Mission 1: Gearing Up
Location: Eavesdown Docks, Persephone
True excitement was a rare joy for Max, most of his life he hadn't had much reason to be excited over much, the easy-going grin that he habitually wore was a mask, a disguise and a shield all in one. He'd been given a job, somewhat cemented now that the captain was officially sending him out to buy engine parts and trusting him to not mess it up. He was getting to go explore a new place where he wasn't wanted, being hunted or in trouble. He was going shopping for shiny, new engine parts. Three reasons to be excited all at once, and he was taking full advantage of them.
The boy jogged into the infirmary, grinning ear-to-ear with a scrap of paper in one hand and a large, currently empty bag in the other. He'd grabbed the bag on a whim, reasoning that if one was going shopping, one needed a shopping bag.
"Hey Moira!" He called as he came in to the infirmary, his usual quietness laid down by his excitement, "we gotta go shopping! Captain's sending us out to buy stuff." It wasn't strictly true, the captain had sent him to go buy stuff, but the captain had also told him to take someone and he'd chosen Moira, so by extension, the captain was telling her to go shopping, too.
Moira sat on the counter of the infirmary, her eyes down, her body language overall a mix between anxious and tired. The woman - whom Moira still did not know, nor did she know her relationship to the captain, to the crew, whether or she even deserved to be shot, as if anybody could deserve that - lay unconscious but stable on the infirmary bed.
Moira had many things on her mind. What type of crew had she gotten herself mixed up with? Was it even possible to turn back now... and did she want to? She knew that this wasn't exactly what she had planned as her retreat into the edges of known space, but they were probably going to stay away from core planets, and a part of her (a part that she tried to suppress these days) thought it might be... exciting. The woman sighed, lifting a hand to her face. Her hands still had that weird feeling they did after wearing gloves for a while - and those bloody gloves and other garbage sat in a bin nearby. She was just a surgeon; back in the hospital the nurses and others would clean up the room, she was always needed elsewhere. Here, she was alone - and for some reason, sitting alone in the room with the patient was one of the strangest experiences of the day. Perhaps it was because it was so close to being normal, but still so different.
"Oh," Moira muttered when Max entered, immediately slipping back into her cheery persona. That still didn't hide the touch of tiredness though. "Glad to see you're feeling better." She stood up with a small stretch, glancing at the patient before stepping forward to follow Max. It would be nice to get off of this ship for a bit, to get away from all this mess while she contemplated it.
"We gotta go buy engine parts," Max explained cheerfully as they walked towards the cargo bay and the ramp. "The captain's got an account, and since I'm the mechanic now, I guess, it's up to me. I never went shopping before, 'less it was shop lifting, I mean I've bought stuff, food and the like, but this is different, going to an actual, honest to God parts store? It's so shiny!" Max kept up the monologue as they left the ship, letting his mouth run partly to hide the nervousness that was beginning to creep in through the excitement and partly as an attempt to cheer up Moira. He'd caught the moment before she'd slipped into cheery, he did it himself often enough, and the tiredness in her voice. "Cap'n told me to bring someone with me, 'cause who's gonna sell engine parts to a kid? And I thought of you because, well... you're kinda the only person on the ship that I even half know, 'sides from Kat, the companion lady, and I figured you'd know how to do shopping like this, bein' all world wise and stuff. I was hopin' you wouldn't mind, see?" He gave her a sideways glance and a blast of a shit eating grin.
"Ah," Moira said, walking along beside Max as she left the ship. It took her a moment to process that Max had never been shopping She had spent the last, what, ten years? on a core planet. She hadn't been rich, no, but... okay, well, honestly compared to some of the other crew members she might as well be. When her money ran out, she joined the military - the idea of shoplifting never even crossed her mind. Even back on her homeworld, where she was just a farmer, they went shopping for feed and seed and tools. This poor kid. So was he an orphan? To not have parents teaching him this stuff... then again, how old really was he? Moira thought it best not to ask... partially out of politeness, partially because she didn't want to know how young the mechanic whom she was trusting with her life really was.
"I, uh, I suppose your right," Moira shrugged. "I do know how to shop. And I must admit, much to the chagrin of some of my feminist friends, I do rather enjoy it." Despite her relatively well-spoken words, she still had a faint rural accent. It made for an interesting combination. She smiled - it was only half forced - and looked at Max. "Besides, I think I could use some time off that ship. What happened back there - it was quite stressful. Fresh air is probably the least of what I can do to try to calm down." She paused for a moment... how much did Max know about their crew's situation? Would he have any answers to her questions?
"Maaan," Max breathed, drawing out the word. He had been hesitant to bring up the goings on aboard the ship, but since Moira had brought it up, and since they weren't on the ship, he felt free to share. "I don't know what the hell was going on. First those two spooks try to take over the ship, and then some guys are waiting for us at the dock, then some weird shadow guy shows up and tells the cap'n to just let them go. And the captain don't argue, just plays along. Shadow guy smells like underworld, like real heavy." He glanced sideways at Moira, wondering if her upbringing gave her any context to relate to what he was talking about. "When you're on the street, you meet all kinda people. Street-rats like me are ten-a-penny, just survivin'. Then you've got the gangs, low-class mostly, runnin' streets and sellin' drops. Above that you got the families, real dangerous types, lots of money an' pretty high-class. But above that there's guys like Mister Shadow, the underworld types, they got all the money an' all the power. Once you get in with them, you're in forever an' there isn't no getting out." He paused, frowning for a moment as he reconsidered the implications of that, "I don't rightly know what we've gotten ourselves mixed up in, but as long as I got a job, doesn't really matter who's pullin' the strings an' payin' the money."
"I think I might be in over my head," Moira shrugged. In this case, she was being perfectly honest. She at least liked to know what was going on around her, but she also was neither stupid nor entirely unfamiliar with the concept of 'better off just not knowing'. But she was good at following orders. Seems to be all she's done her entire life. As much as she wanted to know what was going on, she didn't want to be just another witness to be killed off before she could speak. Ignorance is bliss.
Unlike Max, however, she could pretty easily find a paying job. Hell, she could probably walk up to any hospital on this planet and get one - she had good scores in medical school, plus experience as a surgeon in the military. The woman sighed, just the slightest sound. "I suppose all I can hope is that this crew is on the winning side of whatever sort of battle is going on here." Then she smiled again, then laughed. "Seems I can't get away from excitement like this, even if I try?" the woman's laughter died down into giggling. "I mean, I thought the core planets were where everything was at. All the politics and threats and what not - and everything further out was supposed to be peaceful, nice, et cetera. Whatever. This will be fun. I'll make it be fun, if I have to. I mean, we might be travelling with criminals or whomever, but that doesn't stop me from birdwatching along the way." At this point she was rambling, but her rambling abruptly stopped. "So - where is this parts store?"
"Everything out here was supposed to be peaseful and nice?" Max had to stop walking to turn and look at Moira, just what did people in the core think life was like out here? Did she come out to the rim looking for an adventure? His perspective of Moira was shifting rapidly from nice helpful medic lady to naive, entitled core world lady. "Lady, you got duped real hard, there's nothing nice or peaceful 'bout the outer worlds, it's hard and dirty, nothing's easy and the only peace you'll find is in an abbey or in the ground. There's nothing fun about life out here," he found himself angry but he didn't know why, "gorramit, you core world people have no idea, do you? Follow me!"
Max walked off, heading not for the parts store that Clayton had told him to go to but instead heading for what looked like a likely spot to find people like him, he felt the need to show her what life really was like, what the reality of existence was when you weren't born with a Jīn tāngchí (golden spoon) in your mouth.
Moira hesitated when Max turned back around and starting talking about his opinions of the outer planets. She felt quite a mixture of emotions, even if she knew that Max didn't know that she was in the military or grew up on a little outer moon. Part of her wanted to be angry that he thought of her as an idiot... and a part of her was kind of proud that she done so well at playing the part of an naive core planet native just sight-seeing. A third part of her was absolutely offended that he said there was nothing peaceful about the little childhood rimworld farm she had grown to idolize, and a final part was indignant that he thought life in the core was easy. Sure, this kid's life was hard and Moira did feel bad for him, but Londinium was no walk in the park either. Running out of money in vet school, crying to herself when she realized she'd have to go home as a failure, watching a patient she had worked so hard on never wake up, all the backstabbing and finals of med school where every test felt like the only thing that mattered in the world. Sure, Moira had never worried about where her next meal would come from, but she had other worries filling her mind instead. Did this kid think that all the core planet folk - which included most of her friends - just sat around in contentment all day?
Or maybe Moira was just weaker than she'd like to admit. The woman frowned at that thought. Either way, she wasn't here to make enemies. She was here to make friends. Davis had told her she needed to think about other people's point of view more... and as little as she cared about him, he did have a point. "I didn't mean nothing offensive by that," she offered, as if that would help.
"I..." Max began, a cutting remark on the tip of his tongue, but then he thought better of it. Moira had been kind to him and it wasn't her fault if she didn't know how life worked outside of the golden palace he imagined the core worlds to be, "... know." They had reached a soup kitchen where a bunch of well meaning Shepherds had set up a place for the down and outs to get a bite to eat, free soup was always good, if you could stand the sermon that came with it, Max had intended to confront her with the reality of what it was like to grow up on the streets, with nothing and his eye caught several likely examples. A pimp with a few scantily clad boys and girls, a boy purporting to sell trinkets when he was actually picking pockets, a gaggle of street kids hanging out next to one of the heat vents of the nearby building... it struck him how ghastly similar the place was to where he had been and suddenly it all seemed stupid. Moyes didn't need to be slapped in the face with that reality, all it would do would be to hurt her.
The boy sighed, putting away memories that were rising up to the surface of his mind unbidden and then turning away, back towards the parts store. "Come on, let's get those parts and get back to the ship."
Moira frowned, looking at it all around her. None of it struck her as particularly surprising - it might have, if she actually knew the people - but she didn't, so it felt as emotionless to her as watching little puppets move behind a glass screen. Even Max wasn't treating these folk as people - he was just using them more as ideas, or concepts, to try to prove a point to Moira. As much as she wanted to argue - and she might have, a year ago - she had to put in effort for this new, content self she wanted to become. The woman sighed. Or maybe she was just a bad person. Children were starving. What was there to argue about.
"I didn't mean the cities," Moira said as they started walking to the parts store, trying to explain herself. It didn't escape her attention that they turned back - this little demonstration hadn't just been 'on the way'. "I meant the landscapes. This... this sucks." That was about as close to a curse word as you were likely to get out of Moira. "But I didn't come here for the..." how could she put this politely? "The towns. I came for the landscape. On Londinium, there were no forests, no mountains. The only touch of green were token sterile parks, where everything was neat and trimmed and boring. There's beauty in imperfection, right?" Moira shrugged. That last sentence hit closer to home than she wanted. "I wanted to see the plains again. To see the forests, and watch the birds. I wanted to fall asleep watching the sun sink down over the horizon, not the skyline." And then, in a whisper, more to herself than anyone else: "Is that too much to ask?"
"I ain't never thought of that..." Max had to admit, he'd grown up on a farm on Santo, if you could call it growing up, but he had never bothered looking around at the landscape. He'd been too focused on survival and keeping his head down, at first, and then escape, later. He supposed, if he thought about it hard enough, the place had been kinda beautiful. The realization that Santo actually had a redeeming quality made his head spin a little, everything he remembered about the place, almost everything, was terrible. He rubbed the back of his neck, frowning as he tried to fit that little gem into his brain.
"I never had..." he said after a moment, unsure of how to express what he wanted to say, and not quite sure what he wanted to say in the first place. He tried to picture sitting in a forest watching birds or on a plain watching the sunset, turning the idea around in his brain. Part of the problem was that he didn't really have the context to imagine what it would be like to really experience nature aside from just being in it, what it meant to enjoy it. It sounded peaceful, but kinda pointless. But maybe the pointlessness of it was the point? "I never had much of a chance to take in the landscape, y'know, nature and such, but I guess... it'd be... kinda nice, maybe?"
"Yeah..." Moira muttered, unsure of what to say. "It is kind of nice." Whatever emotions she felt earlier had died down a bit. Now she just felt tired... tired and sick of herself. Why did she even have to say anything? Back in med school, she had kept to herself unless talking for a specific purpose. Everything was intentional; she only did small talk to make friends, and only made friends with those that she determined would make the most efficient study group. It had worked. This new Moira... well, Moira thought that it would be even easier to make friends by just going in and talking and trying to stay positive. Apparently she was wrong. "Sorry," she added, quietly. "Let's just get to the parts store." She was ready to put this little exchange behind her - and in the end, she hadn't learned much from it.
Max lead the way to the parts store in silence, feeling vaguely bad that he'd jumped to conclusions and given Moira a hard time for no reason. He felt he'd ruined what could have been a fun excursion and turned it into something stressful and difficult, memories were swimming around in his brain that he didn't particularly want. It seemed like escaping his past was impossible, it always came back around, somehow, to his youth.
The parts store was a low, single story stone built building with a metal door, a single barred window and an armed guard standing outside. A lit sign declared the place as 'Jonty's Mechanical Imperium'. The guard didn't move a muscle, aside from giving them a cursory visual, and then they stepped inside.
There was a dirty counter across the front of the place and behind it, rows and rows of metal shelves stacked with every part and gadget you could imagine, all shiny and new looking. Max found a little of his lost excitement returning as he took the sight in, there was enough here to build a whole new ship, sans the actual hull.
"You lost, kid?" The guy behind the counter was wearing a greasy and stained overall with the name 'Jonty' emblazoned over the right breast, and a battered, equally greasy fedora.
"I need four injectors for a Walkabout TCB engine, four meters of six-mil hard fuel line, some fuel resistant fitting tape, a tube of fuel resistant sealant and a half dozen pipe clips, please. On the account of Captain Stanton of the Geronimo." Max gave the guy a big, wide shit eating grin.
Moira looked around, interested at the shop. She looked a touch out of place there, with her clean clothes - although not formal they were definitely not the outfit of a mechanic. She had grown used to the clean, orderly stores of the core and this brought back memories, good memories, of the stores back at home. How different really was a feed store from a parts store anyway? Moira didn't know much about the parts themselves, though, and could only guess at what most of them were... this once again renewed her respect for mechanics.
Moira looked over and frowned when the shopkeeper asked if this kid was lost. How dare he? she originally thought, then chastised herself - that was a very core-worlder thing to do, to take offense to that, and that was not the person she wanted to be... in fact, it almost surprised her that she thought that way. Then again, maybe she just thought because she was a bit defensive on the part of their mechanic. Maybe their mechanic didn't even know about the offensive slight, with his wide grin and strange set of street-wisdom. How dare this shopkeeper question them?
With a gracefulness that seemed unlike her previous self - in which she had been acting a bit clumsy to fit the part - Moira stood over to stand a bit behind Max, casting the shopkeeper - Jonty a thinly-veiled smug, challenging glance.
The shopkeeper narrowed his eyes, squinting at the pair and placed his hands on his hips. "Runnin' an errand for the boss, eh, squirt? Well, I'm gonna need some kinda proof that Stanton sent you. No offense, miss," he addressed Moira, "but I'm not handin' out parts on the say-so of a kid and a woman I ain't never met before."
"A'ts fair, mister." Max kept up the grin, playing the part of the innocent kid that the guy was expecting to see. From his pocket he produced the note Stanton had given him with the account information and his go-ahead for the purchase.
Jonty took the note and gave it a look over, nodding to himself as he saw what he needed to see. "All right then, nice of you to bring the kid, miss. They gotta start earnin' their keep at some point, I suppose." He gave Moira a smirk, "wait here a minute, I'll get the stuff."
Max glanced back at Moira and gave her a wink, trying to convey that she should play along. Trying to explain to the guy that he was the mechanic and not just some kid would only complicate the situation, it was easier just to let the guy assume that Max was a nobody kid running an errand.
Moira relaxed just slightly when the man started actually doing business with them. The formality and challenge of her old self softened up to reveal a bit of the cheer of her new self. Moira smiled in gratitude at the man, taking a quick glance back at Max. "That they do. We all need to earn our keep on his ship." Well, actually, Moira didn't. She was a passenger; instead of earning her keep she was straight up paying for it, skipping the middle step of work... though now that she had jumped in and saved that lady and seemed to be running errands with their mechanic in town... was she still a passenger? She made a mental note to take that up with the Captain later, slightly dreading having to talk about what happened.
Presently, the greasy shop owner returned with the items Max had requested, each one wrapped in greased paper to keep them clean and rust-free. The guy set them on the counter and waved his arms over them, as if presenting a gift. "Here you go, kiddo. Four Walkabout TCB injectors, four meters of six-mil hard fuel line, one roll of FRF tape, one tube of FR sealant and six pipe clips."
Max picked up an injector and unwrapped it, turning the thing over in his hands, ignoring the grease that was now covering them. He frowned a little noticing the little details. They were clean and undamaged, but worn on the threads, and pitted on the injector heads. They were clean because they'd been cleaned, probably sandblasted and powder coated to make them look like new.
He looked back up at the shopkeeper, stupid grin gone. "These ain't new, Lao Bahn (Boss man). Injector jets are worn and there's pitting on the heads. I could'a picked these up at a scrapper for free." It was close to an accusation, but not quite there, giving the guy a bit of wiggle room. "so 'less you're givin' these to Cap'n Stanton for free, I'm gonna need new. Dohn luh mah?" (Understand?)
Jonty's eyes widened for a second and then narrowed again as he leaned over the counter to look at the boy. Wraith-thin, unkempt, uncut hair and raggedy, ill-fitting clothes that were stained with oil, grease and a dozen other things. He straightened, paused for a minute and then started acting.
"Gou cao de Cheong Bao Ho Tze Qing Wa Cao De Liu Mang sold me junk parts?" He gathered up the three injectors on the desk and grabbed the fourth from Max's hand. "Wait here."
(Dog-fucking Monkey raping Frog Humping Son of a Bitch)
Moira frowned a bit as she watched the shopkeeper examine the parts, for two reasons - first, it didn't feel good that he was trying to take advantage of her. Despite how optimistic she wanted to be, she couldn't kill off the cynic inside her, and business dealings of which she little knowledge were the best thing to bring that out. Secondly, would he get confrontational? Moira wasn't armed, nor was she a fighter, and Max was just a kid. The core had its problems, sure, but at least Moira felt physically safe there. Right then, however, on Persephone, she was making mental calculations on how to escape if Jonty decided to take their request for different parts a bit too personally. She forced a polite smile as the man stepped away, her eyes darting towards Max to gauge his demeanor. She didn't trust this shopkeeper, but it would be rude to show that. Instead she could only give him the benefit of the doubt that he legitimately was stepping away to get different parts, and his previous lying - if that's what it was, nobody that does this professionally could buy messed up parts, right? - was only to hide the embarrassment of being caught. Embarrassment... yeah, that would be the emotion that Moira would hope for. Here she was, a random girl and a kid. The shopkeeper must've treated them as idiots because he didn't expect anything more, but now that he knew differently he'd help them out, right?... right? If she kept on being polite, than her party would keep the moral ... and legal... high ground.
Max was playing a dangerous game, and he knew it. Calling out the shopkeeper on the bad parts had been a risk, a necessary one, for sure, but a risk all the same. He had tried to angle it to give the guy all the space in the world to play the innocent card and not make a fuss over it and he hoped that's what was happening, but there was also a chance that he'd come back with an attitude and/or a gun. He glanced back at Moira and past her to the door, trying to keep his face from showing the worry he was feeling.
On the street, it was simple. You got what you needed by taking it, through force, by making a deal or by trickery. He'd always been a negotiator, or a trickster, playing a part to wheedle people into giving up what they didn't want to give up. His first foray into legitimate business was proving that it was much more complicated.
Presently, the guy, Jonty returned, he had a scowl on his face, but he was carrying four boxed injectors, factory sealed as far as Max could see. The guy thumped them down on the desk, popped one of the boxes open and held out the injector. "These are new, but listen. These here are factory-fresh, they're gonna cost you extra, see?"
"Oh come on, mister, gimmie a break here." Max let his composure slip and pushed a little bit of fear into his voice. "You know what Stanton's gonna say? I don't want him to drag me back here all angry, I don't wanna get hit no more." He looked back at Moira and mouthed 'get mad', hoping she'd caught it.
Moira frowned when the man returned with a scowl. She hadn't carried a gun in years, but she found herself wishing for one then. She was glad, then, that she didn't have one. She had told herself she wouldn't use a weapon, but apparently her subconscious still disagreed. She gave Max an apologetic shrug when he glanced at her. Get mad? What did he mean by that? Get mad at Max, or at the shopkeep? Besides, Moira didn't want to get mad. She had been working hard to make a new, peaceful version of herself.
Still, that didn't mean that she had never negotiated at a store before. A young woman with a rural accent trying to shop in Londinium? This confrontation was nothing new - only her approach and her companion were. She sighed, just slightly. The best course of action would be to just pay what Jonty here was asking - take the different between what the Captain would spend and the price out of her own funds, after all, the cost of living was quite lower here than Londinium so she had a decent amount of spending money. She didn't have a reputation to worry about on this planet either, assuming they weren't going to stay long. Who cared if the shopkeeps knew she didn't drive a hard bargain?
But a part of her wanted to make a good impression on Max. Sure, she was supposed to be playing the part of a naive coreworld tourist, but Max wasn't. This was Max's bargain, in the end, and it would be unfair of her to step in the way and mess up the kid's chance to prove himself. Moira didn't know which one she was supposed to act mad at, so she just glared at both Max and Jonty. "Well, I hope the other parts stores in Eavesdown have better business practices than this." Moira shrugged, trying to tell herself that he needed their business more than they needed his. Was that true? Honestly, she wasn't certain. She didn't know how common parts store were, nor how hard it was to find these specific parts.
Jonty leaned backwards, hands going to his hips as he squinted at the strange combination of the boy and the woman who had come into his shop. "Lady, you ain't gonna find another parts store this side of the planet that's got what I got, in any case, Stanton's account is with me, and only me."
"You know what," he grumbled, "I don't want Stanton coming grumbling in any case. Forget the extra cost, take the gorram things and get gone."
Max's grin came back on full force as he gathered up the purchases in his arms, he resisted, barely, the urge to drop the guy a wink and then turned for the door. He did give Moira the wink, though.
Moira followed, silently. When she stepped through the door, she released a breath that she didn't even know she'd been holding. "Well," she shrugged. "We got the parts." At that, she managed a smile. That was far too close for comfort - she liked to think she was used to the outer worlds, given that she grew up on one, but maybe she did have to admit that her time on Londinium had made her grow soft. Even in the military, things weren't like this. Sometimes they were tough, yes, but they were predictable. Everybody fit nicely into their little niche.
"We got the parts!" Max agreed, grinning again. The shopping trip, though short had certainly been eventful but he and Moira had completed the task and not cost the Geronimo any extra money. He was feeling good, his previous anger and the difficulty with the shopkeeper were forgotten. "Let's get back to the ship!"
"Let's," Moira agreed, following the boy with not half as much cheer, no longer quite as confident about her safety in this part of the 'verse after that interaction with the shopkeeper. Maybe she was naive...