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Letter of Marque

Posted on Mon Nov 13th, 2023 @ 4:14pm by Curtis Vaan & Mykaia Kylo-Zahn

Mission: Fractures
Location: Holodeck
Timeline: 4th February - 14:30
1564 words - 3.1 OF Standard Post Measure

"What do you think?"

The Galway Siren was a classic-looking wooden ship, designed to sail on Earth's seas. The tall rigging creaked and the sails flapped as the vessel gently rolled over the crystal blue ocean waves. Currently, it was devoid of crew; a pre-holoprogram pause state while Curtis showed Kaia around.

"The golden age of piracy," he declared, hopping up to the top deck and tapping his hands on the wheel. "You can play anything you like: the daring ship's captain, or the feisty first mate, or even the dastardly antagonist if you really wanted! Laney and I scripted it to adapt to whatever you felt like playing." He extended his arms. "You get to make your own way on the old Spanish Main!"

The whip of the wind was familiar at least, even if the sensation of unstable footing was not. It wasn't lost on Kaia that there was something profoundly odd about having grown up so close to the coast without ever having taken a step away from it but the benefit of having busy parents was that you could get away with not confronting irrational trepidation. The boat itself wasn't the problem, it was the vast expanse of very deep, very dark water beneath it that elevated the Risian's heart-rate to a level that probably qualified as pre-panic. No matter what anyone said, the open ocean was terrifying and now she was out in the middle of it.

Or at least a very good representation of it.

She forced herself to release the breath she'd been holding. "Which role is likely to stay dry?" Offering Curtis a thin-lipped smile, Kaia attempted to force herself to relax. This was clearly important to him, after all, and she could at least hope that there'd been some consideration towards activating an automatic reset if someone fell overboard. "I'd be more than happy to follow your lead."

"Ah, but then I know all the little secrets and easter eggs," Curtis declared. "What I really need is a beta tester; someone who hasn't written all the twists and turns and daring escapes!" He hopped down and took her by the hand. "It's perfectly safe, and I promise you'll have fun whatever it is you want to do," he added, a mix of hopeful optimism shaded with a plea for help.

Forever more tender-hearted than her own trepidation could squander, Kaia took one look at the mild panic beneath Curtis' cavalier showmanship and relented visibly. Doing her best not to dwell on all the aspect of the setting that made her anxious, she tried to ignore the mounting nausea that seemed to worsen every time the ship pitched forward and set her shoulders in some semblance of a resolute stance. "Okay, what were the options again?" She hesitated and then added, lest he try to say yet again that the choice was hers, "I, um, don't actually know who would be on a ship like this."

He tapped his chin. "Okay, context." He snapped his fingers. "You've heard of Orion Pirates, right? Roaming systems, snatching up innocents, etcetera. I mean, I know that's a stereotype, but run with me here. Well, think of this ship a bit like that. Only...on water. And not really all about enslaving people per-se. And...okay, maybe not the perfect analogy..." Why was this so hard? It seemed like it made sense when he was working on it with Laney. "Maybe think of it more like Fenris Rangers on water? Like vigilante adventurers."

"Oh." Understandably, Kaia seemed more confused than she'd been to begin with but, rather than make a fuss, simply tried to take things in her stride. "Then we are the protagonists then? Are we attempting anything specific?" She put a hand out to catch herself as the ship pitched slightly and swallowed back a lump of anxiety to focus on the unfolding narrative.

"Does the pursuit of adventure count?" he fired back. It was becoming obvious that this was maybe a little too advanced for her. Which was disappointing, but there was surely something to be said for simplifying activities. Perhaps some sort of 'tutorial' or 'prologue' would be a reasonable idea. He stopped back in front of her. "What sort of things do you like?" he finally asked. It seemed like one of those obvious questions, but one he'd not really asked yet.

Nothing applicable came to mind but, committed to being supportive, which was at least a hallmark of Kaia's preferences, she glanced upwards at the flap of sails and pondered wistfully. "I think I would prefer to be someone with peaceful intentions."

The request was met instantly by darkness.


At least the deck beneath her feet had stopped pitching sideways. It took several seconds but eventually the holodeck's grid reappeared and Kaia realised the pair of them were standing in the middle of what appeared to be a prematurely terminated program. Dizziness and slight disorientation that she'd attributed to the setting hadn't abated entirely but improved steadily enough for her to turn a slow circle in relative comfort.

"Did I say something wrong?"

Curtis blinked, frowned, looked at their surroundings, and made a little grunt of annoyance. "It's probably just the holoemitters playing up. There's a whole Fenris Rangers-fighting-battle thing going on outside, I'll bet. Rerouting of power can sometimes drain nonessential things." He shrugged it off. "We'll be back on the open sea in a moment. Unless you would prefer something a little more sedate?" He flashed a grin. "Perhaps we can cast you as a fair dowager's daughter, the object of any pirate Captain's desire! Although that would involve a different kind of dress code..."

Looking perplexed, Kaia turned her attention to the exit. "If there's some sort of altercation, shouldn't we be..." She actually wasn't sure. A bartender wasn't much use and Curtis' position seemed quite specialised, at least the way he'd presented it. She changed tact slightly. "Are we supposed to use the holodeck if the ship's in combat?"

"I didn't really think about it," he replied with a shrug. "Not like I'm really all that much help in a fight. Unless we're talking about the fight against deadly cutthroats on the Spanish Main..." He made a little 'arr' noise and scrunched his face up. Seeing her unimpressed expression he dropped the act. "Look, they're fine. We're fine. The Captain probably won't let things get too out of hand. And if he does? There's not much we can do about it. So c'mon. We'll be fine." As if repeating the expression made it so, he figured.

The other Risian stared at him, her expression a complex mixture of uncertainty and empathy. Something about Curtis' tone, perhaps fuelled by his willingness to drop the showman persona for a moment, made Kaia realise that she was somewhat spoiling what had been a proud moment of trust for the man. He had created this and all she'd done so far was turn a slight shade of green and refused to look sideways. Drawing in a deep breath, she set her shoulders firm and forced a bright smile.

"How about you play the Captain then and I'll be, um, your assistant." The terminology had escaped her.

Another shudder, and the black-and-yellow markings of the holodeck shimmered back into place. Curtis let out an annoyed sigh, despite the mild relief of not having to work out their roles in a way that would satisfy Kaia. "I think we might have to rain check," he grumbled, knowing that post-action repairs were likely on the cards. "I swear, any time I fix something, they just go and break it..."

Though it was far from her fault, Kaia immediately felt guilty, if only because of the insidious glimmer of relief his decision brought with it. It took her only a few seconds to realise that a return to reality hadn't done much to alleviate her unsteadiness and, as she picked up the pace to follow Curtis from the holodeck, she realised it was because the ship itself was pitching slightly to one side. Guilt forgotten, she gasped as a sudden lurch sent them both staggering, and swiftly moved to latch herself to Curtis' arm. "That didn't feel good."

He put his hand on hers, reassuring while also using the opportunity for that personal touch. "It'll be fine, I'm sure. They're mostly sensible when it comes to getting blown-up. Mostly. It's only happened a couple of times..." His own confidence in that statement plummeted even as he spoke it. "I know a place we can wait it out; the computer core input-output control is pretty safe. And we can see what's going on from there."

Not for the first, and likely not the last, time, Kaia had no point of reference from which to dispute the claim and thus took it at face value. Rather than pull away to distance, she embraced the opportunity to take the other Risian's hand and offered what was meant to be a brave smile as she nodded. "Just let me know if I'm getting in the way."

"Milady, that would be impossible..." Curtis pined in an over-the-top way. As the exit doors of the holodeck opened and the two walked through, it was immediately apparent that something was very wrong.


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