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[personal profile] thulcandran
And thanks to Tray for the prompt: Fish, Muffin, Anchor!

Staring out over the water, Quin took a deep breath, letting the wind wash over her, throwing the loose strands of her hair back across her neck, cooling, soothing, and smelling of salt and brine. She grinned. Her hair had been all but unmanageable since they'd set sail, and she'd finally given up, sliced all but a few inches off, and let the rest go, more or less. It was significantly better. Her father would have been shocked; she looked like one of the dock bums. She hadn't been in uniform in weeks, possibly months, her gun was still concealed under her jacket, and her face was finally starting to feel human again, out from under that armor. The other day, she'd actually smiled!

"Hey, girlie, you plannin' on standin' there all day? Because the anchor's done, and you're blockin' the stow."

She glanced up, and stepped aside. Gora was a rail-thin bloke, a bit darker-skinned than her, his hair tied back in a handful of braids. He'd claimed that in his past, he'd had razors and weights braided into them, turning his own hair into a weapon, but Quin had her doubts about that. Gora could spin a yarn with the best of them - he must've had six or seven different explanations for the scar that cut across his thin lips, let alone the notch in his ear.

The ship was nominally a peaceful one, but there were contested waters on this sea, and sometimes the wars would find you, whether you wanted them to or not. Quin found it difficult to care about this - she'd been fighting with fireballs and walls of energy-blades and swords that could slice through the wall of an orbital station, worn armor that had runes to protect it from the vacuum of space, seen lasers focus the gravitational pull of an entire moon on one ship - pirates scouring the open waters was not something she much cared about, at this point.

"Yer sister was lookin' for ya," Gora said, as he looped the chain around the hooks. "She said somethin' about helpin' her with the fish from yesterday."

Quin sighed. "Yeah, I'm sure she did. Thanks, Gora." She turned reluctantly away from the stiff wind and headed below-decks to find Daria.

"Hey, there you are!" Daria grinned at her over the remaining half of her muffin.

"There you are," Quin retorted. "What's up?"

"Stars and erections," her sister replied, pulling the little pastry apart. "How's the rolling ocean?"

"It's the same as it was." Quin sat down across the table, tapping the plate with one finger. "But I assume you have a reason for pulling me down here?"

"Yeah." Daria glanced back towards the door, took a breath, and looked back at Quin. "I found your notes."

" found my notes."


"You mean the notes that I had encrypted, locked in a secret compartment of a locked chest that was hidden at the bottom of my wardrobe? Those notes?"

"Er, yeah. Those notes."

Quin ran a hand through her hair, wincing as it caught on one of the salt-crusted tangles. "Okay, then. I do have about a thousand questions, comments, and things to ...say to you. But let's hear your questions out first, get this cleared out of the way--"

"That you can better go on to the rage portion?"

"Well, I really thought snooping through my stuff was a phase you would eventually grow out of! So, yes!"

Daria grinned, a bit infuriatingly. "Okay, then! First off, where are we actually going? Does the crew even know?"

"The navigator knows, and two others. That was the necessary number. No one else was supposed to know. But I guess that doesn't matter all that much now!"

"Oh, come on," she replied, nibbling another chunk of the muffin. "Who'm I going to tell?"

"That's really not the point. An answer for an answer, now - why did you go looking through my stuff?"

She shrugged. "I guess force of habit? Originally, I was just looking to see if you had a pair of gloves I could wear to check the rigging, since it was starting to leave blisters, but I got a bit carried away, and then I noticed the lock..."

"Where'd you get the key?"

"I picked it. Oh, don't look so upset! I used the chant - it's not broken, or anything. You forget, I know your work pretty well. And then the encryption is my specialty, so that was an easy one."

Quin sighed, gritting her teeth. "Okay, that's... not the worst answer you could have. Though yes, I am still just a little bit upset! Just a little."

"So who are you working for?"

"At the moment? No one." She sat back. "It's a little complicated. You know the original force was supposed to have this rendezvous, but things got... just a little complicated."

"This sounds like quite a tale," Daria said brightly, leaning back. "Should I set the charms?"

Quin glared at her. "You might as well. If you've found the notes, there's really no reason to wait on this - I was going to tell you when we landed, anyway, this just bumps up the timeframe a little while. I would have preferred to keep it to myself, but obviously sisterly curiosity trumps all!"

"It always does," she replied over her shoulder, drawing a symbol with her finger on the now-closed door.

"Well, you know the mercenaries were having trouble anyway. We'd had a string of bad luck a few miles long, and it was starting to show - the consultant we hired, remember - maybe three years back - went missing about eighteen months ago. The ship he was supposed to be infiltrating crashed in some jungle three sectors away, and nobody knew where he or the info had gotten to. That whole area is lousy with pirates, so it was a tossup on whether or not we'd ever actually recover it, especially if someone figured out he was worth something. Most likely scenario, of course, is the whole damn ship burned up and we'll never know what happened.

"So in the meantime, my COs are getting antsy - they all want something to happen, they want to see somebody fall, or somebody rise, but this back-and-forth isn't doing any of us any good. And obviously, the rank and file is just as sick of it as they are. Harot, that devil's asslick, finally decides to split off - about two and a half of the fleets followed him. They ran like rabbits, figuring the rest of the command was going to come after them - last I heard, the whole lot of them was in system V, starting to splinter.

"Literally the next morning, somebody finds Fowler in a bar with his aorta seared in half and about three pounds of silver in his guts; somehow he wound up in one of the pockets of the Barth Riots, on Devania. So now it's down to Ruiz, Talbot, and Dirkson, and none of them agree on a damned thing. Eight months back, we lost another fleet, about ten or fifteen of the ranking captains got together and split, and the guys Talbot sent after them joined up, rather than coming back or bringing them down.

"Ruiz and Dirkson are looking like they're going to have some kind of a fucking duel over this thing, like that's the best way to solve it, and Talbot's cracking under the pressure, last thing I heard he had somebody shot for breaking armor codes. So me, Rickard, Latven, and Perry put together our lease, turned in most of our shit, and went on leave. I think Perry's gonna disappear, there's a database now for deserters to pick out of, Rickard and Latven plan on lying low until they see who comes out on top, and I headed out for Tratsphoer."

Daria shook her head. "Damn. I knew things were bad, but... Starcurse, Quin, I had no idea they were that far gone. So are you acting on one of the dissidents' orders, or looking for a new command?"

"Neither." She grinned fiercely. "I took a caravan to Tratsphoer. Halfway there, I stumble on a little nowhere town that's executing somebody for murder, theft, and parole-breaking. I check out the bills, and recognize the style - it's fuckin' Jeb Schmidt, whose agents apparently got killed in the crossfire when things went bad. No idea why he wasn't laying low, but at that point, it's too late to do much but stay out of the way. I put in a bid for his personal effects, and found the papers along with - he should've had those burned the second he was compromised, but he probably thought he could shoot his way out of it. Moron.

"So now, I'm not sure. This operative could be anybody - if they caught up with him, odds are he'd be a crater in about ten seconds, and I don't know if he's expecting that or not. If he thinks his contract is still good, he could be willing to wait a long time. If he's been keeping up on rumors, he's probably pretty edgy by now, and he must have some idea that the command is a mess by now. He might not even be there.

"But if he's got good info, if he's got a clue, and if it looks like he's any good - who knows? Maybe I can pick the deserter database, too. We'll find out when we make landfall."
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May 2013


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