Will Tennesen

Walking without moving

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Soft hands on hard rope, Will pulled hard, straining his arms, it seemed, to reel in the entire sea beneath them. The Lucky Penny bobbed gently as the catch was hauled up the side of the boat and onto the deck. She was a small boat whose trawl winch was in a semi permanent state of disrepair - which was why Captain Driscoll had hired Will (and others). It was simple work, requiring the ability to follow instructions and drag the fishing nets up onto the boat when the winch broke down. And gutting the fish, of course.

If anything offended Will’s delicate sensibilities more than the backbreaking work of hauling in the catch, it was the process of gutting them. He’d never been one for the smell of fish, but now he swung gradually between retch-inducing revulsion and being completely desensitised to it. Hands that had never known calluses or honest work were now weathered, steeped in blood and fish guts. And cold. The wind was bad enough, but the water had a way of seeping in, no matter how you tried to guard against it. He’d given up on gloves, which seemed impractical anyway, and embraced the cold while he worked. But cold hands meant slow work, and slow work meant frequent tongue lashings from the captain.

“Hurry up lady boy!” Driscoll growled as he stepped past, over a crate of gutted fish.

“Aye captain.” Will murmured. After losing a job on the last fishing trawler, he’d learned not to mouth off. Best to keep quiet and keep all of your teeth while you were at it. Derogatory nicknames aside, the work was solid and dependable. Even if the fish were scarce, Captain Driscoll had a knack for finding them. The only reason he employed the likes of Will was economy - he had one worn out boat and scarcely enough money to keep her running. That meant low wages for the crappy work he offered. Will truly was at the bottom of the food chain here, except for the unfortunates who couldn’t find work.

If he’d arrived in Galway a week earlier, he could have caught one of the last big refugee barges heading west. But he’d dawdled on his way here, trying to cling onto his old life and ending up stuck in his new one. Not the fresh start he’d wanted, which now lay over the Atlantic. He could try his luck in Europe, but he would only get one chance, and New York was where he had his sights set. Supposedly they were untouched by everything that had gone on in England. No burned out husks that used to be cities. They still had their share of weirdos - nowhere had avoided that. But at least in New York they didn’t have the Outworlder Registration Act. Will was as normal as they came, but he wasn’t stupid either. This was only a step away from concentration camps.

Like Will, everyone else on this boat was 100% homosapien. It was deliberate, he’d learned, and he did his best to mutter in agreement whenever Driscoll started ranting about devils and abominations. If he threw away another job he’d never get out of here. As it was he seemed to be moving backward at times - every time he got close to affording a ticket, the prices would rise and he would drink his savings away in a fit of depression. It was hard not to, and all the extra calories in Guinness helped make up for the lack of nutrition in his diet. Or so he told himself.

When the boat finally made shore that evening, he waited his turn to be paid by the captain. When the old man dished out his money, it was light.

“This is less than yesterday.” Will stated. He tried to keep the complaint out of his tone.

“You did more work yesterday.” Driscoll countered. “Come back tomorrow and do a man’s work and you’ll get a man’s pay. Otherwise fuck off.”

Will seethed, but pressing the issue would only result in no money and a solid beating. He took the money and left, conscious of the eyes on him as he did so. Dragging his feet under him, he left the dock behind and headed up into town. He heard raucous laughter at the Twelve Pins Inn, and as he passed it, the breeze behind him carried with it the smell of something delicious (and more importantly, not fish). He grasped the money in his pocket. It was scant enough to enjoy the evening, but if he didn’t get something to eat then tomorrow he would have no energy left to work. Time to invest. Turning around, he pulled open the door and let himself in.

Two hours later, he staggered out and headed home, which to him was an abandoned Volkswagen Camper van in a junk yard. The owner of the yard was happy to let him stay if it meant more money and someone “on watch” overnight. He fished out the key from his otherwise empty pocket and slumped onto the mattress in the back. Despite working his charm at the Twelve Pins, he’d come home alone tonight. Wasn’t so long ago that he didn’t need to work his charm much at all, but having to try harder was a consequence of age, not to mention the smell of fish guts and sweat.

He closed his eyes while the van started spinning, sinking into sleep once again, no closer to his ticket out of here.

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Bare feet pounded over wet grass, the slip of a girl skidding and tripping several times across the overgrown fields.  Wet "Irish" red curls bounced out from under the gray hoodie she normally had pulled low over her eyes to mask the red orbs in shadow.  Noise roared behind her, hostile screams and engines. She had been discovered on a farm outside of Galway, taking a squash from their unkempt garden. She was starving and thought the place abandoned but quickly found it was housing extremists who were all too eager to hunt her down. The shots fired after her in the dark let her know clearly they were happy to get the reduced reward for capturing her not so alive.

 

She had made a dangerous miscalculation, her direction leading her towards Galway, not away from it. Sunken features peeked up to the moon, drizzle saturating through her worn clothes as panic continued to skew her judgment.  A zag through the high brush of the field moved her right into the outer dirt path of a junkyard.  Toes cut on the stones as she fought to change direction on the gravel, darting towards rows of abandoned cars in the salvage yard that had once been reserved for old home doors and sinks but after the fall became a dump of dead vehicles and debris.

 

The Oceanid had been on the run for nearly two months, ever since she had been outted as an Outworlder and her café/bakery had been burned to the ground. If she had sought refuge in the ocean waters perhaps she would be better off but she was afraid of the strange waters of this world and ingrained with self loathing that stemmed from her first encounter with humans in her altered form. Demon, devil, ugly…… words that resonated powerfully in her memory leaving her loath to live near its shores where thread of transformation loomed.  A shadow of her former shy but gentle self she had been a warrior of the sea, never a land survivalist. The last months had not been kind.

 

Turn down a corridor of vehicles and she lost her footing, slide on her left leg leaving nasty scrapes before she managed to scramble back onto her feet, motorcycles making the edge of the junkyard, tires skidding as they taunted wicked promises of the "fun" they were going to have. Turning hard among the piled cars that rose taller than her head she ran smack into the side of an old camper, rocking it before she dropped to the ground and rolled underneath the body, just barely able to squeeze under the base that no longer sported inflated tires.

 

Hand clapped over her mouth to try and douse the heaving breaths as hot tears ran down flushed cheeks.

 

It was the end.

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Will snapped awake.  Something had just hit the side of his van, and the growl of motorbike engines that had weaved themselves into his dream was punctuated by shouts in the distance.  He sat up, pulling back the corner of a worn curtain to see outside.  It was dark, of course - he could make out little through the grimy window.

 

He slipped off the bed that almost filled the interior, cracking open a door on the side of the van.  Immediately the noise became clearer.  The camper was on the end of a row of similarly sized carcasses, facing immediately onto a wall of cars above it stacked 4 high.  He contemplated climbing the stack for a better look, but immediately heard taunting voices getting closer.

 

“Come on out, darlin’.  We won’t bit yeh.  Billy jus’ wants to play with yeh some.”

 

Another voice snickered and added.  “Aye it’s Finn who wants to fuck yeh.”

 

“Fuck off, you gobshite.  I’d rather fuck your ma’ than one o’ them!”

 

He slipped outside, grabbing a length of lead pipe that he kept in the van as he did so.  His boots crunched on the frosty ground - it was a cold night for April, but days at sea had steeled him against it and he closed the door gently, silently.  The cold air and adrenaline had a sobering effect, and he felt alert.

 

Jim Riley might want him to “keep an eye on the place”, but the lead pipe was likely to be no use in a fight.  Still, the weight of it gave him confidence.  The voices were getting closer, but the engines were not.  They clearly weren’t after Will, but they didn’t sound like the friendly sort.  Best not get in their way.  He wondered who they were after and what she had done to deserve the fox and hounds routine.  But “one of them” could only have one meaning these days.

 

He ducked down behind the van as two men rounded the corner.  They were maybe fifty yards away at most.  One of them carried a cricket bat, and the other some sort of hunting rifle.  The batter swung at the wing mirror of one of the wrecks and whooped in delight.  Will had few options here.  He was no fighter, even after a skinful, and he doubted he could get out of the yard without being seen.  He knelt next to the van’s rear wheel and eased himself onto his front, sliding under the base of the camper and coming face to face with a red haired beauty.  His shock paralysed him for a moment and he knew that this was the woman they were searching for.  He remembered the thud that had woken him and pieced together what had happened.

 

Cheeks wet with tears, the fear in her eyes bordered on panic, and Will silently put a finger to his lips.  The two men were close, and the weak beam of a torch swept over the yard.  Immediately, Will pulled his hood over his head and urgently put an arm around the girl, pressing his face down and out of sight.  She was breathing hard, having been chased here, and this close it sounded like screaming that would bring the men down on them at any moment.  The torchlight swept lazily over them both.  From under his hood Will could see the underside of the van light up for a split second.  But that’s all it was.  With faces hidden, the two of them were nigh on invisible behind the overgrown weeds around the base of the van.

 

Stood next to the Volkswagen, one pair of booted feet was inches away from the cowering duo.  The man tried the passenger door, which was locked.  All of the doors were locked except the one Will had used, which was on the inside of the row.  The man moved on, following his companion further up the row.  They were checking inside the cars and under them.  Since they had already checked here, all Will had to do was wait.

 

He fought to keep his own breathing steady, conscious that he probably smelled like the bottom of a whisky barrel right now.  He didn’t dare say anything, and had to watch as the two men went from vehicle to vehicle, looking for their quarry.  He felt that at any moment the girl would scream and run, leaving him to face these two alone.  But she didn’t, and after what seemed like hours, the idle growl of engines in the distance roared back to life.  The two men, who were now on the opposite side of the yard, said something to each other and walked back towards the camper van.  The torch swung this way and that, and Will bit his lip, taking a deep breath and holding it.

 

The pair walked right past, back the way they had come in the first place.  Will dropped his head back to the ground in relief and looked up at the underside of the van.

 

The world was still spinning around him.

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The tremble was uncontrollable as she heard a door on the very vehicle she was hiding under slowly open. She had seen some outworlders die already. Drug like animals into the street where they were beaten literally to death. One she had witnessed had been doused in kerosene and lit ablaze.  There had been a time…. a lifetime ago… a world apart from this one… when she had been the hero of the story. She was a warrior and led armies against their enemies all within the sanctuary of familiar waters.

 

But on this world…in this place that still felt so foreign…..she was nothing… and she was about to die like a stripped and beaten dog. Hands covered her face as if lack of site might make it all go away.  Then the unthinkable.

 

Body pushed in beside hers and lips parted, breath heaving in to scream. The sound bubbled up from deep in her soul but it abruptly halted itself as his arm draped over her. Something in the touch said it was not a hostile motion.  Breath stuttered as eyes remained wild, dusting with light to sparkle like rubies as the torchlight passed by, draped once more into the abyss of darkness when it passed.

 

Gaze flicked at the stranger beside her on the cold wet ground, unsure if he was savior or simply keeping the kill for himself. She had never known such sadistic temperament until she had been thrust into this world.

 

As they waited, senses began to drown in the scent of this worlds ocean. The man beside her wreaked of the salted waters. Shudder ran through her as she realized if he had been doused in enough of it he could have triggered her change, a fate she had avoided for years.

 

In the darkness the light returned and once again she trembled, waiting for the worst.  Flight instincts had every muscle coiled wanting to flee but she managed to remain still beside the stranger as they were passed by once more.

 

Liquor. It was ocean and liquor that he wreaked of. The combination was one that had her skittish.

 

She waited. Listening. The engines roared back to life and moved away from the junk yard. The moment she was sure they were moving away, the sound growing more distant, she scrambled out from under the van, terrified the man was going to make his move now.  Hands pushed against the gravel and weeds to launch her back to her feet but as she did so the left leg gave out under her.  The yelp was swallowed as she again tried to scramble to her feet but again the left leg collapsed.  Gravel covered hands pulled the side of the wide knee length shorts up to look at the flap of skin that was loose above the knee where she had fallen blood beading down the leg in thick streams. The knee itself was already swelling violently.

 

She wouldn’t be able to outrun them now. It was over.

 

The soft sound was painful to listen to as the sob was swallowed in her chest, knees drawing up gingerly as her arms wrapped around them, face hiding in her arms as she awaited the end.

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He’d not stopped moving since the uptick in violence… some might think it asinine, heading straight out into the sea alone, again.  Spring made the trip dangerous, it was a shitty time to make such a daring trek.  Icebergs… and more icebergs.  Freezing temperatures.  Squalls.  But, the news was dire, and in the spirit of knowing he would be needed he made the effort to cross the pond sooner than he should have.  Adventure, a death wish, the need to save those like him- he hadn’t been disappointed.  Almost into port, the groan caught his ear, something lurching beneath the tossing waves.  Tearing metal had mandated a repaired hull after dragging on something he’d determined had been some kind of vessel at one time or another.  It put him back a day.  Just meant he’d have to make more room on the small freight… a day’s more worth of people gathered at the weigh station.

 

Supplies.  Always under the guise of supplies.

 

One last turn and the engines powered down to put the vessel into its all too familiar spot in the harbor docks.  Bridge lights turned off, the familiar blue glow of the downlights sent the signal that he had arrived to those that were looking for the right things.  He slid down the ladder and started to tie off in the darkness, a swinging lantern every so often creaking its echo against lapping water.  It wasn’t the most friendly place at the moment, weighing the option of staying on the boat for the night and going out in the morning or heading into port now in the middle of the night.  Either way he was probably going to get boarded, it would be better if he was here to protect his ship. He looked normal enough, not one lick of anyone had any idea he was anything but just a guy and a boat trying to make a living- the pied piper waiting for the meet-up signal from inland to load his “cargo” and be off back to New York before hopping again to the next stop to South America.  Planes out this way were a bad idea, so boats it was.

 

They liked him.  They trusted him.  He was one of “the guys”.

 

That’s all anyone needed to know.

 

…and all he had to do was wait for the signal.

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Will kept his eyes shut, breathing deeply.  As the adrenaline left him, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand up without his legs buckling.  It hit him how close they had come to a “situation”.  As the girl crawled out from under the van, he made his own attempt to move, shuffling sideways into the gap between the two vehicles.  Rolling onto his front, he pushed himself up, taking another deep breath before he laboriously heaved himself first to one knee, then to his feet.  He still hadn’t said a word to his guest, nor she to him.  But in the silence following the departure of the motorbikes he heard her sob quietly.

 

Liquor-soaked synapses fired, trying to decide what he should do.  There wasn’t much of a choice - he couldn’t tell her to leave.  He would offer what help or shelter he could.

 

“Hey.”  He said from the other side of the van.  He started walking around the camper, his legs weak underneath him.  He took another deep breath and tried to walk with a little more self-assurance.  After all, this was his home.  He rounded the front of the van and stopped, one hand resting on the wing mirror near his head.

 

“Hey,” he repeated.  She was on the ground, arms wrapped round her legs and face hidden.  “Come on, you can’t sit there all night, you’ll freeze.”  A pause, and then he continued.  “Do you have somewhere to go?  I mean, do you need somewhere to stay?”

 

He patted the side of the Volkswagen.

 

“It’s not exactly the Ritz, but there’s room for one more.”

 

He stepped a little closer and offered his hand.  

 

“I’m Will.”

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Breathing came in ragged gasps as she braced for the worst. Listening to the scrape of shoes against the gravel, the shift of the van as weight pressed against it, the heavy waft of sea and liquor permeating the wet cold air.

 

The first "hey" was met with a tightening of limbs around her, as though the mop of red hair was all that existed under a shrinking creature trying to disappear into the earth. This was the end.

 

"Hey. Come on, you can't sit there all night, you'll freeze."

 

It took a moment for the words to sink in, breathing slowing a hair as she tried to figure out what to do. A word of kindness wasn’t something she had heard in over a month now.

 

"Do you have somewhere to go? I mean, do you need somewhere to stay?"

 

With that the wet mop shifted, lifting as the shadowed features peered up at the man standing beside the van.  Skittish gaze went down the corridor of vehicle carcasses before hesitantly looking at him once more when he patted the van.

 

"It's not exactly the Ritz, but there's room for one more."

 

Ritz? What was a "Ritz". Form of prison?.., home? …store? She had lived in this world nearly ten years now and still their culture and words could baffle her. Their tongue had taken her nearly three years to learn, the melodic cadence of the Irish accent blending with her more natural language to form a unique sound of its own.

 

"I'm Will."

 

For the first time the gaze lifted up to meet his own, the red orbs flicking like a nervous hummingbird to their surroundings before lifting once more to him. She was cold and injured. The cold didn’t bother her as much as the latter though. She could not run right now if she wanted. Therefore the logical choice was…..

 

Rhyse…….I'm Rhyse…..

 

The melody was rich in the quiet confession, a haunting ghost of the Irish lands and something more. Pushing to her feet it became apparent she was a petite thing, the hummingbird dart of her crimson orbs almost disconcerting as the flight instinct remained thick. She held back as the stranger went for the door, holding it open for her. To go in would mean to be trapped. To stay out in the elements would mean to be hunted. It was not much of a choice. Fingers tugged at the long shorts hem to try and cover the bleeding knee as she took the first steps towards the van.

 

Trapped it was.

 

Head ducked as she went inside, trying to make out the dark interior. It smelled thick of ocean and liquor, the scent almost suffocating in the confined space. Head snapped around as the door slammed closed behind him, breath a bit too rapid as she inched a bit further away.

 

Now what………

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Will climbed into the camper after Rhyse and pulled shut the door. The night was otherwise silent, and the noise seemed unnaturally loud. Will sat down on the edge of the bed and looked across at Rhyse, who was sat next to him. The night was clear, and in the moonlight she looked nervous, out of place. He struggled for a moment to figure out what to say, dismissing the usual lines he would have on hand when talking to a beautiful woman. He also didn’t want to pry. People could be sensitive about that sort of thing.

She still hadn’t said anything, and he felt like she was waiting for him to break the silence. He cleared his throat, casting his thoughts around for something to say. Given a few drinks he normally had one thing on his mind, but this girl wasn’t like most that he knew. She wasn’t meeting his eyes, and her body language spoke of anxiety, not desire.

You're safe, he wanted to say. It seemed like the decent thing to say, but he didn't. He just paused, staring at his hands, uncharacteristically uncomfortable. Then to fill the silence, his words began flowing like wine.

 

“I’ve got work tomorrow. If you want to find somewhere more comfortable to stay I can walk into Galway with you. Or you can stay here. There’s not much to do, but nobody will bother you.”

He sounded like a nervous teenager, but he wasn't used to making conversation that didn't have an ulterior motive. He felt like he should say the "right" thing. She was scared, and hurt.

He saw her knee in the moonlight and blinked away the fatigue.

 

"Wait, I have a first aid kit."

 

He got up and leaned over the front seat, fumbling around for the plastic box that he knew was there somewhere.

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He sat and she instantly stood, the flutter of skittish flight almost palpable in the air as she swallowed hard. She didn’t used to fear the earth people. But the last few months proved that they were not what she had first thought.

 

Small fingers pulled nervously at the hem of her shirt, it was large over the long shorts. Up close it was fairly clear the clothes were not meant for her. Two weeks ago she had been forced from her cliffside retreat, chased by a "pack" of twelve and forced to take to the foreign ocean that she feared. The resulting transformation had allowed her to swim an escape but also left her without the human clothing that had been selected for her. These had been "borrowed" from a clothes line in a northern town.

 

Silence hung thick as the crimson orbs flicked around the room. She had brown contacts once, but those too were lost now. Eyes hovered over old curtains on small windows before words broke the silence causing her to visibly jump.

 

Walk into Galway! Was he nuts! She would be slaughtered! Head shook vehemently, confirming she had no desire to be walked anywhere. She hadn't been inside the borders of a real town in two months, not since she went on the run. She had seen too much blood… had too many near misses herself.

 

"Wait, I have a first aid kit."

 

If he hadnt noticed she wasn’t earthborn yet, he was about to. Head shook as a very soft…

 

I'm ok….

 

Came from her lips, bending slightly to tug the long shorts over the blood. In the dark it was just blood, but under too much light the deep blue color would no longer be mistaken for dark red. But he didn’t seem to hear or care as he rummaged for the kit. Backing up from him she didn’t have far to go, back of her knees hitting the edge of the bed forcing her to lose her balance and end up sitting on the mattress.

 

This wasn’t likely to go well.

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Will straightened up awkwardly, holding aloft the first aid kid.

 

"Found it."  He announced triumphantly, and then read the situation.  The girl did not look at all comfortable or at ease.

 

"Rhyse..." he tried the name out, moving slowly so as not to alarm her.  "It's ok, you're safe here.  But if we don't take a look at that leg it could get infected.  Best to be sure, right?"

 

He sat down on the edge of the and put down the first aid kit - a small green plastic box with a white cross on the face.  Opening it carefully, he surveyed the contents.  There were plasters, gauze bandages, some antiseptic cream... he removed each useful component as he found it, eventually removing the antiseptic wipes and setting the box aside.

 

Indicating Rhyse's leg, he held up the wipe as he tore open the packet.

 

"May I?"  He asked, crouching down next to the bed.  She didn't seem entirely happy with the situation, but with nowhere to go, she had little choice but to allow him to help or barge past him and run out into the night.  He was sensitive to her ordeal as he gingerly brushed the wipe against her left knee.

 

"Let me know if this hurts, ok?" he advised her.  Probably should have said that before he started.  He was careful not to press too hard or drag the wipe over the wound.

 

"Looks sore," he said conversationally, trying to put her at ease.  He took away the wipe, noting the colour of the blood.  A "whaddaya know" hum was all that betrayed his reaction.  Folding the wipe back in on itself, he applied the clean area to the wound again and continued his work.

 

"I should probably tell you, I don't really know what I'm doing," he said with what he hoped was an affectionate smile.  Opening the cream, he applied a small dab of the stuff to her skin.  It was cool and soft.  Rubbing it gently into the graze, he looked up at her.  "Normally I'd buy you a drink first," he started, then thought better of it.  Probably not the time or place for that kind of joke.  "Sorry."

 

He straightened out her leg.  The graze was a little too big for any of the plasters in the kit, so he placed a pad over the top and started wrapping the gauze bandage around her knee.  His hands weren't as soft as they used to be, but he tried to be gentle as he did so, conscious that he smelled of drink and his speech was probably slurring more than he realised.

 

"So no to Galway then.  Do you have another destination in mind?"

 

 

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Quiet. Cold either made sounds exceptionally sharp, or muted.  Tonight, the world seemed hushed… holding its breath maybe?  It set off instincts that were impossible to turn off.  Others may have been wary, his honed to pinpoints under the guise of apathy.  Curls from a long pipe floated stark against the darkness, lighting up every so often with a glow from the lantern on the dock as the wisps passed in front of it.  Lean form sat in his captain’s chair, feet crossed, watching the horizon beyond, pondering the heightened attentiveness that the quiet was pulling from his bones.

 

People were hunting tonight.  Agitated.  Lips pursed in thought, a thin stream of air making the smoke dance a little faster in its light trek toward the sky.  Sigh long, feet dropped to the floor and he tipped the pipe on the heavy carved stone plate, tapping out the ash and leaving it there for later.

 

Rucksack gathered up, a few bits of dried jerky, some water in an aluminum “bottle”.  There were some things in this world he thought were oddly beautiful… of course everything being a new sight to him brought a great sense of dysphoric wonder, but it was the simple things that he found so intriguing.  Tiny, delicate china teacups.  Porcelain figurines with fingers so slight he was afraid to touch them.  Then there was his water bottle.  Shiny, simple, mesmerizing. It was a stupid thing, but he thought it was oddly beautiful, devastated when it had taken a header off his table and clunked onto to the floor some time ago. The dent was now obvious; it reminded him of something he’d seen in a book… steel drum? Caribbean?  Bootfalls onto the wooden dock pulled him from errant thoughts, armed in a way only he could be.  He had to leave the boat to investigate what was holding everything up, raucous nightlife spilling in some places into the streets in a way only a small city could muster.  New York… made everything else seem so pale in comparison.  Maybe he would come back to a boarded and rustled boat, maybe not.  It seemed as his face was seen around the place more often, the less they messed with him.

 

Signal came half way to the local flophouse.  Most stayed on their boats, those departing on those boats stopped here on their last night out.

 

*npc*  "Finally here, late."

 

It was a familiar face as he stepped in and brushed the drizzle off his coat.

 

“Dragged a wreck a mile out.  Had to repair the hull.  Hungry,” he muttered quietly.  Always food.  “Salted and dried is fine on the water, when there’s prospect of a good hot meal it makes it almost inedible.”

 

He smiled and swung his bag off his shoulder, dropping it to the floor as he took a seat at the counter.  It was a pub, straight up, no fanciness or pretentiousness about it.  Dark wood, glinting bottles, worn tables.

 

*npc*  Yah, lot of people been hitting that damn cruise ship... it went down a month or so ago.  Couple people tried to drag it out further before it went down.  Bangers?

 

He nodded, he'd buoy-ed it, rifling through his back pocket under the pea coat to pull out the favored currency for this part of the world. That was another annoyance.  Currency.

 

A mug of beer, hot bangers and mash with extra gravy as he waited for his contact.  A heart attack waiting to happen, but what a great last meal.

 

"Hope I didn't miss anything being late?"

 

Or anyone?

 

Les shook his head.  *npc*  "Nope, seems the night to be late."

 

That didn't bode well. The restless feeling he'd picked up, people were definitely hunting tonight... and the rabbits were having a hard time coming out of their holes.  That, he couldn't assist with.  He was a courier, if they couldn't get to the rendezvous point he couldn't help that.  It bothered him, but so did wandering so far away from his boat it got snagged.  Maybe in time he'd build enough contacts to have someone watch the ship, for now... it was all he could do.

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"Rhyse... It's ok, you're safe here.  But if we don't take a look at that leg it could get infected.  Best to be sure, right?"

 

Lower lip was chewed nervously before finally nodding as he inquired if he could use the wipe on her bleeding wound. He was right of course. She had gotten an infection once on a cut, germs here were different than on her world and she had ended up extremely ill.

 

He was gentle….. it was strange. She hadnt had so much as a kind word since the riots had begun months ago. By now, surely he knew she was not of earth.

 

"I should probably tell you, I don't really know what I'm doing. Normally I'd buy you a drink first…..Sorry."

 

Brow lifted quizzically at him. He was making small talk. Customers used to do that with her all the time at her café. But that was before all this, back when she smiled back and joked with them…. When life teased of being normal.

 

Crimson eyes watched him straighten her leg, the gauze wrapping again and again around her limb.

 

"So no to Galway then.  Do you have another destination in mind?"

 

She was silent a while. Truth was she didn’t know how to answer that question. Did she have a destination in mind? Did she have anywhere to go?

 

She didn’t.

 

She hadnt had a place to go in over two months. Every "place" held people looking to extinguish her life. Why did she fight so hard for it? What was it even worth anymore in this world that didn’t want her to live?

 

Breath sighed from her lips softly as the chin lowered, a defeat in her expression. Head shook.

 

There is nowhere to go……nowhere safe……

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"Well I'm guessing you don't want to stay here.  It's not a particularly welcoming climate right now."

 

Will picked his next words carefully, aware that he wasn't really doing a great job putting this girl at ease.

 

"There are ways out for people . . . people who . . . for outworlders.  I don't know exactly who does it, but someone smuggles people like you out of Ireland.  Hold this." He indicated the end of the bandage and waited for Rhyse to press her fingers to it, holding it in place.  Will rummaged through the first aid kit as they talked, looking for tape or a safety pin - anything to hold the bandage in place.

 

"The people I work with, they're not the most tolerant of outworlders.  They say things . . . but they know something, I'm sure of it.  I could try and find out ... something.  I'm not trying to get your hopes up.  But I think there are ships that dock at night.  They don't come in by the fishing trawlers, which cuts out a big section of the dock..."

 

He was fervent now, his brain shrugging off the drink as he reasoned his way to a solution.

 

"Any ship making that journey regularly would have to be a good size, which rules out a lot of the smaller craft.  And I don't think they'd stay for long.  They'd be regulars, though - the same ships doing the same route again and again, coming into town for a couple of days and then gone again."

 

He looked thoughtful, chewing on his lip as he threw down the first aid kit in frustration.  He reached under the bed, rummaging, and pulled out a roll of gaffer tape.  "This will have to do." He smiled apologetically, and began wrapping the strong tape around the top of the bandage before tearing it off and patting it down.  Pushing himself to his feet, he sat on the bed next to Rhyse, wrapped up in his thoughts now.

 

"You could make the journey in a week with a decent engine, but it depends if they take the northern route or head down to Europe and cross to the Caribbean.  This time of year I reckon it's the northern route.  There are a few boats I know of that could make the trip reliably - The Pretty Lark, The Belle, Fairwind's Folly.  They're all in dock tonight."

 

He looked to Rhyse and raised an eyebrow.  Something had gotten into him, and the thought of going looking for these ships now seemed like a fantastic idea.

 

"Think you can walk on that?"

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"There are ways out for people…."

 

Head lifted instantly, bright crimson orbs wide and attentive.  A way out?

 

"…..but someone smuggles people like you out of Ireland. Hold this."

 

As if on autopilot her finger held down the bandage still blinking at him as though he had two heads. No one had ever said there was a way out.

 

But the attentive interest faded soon to a frown as the haze of liquor was clearly lifting and the man spoke more in earnest. Fishing trawlers. He was talking about boats…. boats that went on this world's demented waters. The salvation he was offering was cursed in a way he could never fathom.

 

Concern flooded her thoughts as he discarded the kit for something more industrial he found under the bed and wrapped the bandage with the tape talking about the size of the ships. It didn’t matter their size, she wouldn’t go on one.

 

Would she?

 

The very mists of the sea waters would soon drench her on a trek across an ocean. She wasn’t familiar with this worlds full topography but she doubted an ocean here was a brief stint across a lake of water. She had stood on the cliffs of IReland and looked out onto those waters. Land was nowhere in sight.

 

As he sat on the bed, her lips parted, about to ask how long the journey would be when he answered it for her. A week. There was no way she could be on a ship that long and her secret not be exposed. This man who helped her wouldn’t be so helpful when the demon made its presence known. Lower lip was chewed.

 

Here…. in Ireland… she would be hunted until she too was lynched. Her face was on posters in the town where her shop once stood, having been a part of the community they felt deceived and had made sure her image was spread far and wide.

 

There… on a ship…. on the ocean… she might also end up hunted just in smaller quarters where her only escape would be the waters she had avoided for the last six years.

 

Tonight?

 

Her voice was small and tinted with surprise. So soon?

 

"Think you can walk on that?"

 

He wanted to go now. What did she want to do? Hands wrung in the fabric of the shirt that was far too large for her. What DID she want to do?

 

There was no life here. None. Out there. Maybe.  Nod was hesitant at first. It was a scrape after all. She had been a warrior once.

 

She had been a warrior once.

 

The thought brought a stern expression of resolve as she stood up, testing the leg gingerly.

 

Yes. I can walk. Are you ….. are you sure you want to help me? If you are seen… they will…..

 

Head shook. He would be hunted same as she if anyone saw him aid an outworlder. He wouldn’t be able to stay in Ireland either.

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"If I don't do something, then I do nothing.  And if I do nothing because of what they might do then I'm a coward."

 

He turned that over in his head.  All this bravado for a pretty redhead?  It wouldn't be the strangest thing he'd ever done, but maybe he was just sick of this town.  Sick of feeling like his life was on pause.

 

* * *

 

A few hours later, he was feeling less brave.  It was past midnight, and he sat on the pavement bleeding from the nose.

 

"I don't think it's broken," he said for the third time, the smell of liquor rolling off him afresh.

 

One too many opinions that ran counter to the general mood had earned him a fight he couldn't win, and the scorn of the inn's patrons as he was put in his place.  What was he supposed to say?  "Oh hey, I'm looking for a ship that will smuggle my new friend out of the country.  I think she's an outworlder."  No, he'd talked instead about how crazy it was that people were so mad about it, comparing it to the refugee crisis of a few years ago, when he had been one of those fleeing England.  He'd hoped to find out who held sympathies in that direction, and in a way he had his answer: nobody.

 

Bolstered by alcohol, he'd become abrasive at the overt bigotry.  And nobody had lifted a finger or uttered a word as he was soundly beaten and thrown out of the door.

 

They'd strolled into town late, Will trying his best to reassure Rhyse and instil her with the confidence that he was faking.

 

"We're just a couple out for a drink.  You'll be another face they don't recognise." he'd said.

 

He'd been mostly right.  Nobody had paid her any heed because of her origins, but her long red hair had earned her a few wolf whistles.  Thankfully, the fallout from his big mouth hadn't landed her in hot water.  But they were no closer now than they'd been three hours ago.

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This had been a mistake. Whatever courage she had somehow mustered to join him seeking the mystery boat that might take her away from the hatred had evaporated as he pushed people's buttons. Was he trying to help her? Or get her captured!

 

The entire episode had her that more skittish as crimson orbs flitted like a frightened hummingbird across every shifting shadow down the street.

 

"I don’t think it's broken…"

 

He had already said that… several times. She looked like a homeless child in her ill fitting clothes and he had waltzed her into town like they were on a date. It was insane. But to his word, no one really paid her much attention here other than random attempts to crudely catcall after her. The tousled russet locks were every bit "Irish" and this town was a metropolis compared to the small secluded town she had been living in previously so "awareness" of the price on her head was definitely not on the radar yet.

 

Wet palms were rubbed on the tails of the oversized shirt, wary gaze resting a moment on the ebony void that was the ocean waters. She hadn't been this close to these foreign waters in a long time.

 

No one was going to help her here. No one was going to help her.

 

This was a mistake.

 

The soft words barely whispered into the night. The crimson orbs darting at shadows before looking down at him sitting on the curb nursing his bloody nose.

 

This…… this was a mistake.

 

Head shook, fingers nervously rubbing over the sea gem on her finger, the last fragment of a home she would never see again.

 

There is nowhere to go….. no one to help…..

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He squinted at a flickering TV, cheek stuffed with the most amazing mashed potatoes that existed.  Didn’t even really know what the damn things were even ten years into this crazy trip, but he knew they were amazing.  What wasn’t great though was the island didn’t have anything more than grainy static television reruns of something.  Head cocked slightly to try and figure out what the hell he was watching between drinks from his mug.  TV was fascinating and odd at the same time.  Slightly annoyed gaze slid over his shoulder at the guy who’d wandered in.  He was used to hearing that kind of talk from bars on the slips of New York, the more “progressive” city in the rehabbed world still had tolerance for its naysayers, but here it was just damn dangerous.  His friend at the bar glanced at him slightly and he nodded back.  That kind of talk had to be met with violence, because… everywhere else did.  If they made an exception here, it would mean disaster.

 

He felt bad for the chap, finishing up his meal faster than he wanted to and nodding to Les when he was finished.  Bag was picked up, seems he wasn’t staying after all if his gut was right and he had to be relatively fast about it.  People that came in were often times being tailed, sometimes at great length, more often close behind.  He had to follow his instinct more than intel.  The guy got beaten up and thrown out, if he left him out there long he might stumble away into a “real” intolerant pub and end up with a knife in his throat; anyone he brought along was at risk.  Odd enough he would put himself in that position by being drunk…

 

…could be a set up.

 

He stepped out onto the sidewalk, squinting up at the dark sky that had stopped its gloomy drizzling momentarily.  The world was now a glut of hazy fog.  Could be a good thing, could be a bad one.

 

Sure enough, he was on the curb.

 

Now, a guy on the curb in the grand scheme of things could be there for a lot of reasons.  Inside, his pub knew why they threw him out, there was no choice.  Outside, they knew he was thrown out but not what he’d said.  He’d draw attention eventually, eyes moving nonchalantly across the dark streets while he reached into his bag and pulled out a handkerchief he kept for his hair… of all things.  Boots stopped moving quietly behind Will and the handkerchief was held over his shoulder for the man’s nose, glancing at his companion.  Rucksack plopped on the toe of his boot to rest a moment until he figured this out.

 

“Need to find a place to sleep it off mate.  Streets are for shit this time of night.”

 

Seemed innocent enough.  Drunk boyfriend, girlfriend trying to figure out what to do.  Best case scenario, he would be on the water in moments with a drunk duo heading to New York and cleaning up his decks until they sobered up.  Worst case scenario, was unthinkable.  He was pausing longer than he should.  Contact was hours late.  So many variables.  Could have left because he was late.  The understanding was always to loop back if there wasn’t an immediate threat and leave word with Les.  There was no sign of him.

 

Immediate threat, or his contact was dead.

 

“Of all nights…” he said quietly.

 

There was no choice, about to nod and leave them to it when the girl’s eyes flicked around her and he caught the sheen of red.

 

Shit.  She obviously was not 'normal', and those eyes were a death sentence here.  Her companion?  Not sure.  Didn't have time to sort it out.

 

“Come with me,” he said under his breath, sleeve of his coat pulled up momentarily to reveal a luminous line of sea green "ink" writing on his forearm.  It seemed to have it's own gentle light source, reminiscent of flickering sunlight into the depths of clear waters.  Flashing it had worked before on many occasions when time was a concern.  He didn't look much like an Outworlder, except that one bit of home...  “If you can’t keep up you’re going to die.”

 

No need to sugarcoat.  If they were here on purpose, they knew that was a definite possibility.  Rucksack was shrugged onto his shoulder and started to make his way back to the docks.

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“Need to find a place to sleep it off mate. Streets are for shit this time of night.”

 

Her back had been turned and the voice nearly had her jump out of her skin. Wide crimson orbs hit the stranger with a palpable fear. A foot was already sliding back behind her. She was about to bolt, held only by his own expression like a deer in headlights. He was looking at her like he knew… only his expression didn’t hold the visceral hatred she had seen in so many eyes that had come before his.

 

"Come with me"

 

Eyes darted to Will. Were they going to go with this man? The question was still in her eyes when she looked back at the stranger in time to see the sea green patterns on his forearm. The brow that had furled so tightly a moment before seemed to wash away into something almost serenely smooth. Crimson lifted to blink at him, pupils still flushed with doubt but the absolute terror had receded for the time being.

 

“If you can’t keep up you’re going to die.”

 

Lower lip drug through her teeth as she watched the man pull his rucksack back onto his shoulder and begin to walk away.  Breath stuttered as she looked at the man on the curb that had been trying to help her.

 

Are….are you going with him…?

 

Her voice shook as it whispered. The stranger was beginning to get further away. They needed to decide now. Head shook slowly as her hands wrung inside the too long sleeves.

 

I… I have to go with him…. I cant stay here….

 

Door to the bar slammed shut, the oceanid jumping to look up…. a patron staring at them both before heading in the opposite direction.

 

….I cant stay here…..

 

The whisper held the fear she had been suffocating under for the last few months. The faint nod was a goodbye if he decided not to follow, or just an invite to follow if he was. Bare feet slapped the pavement rapidly as she moved to catch up with the stranger whose long strides had put too much distance between them already. The scent of ocean waters was getting stronger. They were moving towards the water…. this birthed a fresh fear in the outworlder…

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