A Play-by-Nova roleplay game.

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All I Wanted Was Some Peace of Mind

Posted on 19 Jul 2018 @ 12:36pm by Gabrielle Lemaire & Alice Mathieson-Song

Mission: I Don't Care, I'm Still Free
Location: New Dartmouth, Lilac

An annoying buzzer played an insipid two tone jingle as the door swung open. Eight and a half pairs of eyes followed the rather unorthodox new customer to Big Ron's Guns, Ammo and Range as she made her way to the counter. She was well aware of being watched and didn't like it one bit, but without ammo she was vulnerable and she had used most of hers on the last run. What a shit show that had been. She wouldn't have stayed with that crew for all the tea in China! They weren't really a crew to speak of any more, most of them were dead. She had been only too happy to get off that boat at New Dartmouth, but now she was here she wasn't sure which was more dangerous, staying or leaving. She approached the big man himself who was cleaning a rifle behind the counter. Big Ron usually was, it helped keep the locals from trying anything stupid.

"What can I do for you, blondie?" Big Ron lent over the counter towards the young woman who was nearly a foot shorter than he.

"Um... Twelve gauge lead shot. Enough to fill my belt... please." She asked, looking Big Ron in the eye and instantly regretting it.

"Good stuff, great stuff or real shiny?" he asked her with a grin.

"Um... The good stuff." She couldn't afford anything else.

Ron had instantly clocked the double-barrelled sawn-off shotgun that dangled in a rough holster on the tatty but obviously custom-made gun-belt that she wore over her loose beige cargo pants. He had also clocked that the slots for the twelve gauge she had asked for around the belt were nearly empty. Ron had been doing this for many years and nobody came into his place without him knowing exactly what they were carrying. It was a curious weapon for this girl to have, not that women couldn't handle big guns -Big Ron knew to never underestimate a woman with a gun just because she was a woman- but in his gut he felt given the choice this young lady would be carrying something else. As it happened he was right, the shotgun had been her father's but it was the only weapon she had and it had served her well since he had died and it had become hers.

"Cheaper per shot if you buy the box." He informed her as he mechanically lent down to the shelves below the counter and picked out exactly the right box without even looking, placing it on the surface in front for her to see. "Six gold."

The girl exhaled loudly, the air feeling good on the clammy dark-red lipstick she wore. Fortunately she had been paid by the last job and as there were fewer crew to pay her cut had been bigger. She got the feeling she would need the ammo if she were to stay in New Dartmouth very long. She nodded.

"Six gold." A money bag was produced from the gap between her bra and the grey vest top she wore which hung on a fairly solid -looking chain around her neck. From it she counted six gold and placed them firmly into Big Ron's hand. It was a trick she had learned while back-always place the money in the vendor's hand rather than on the counter, it shows an element of trust and respect and proves you're not scared. At least, that's what she hoped. The box was opened as Big Ron secured the money and she started quickly and carefully loading the ammo belt, most of the eight and a half pairs of eyes still on her. The remainder of the box was stowed carefully in the top of her large pack amongst the clothes and personal effects which she swung off her back and knelt down to open.

"There's a range out back if you wanna get the feel." Big Ron told her as she finished up. The large pack was quickly swung onto her back again and her eyes met his again, briefly.

"That's... um... that's kind,... But I can't afford to lose the ammo." The girl told him with a weak smile.

Big Ron smiled back and leant in close, gifting to her the dubious pleasures of his missing teeth and putrid breath.

"What's your name?" he asked, looking her over.

"Uhhh, Gabrielle. Ella," she replied, trying hard to be as civil and as confident as possible. It didn't come natural.

"Well, Ella—" Big Ron leaned back and pawed under the counter for another box of shells— "Seeing as how you're prettyin' up the place how about I give you these four for free? To use on my range." There were some chuckles and a couple of whistles from the onlookers who seemed to be part of the furniture of the store. Gun shops tended to draw a crowd and this one was the closest to the port.

"Um... thank you! That's very kind!" Ella stammered and took the four shells that Big Ron had extracted from the box with a big paw.

"Scrat! Setup the range for the little lady!" Big Ron hollered towards the back of the store. The 'range' as it was titled was a wide wooden hatch that spanned the back wall of the store and opened outwards onto a walled off area behind that could be set up with paper targets, bottles or anything else the local populace cared to put holes in. Ella made her way through the store, past the regulars and shrugged off her large pack, placing it carefully against the wall by her feet. She took the care to put her foot through one of the straps so the bag couldn't be tampered with or moved without her knowing. Chatter and hubbub in the shop rose and the patrons gathered round behind Ella for a good view. She watched a scrawny sun-tanned teen set up two large glass bottles on two separate large rocks as she broke the neck of the shotgun and replaced the cartridges inside with two of the four Big Ron had gifted her. Her normal firing position, her feet apart for stability, slightly side-on to be a smaller target, the grip of the shotgun in her right hand and her left holding the wooden grip under the barrels just as her father had taught her. The chatter ceased as she pulled back the hammers with a click.

With a loud 'boom' the first bottle shattered into hundreds of pieces to a cheer from the onlookers. Ella couldn't help but smile. She took the slack of the second action and the second bottle was also smashed into oblivion to more whoops and cheers. The smell of cordite joined the stink of unwashed men, alcohol and gun oil and Ella waved the smoke away as she broke the neck of the shotgun again to load the second two. More bottles were quickly placed out in the sun and Ella made a quick work of them. She wasn't a fighter, that much was a certainty but she had been shooting this shotgun since she was nine years old and she had the feel of the weapon down good.

"Scrat! Setup something good!" Big Ron had spotted new patrons coming in to the store, brought in by the sound of the shotgun. The locals knew they could get a show at Big Ron's Guns Ammo and Range and Big Ron certainly wanted to give them a show. A show meant more sales and a young lady with a shotgun was a draw. He waddled over and placed two more shotgun shells on the counter in front of Ella.

"Give us a good show and the rest of the box is yours." He said to her quietly and stood back. Ella's heart started to thump as she loaded the next two shells. What would he do if she didn't? The teen Scrat rolled in a large earthenware vase that was cracked all down one side and placed it between the two middle stones.

"How come she gets ter shoot that thing?" A nasally voice demanded from the crowd.

" 'cause she's perdier than you are Ned, you great ugly cow's ass," Big Ron boomed and laughter erupted from the crowd, now over twenty and still growing. Ella pulled back the hammers again with a click and the chatter behind her dropped to murmurs again.

"Both barrels!" She announced loudly and pulled the twin-action trigger all the way back in one.

Boom! The Vase shattered into large pieces which flew across the yard and smashed into even smaller pieces on the wall behind. A loud cheer and applause went up from the crowd and Ella started breathing again, smiling with relief that she hadn't missed. The old shells were loaded back into the shotgun as she accepted a few comments from the onlookers, mostly about her shooting and a few less tasteful and it was holstered her pack on her back as quick as was civil. Ella pushed her way through the crowd and headed for the door.

"Hey!" Big Ron's voice stopped her in her tracks. Dread in her chest she turned from the door, her hand covering the shotgun in a vain attempt at self-preservation. But it was unnecessary. Big Ron was making sales and he held out the cartridge box he had promised her, nothing more.

"Thanks!" Ella smiled at him weekly as she took the box and hightailed it out of the store before she could be stopped again.

The sun and dust of new Dartmouth was as unwelcome as ever and Ella began to miss the coolness of the store, even if it was filled with armed and rather dubious looking folk. She clutched the box of shot to her tummy until she could find a safe place to drop her pack and store the second box next to the one she had bought. The ammo had been expensive but she had got a lot more than she bargained for. She was just starting to think about finding some food when a plume of dust kicked up down the street. That meant only one thing - another ship had arrived. Ella dropped the large black-rimmed glasses from her hair over her eyes to shield them from the worst of the dust and fought through the cloud towards the edge of the port.

It had been a long ride for Alice, and she was glad to have feet on dirt again, even if only for a few hours before she boarded a different boat to continue home to Hera. She looked around what passed for a space port, taking in the dust that was settling again—covering ships, people, and equipment alike—and started in the direction the signs indicated would find shops and restaurants. Noting the people moving through the crowd bumping into people even when there was enough room to stay clear, she pulled her duffel closer and was glad that she'd prepaid her fare for all legs of her trip, and not had need to carry much cash with her.

Ella had also spotted those people. She had clocked them soon after arriving. They weren't so different from the scum found at any large port trying to pick up anything they could sell from anyone careless enough to let their things be taken. Fortunately Ella and her father before her had been through more of their fair share of ports. Everything of value was stowed very securely in her large pack which was attached very securely to her back. The only item in reach was the shotgun that knocked gently against her leg as she walked and there was no chance of anyone getting that. The holster had a custom hook inside that secured around the trigger guard. Removing this required the shotgun to be pushed downward, rotated a quarter turn anti-clockwise and then pushed forward and slid upwards. It was a movement Ella could perform very quickly after a few years practice but anyone who wasn't in the know would be in for a nasty surprise. Many people had tried to take the shotgun in the past, hence the knuckle duster Ella wore on her left hand for those awkward moments just after someone had tried to steal it. She had fashioned it herself in her spare time, along with the custom safety catch on the Shotgun itself, an essential modification to insure there was no chance it would go off when the inevitable hard tug of a prospective thief came. These days she walked with her right hand on the grip of the weapon anyway, it was just easier than dealing with Kùnhuò de xiǎotōu. She pushed her way toward the new ship, eager to check out her prospects for a new job. Her shoulder met that of another woman and she raised her bedustered hand ready to strike.

"Oh!.... Alice?!"

Alice had taken half a step away from the person she'd bumped into, holding her bag close, before she heard her name. Her eyes moved to the face, and she smiled as she recognized the young woman who stood there.

"Gabrielle. Of all the people to run into on this rock. How are you?" Alice shifted her bag, and held out her arms in offering of a hug. Ella was only too happy to accept, it had been a while since she'd seen anyone she could remotely call friendly.

"Um... Yeah! I'm ok. How are you?" She asked Alice, prodding her glasses up on top of her head again now the dust had settled a bit.

"Pretty good. On my way home after a successful business trip. I have a few hours to kill before I'm on my way again. Do you know if there's anywhere to get a good a meal? Ships running around these parts never seem to have decent food." Alice shook her head. Ella gave her a knowing smile.

"Um... yeah I think... er, I know a decent place. Do you like Veggie Burgers?" Ella looked a little apologetic but she knew for a fact the food was good and the ambience not too murderous, she had taken refuge there herself for a couple of hours after getting in to port.

"I can't say I've had a veggie burger before, but if you think it's good, then I trust you. Lead on, and we can catch up over a meal."

"Sure! Um... yeah. This way."

Ella wound her way through the stream of people and vehicles that ran through the port daily like a polluted creek depositing scum and lowlifes, businessmen, ship crew and all manner of folk in equal measure at the shore lines on either side. Her hand remained on the shotgun and her gaze ever keen, watching out for trouble with the occasional glance behind to make sure Alice was with her. After a short walk she left the stream in front of an establishment imaginatively named 'Veggie Burger' that proclaimed in large signage 'No meat, no fights, no problem' to the world beyond its front window. Ella gave Alice a quick smile and pushed on through the door.

As Alice followed her inside, she looked around. Everything looked clean and well maintained, even if old and worn. Most tables were full, and people seemed happy with the food, which was a good sign. There wasn't a host waiting to seat them, clearly it wasn't that nice of a place.

"What do you think, the small booth in the back corner?"

"Umm... Yeah! Sure!" Ella led them through the tables and swung her large pack down on to one of the benches of the booth. "They er... there's only one item on the menu but it's nice!" she assured Alice taking a seat.

"It takes confidence to operate with only one menu item. It takes a mixture of skill and luck for it to sustain a business. Clearly they're succeeding, so hopefully there's an equal measure of skill working with the luck of likely being the nicest establishment in these parts," Alice observed as she settled into the other bench. "What have you been up to since we last crossed paths? You were working on the... which ship was it, that ran my harvest out to the rim a year ago?"

"Um... Providence?" Ella cast her mind back past the last couple of crews she had worked with, her last leg still very prevalent in her mind. "I think maybe 18 months ago? Um... yeah that was... That was a good job. They uh... bored? Was it? Wanted more risk and higher pay. I was fine running harvest but... Um... Well no-one really listens to me." She gave Alice a weak smile and hoped this didn't come across as complaining.

"It takes all sorts in the black, including some who are crazier than others. You running with anyone currently?"

"Uhh no." Ella shook her head. "No not at the moment."

"You looking?"

"Yes! Yes, every ship that comes in but... Well... After my last run... Well, I was almost out of twelve gauage... Like I said, people don't listen to me and now they're dead... So er... Yeah. I'm trying to be careful about who I fly with these..." Her thought was interrupted by the rather portly server who plonked two veggie burgers with fries and two mugs of beer on the table in front of them.

"Two gold." He demanded. Ella fumbled in her top for her money bag.

"I have this," Alice said, reaching across the table a moment to stop Gabrielle. She then reached into her own bag, and pulled the coin out to hold out to the man. He took it with a cursory "Enjoy" and waddled off to acquire more plates.

"Thank you! That's really kind." Ella dropped her glasses from her head to her nose and pushed them up to focus on the food.

"The business trip I'm returning from was an inspection of a Firefly before purchase. I have a Captain in mind—he's a good man—but I haven't had chance to discuss it with him yet. He's going to need a crew, and I don't know if he'd have anyone already... But if you like, I could certainly point him your way if he accepts my offer, when we starts looking for crew." Alice looked at the plate sat in front of her, and picked up one of the fries.

Ella looked up and blinked with surprise at Alice, an action magnified by the glasses that made her eyes appear slightly larger than normal.

"I er... Yes! Yes please that would be... i know working for you I won't have to... Um... Run out of ammo! Hopefully." She smiled and munched on a fry. It was pretty good, made better by the prospect of a job.

"Good. Now, I hope to have it worked out with Lucas within the next week or two, so hopefully you'll hear back from him in that time." Alice picked up the burger and considered the odor of it for a moment. "Before we part ways here, let me know the best way to contact you, and if that changes before you hear from Lucas Bird—he's who I have in mind for captain of this boat—you'll let me know."

"I um... I guess I'll stay here?" Ella ventured uncertainly. "There are commercial long-range comm stations about." She was certainly glad she had so much ammo.

"That's a tone of voice that doesn't exactly instill me with confidence. Just let me know where you're going if you decide the ambiance doesn't suit you?" Alice winked and took a bite out of her burger. As she swallowed, she reached for a napkin from the dispenser on the table, and grinned. "Not bad. Not going to get me to give up meat, but better than I expected."

Ella smiled at this. She was very glad her new employer approved and took a bite herself to make her own opinion. Of course she had tried one before, but hadn't been on Lilac long enough to gauge consistency. It was good, made more so by virtue of being her breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ella pushed a lock of hair from in front of her face with a sun-kissed hand and gave some more thought to the issue of contact.

"Um, where will your ship be leaving from?" she asked and took another bite of her burger.

"That'll depend on Lucas. The people I purchased her from offered delivery as part of my deal—which only makes me think I need a really good mechanic to look her over before final acceptance of the ship, though I haven't heard anything ill of Gareth Owens—so we can launch from wherever. If he agrees to take you on, and unless he has someone else already, I don't see why he wouldn't, I'll certainly cover travel to the launch location."

"Great!" Ella smiled weakly. "I guess I'll er... Stay here until I know... not much point going somewhere else. Right?"

Alice frowned. "Do you have enough bullets for your gun, just in case?" she asked quietly, leaning forward across the table to do so. She didn't want anyone nearby to hear. Ella nodded.

"Yeah um... two boxes? Although honestly? If my belt gets towards empty I'll be in pretty serious mi tian gohn anyway..." She smiled at Alice trying to make out like this wouldn't worry her. It would. Ella could take care of herself but that didn't mean she enjoyed it when proceedings went south.

Alice sighed, but smiled at Gabrielle. "Okay, well hopefully you won't need to be here long anyways."

"Yeah." Ella nodded, a grave look on her face. "I hope so!"

Ella Lemaire

Alice Mathieson-Song


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