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Fleet 10

Tripps led me through the ship using a maze of corridors, ladders, and stairs. The walk lasted long enough I was pretty sure she was playing with me. We finally rounded a corner on a narrow set of stairs and came out onto the main floor of a surprisingly well organized hold. The ‘Mercy’s’ ship stores were surprisingly well kept. The fat little man huffing away with a broom on the far side of the room looked shocked to actually see someone, but he dropped the old fashion bristle-stick and hobbled toward Tripps and I.

The tall woman beside me grunted and hooked her thumb in my direction. “Uniform. Third mate.”

She was a talker that one. I stepped forward and met the hobbling man half way. “I need a uniform and some basic supplies.” I said, extending my hand.

The fat man sneered and spoke past me. “What is this crap, Tripps? I got things to do.”

Before the girl could respond I stepped sideways, blocking the fat man from view. I was beginning to get the idea of how things were done. It was just like boot camp. You got the respect you claimed. I stood silently until the little man looked up. “Yeah? What?”

“I need three uniforms in my size and the full compliment of supplies issued to officers.”

He scowled at me. “What the hell do I look like, boy? A butler.”

“You look like a half-dead Goblin from a fairy tale and if you don’t get your ass in gear you’re going to look that way with a permanent limp in both legs.”

His hand flashed faster than I would have guessed, diving into his coat and out again with a single edged knife. He got the edge to my belly about the same time my I managed to clock him sideways. He staggered a few steps and came up wheezing and cackling out a strangled laugh. “You’re slow, but you got a fist like a lump of stone.” He studied me through a gap-toothed grin. “What are you, like a forty regular?”

I tried to swallow the pain radiating from my stomach and nodded. “If you can let out the shoulders a little.”

He hobbled out of sight behind the desk and started rooting through boxes that were standing nearby. I could hear Tripps light foot steps crossing the decking behind me. “Am I going to have to fight everyone on the whole damned ship?” I asked.

Tripps snorted. “You wouldn’t make it.” She poked a finger into my belly and held her finger up so the red of the blood caught the light. “If Oswald can sting you, you’re way too slow.”

“I.. Wha.. He… “ I slapped the finger out of my face. “Dammit, he’s faster than he looks.”

Oswald’s wheezy little voice sounded from behind a stack of boxes. “He’s a damned fine tailor too,” he said, hobbling into view. “They never mention that.” He threw me a set of clothes. “Try these on.”

I tried on a few different sizes until I found one that felt good. “It fits pretty close,” I said.

Oswald huffed. “Like a bug in a paper sack.”

He dug around in his pockets until he found a measuring tape and went to work. He paused. “The uniforms are ship’s issue,” he said. “But what do I get for the tailoring?”

“What do you want?”

“Give me your whiskey ration for the next week.”

I had to suppress a smile. Apparently, I got a whiskey ration. “Two days.”

“Five.”

“Three.”

“Done.”

He measured and pinned the uniform and pottered away while I changed back into my clothes. Tripps waited until I had my pants back on. “He’s under orders to custom alter those for you.”

I shrugged into my shirt. “I notice you didn’t say anything at the time.”

“I let people do their own bartering.”

“Wise.” I paused half way through buttoning my shirt. “I get a whiskey ration?”

She laughed. I hadn’t been sure if her throat could make the sound. “Officer’s get a pint a day. Crew gets a quart a week.” She turned and started leading the way back out of the hold. “Everything else should be waiting in your quarters. Unless you want something specific?”

“Huh? Like what?”

She shrugged and kept walking. It was probably a good thing. Too many more words might have cracked her throat. We stopped halfway across the ship and one deck up. She pointed at a plain grey door. “Your quarters.” She turned to leave.

I rolled my eyes. “You’re not coming in for a drink.”

She kept walking. “You gave away your whiskey ration.”

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