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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Posted on Sun Apr 10th, 2022 @ 9:09am by Alden Loxley & Cooper O'Reilly & Alison Bliss & Whit
Edited on on Mon Apr 11th, 2022 @ 9:02pm

Mission: Twas The Twelve Days of Travel
Location: Fortune's Echo - Alden's Cabin
Timeline: November 4 - Afternoon

With a day's distance from Li Shen's and whatever exactly the Tā mā de had been going on there, a much needed conversation finally landed.

The options for sound-proofed conversations on Echo were relatively limited - the main airlock was probably the best, but Alden's cabin was comfier. He chose that latter stage for this unwanted theatre and wandered verbally straight into the mess they'd all witnessed on the station.

"They had blue gloves and some kinda metal wand thing," Loxley explained with a backwoods eloquence. "Took Ali and me down and out real fast and hard. They wanted Daiyu for... something and I'm guessing it wasn't tea and biscuits."

Alden levelled a serious gaze on Whit as he continued. "Funny thing though, cos I distinctly recall hearing the words 'Shepherds' when we were fallen down on the med center floor. And a name. Scrimshaw mebbe?"

With the silent inevitability of basic henchmen everywhere, Cooper's head also turned to regard Whit. The expression on his face said more than the words the big fella didn't speak.

After returning Coop's questioning look with a knowing smirk, Whit lazily craned his focus back to Alden. "Scrimshaw is whalebone art, ain't it? Odd folk if that's some kind of name." He bit his cheek for a moment as he reflected Alden's gaze right back at him. "I wonder what poor Daiyu's had to say. She didn't seem injured like y'all were."

There followed a lingering look that personified frustration, and then Alden spoke calmly back to the brighter of the two Shepherds. "Y'all can keep your secrets," he said. "Right up until they start hurting me and mine." The briefest of pauses pre-empted another realisation and confirmation wrapped up with some assumption. "I ain't saying your buddies didn't help us out, but it implied malice of forethought or at the very least that they were way ahead of us. So, what do you and the Shepherds have to do with Daiyu and those dangerous motherfuckers who tried to kill us back there?"

Alden paused. "I want some answers, Whit, before I bring Daiyu into this conversation." Daiyu was fragile, strong and kinda mixed up personalities and memories wise, didn't seem like a great idea to involve her in this information gathering stage of current events.

The look which passed between Cooper and Whit was a silent war. In the end, Whit sighed. "You want answers, Loxley? Repeat after me." He raised his hand in the air and nodded for Alden to do the same.

"O good St. Nick,

defender of the innocent,

teach me to seed happiness around me.

Good bishop and shepherd,

help me to find my place in the Verse,

to inspire the faithful and avenge the fallen.

Now a fellow patron of children, sailors and the helpless,

watch over we feckless bastards

as we humble ourselves in your selfsame path.

Bring us all in reverence to the Holy Land-That-Was,

when true joy and peace were known. Amen.

Looking around, he added, "That's our induction oath. We have...other oaths. You know, for mussin'. Repeat it and I can be a bit more forthright."

Alden sighed, looked from Ali to Whit and back again via Cooper. The big guy looked less concerned about Whit's current ask than he had about getting to that point from where they'd just been at. He was, pretty sure at least, that reciting those words didn't make him anywhere close to being an actual Shepherd, but if Whit could talk to him based on said recital? Worth it.

So, mirroring Whit's hand gesture, Alden worked his way through the 'oath' as best he could, accepting and repeating corrections from Whit as he did so. Once done, his dark blue eyes locked with the Shepherd's own in a silent request for the promised information.

Cooper fidgeted some, muttered something incoherent under his breath, but didn't speak outright against his brother.

"Interesting oath," Alden said, with more gentle amusement than sarcasm or complaint. "We good?"

"Not really," Whit said. "Grimshaw would be a might displeased with me playing fast and loose with the rules, but at least this way if I get put to the question I can say honestly before God and the Verse I didn't say nothin' to anyone who ain't said the oath. Your oath goes for your lady friend there too, just so we're square." Whit nodded at Ali and then elbowed Cooper. "Don't mind Coop either. He's just trying to reconcile the long and elaborate version on account of his oath being a bit...shall we say...attenuated."

Unsure exactly what 'attenuated' meant, Cooper settled for mumbling a few words in response to the hard nudge. "Ain't how it goes."

Letting out a chuckle, Whit then let the moment pass into a more solemn mood.

"As fer your earlier inquiry, I'm still limited in what I can tell ya because some of it I don't rightly know, least not for a certainty."

Turning nearly conspiratorial, Whit leaned in close.

"Near as I reckon it, Grimshaw and the rest of the boys was after some dastardly folk who did a nasty piece of work back on Hera while I was out trackin' down Cooper here. Killed an abbot or some such and got Grimshaw's undivided attention. Seems those men want a certain young lady for reasons unknown. I let Grimshaw know where we would be, and they did the rest." Holding up a hand, Whit said, "Now I know that might rightly chap your hide, but you've got nothing to worry about. I vouched for you on account of you helping Miss Daiyu. My brother Shepherds don't much know or care why she's being hunted. Theirs is to mete out justice according to the Good Lord's furious anger upon the wicked and let the Maker sort it out from there."

Whit chewed his lip. "Never did see Grimshaw back down from a fight before though. Tactical retreat and change tack? Yes, sir. But never a total withdrawal. Whoever those men were, they aren't per usual."

"Me neither," Cooper chimed in. "Never backs down. Real curious bout that."

Alison sat seemingly relaxed but it was just a pose. She still didn't feel hundred percent and she had this nagging feeling that because of that she was missing things in the conversation.

"Like one captain used to say... Whiskey Tango Foxtrot." She said with a sigh. "On one hand..." She glanced at Alden. "It seems we go ourselves head over feet into something that is above our league." She eyed both shepherds. "On the other hand... I feel that we are just a pawns in someone's game."

Alden rested a protectively supportive hand on Ali's shoulder as she spoke. She wasn't herself yet, and that bothered him far more deeply than he was admitting out loud. Reason for said silent opinion was him not wanting to make things worse. His friend was strong, tough and extremely capable, and seeing her diminished in any way, particularly for something he considered his fault, was tough.

"Okay," he spoke to Whit now. "We're definitely in deep in something we don't know much about here. Daiyu spoke about an abbott, but she don't always make sense to me. Bits and pieces, not a whole story." He realised how much others were risking for the young woman though, and how badly that went versus how much worse it could have gone. "Thank ya kindly for the good word to your brothers, but, not so much on the summoning the hordes so to speak. I mean... it worked out for the best on the station, us being alive and all, but what the hells is going on? Alliance folk up to something, whatever went down on Ghost looking like..." He didn't want to say 'Reavers' but they were all thinking it.

"Your buddy Grimshaw backed down?" Alden asked Whit. "From who? The blue gloves? So they managed to get away?"

"Aye," Whit said. "Some lady fed challenged Grimshaw. Called him out by name, in fact. Grimshaw seemed to know her, too, so maybe there's past history. I snuck off before the brothers left, so I don't know what exactly transpired right there at the end, but Grimshaw and the others left without me." He clicked his tongue in amusement at the situation. "Maybe he was counting on me what I do...and thought better of an unnecessary battle. Haven't got word yet, truth be told, but I'm expecting to hear something soon on account of the last wave I sent him."

Whit reached inside his beltline and removed a sheaf of papers that had been bundled up in burlap. An untrained eye might mistake it for a weatherworn holy book of some kind. The string-binding unwound easily enough, though, to reveal documents that appeared to be official correspondence. The logo of the Blue Suns Corporation was prominently displayed in letterhead.

"Either the lady fed is in cahoots with corporate interests or said corporate interests got folk moonlighting as feds," Whit concluded, "though I don't reckon it matters which. All boils down to the same in the end."

A Fed Challenge. Well, wasn't that interesting? Alden's eyebrows both raised in reaction to the statement, while his brain followed ther verbal trail Whit continued to lay down before them. Connections, past history... seemed legit enough. Alliance was a big enough outfit that familiarising with some Shepherds might not be as odd as it first sounded, he supposed.

"Doing what you do being the verbal dance-around," noted the Echo's captain. "But yeah, unnecessary battles is prob'bly a good call right now. Y'all let me know if you hear anything we need to be warned about, right?" It wasn't a question, though it also wasn't a demand for Secret Shepherd Intel either. Just a heads up to keep his crew, passengers and kin upright and breathing.

But Alden's eyes were drawn to the documents Whit began to unravel. "And that would be boiling t'wards what exactly, Shepherd?"

Whit shook his head. "What I do is bring to light what is concealed. 'The honour of God is to hide a thing, And the honour of kings to search out a matter.' I got them there documents the same way I got Howson to drop the charges against you back on Santo." His smirk remained but his eyes darkened a bit. "Right now, Miss Daiyu only feels safe in your company. Seems ol' Grimshaw scared her as much as the sorry bastards makin' the Devil's acquaintance in Hell right now. I can't rightly abandon her, not knowing what's on her tail. That means, as long as you'll have me, here I stay. 'Spose it's only fair for you to know my allegiance." His smirk turned even more sly if it were possible. "To the truth. Ye know it can set you free, shiny?"

"Gou cao de. Lot's of words...Yee Yan." Alison winced. "This is why I just despise most of shepherds. They are all talk, the vaguer the better." She sighed and waved dismissively.

Looking at Alden she added seriously. "Daiyu can't stay here. It doesn't matter where she feels safe. Fact is we are not safe with her."

Alden's focus was entirely on the paperwork Whit had handed over, their conversation a distant backdrop to the knowledge soaking into his brain. Blue Sun and a Alliance department with a name so boring - Department Si - it had to be something more covert than their usual run of the mill strike teams and police actions. It spoke of a wide scope and unlimited permissions. It gifted Carte Blanche and Access Unlimited to the Blue Sun Agents. He handed it to Ali so she could look it over, half-hoping it would distract her from the immediacy of Daiyu, while knowing it wouldn't. Then Alden looked to Whit as he spoke.

"That was you?" He asked outright, eyebrow raised in curious acceptance of this apparent fact. Alden shrugged, the details of the bloody mess back there still somewhat a mystery to him. "Well, thank you kindly for the rescue." There was a long pause by which he separated his gratitude from his concerns for the young woman they were hiding from the Verse. His next words were for both Whit and Alison, and they were spoken with an even tone that promised he was certain of this fact. "Daiyu's with us until we reach Three Hills at least. Then we'll take it from there."

Alden looked to Alison then and let his gaze linger. "Ali's right though, Daiyu definitely needs folk who care, but she also some real help."

"Yeah..." Whit nodded his agreement. "But then again, anywhere that's qualified to help someone of her infirmity is likely to be a snake's nest like we just left. Dumping her off on a world somewhere is likely to lead to more bloodshed, least till the target on her back gets cleared." He stared at Alden with a smug assurance that knew what the other man would do. "Think you could live with yourself leavin' more folk to a bloodbath?"

"If she stays here, the bloodbath will be on us and I might not survive it next time." Alison interjected, not allowing Alden to answer. So, in the grand scheme of things, I'm fine with abandoning others to a bloodbath in order to save those I care about on board this ship." She said flatly. "Now... there was, however, something that sounded interesting from you for the first time since I met you." Alison gave Whit a suspicious smile. "Please elaborate on 'least till the target on her back gets cleared'. I want to hear the conditions apart from the obvious, Dayiu's death."

Whit gave Ali a cross look that was no less than mocking. "You plannin' on invitin' those blue handed men on board? They killed that Father Johns that Daiyu is always talkin' up. I doubt she even knows. Anywhere you drop her that's connected to the feds or to Blue Sun is liable to have the devil lyin' in wait. The best place for her is on the run." He paused for a moment before revealing a point that had evidently been missed by Ali. "And, of course, anyone knowin' the fact she's on the run is prolly a target themselves. The devil knows you tried to be rid of her once. If you think you can change your fate by cuttin' and runnin' now, as surely as you live you got another thing comin'."

Whit was right, and Alden didn't feel a need to shout over Alison in order to prove that fact. Of course Loxley would help Daiyu, for as long as he could, and until someone brought him to a hard stop. Did he like the fact that this mission was upsetting and irritating his favourite pilot and business partner? No. But life came before bad moods and disgareements and Alden wouldn't knowingly let anything bad happen to Daiyu (or Alison) if he could possibly avoid it. He did realise that recently, however, he'd been blurring and ignoring that fine line between reason and overprotective bad judgement though. Leaning back, he watched Whit and Alison dance their verbal dance and weighed up when to chime back in.

"You're both right," Alden said eventually, speaking loud enough to drown either out if they tried to stop him. "We can't keep her here and all stay safe, and we can't drop her off anywhere and stay safe. Picking her up in the first place, and running into those folks on Li Shen's? That's put a target on our backs we can't shake easy. Now we're in too deep to walk away, but I ain't losing my crew and my family if I can do anything to avoid it." Which was, as they'd already determined, an impossibility. Trouble was dogging them now and wasn't walking away, Daiyu or no Daiyu. "Those fellas with the gloves, they seen our faces. Which makes Daiyu good as family for the moment. With or without her, we've got that same target. Least if she's with us," he looked to Ali, because he knew this point of view sucked, but there was nothing they could really do to change it. Least nothing Alden wanted to sanction. "Then we all see them coming and we all get to be part of the fight. Face them head on...."

Alison frowned. "Da Bian Hua." She glanced at Alden. "Unless you want me dead. Last time we almost died, and now you want to take them head on? Do you think they are alone?" She said, with sadness in her voice. "Keeping Daiyu on board, you make us all a target and it will be on you if anyone gets hurt." She eyes Whit and shakes her head. "Of all the grim options, staying on the move and away from Daiuy is the most safe." She then looked back at Alden. "But it is up to you if you want to risk everyone for one. My suggestion would be to tell at least everyone what they are signing up for and give them a choice."

"Of course I don't want you dead," Alden returned, an edge to his tone that suggested he was frustrated with continually circling this subject. "And no, I don't want to take them head on. Far from it. But we're fucked either way at this point." A heavy sigh showed his internal pain with this situation. "But yes, I know it's all on me. I'll speak to the crew, agreed. We'll be open about it."

He looked to Alison, and only Alison as the Shepherd readied to speak his piece.

"You and Alden were seen with Daiyu," Whit countered. "You think they'll take your word that you aren't complicit with whatever reason they're after her? Maybe evil men will show mercy." Whit gave a sarcastic shrug and let his hands hang in the air. "The Alliance is definitely known for clemency, ain't it? I wonder what would have happened if Grimshaw and my brother Shepherds didn't come to your rescue. Those bing pi might stop and ask questions next time they see you." Dropping his hands along with the sarcasm, Whit gave a knowing smirk. "Helping yourselves means helping Daiyu. Your fates are intertwined now, 'least as far as this messy business is reckoned."

"You keep saying that, and the more you do it, the more I am tempted to just space her or kill her myself. That should be good enough to untwine myself." Alison said ominously and shook her head and looked Alden in the eyes. "I said what I wanted to say. Ultimately, it is your decision, captain, but don't make me give you an ultimatum of either me or her. I am not willing to write about everyone's lives just because some Shepard whose second name is 'fucking-vague' said so. I told you before, Daiyu is trouble. I told you before, do something about her. I am done telling you more."

"Ain't nobody getting spaced," Alden stated, clearly and for the record. "I hear ya. It's fucked up. I tried to do something about it, remember? We failed." This wasn't fair, he countered internally. He'd helped a stranded woman abandoned in an escape pod. Good deeds weren't sposed to go this far south so swiftly and brutally.

"No one's getting killed on my ship," Alden stated, his dark blue gaze drilling into Alison's own. "But I hear ya. This is a fucked-up situation, and it ain't gonna go smooth. But one thing I have noticed - blood is definitely something to avoid having out in the open around Daiyu. Whether that be actual blood or conversations 'bout it. We need to keep her safe and calm as much as possible. And to do that we have to work together."

Whit frowned. "If you're fixin' to shed innocent blood, Miss, you'd best not make me privy to it. 'Life and death is in the power of the tongue,' says the Good Book." It was subtle as far as warnings went, since Whit knew it went both ways. He pressed his hands against his knees and pushed himself to stand. "Reckon you spoke true that nothin' more needs to be said though." Looking directly at Alden, he said, "If you decide you no longer desire the company of me or any other A-Men on your ship or crew, just say the word. Otherwise, I'd like to renegotiate our deal."

From his focus on Ali, Alden shifted to regard Whit. On the bloodshed and lack of it, they were both agreed. But Loxley also shared a viewpoint with his pilot and business partner with regards this Shepherd and his business. Clearly there was unshared knowledge here. "Be happy to renegotiate for the pleasure of your ongoing company," Alden stated, simply. He paused, locking eyes with the older Shepherd as the other man moved.

Whit threw small burlap bag at Alden's feet that made a hard, heavy clang when it hit the deck. A glint flickered off the corner of something metallic sticking from the mouth of the bag. Platinum.

"Laoban," he said to Alden while tipping an invisible hat. When he looked at Ali, his face projected a mixture of disdain and amusement. "Fúwùyuán," he said with no gesture whatsoever. And then he took his leave.

Cooper didn't say a word, just simply fell into step beside and slightly behind Whit.

Alden smiled a lopsided smile laced with wry and hoisted up the bag. Laoban? He doubted that. But for the time-being, on this lil Firefly, Whit was correct. "To Three Hills," he said. "And we'll go from there, y'know, assuming we're all still alive on landing." His face darkened into a frown at the comment to Alison, and he rested a firm hand on his friend's shoulder. "Let it go for now," he said. "We need to talk. In private."



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