xiuling, "Shall we?"

Lucas Bird

Xiuling Brooke

Zhong Qi

NPCs - Reeve #BeiBiShouRen & Nick #SeeingStars


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