BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MIKEBROOME

Tales From the Nordic Troll - #3: Shanghai'd (part 3)
Saturday, May 25, 2013

“Forget about the plan, just run!” Still holding Lewis by the arm, Anna darted for the thick patch of bamboo reeds on the side of the road.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1997    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Gerrin unlocked the Troll’s cargo hatch and stepped outside as the sun rose over the field. Only he, Doc, Aldous and Loomie had stayed on the ship the night before. Reilly had spent the night in town (Gerrin seldom asked what he did), and Anna and Lewis had not come back from Canton the night before. He was a little concerned about this, as Canton wasn’t exactly a tourist destination.

Venturing back into the ship he crossed the cargo bay, climbed the ladder to the crew deck and made his way to the mess compartment, where he found Loomie, in knee-high cutoffs and a t-shirt, heating water for coffee. “Mornin’” she mumbled as she waited for the water to heat.

“Did Anna leave any kind of message last night?” Gerrin inquired.

“Not that I know of” she replied sleepily. “Did you check with any of the others?”

“You’re the first one up.” Gerrin turned to head for the cockpit. “Go easy on the coffee, we don’t know when we’ll get more” he called back.

Gerrin walked to the cockpit and sat in the copilot’s chair, activating the screen. Scrolling through the communications log, he noticed no incoming traffic for the night, other than an automated notice to relinquish the landing pad by noon that day. Gerrin switched off the screen and went to find Aldous sleeping in his quarters. Each of what were now the crew’s quarters had served another purpose during the Troll’s career as a military transport, and Aldous’s had been part of the military crew’s bunk room.

Reaching over Aldous’s bunk he shook Aldous by the shoulder and said “Wake up, Aldous, we have a crew to find.”

Aldous stirred slowly. “I didn’t lose ‘em. Leave the door open, they’ll find their way home when they get hungry.” He rolled over to go back to sleep.

Gerrin pulled the covers off him and instantly regretted it: Aldous liked to sleep naked. Locking his eyes on Aldous’s, Gerrin said “Get up, put some clothes on and come help look for Anna and Lewis.”

Aldous sighed “Fine. Let me get some coffee or something and I’ll be right with you”.

“You have five minutes”. Gerrin turned and left, purposely forgetting what he had just seen.

* * * * *

As Gerrin was looking out the cargo bay hatch on the Troll, the change-of-shift whistle screeched in the Canton mud town. The guards from the mud pits threw open the doors of the bunkhouses and roared “Everyone up! Change of shift! Out of those beds, slugs!”

Anna rose from her bunk, confused. Remembering where she was, she cautiously followed the other women outdoors. She looked toward the door of the men’s bunkhouse, searching for Lewis. Eventually he came through the door behind the other men. Gathering on the road between the houses, the workers began to walk toward the factory. As the human herd moved down the road, Anna managed to work her way toward the center of the herd, next to Lewis. Keeping her voice low, she said “We have to find a way out of here.”

“There’s guards” Lewis whispered. “They have guns.”

“I don’t care. We’re leaving.”

“We have to hide when they’re not looking.”

“Okay. Wait ‘till we pass the shift coming off. When they pass us, we turn around and walk back with them.”

“What then?”

Anna thought for a few seconds. “That one hut up the road from the bunkhouses is supposed to be some kind of bar or something, so when we get back, we go in the bunkhouses, grab our jackets, come out, go like we’re going there, then sneak into the thickets behind it. Then,-” she paused for a second, “-we get back to the Nordic Troll any way we can.”

“Okay”. They continued toward the factory in silence.

As they approached the open area where the workers were fed, one of the men stumbled and fell. The guards at the front of the herd started poking him to get up, which cause another man, and then another, to attack the guard. Several of the other guards move forward to the aid of their comrade, which encouraged two workers in the herd to flee toward the bamboo thickets on either side of the road. Anna grabbed Lewis’s arm. “Now. Head for the thickets. Run!”

“But what about-“ Lewis started.

“Forget about the plan, just run!” Still holding Lewis by the arm, Anna darted for the curtain of bamboo reeds on the side of the road. Several guards saw them and the other workers flee, and started after them. Anna and Lewis kept running. Two of the guards fired at them, but because the bamboo thickets blocked their view, the shots whizzed blindly through the air, missing their targets. The guards crashed into the thickets, following the escapees.

* * * * *

Gerrin and Aldous approached a long adobe brick building next to the five-story control tower for the salvage yard’s landing field. Neither one of them really believed that they’d find any of their wayward crew there, but sometimes they got lucky. Gerrin knocked on the wooden main door. No answer. Testing the door, Gerrin found it unlocked. He pulled open the door and entered. “Zao SHANG hao (Good morning)” he announced himself at the edge of the door. “Nick Gerrin from the Nordic Troll, I’m looking for one of my men.”

“You found him” a female voice answered from within.

Coming to the long corridor running down the center of the building, they looked both ways, listening for sounds of activity. Hearing voices to their right, they turned and started down the corridor as Reilly and a female emerged from what appeared from the outside to be a combination office and bedroom. Gerrin stopped, looked at Reilly, then the female, then said to Reilly “Okay. So…you’ve been here all night?”

“Right” Reilly answered. “This is Shawn McGowan. She runs the salvage yard.”

McGowan extended her hand. “Pleasure”.

Gerrin took her hand, asking “So what was going on here?”

McGowan smirked “Didn’t your mama ever have that talk with you?”

“Right” Gerrin mused. After a second he continued “So, anyway, we’re looking for a couple of our people, a woman and her kid.”

“Haven’t seen ‘em” McGowan answered. “They might have caught a ride to Canton. Check the shuttle.”

“What’s the shuttle?”

“Head back out the way you came, go to the one-story on the right, look for a long uncovered wagon. That runs to Canton and back twice a day.”

“Hmmm…” Gerrin thought for a minute. “We’re only parked until noon. We’ll need another day if we’re riding to Canton.”

“Can’t do that” McGowan responded. “I need the pad for an incoming freighter.” She thought for a second. “Tell you what: I got a pad out by the mud factory that’s gonna be free this afternoon. Move down there and you can stay as long as you need. Same price.”

“Will the administrator have any problem with us taking up a pad for his factory?”

McGowan snorted “Higgins? Don’t worry about him: I’ve got stuff on him that’ll keep him in line for a long time. Just tell the controller you’re paid up ‘till tomorrow.”

“Sounds like you don’t like your administrator.”

McGowan’s face turned cold. “He’s a self-loving bully, and I don’t take to bullies.”

Gerrin nodded. “Nice to know we’re all on the same page.”

* * * * *

With the guards still in pursuit Anna and Lewis were still running through the bamboo field until they reached a clearing. The stalks left an open circle of bare ground: it looked solid enough. “Go ahead” Anna said, “but be careful.”

Lewis nodded and stepped quickly into the clearing, with Anna following three steps behind. Almost immediately Lewis found his feet sinking into mud. Unable to pull free, he said “It’s mud! I’m sinking!”

“Pull free!” Anna told him, struggling to pull her own encased feet free.

Lewis, already halfway up to his knees, fought harder. “I can’t!” he said after a few seconds. “It’s got me hard!”

Anna reached back and grabbed at a bamboo chute by the edge of the clearing, trapping it on the third try. Straining, she slowly pulled herself free. Finally clear of the mud she looked down and noticed that the greedy mud had managed to hold on to her right shoe. Reaching quickly into the collapsing hole she found it, pulling at the reluctant prize. With a gurgling *swock*, the shoe came free. Before remounting the shoe she turned and reached for the bamboo stalk she had used to free herself and bent it lower toward Lewis, who was now fully up to his knees. Breaking the stalk at its base she brought it within his reach and ordered “Grab on!”

Lewis, now completely up to his knees, grabbed for the stalk and snagged it. He pulled and grunted as Anna tugged at the other end. Together the two of them managed to pull him free. Seeing how the mud slowly filled in the holes where their feet had been, Anna looked around and noticed bits and pieces of bamboo stalk and leaves on the ground. Grabbing handfuls, she told Lewis “Throw this stuff on the mud to make it look solid”.

“Why?”

“It might fool them, too.”

Lewis and Anna grabbed handfuls of bamboo shards and threw them on the mud pit. Lewis looked quickly around him. “There’s a few stalks lying here, you want them, too?”

Anna looked where Lewis was pointing. “Grab ‘em” she said. Reaching down she picked up a chute, walked to the edge of the clearing and rammed it into the mud. “Hand me another one”.

Lewis handed her another and she repeated the process as far out into the mud as she could reach. She managed to get two more chutes into the mud before she heard the sound of the approaching guards. “Okay, now, around the edge of the pit. Stay where the reeds are.” They ran along the edge of the pit, circling the edge and continuing towards the low-lying hills.

* * * * *

Aldous and Reilly waited by the station as Gerrin approached from the ship. “Okay, the ship's secure: Loomie and Doc’ll move the ship over to the pad at Canton while we go look for Anna and Lewis, We we have a good idea where to start out there, so let’s go get 'em.”

Reilly spoke up. “How do you know they’re in trouble? Maybe they stayed the night.”

“Where? This moon isn’t exactly a tourist trap. And since their stuff is still on the ship, they’d have to come back for it, so they must be in trouble.”

They approached the long, open wagon sitting at the edge of the station. “Hey!” Gerrin called out to the driver. “How much to go to Canton?”

The driver barely looked at them. “Ten each.”

“Here you go”. Gerrin handed him three pieces of Alliance script. “By the way, you remember a woman and her kid yesterday? Her with long-ish dark hair, a long brown blouse/dress thing and black pants, him same hair in gray denim, both had jackets.”

The driver nodded “Yeah, they rode.”

“Okay.” Gerrin climbed up the side of the wagon. “Leaving soon?”

“Can leave now, if you want. Not many passengers these days. Jump on”

As Reilly and Aldous climbed into the long wagon, Reilly commented “I thought they were going to find a ride home and come back for their things. What happened?”

“Simple” Gerrin grunted as he sat down. “We had a nice, boring plan that should’ve worked. Nothing ever goes according to the nice, boring plan. Why, I don’t know”.

"Simple", Reilly answered. “Cruelty of a complex existence.”

..........To Be Continued.

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