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Between a Dream and a Coma

Posted on 15 Aug 2018 @ 10:17am by Tabitha & Xiuling Brooke

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

Since getting off the Mad March Hare a couple of weeks ago, and the incident with the Reaver Ship that had brought the mute teenager into her life things had started to settle down. Sure they were stuck on this planet, but Xiuling had figured Tabitha would appreciate firm earth beneath her feet for a while and the younger girl hadn't given her any indication that she would prefer otherwise. So here she was, making her way through the small settlement, a brace of Conies over her shoulder and her bag full of the goods she's swapped for the rest.

Twenty silver a tail wasn't the best wage available, but it was something she was good at and enjoyed doing. Of course, she had the advantage that she shot them with arrows, so there was no lead to pick out and the damage to the edible flesh was minimal. Twenty tails, and the farmer had taken six of those as his cut of her catch, she could have got more selling them on herself as she was intending to do on her way home but that was the deal. Not her best day but it was certainly not her worst either, and it was enough to keep them going. It wasn't easy, living like this, but it was better than some of the places she'd been. Problem was people were starting to recognise her face.

As she walked through the market she paused, seeing a couple of large patterned shirts. They didn't look like much now, but cleaned up and given to Tabitha and they'd make a decent something she was sure.

"Can I interest you in some freshly caught rabbit in exchange for that pair of shirts?" She asked the vendor. A grizzled and gruff looking man who she happened to know had a wicked sense of humor and a nice smile.

"Rabbit love?" he asked curiously.

"Freshly caught today, I've got some to spare, gutted already so no hassle there..." she assured him, she always gutted them before she came home and at those farms with pigs she never had trouble disposing of the waste. He looked her up and down, definitely considering the offer. "Legally shot, by request, with a bow and arrow up on Tyson's farm if that helps you feel better about it," she added.

The man grinned. "Aye, I can do ye a deal, not sure why you want me old shirts though, how much them rabbits worth?"

Xiuling gave him her best smile while she did some calculations in her head. Their tiny bunk room was one platinum each per night, with use of the kitchen as long as they made enough for everybody. For that she needed five rabbits and if she wanted enough to feed them a second night she'd need ten. Which meant that she could sell them all on tomorrow.

"My friend is good with a needle. Nice clean kills like this, should be worth a gold, how many you wanting?" she asked him.

"I'd normally have three, and the shirts might be worth a couple of gold each..." he paused for a moment and thought about it. Both of them needed to make a living after all. "Tell you what, I've got another couple of shirts down here, how about we say four shirts for five rabbits?"

"Do I get a bag thrown in?" she asked indicating a nice-ish canvas bag that looked pretty sturdy. She'd been looking for something that Tabitha could keep her things in. Having come off the ship with nothing they were having to build her up from scratch. She wanted a sewing case for Tabitha to keep her sewing stuff in, but so far had been unable to find anything, this bag though, Tabitha could decorate it if she wanted to, make it her own.

"Me wife might get grumpy with me, but then I'll show her how she don't have to gut the rabbits herself..." he said with a grin. "You've got yourself a deal love," They shook hands and though the shirts he pulled out weren't as nice as the ones she'd seen herself she had gotten the bag too and she still have enough rabbit to make sure everyone in the guest house had a decent meal tonight. She slung the bag over her shoulder, and started making her way back to the scummy guesthouse they were living in.

When she walked in the front door into the communal lounge, she saw someone at the cortex terminal. She'd have to take a look later. As much as she wanted to give Tabitha time before they got back on a ship, they couldn't stay here forever. She'd been applying for every job possible that came up on the cortex, citing the cruise liner she'd sailed with as a lounge singer and the local farmers as her references as she'd done with all the others. Part of her knew they were shitty references for what she was applying for, but she needed to keep moving. The more she moved, the less likely it was that Sergei and Nikolai could find her.

She tramped up the stairs to their room, and opened the door.

"Brought you a present..." she said as she walked in.

As per usual, Tabitha was sat on the bottom bunk of the bed the two shared , her right hand behind her back on the handle of the blade that was, apart from her many and various scars, the only crossover from her life on the Reaver ship. It lived in its leather sheath that was almost invariably pushed through the rear two belt loops of the trousers she wore, the same trousers Xiuling had given her shortly after they had met. They were the only ones she had but she was taking good care of them, washing them studiously every three days and leaving them out to dry while Xiuling was out. The difference in height between the two had worked to Tabitha's favour, the long top Xiuling had given her then now became a nightdress and something she could wear whilst her other clothes were drying. She had quickly rooted out a simple sewing kit and pattern book when given access to the local market and had already turned one bargain basement top sold for 'rags' into something she could wear, a brown-coloured longsleeved top that like the room they were staying in was somehow much cleaner now than it had been originally.

Tabitha took her hand off the handle of her knife as she recognised the form of Xiuling appearing at the door. She had been fairly sure it was her friend anyway, she had learned the meter of the woman's footfall on the stairs, how the volume and the intensity of the squeaks on the wooden floorboards differed with size and weight. But the infancy of her freedom was no time to become complacent. Standing, she greeted Xiuling with an interested smile.

Xiuling paid no mind to the hand on Tabitha's knife as she opened the door, she'd made it clear that she was happy for Tabitha to be safe rather than sorry. She shut the door behind her and moved to the small table. She put down the rabbits first, and then the pulled all of the other groceries out of her bag. "And this, is just for you," she said with a smile, holding out the bag she'd bought with the four shirts in it. "The bag as well as what's in it, you need something to put your things in,"

Xiuling had to admit, it was nice having someone else around, another presence in the room when the wind got too high... And Tabitha seemed to be a little obsessed about cleaning. She wasn't sure if it was something she'd always done or something that had come on since the Reavers had her, either way, Xiuling was pretty sure this room had never been cleaner, and her own clothes hadn't been this clean since she'd left Ezra.

As the saying goes old habits die hard. After being rescued the fifteen-year-old had started to go back to the way of life she had known before the Reaver ship, slowly, as the mental walls she had erected around her previous life began to be chiseled away by the sculptor that was a vaguely civilised society. It wasn't yet fully apparent to the tortured Tabitha why she felt a compulsion to do certain things, especially cleaning, but somehow it just seemed right, it felt like it was what she needed to do. Sometimes those feelings would give way to an explanation but it wasn't always easy for her to see, in fact, quite the opposite, for the images of her family, her mother, father and younger siblings were often followed by images of those same people she loved, freshly murdered and strung up by the Reavers, their eyes wide open in the cold, chilling stare of death. Fresh walls were created to try to block those images, but the more she remembered the more they preyed on her mind.

It was perhaps fortuitous that Tabitha's assortment of missing teeth were all on the bottom and didn't show when she smiled or the gesture might have been somewhat less appealing. As it was her face lit up even more than it had upon Xiuling's return as the bag Xiuling was holding became hers. She took it by the long strap with both hands and looked it over excitedly, pulling the shirts out and giving each a quick look over as well before placing them down on the bed next to her. She would have plenty of sewing to do over the next few days, sewing that would keep her hands and her mind busy, something the girl was always grateful for. The shirts were collected and placed back in the bag for now which was hung over the corner of the top bunk and after nodding her thanks she asked her companion how she was doing or how her day had been by way of pointing at her, her eyebrows raised in question.

Xiuling couldn't help but smile as she watched Tabitha take the bag and start looking through it. She took a seat on the chair at the desk and waited until Tabitha had refolded the shirts into her bag and hung it up on the bed before she took a breath and tried to decide how to work what she wanted to talk to Tabitha about. She decided to just bite the bullet and explain what she had done.

"Twenty tails, not amazing but enough, was a pretty nice day and I got a good deal at the market on the way home," she smiled as she indicated the bag hanging on the bed now. "Actually , if you've got a minute, there's something I wanted to talk to you about..." she started off strong but her voice trailed into nothing as she waited for a response.

This is a tone of voice that put Tabitha on edge slightly, but she was in a good mood now and it was probably a good time to talk. She gave Xiuling a slightly sideways glance but nodded and shrugged slightly as she sat down, giving her friend her full attention.

"So, we've stayed here a little while, um, I figured you'd appreciate having solid earth under your feet for a while," she paused and fiddled with her hair for a moment. "Only, I can't stay here forever, there are things in my past that I have to keep moving to stay away from, so, I've been kinda, halfheartedly applying for jobs. On ships. Even land based jobs... we'd most likely have to take a ship to get there... I can't imagine it beng any time soon, but... I wanted to let you know sooner rathet than later," she trailed off again, and moved to sit beside Tabitha on the bed. "I won't leave you, and if you don't want to go we can stay, I don't need and answer either way just yet, it's not like I've got a lot of experience on ships anyway," she shrugged. "I just wanted to give you time to think about it,"

The silence that followed gave way to the sounds of the settlement outside, the soundtrack that filled Tabitha's days as she sat in their little room, sewing, cleaning and reading. Often she would just look at the window and watch the people at street level going about their business but she didn't dare leave the room. It wasn't much of a life for a fifteen-year-old, but considering where she had just come from it was good enough for her, for now. They didn't trust anyone here, they couldn't risk losing the small collection of items they had and while she was much better than she had been a couple of weeks before Tabitha wasn't much suited to company just yet. She stared at Xiuling for a long time, mulling over what had been said. It was a move that made sense, steady work, being around the same people every day and of course making sure Xiuling's past it didn't catch up with them. But despite all of the pros, a wave of dread permeated her considerations like a foreign object waiting to burst out of one's chest. She had only been to space once before and to say had not turned out well was like saying that Reavers were a bit unorthodox. It just didn't begin to properly describe the situation and Tabitha knew all too well what Reavers could do. To her, space travel meant Reavers and Reavers meant rape and torture. Images of her last voyage into space started to flash through her mind and she looked at Xiuling, or rather through Xiuling with growing terror unable to see anything even a foot in front of her face thanks to the images replaying in her mind's eye.

Yeah this... this was not good. As she'd feared, Tabitha was nowhere near ready to be anywhere but planet-side. Even knowing what she did about the black, Xiuling couldn't help but feel safer there, and she'd known Tabitha wouldn't which was why she hadn't said anything until now. If she was honest she was still wishing she hadn't. It wasn't the first time the younger girl had looked straight through her like this, but she hated that she was the one who'd said the thing that triggered it.

"Tabitha?" She said gently, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything, we won't be going anywhere until you're ready," she wasn't about to touch her at all either, unless she was poking her with a stick from ten feet away.

Xiuling and everything else around her was shut out of Tabitha's mind by a glass door of post-traumatic stress. Xiu was visible and her voice echoed and was muffled in a funny way, but even as one can see through a glass door and even hear through it you cannot touch someone through it until it is opened. After a few moments her subconscious turned the handle and pulled hard and she arrived back at reality with a jolt. The confusion, fear and embarrassment on her face was something Xiuling had seen before and as she steadied her breathing and calmed herself down she reached for the pencil and crumpled notebook that inhabited her right rear pocket.

'spAcE = REAvERs'. She showed it to Xiuling.

What was written on the notebook in Tabitha's scruffy handwriting brought on a realisation that made what she'd just witnessed make even more sense.

"You'd never been in the black before," she said, her statement almost a question, but not quite.

Tabitha shook her head. By her experience thus far she didn't want to try it again.

"I'm sorry," Xiuling said quietly, she looked away. This was going to be difficult, but she'd work round it, maybe they could just move towns, buy horses and ride to somewhere else, or catch an in-atmo transport if they had to. "Forget I said anything, I'm not likely to get a positive response from any of them, I'd have more luck on Core cruise liners as a lounge singer I reckon," she said with a shrug. It wasn't what she wanted to do, and that kind of gig wouldn't take her with a dependent tagging along anyway.

"We should get on with dinner, the rabbits won't cook themselves," she said brightly, almost as though she was trying to convince herself to be cheerful. This wasn't a bad life, after all, it just wasn't necessarily the one she wanted.

Tabitha nodded. Taking her mind off things with work was a good idea. She picked up a handful of the foraged herbs that were drying on the windowsill in one hand and the rabbits in the other and with a quick glance back at Xiuling elbowed her way through the door and out to the kitchen.

Xiuling watched her go and sighed, so that was that then, she grabbed the vegetables she'd bought and followed her down to the kitchen.

Xiuling Brooke



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