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Pod 6, Part 3: No Joy in Mudville [PLOT]

Posted on Thu Nov 29th, 2018 @ 10:58pm by Emily Mox & Cadet Freshman Grade Gianna Djokovic
Edited on on Wed Dec 5th, 2018 @ 10:19am

Mission: Mission 4: Riding A Pale Horse
Location: Planet ZP0442
Timeline: 18 July, 2394 - 0600 Hours


Gianna Djokovic had finished her pre-dawn jog through the surrounding countryside and changed into oversized denim pants and a similarly-oversized cotton button-down shirt, both pieces that Kevin had lent her from his (almost alarmingly, to Gia) spartan trunk of clothes. She cinched the leather belt down as far as it would go, to the new buckle hole she'd worked an hour on making yesterday, and pulled up the suspenders. The dirt cling to her almost magnetically as a rivulet of moisture ran down the side of her neck; she missed the sonic shower like words could never describe.

She carried wood in from the stacks and built up a modest cooking fire in the shallow fire pit. The fire pit was their outdoor kitchen, dining room, and entertainment space. The bathroom was also, for the most part, outdoors. As was the laundry. So much of everything on the farm was done outdoors. Kevin had framed the start of a house-- a cabin, he had called it-- and he promised it wouldn't take long to finish, but Gia kept secretly hoping they were rescued long before it ever got done. She'd become surprisingly domestic in the last week or so, and she hadn't fought it for the sake of blending in and even had it's moments where she thought she might have liked it, but ultimately she didn't want to lose herself this place.

"Em! Kev! Breakfast!" she called as she broke a few eggs into a sizzling pan ans scrambled them with the end of a metal scraper. She might be more domestic now than she ever had been but she still hadn't mastered eggs.

Kevin put down the axe he'd been using to shape the logs for the cabin and began meandering over to their campsite. He'd been thankful for the company the past week or so. He wouldn't admit it to anyone, and hardly admitted it to himself, but he found Gia to be an amazing person. She was beautiful, of course, but more important was her mind. She was funny and smart and was clearly learning how to do a lot of new things. Kevin knew that neither of them were natives. Gia had almost cut her foot off in her first attempt to cut firewood and Emily found constant amusement in the day to day life of building his farm. His duty should have been to contact the Seeker but after what had happened to his sister, he had no intention of ever doing that.

He reached the camp and walked over to a large wooden barrel. He picked up a laddle and poured some water on his hands, then grabbed a bar of rough soap and began scrubbing. "You know, my sister used to harass me about washing my hands. Going to eat? Wash your hands. Going to bed? Wash your hands. Going to take care of the animals? Wash your hands. She was obsessed," Kevin said, grinning.

Emily ran up to the camp just as Kevin was finishing. "Washing hands? Yeah my mommy is a nurse," Emily said as she sat down on a log-seat that Kevin had made special for her. She liked the way the grains of wood looked. "She always is telling me stuff like that. Emily, wash up. Emily chew your food. Emily don't go breaking into people's rooms," Emily said and the grew silent.

Emily talked about her mother way more than Gia was comfortable with but she could rarely find the heart to ask her not to. She knew Emily was missing Jillian fiercely; each passing day brought more hushed side conversations about their shipmates and their uncertain futures. She suspected Kevin was piecing together more of their history than he let on and she was thankful to him for pretending not to notice their slips and naiveté. WWYD? Yumi would stick to her cover story.

Gia's thoughts came back to the present as the stench of burned eggs filled her nostrils. "Oh, damnit," she exclaimed as she pulled the pan from the grate and scrapped charred foodstuff onto plates. "If we had more eggs, I'd make you new ones," she gave Emily an apologetic look as she passed her the plate and mouthed the word, 'Sorry!' to her.

Emily shrugged. She took the plate and started shoveling the eggs into her mouth, ignoring the slightly burned taste. She was still not used to the wooden spoon that they used for just about everything. Kevin had apologized a lot about not having metal spoons but Emily thought they were kinda cool. Sometimes she would lick the spoon and let her tongue brush against the raspy wood. But today she didn't care as much. She was thinking about her mommy today. She'd seen a pretty bird and it had reminded her of a vacation they'd had on Earth. They'd visited an aviary and there had been so many birds. Emily had been so happy.

Kevin sat and took a plate. "Thanks!" He said and took a bite. He paused, swallowed and smiled. "Really good!" He put his head down and started eating stoically. "So, I was thinking that the cabin is almost finished. I should be able to get the roof on today. We could start moving stuff in tomorrow!"

"That's exciting," Gia said, sounding enthusiastic at the prospect of some barrier between her and the outdoors. "I can help you when Emily and I get back from our hike. I thought we'd so south today and explore the edges of the sand dunes." They'd gone out a lot, at least once a day, under the guise of 'exploring' and 'nature watching.' Gia was always scanning the horizon, always looking for signs of the others, always playing quietly with her delta-shaped communicator pin.

Kevin shoved the last of the food in his mouth and stood up. "Thwat fouds grtt," he mumbled. He motioned towards the cabin, took three steps, stopped and then turned around. He held up his plate, smiled with his mouth full and set it down on the chair he'd been using. He then turned and ran off to the cabin.

"He sure seems to be in a hurry. I don't think it's good for you to eat and run. I do it but it gives me an upset stomach," Emily said. "Also, I don't understand how he can like burned eggs so much. These taste like a cold fire in my mouth." The young girl stuck another forkful in her mouth and slowly chewed and swallowed. "So you think we will run into anything today? Can we go down by that creek and look at the orange fishes again?"

Gia gave a nod at the suggestion as she cleared Kevin's plate. "Yeah, the creek shouldn't be too far out of the way if we take the westward path." She took a damp cloth -- one she realized was probably dirtier than the table itself -- and brushed some crumbs away to the ground. She tried to steel her voice, to sound confident and hopeful even though both of those emotions were beginning to run low, "The others are out there somewhere. If we made it, then I know they made it too."

Emily got up and walked over to Gia. She wrapped her small arms around her friend. "Don't worry, Gia. We'll find them. Everything will work out. My mommy is out there, I know it. And she makes great eggs," Emily said and let go. "Lets go look and see what we find today." She jumped on top of Kevin's chair and jumped off, yelling as she did. In the distance, Kevin's head popped up at the sound and they could see his smile. Emily waved and started walking.

Gia caught up in short order after grabbing Kevin's machete and tucking it securely under her belt. Though they'd yet to run into dangerous animals or other people, Kevin had given her the distinctly uneasy vibe that not everyone on the planet was as kind and easygoing as he was. "I think he likes having us around," Gia commented aloud as she cast a glance over her shoulder at the homestead before it disappeared behind the brush as they walk along the thin footpath.

When they were sufficiently far enough away, Gia pulled out a scrap of white canvas that she'd folded up and tucked inside her undergarment along with a honed piece of coal. She'd started a rough map of the area that they knew about: the lake, Kevin's homestead, the path toward town, the path toward the dunes, the grassy prairies where Kevin hunted. As they searched a new area for Firebird survivors or escape pod remnants -- she didn't know which she was more likely to find -- she'd shade in the areas. The idea was to keep expanding their search grid in a logical pattern.

Emily peered over Gia's shoulder, looking at the map. She'd seen it a bunch of times but still thought it was neat. "So where to then? I think we are definitely going to find something today," Emily said. "I can feel it." The weather was mild, if a little brisk in the morning. Kevin had told them that they didn't get snow, or even get below freezing. Instead he warned of the rainy season.

"I think if we get back to the creek and walk along it, he said it runs almost to the dunes. All that sand seems like a good place to spot something shiny and metal, right?" Gia gave her thoughts to Emily and shrugged as she folded back up the canvas and tucked it into a pocket. "At least we should get to see those fish again for a few minutes." She gave Emily a smile. She'd expected Emily would be more of a handful, more of an emotionally needy mess, but the girl had been surprisingly independent around the farm and even more resilient of their situation than Gia at times. The least Gia could do was to endulge her in those moments when Emily's enthusiasm shone through, like when she brought up seeing the fish after breakfast. "Is that a plan, boss?"

Emily giggled and put her hands on her hips. "Sounds good! Sister Boss," She said.

The walk along the creek was everything that Emily had hoped for. She saw three of the big orange fishes and a new blue fish she hadn't seen before. Kevin told her the orange fish were good for eating but Emily would never do that. She'd spent a good amount of time skipping rocks in the water while Gia did Gia things around her.

"Gia," why do you think we haven't found anyone yet?" Emily asked, throwing another rock. Her shoulder was getting tired but she was determined to get six skips.

"Well, they have to be really careful," Gia answered honestly. "The people on this planet don't have everything we do. We could contaminate them with ideas and technology before they're ready for it. So, the responsible thing to do is to hide from all people. That's probably what everyone is doing. That's what the rules say we should do."

Gia tossed a rock into the water that didn't skip at all, but rather just immediately sank to the bottom. "They're probably all hanging out together though, wondering where we are. If only we hadn't lost power. At least we hid our pod well," she chuckled. "I mean no one can accuse us of cultural contamination."

A few moments after Gia spoke, and Emily tossed another rock, a crunching sound echoed around them and a line of tall bushes quivered and then split as three men on horses walked into the open. Two of them were stout, barrel chested men wearing plain brown tunics with matching breeches. They were younger men, and eyed Gia and Emily with casual interest. The third man rode in the lead. He was wearing a wide brimmed black hat with and a matching black cloak that settled around him like a rippling shadow. His face was narrow with small eyes and a wide nose. His mouth was set in a line.

"And what have we here?" The lead man asked, pulling his horse to a stop.

Gia pulled Emily close to her and put an arm around her. She didn't answer the stranger right away, but there was a message conveyed in her tight grip on the girl and her narrowed, careful gaze at the newly presented danger. The horses were intimidating just by their sheer size, forcing them to look upwards at the trio of men that towered on the animals. She scanned them quickly for signs of weapons as best she could. "My sister wanted to come and look at the fish," Gia said after a moment.

"How lovely," the man in black said, leaning forward to get a better look at the two. "I do believe that family is the most important thing in life. Don't you agree, boys?"

"Yes, Seeker," the two escorts said in unison, their voices flat.

The Seeker smiled. "I wasn't aware of any homesteads this close to the borderland. Where is your husband or your father? I'd like to speak with them."

Seeker. What was this man's purpose? What was he seeking? Gia lowered her gaze to the horse's hooves. Without real answers, she could only guess they were some type of religious, moral, or legal guard and she clearly didn't fit their standards of a righteous, God-fearing woman. For a fleeting second she wondered if honesty was the best policy, but she couldn't shake a more primal fear that their real story was not one that would be welcomed.

"Daddy...." Gia once again channeled anything she could muster from her shallow well of holo-acting experiences. "He died a couple weeks ago. Fell off his horse." Had she picked up a sudden southern belle accent? Oops. She visualized in her head how she would react if they made a move toward them: She pictured pushing Emily back, grabbing the hilt of the machete at her waist, sinking it into the thigh of the rider of the left before he even knew what was happening. She didn't know if she could incapacitate all three of them, but she would buy Emily time to escape into the brush. Emily was smart enough and fast enough to be able to make it back to Kevin's place. Kevin, for all his simpleton faults, would protect her until the Firebird found her.

"Oh you poor thing," the Seeker said and threw a leg over and jumped off of his horse. It was clear that he'd done it numerous times before. His escort riders looked like they had been stung by a bee as they hurried to follow suit. The Seeker walked towards Gia, holding out a hand. "You have my condolences, lady. But I must admit, I have lived in this area my whole life, that's why I was appointed as Seeker. And in all my travels to check on my flock, I have never seen you before or heard of your father."

The escorts eyed each other, finally picking up on the vibe the Seeker was giving off.

Gia swallowed hard, her white-tipped fingers pressed hard into Emily's shoulder. She steeled herself for a second and then just started rambling. "Well... well... right. I mean... of course. That makes sense..Seeker. Our family came from a long... really, really long way away. And Daddy always kept to himself... didn't trust all those people... the ones you know, with the loose morals and dangerous attitudes. Didn't want us exposed to that kind of... uh.. corruption. When he died, that's when we left our farm and that's when I met... and uh... fell in love with Kevin. You probably know Kevin. Such a wonderful, wonderful caring man. What a good heart he has." She immediately regretted saying his name. He didn't deserve the trouble she might be bringing him, but it had slipped out before she knew it.

The Seeker's face turned cold. "Ah yes. Goodman Kevin. I do know him well. I know his family very well. I was expecting to run into him. In fact, I was coming out to this distant place specifically to speak with him. I assume that you know about his sister? Everyone knows about what she did. What are your thoughts on the matter?" The Seeker asked, eyeing Gia.

Emily did not like these men. She wished that she had a bionic leg like Yumi so that she could kick them all real hard. Many times. The Seeker man looked like a ferret that she'd seen in a zoo back on Earth. His eyes were so close to each other and he never stopped looking.

Gia didn't recall Kevin ever telling her about his sister, only of a brother, but Kevin wasn't a man of too many words. It was entirely possible that there was a lot about himself that Kevin hadn't shared. And who was Gia to judge on the topic of openness? She'd shared so little with him and what little she had made up was bits and pieces from various holo-novels. Still, the question smelled off. Maybe it was a trap. Like what a bad interrogator might try to pull to catch someone in a lie.

"He doesn't talk about his sister," Gia answered quietly, pulling her gaze up to meet the Seeker's. She adjusted her attack plan. He would have to go first, maybe she could take him out at the knee.

The Seeker laughed. "You are a delightful creature. You're also lying. You see, I know everyone who lives withing a hundred kilometers of here and I know of every woman in a larger span. You might think us ignorant compared you you tech-heretics but we aren't. We simply choose to live a better life uncorrupted by technology. You are, of course, one of these pod travelers, aren't you?" The Seeker asked. He made a gesture with his hand and the two guards lumbered forward.

"Wait, wait!" Gia said, holding out a hand to delay their progression and stepping backward, pulling Emily with her. "Pod travelers? You've found people?" She sounded hopeful, but reserved. There was a chance that the Seeker could reunite them with others from the crew. If she trusted them. If he was capable of being trusted. He may just be killing or exiling everyone he found. She needed to hear more. She needed him to keep talking so she could identify what his true intentions were.

The two escorts had their hands on their weapons and moved to flank Gia. They looked bored and somewhat annoyed with their employer.

The Seeker nodded. "Yes we've found a number of these pods. One of my colleagues has three other people like you in custody and I have word that a number of others are within our territory. I'm going to take you back with me so that we can question you properly and decide what to do with you," the Seeker said.

"No!" A voice cried and there was a ripping sound as Kevin emerged from the underbrush, his axe held menacingly in front of him. "I won't let you do to them what you did to my sister. Get the hell away from them or I swear I will do what I should have done before," Kevin said. His face was mottled with barely contained rage and his powerful muscles looked like cords.

"Oh! He said a bad word," Emily said in a small voice.

The escorts paused, looking at the Seeker for direction.

"Kevin!" Gia shook her head in alarm and waved him off, as if it would do any good. Everything was different now. The game had changed. She sighed. "Kevin, I can't let you get hurt because... because the Seeker is right. I am not from this planet. But the Seeker is also wrong because we didn't come here to corrupt anything. We didn't come to change your ways. We crashed. We crashed because there are bad people out there," she pointed to the sky and looked now directly at the Seeker. "We don't corrupt. It's our number one rule. We protect. We protect good people like you by leaving you alone and keeping the bad guys away. It was not our decision to come here. We only want to go home."

"The only place you're going, is to a holding cell back in town," the Seeker said and turned his eye to Kevin. "And I would love to bring you along with me. I know that you helped your sister escape. You managed to avoid judgement but I know the truth. I can smell the technology taint on you. So please, try to stop us."

The two guards pulled their machetes from the scabbards, the hissing sound echoing off of the water.

"Run! I'll hold them off," Gia pushed Emily aside as she drew the machete from her belt. She didn't have time to give the girl more direction.

The machete wasn't exactly a blade like the katana, but it was close enough that her training with Savin and the holographic dojo masters was sure to give her some kind of advantage. "I bet you've never had your ass kicked by a girl before," she taunted, stealing back the men's attention from Kevin for a moment as she took the initiative and charged toward the closest one.

The guard was surprised by the small woman's rush and stepped backward instinctively. He raised his machete, blocking Gia's first strike. The second guard rushed at Kevin, sparks flying as machete clashed against axe. The Seeker stood in the middle, the eye of the storm, calmly watching the battle unfold. And then his eyes settled on Emily, who stood transfixed by the sudden violence. He smiled.

Gia parried and lunged back at her target in a sort of close-quarters melee dance. She was under-powered but relied on maneuvers of speed and agility. Slash. Block. Strike. She couldn't take her eyes off the man she was locked in battle with for fear of missing something, but she had a sense of the scene around her. She knew Emily hadn't retreated, but she didn't know where the Seeker was. She heard blades clash near Kevin somewhere in the background. Parry. Cut. Dodge. Hit. Contact. Her dull blade stabbed into the flesh of her opponent's side, a superficial wound but enough to overwhelm and take the advantage. She knocked his weapon to the ground and laid a knee into his groin.

The guard grunted and bent over, agony spreading through his abdomen. He stumbled forward, grappling with Gia, attempting to force her to the ground by sheer mass. His hand closed over hers on the machete, and slowly began moving towards Gia's exposed throat. "Why can't you go quietly?" He grunted.

The other guard discovered that Kevin's rage was more than making up for his lack of skill in combat. The big farmer flashed the axe backwards, forcing the attacker to retreat. He slammed the head of the axe against the guard's wrist which held the machete. There was a sickening crunching sound and the guard screamed and fell to the ground, holding his mangled hand. Kevin turned and froze. He saw Gia was grappling with the other guard but it was the view of Emily that sent his blood cold. The Seeker had the little girl by the back of her neck, his black glove wrapped around her tiny neck like a snake.

"Stop!" the Seeker shouted.

Gia felt the man on top of her back off a bit at the Seeker's bark but he still weighed her down enough that she wasn't going anywhere and the machete pressed into her neck just enough that it didn't break skin. She caught sight of Emily dangling helplessly from the Seeker's hand, like a lost lamb up for slaughter, and she immediately went slack. "No, no, no... please don't hurt her," she begged.

Kevin tossed down the axe. "She's just a kid. Let her stay with me. I'll take care of her," he said. In his mind he could see the image of his sister's face, eyes red from crying as she'd fled their family farm. All that because she used medicine the Refam Council didn't approve of.

The Seeker pointed at Gia with his free hand. "Tie her up and throw her on the back of one of the horses," he said. "The little one can ride with me. As for you, Kevin, I'll be back to deal with you once I have these two properly detained and ready for trial."

Kevin let his head hang and then looked up at Gia. "I'm sorry. I should have gotten here sooner."

Gia was hoisted up from the ground and her hands bound behind her back. She felt bad for Kevin and she hoped he would escape to somewhere safe before the Seeker came back for him. "None of this is your fault," she told him. "I'm sorry."

The uninjured guard pushed Gia out of the way and held his machete at Kevin. The reluctant farmer slowly raised his hands, glaring at the man. "This won't be the end of this. I promise," Kevin said.

The Seeker chuckled. "Oh yes, of course. Things will continue. But one thing I can't handle is troublesome prisoners. So much work," the Seeker said and pushed Emily into the grasp of the wounded guard. He walked over to Gia and leaned in closely. "And you strike me as someone who is very troublesome. We need to find a way to limit that." The skin on the Seeker's face stretched, giving him a ghoulish look. "I think I have just the thing."

The black cloak fluttered and his left hand blurred. His right hand latched onto Gia's head, gripping it like a vice. She never saw the long, thin stiletto that plunged into her left eye.


Petty Officer Third Class Gianna Djokovic
Security Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Emily Mox
Homeless Waif
USS Firebird NCC-88298
(NPC by Llwyedd)


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Comments (2)

By Captain Malcom Llwyedd on Tue Dec 11th, 2018 @ 2:25pm

Poor Gia. She is suffering as much, if not more than, Emily. At least Emily has the partial obliviousness of childhood to protect her. Gia has to be a sister, parent, protector and then suffer injury too. Kudos to Liam for the awesome writing here.

By Lieutenant JG Murril Na on Wed Dec 12th, 2018 @ 5:25am

Favorite part: < "Well, they have to be really careful," Gia answered honestly. "The people on this planet don't have everything we do. We could contaminate them with ideas and technology before they're ready for it. So, the responsible thing to do is to hide from all people. That's probably what everyone is doing. That's what the rules say we should do." >

...immediately followed by...

< Gia tossed a rock into the water that didn't skip at all, but rather just immediately sank to the bottom. >