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Leave Nothing But Footprints

Posted on Mon Dec 28th, 2020 @ 5:00pm by Alden Loxley & Chloe Waltz PhD

Mission: Six Days to Santo
Location: Santo - Ebony Beach
Timeline: Day 23 - Morning

"Course," said Alden with some amused authority, "they might have managed to make Santo into a really expensive tourist resort if'n it wasn't for all the slavers stopping by looking for fresh meat." He looked out to the ocean, then back to Chloe and wriggled his toes in the sand.

He'd grown up on a planet that had plenty of desert plains, plenty of sand, but there was something kinda surreal about the jet black colour of this beach. It was cool, but not cold, a warm October day. He'd had to take his boots off, tie the laces together and string them to dangle over his shoulder, just to make footprints. Just to leave his temporary mark. And now he wanted more.

A flock of seagulls arced over their heads, calling out to the sky, and somewhere behind them another bird he didn't know the name of screeched out in warning.

Chloe winced away at the sound of the gulls. Unlike Alden, she still wore her shoes. Black grains of sand clung to the soft white material of them. Her shirt was white too; while she had chosen a "simple" shirt, it was still a nice blouse with buttons up the front and a couple small frills around the collar. With her shoes and her shirt and her silvery hair she looked almost like a ghost against the black sand. She wondered if she should've bought a hat to go with it. She always liked the idea of walking down a beach with a pale, wide-brimmed hat.

"Wanna come paddle in the waves, Chloe?" Alden asked his new engineer, a tentative grin on his face as his eyes glinted with happiness. "Have you ever done that before?" He couldn't imagine it somehow, but he really wanted to see if she'd let her hair down, take a real break from the workload and relax. He needed to celebrate the easy win, the straightforward sale and a planet that hadn't injured him yet.

Chloe thought for a moment about the suggestion, but gave a shy smile and a shake of her head. She wasn't outwardly against the idea of stepping down into the waves, but she didn't want to let her guard down. Alden seemed trustworthy enough, but this planet did not quite. Not yet at least. She rarely ventured out of shipyards, much less to such a strange beach. "I have 'paddled in the waves'. But not at this beach." She didn't want to admit that it had been an artificial beach, back on Londinium. She had taken her daughter there. It left quite a different impression: the man made shore, surrounded by hundreds of people all there for the weekend. Music playing out of speakers, lifeguards and safety protocols everywhere. It was clean, sure, but only in the way that a high traffic, high maintenance area might be. Artificially clean, just like the beach, in contrast to the more natural state of this ebony beach. In all ways the beaches were opposite, and Chloe had to admit there was something about the solitude of this place that she liked. Besides, as much as she loved her daughter, back then her attention had been more on keeping an eye on a toddler than on enjoying the scenery.

She looked so damn perfect in all that white, Alden wasn't exactly shocked when Chloe turned down the offer. He shrugged, rolled up his cargo trouser legs roughly and backed away from her by one step, keeping the ocean to his right and his engineer to his left. He really wasn't sure why it was so important, but he felt a need to push back a little.

"I don't believe you," he said, shamelessly. "I don't think you ever make time to just get dirty - or wet - for the fun of it. Is there any photographic evidence of this alleged event?" His grin implied he wasn't being unkind out of any malice, but Alden reached out and offered Chloe his hand. "C'mon. I promise I won't let you fall in."

"You don't believe me?" Chloe couldn't help but smile in amusement at that. "And I do have photographic evidence of it." Of course she did. What type of mother didn't take pictures of their toddler playing on the beach? "But it's back at my house in Londinium." That being said, Chloe finally made up her mind to get in the water - partially to appease Alden and partially because she'd been half looking for an excuse to it anyway. She didn't take his hand though, instead leaning down to take off her shoes and roll up her pant legs. "I'll get my feet wet though though. Just to show you I can."

Alden held hands up before him, palms out in surrender of his conversational error. "Maybe I believe you," he said, a warm humour still visible in his gaze as he studied Chloe. "I hope you had better company that day," Alden added, lightly, then he stepped back to watch as the young woman readied herself for action and he mused out loud for both their benefit.

"Maybe I'll take a picture today too," Alden decided, "because I have a good feeling about this planet."

"I had good company," Chloe responded only half-consciously, just saying whatever came to her mind. Her husband had been working. It was just her and Rachel. She considered that good company. She carefully set down her shoes on the sand and looked towards the water while she rolled up her pant legs a bit. "Have you been to this planet before?"

He stopped and really looked at Chloe for a moment, catching her comment that piqued his curiosity. It wasn't exactly an insight into her private life as such, but it was a hint that one existed. Alden pushed, lightly and gently.

"Who was the lucky soul?" He asked, optimistic intrigue caught in his gaze. Then he stepped into the ocean and closed his eyes briefly as cool water lapped about his ankles. "Once or twice, yeah," Alden answered Chloe's question.

"I wouldn't say 'lucky'-" Chloe stepped into the water. The sea was calm right now, and the water hardly reached the top of her toes. "-I'm not great company myself." Chloe chuckled, so Alden might think she was joking. She wasn't entirely. Nobody enjoyed her presence for her charm and humor. Even Sibyl liked her more for her work and intelligence. "I was there with my daughter."

"Luck and good company are both relative terms," decided Alden out loud, taking the young woman seriously, despite her infused laughter. "I don't believe everyone has to be the life and soul of a party in order to be decent company." His eyebrows raised and he smiled though, as Chloe let him into her world just a tiny bit more.

"A daughter, huh?" He asked, pushing gently for more. Alden held out his arm, flat palm at the end of it as if measuring height and moved it up and down as he spoke. "Little one or a big one?"

Chloe held out her hand fairly low - the height that Rachel was back then. That was a few years, so she must have grown by then, but Chloe was just talking about the memory. She turned her attention away from Alden for a moment, feeling the water against her feet.

"Aww," noted Alden with a soft warmth, his nose wrinkled. "A little one." There was a long pause before he decided what to say next, then he added. "Y'all don't have to talk about it, if'n you don't want, but how come you're all the way out here and she... isn't?"

"This is no life for a child," Chloe said. That was true, at least, and she meant it. But she eluded the fact that the kid lived with her father. Chloe couldn't have brought her, even if she had wanted to. "And I'd prefer you to not mention her to the others." Alden seemed fine enough to talk to, like he wouldn't judge. But Chloe wasn't so sure about the others; Jonas seemed nice as well, and she respected Karen, but she was still pretty sure Alison didn't like her, and didn't even know what was up with Daiyu. "Do you have any kids?" She asked the man, taking one more, small, step into the ocean.

Alden shrugged. He wasn't sure, but he hadn't faced that problem. If he had, he wasn't entirely convinced said kids wouldn't be roaming about on a Firefly right now. He nodded. "I won't say anything," he confirmed, his hand briefly rested over his heart. "Promise."

Water up to his knees now, his own trousers soaked from the ankles up, Alden looked up at the sky and smiled. "Not yet," he said, wondering for a moment what they might be like if he and Anouk had... Yeah, he didn't want to dwell on those thoughts. "Maybe one day."

"Thank you," Chloe said, in response to his promise. She gave a weak smile. At this point the water was barely up to her ankles, but she considered that good enough. She hadn't exactly brought all her things with her on the Legerity - there was no way to know she wouldn't be going back home. If she had known that said trip would eventually involve a beach, she might have brought a swimsuit. Then again, she thought to herself, if she could've brought anything it would've been her bugs. They kept her busy, and mindless as they might be they made her feel a bit less alone. "The water is warmer than I expected," she commented.

Alden kicked at the water, splashing it away from Chloe, but allowing his inner 5 year old a chance to play. "Yeah," he agreed, simply. "It's warmish this time of year still." He frowned and pushed a little deeper to see if she'd let him. "Should be able to pick up messages while we're in town," he pointed out, helpfully. "If'n said daughter's old enough to send some. Must be hard, being away from her?"

Chloe took a deep breath. She didn't want to break it to the Captain that she didn't speak much to her daughter. Her ex-husband tightly monitored the young kid's communications. She didn't want to ruin what little reputation she might have gotten with the crew or with Alden by revealing that she was actually an awful parent. Either they knew her actual reasons for leaving, or they thought she had just left her daughter to go gallivanting around space - which was worse? She gave a tentative smile. Maybe Alden had the right idea, splashing around and pretending there were no cares in the world.

"I've got a few messages to send," she said vaguely. That was true. She had some communications to send to her pet-sitter, to Sibyl, to her therapist, to the employees she had been halfway through training when she was reassigned to this ship. But none to Rachel and John. Then she knelt down, careful to not get her pants wet, and ran her hand through the water, feeling it between her fingers as it created a small splash. "There's hermit crabs down there," she noted, looking at the sand now that she was closer down. "Little ones."

He got the message, loud and clear, and Alden opted not to push any further. Not right now at least. Chloe was new, and this was a quiet beach with no one trying to kill, rob or generally upset either of them, he figured he ought to take pleasure in that simple joy and allow his new engineer the same courtesy.

"There are?" Alden asked, curious. He carefully padded over to kneel down in the water beside the young woman, taking care not to disturb the water too much while not caring if he himself was soaked through. The Model B he usually carried at his hip was already safely stowed in a shoulder holster, concealed enough to not invite trouble, but close enough to be ready if some found them. "What's a hermit crab?"

"You..." Chloe paused, looking at the man. " don't know what a hermit crab is?" She asked. She leaned down and picked up a spiral shell, about an inch long. She rolled it over in her hand to see the little legs trying to pull themselves back inside of it. "They're, uh, well, one of these," she held the shell out towards Alden. Strange that he hadn't heard of them. They were popular as pets back on Londinium, though it must be a different variety of them - much bigger than these ones. She was glad, at least, for the change in conversation away from her daughter.

Alden smiled. "No clue," he admitted, shamelessly. "Not really had much time to mooch about in the ocean though." He recoiled a little as Chloe demonstrated the critter's existence, then tentatively reached out to take the shell and poke at it gently. "Don't think he likes me," he said, as the legs refused to show themselves.

"Did you never take a biology class?" Chloe asked. She didn't mean to sound condescending - she was honestly curious - but she didn't think through what she said before she spoke. She gave one small chuckle, leaning down to pick up another crab. This one as well just hid in its shell. "I'd be scared too, if a strange giant picked me up to look at me."

He frowned, regarded Chloe with an odd look caught somewhere between embarrassment and confusion. Biology? He knew what that was, but Alden wasn't sure why he would have taken a class in it. "Uh, no," he said, finally. "Mostly growing up I was learning from my folks. Ranch work, fixing stuff, flying ships." He shifted position, standing up and dropping the little crab-filled shell back into the ocean at his feet.

"Back ya go, lil fella," he told it, then looked back to Chloe. "How come you learned biology and ended up as an engineer?" Alden asked, as genuinely curious as she had been previously.

"Everyone takes biology," Chloe said, gently setting the crab back into the water. Then she paused, and corrected herself. "Everyone on Londinium, that is. It's not practical knowledge. But it's just one of those classes you have to take," she shrugged. "Like chemistry, and english, and chinese, and history. I know I'll never use most that stuff. But it's nice to know." A part of Chloe was a bit envious of the people who got to skip to practical knowledge, like ranch work and fixing stuff. She hadn't written an essay in years, and yet she had struggled so to learn how to write them back in school.

"Everyone?" Alden looked intrigued. "How come?" He raised an eyebrow. "And chemistry? Y'all need that over in the Core?" He asked, wondering what the hell all those little kids in their posh schools used that for. A lazy shrug suggested he didn't really mind and he wasn't upset, irritated or offended. "I guess I didn't have time to be learning stuff that was nice to know. Busy with the cattle and the horses." He wondered if they did that too, in the Core. "You ride horses too?"

Chloe shrugged. "You'd have to ask the school board. I wasn't the one making that decision. There's a couple classes I would've happily gone without." She looked up when Alden mentioned horses, from where she had been watching the crabs and little fish in the calm water beneath her. "Horses? No. I've never ridden one."

He nodded, then Alden smiled. "Ah gotcha," he said, gently. "I ain't rightly sure whether to feel cheated or priv'leged then, not sure if I missed out or got lucky." But when Chloe told him she'd never ridden, his expression changed to one of confused surprise. Just for a moment, before it shifted to show he'd clearly come to a decision. "Well," Alden announced, "that's something we shall have to remedy some day then. Nothing feels quite so right and free as riding out on the range with a big sky above your head."

"I do need to go riding some time," Chloe said, starting to take a couple steps towards the shore. "There aren't many horses on Londinium," she explained. She wondered if Rachel would like riding horses. The kid was about at that age where many young girls grew fond for horses.

"Next time we're on Ezra," his promise was easily given in that moment. "I'll teach you." Alden kicked at the ocean, let his gaze loose itself a moment on that distant horizon, then turned to follow Chloe back towards the sand. "Family ranch has plenty horses and you can meet mine." A soft sigh, followed by a lopsided grin. "But right now, we should probably get back. Who knows what trouble the rest of them are getting into..."

"I'll have to take you up on that," Chloe responded. She carefully put on her shoes, one by one, doing her best to avoid getting even a grain of the black sand in them. She would enjoy riding horses at some point. She liked animals. And besides; if she were already out here away from the Core, she might as well take advantage of the fun parts of it. "Yeah," she agreed. "Let's head back."

"And lunch for everyone," added Alden, picking up his feet and running flat out in a lazy curve of a line for dry land.



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