Gone Fishing (Day 2-3, Morning Day 2 to Morning Day 3, Jungle & Ship)

JP Courtesy of Turk & Noemi.

Early the next morning, Elle thought it was around 6 bells, she was up and out of the Lunar Veil. Normal people were asleep but she knew that anyone out and moving around the fishing spots close by would be dedicated fishermen. After visiting with a few of them and parting with a few coins she was back at the Veil still before dawn, poorer in coin but with everything she thought they’d need for the trip. One guy had even given her a rusty fillet knife that’d be plenty good with a bit of work, Elle’s own knife being suitable for deck work and lacking the spring and flexibility of the new one. She had just finished wrapping the handle with some tape when she went to find Roose.

“Come on. We can trek in before the sun gets bad. And I got us some spray,” she held out the bottle Vas had described, mainly to make sure Roose used his learning to make sure it was the right stuff. She carried a bag made out of scrap sacking stitched together with cord slung over her left shoulder.

The old man was awake, yet not fully functioning. He grumbled as he made his way off of his cozy resting spot, and the cold floor of the ship sent a shock up his spine. “Hmm? Oh well good.” He took the spray and held it up to his eyes, even as the blob formed a comprehensible shape. He gave it a nod, not sure but very aware that as the elder of the pair he was expected to okay these sorts of things. Even as he walked he hadn’t yet cleared his head, certainly he was walking but the mind wasn’t fully involved yet. He offered nothing to the conversation until the bright sunlight cracked into his haze.

“Damn it’s bright out.” He had been spoiled it seemed, sitting on a ship with artificial lights, for far too long. Strangely he felt better than he thought he would stepping out into the warm weather, like his muscles were relaxing more than usual. Seemed like traveling the ‘verse was holding up to its end of the bargain. Feeling more ready than he had anticipated, he turned back to his companion, “So you got any spot picked out yet? Or we roughing it and finding somewhere nice?”

She’d been walking not slowly but not with the going somewhere to do something pace she wanted to use. Serena had said Roose had a bum knee and Elle wanted to make sure she didn’t aggravate it but there was no sign it bothered the older man at all. If anything his rangy legs were stepping out as if every pace that took him away from the Veil made him happy. Elle picked up her own and stopped worrying about him. The old hunter was far tougher than anyone else thought, herself included. “Thought we’d start as far downstream as we can get in an hour or so and work our way up into undisturbed water, catching and cutting bait as we go.”

Soon enough the actual jungle, allowed to grow relatively undisturbed inside the city as a green belt, enveloped them and their world shrank to a few meters of dark green, shot through with riotously bright orchids living in the elbows of tree branches. Elle had never been in any place like it and felt a little closed in, moving to walk closer to Roose out of instinct. A child of the open ocean the closest she’d ever come to something like this was the great kelp forests she’d swam through and spearfished in, lungs aching and demanding she surface but her job holding her still as she waited for an enormous pinkish-red rockfish to ease its way past the swirling kelp stalks.

Eventually the river showed itself, far quieter than she’d expected. It wasn’t like some mountain stream, rushing and busy, but a slow wide expanse of water, crystal clear but reflecting the green canopy above it.

“You want to cast the net?” she said and pulled it out of her improvised bag. It was an older one, a mishmash of weights around its edge and often repaired but good enough. More importantly it had been cheap and within her earnings to buy second hand. “Or grub around for some larva and worms? Or I can do both if you just want to scout a little bit.”

“Seems you know a whole lot about this fishing business.” Roose said as he grinned at the girl’s enthusiasm. “Don’t know much about grubbing myself, only bait I used was stale bread, or nice chunks of meat, never ate nothing that ate on worms though.” the thought might have turned his stomach if it were even capable of such a feat anymore. “Tell you what though, you show me how and I’ll leave the netting and such to you.”

Praise from Roose felt like a hand smoothing across the back of her head, honest and making you want to smile. Not feeling the need to clutter up the air with words like she had already and make him think she was nothing but Serena-chatter, Elle just went to it. After turning over a few decaying logs to find wriggly white larva under them, and a centipede that looked like it was half as long as her forearm and made her drop that log real quick. Elle collected their bait into an empty protein bar pouch and rolled the end closed. They’d keep.

“Will you cut some notches like this,” the heavy work knife she always wore, the one Marisol had rescued from Doc, cut an example one on a stick then marked the location of several others to be made. Elle didn’t ask if Roose had a knife or knew how to use it. He’d been a hunter, she knew that, and lived rough before. He just needed to know how to do one and he’d handle the rest.

“Don’t know why but this works,” she said and used the pommel of her knife to pound the stick several inches into the soil. Then, using the back of it, she rubbed it up and down on the notches, sending vibrations into the dirt. There was nothing fancy about it but she set a pattern and stuck to it. A few minutes later Elle’s free hand pointed to where a big fat earthworm wriggled to the surface, moist and with dirt stuck to its skin.

“I’ll go work the net now that you seed it,” she told him and used her knife to flip the worm out of the ground and into her waiting hand.

The girl reminded him much of himself back in the day, so eager to please and do the work. He could tell she already knew plenty, that much was clear just in the way she handled herself. Damn he hardly had to do any work himself this whole trip, beyond letting the heat stretch him out and doing a bit of knife work, a simple thing for him and a talent he was glad to skill be able to call up.

As she returned with the bait he had just about finished with their makeshift spears. He gave a few test pokes to make sure they were point enough and found to some pleasure that they got through the first layer of calluses on his hands. “Think I just about got it.” He offered simply to her, handing over the unused net, the thing confused him to no end in its use and manipulation so he dare not attempt it. “Suppose we just sit and wait huh? I know that much about fishing.”

Elle shook the net out, untangling it without really looking, her hands reading the folds and twists of it like Adler might an x-ray. “We can set up something like a longline, running from here downstream,” she suggested. “Tie it off over that branch,” she pointed. “Then we can go downstream from here and see what we can gig. Let me get some baitfish for bigger chunks.”

Leaving him, Elle pulled her coveralls down and tied them around her waist, her undershirt soaked through with sweat and clinging to her skin. Not pretty like the Companion or cute like Serena, the deckhand possessed a muscled back and core, solid and with no fat padding it. She twisted at the hips, swiveling back and forth with the rhythm of the net then spun it out in a circle to land near a reed bed. As she pulled it back up it wiggled with silvery slivers, baitfish small and large.

A few more minutes work with Roose, showing him how far apart to set the lines and hooks of the main line, and she started cutting up the bait. Elle worked without the need to chatter but more than once she looked over at Roose and smiled, enjoying his company and the feeling of doing something she was good at.

Soon enough they had their lines set and they began walking upstream, eyes watching the bank and the river. Elle ranged back and forth from waist deep to walking on the bank, the water warm but still cooler than the air around them.

“How’d you make your mark for the Veil’s log?” she asked him as she removed a still wriggling crab from the point of her spear.

The question gave the old man pause as he puzzled out it’s meaning, or more so why she was asking it, “Well I suppose I signed it with my name as it were but….”. Suddenly the train of the conversation caught up to his mind, “Ohhh, I think I catch your meaning there. Let me recall a few details there, feels like a good while ago.”

He gave his best old man ponder, dredging up the events that in all honesty was probably only a few days before the girl herself had gotten on, but he knew his stories and more importantly how to tell them. “Well it was like any other night on New Kas; cold, windy, and quiet as a graveyard.” He settled more into his makeshift seat as he continued, “Got myself a nice little herd of deer coming up a mountain when I caught some weird tracks in the snow. Now normally that’s not a problem, things always growing weirder every time you step outside is just a fact you get used to but what caught my attention was the pack of wolves following this thing.”

He wished he had a cigarette right now, thinking back to the cold gave him a slight shiver even as his shirt clung to his back like a sweat leech, “If a wolf is following something, let alone a pack of them, means they’re looking to eat, being led on, or looking to f-” He held his tongue as he realized his audience.”

“But anyway, looked like a horse was what they were following after, now I’m sure you seen plenty of those, but getting them up cold mountains in the dead of night ain’t a usual thing to see. Most people with them have the sense to not let them freeze to death you see. So being the big softie I am, and not minding a few wolf pelts for my troubles, I went to check it out. What do I find but the doc stuck up in some kind of shuttle surrounded by about..was it 10 of ‘em? Hmm might have been 12. Either way though, couldn’t leave someone to get sieged by wolves, nothing worse I tell you that.” He brought up a spear as if it were a rifle and began imitating shots, “So anyways, I start scoping down each of ‘em, picking out the alpha, little science to it there but no trouble, and just start working my way down the social pyramid. By about the 6th wolf and them not seeing me they all scattered. Well after that, and a taste of my stew to boot, they begged me to stay.”

Captivated by the old man’s words, Elle leaned on her fishing spear, one foot up against the opposite calf and listened as Roose told the story. That day in the galley she’d discovered he had a talent for them backed up by a lifetime of experience. When he described New Kasmir she could smell to cold flatness of the snow as it chilled her nose from the inside out and hear nothing but the graveyard whispers of the wind. Every time he shot she flinched, imagining the harsh slap of sound and the yelping surprise at the end of a long bullet’s flight as Roose took down one wolf after the other.

The only unbelievable part was that they’d still hired him as a cook after eating his stew. Doc and the rest of them must have frozen their taste buds off to let Roose’s cooking slip by. He tried, Elle knew, but it was just not his thing anymore than reading and writing was her thing.

“That’s real ace,” she said, voice tinged with wonder. “They was right lucky you came along and pulled their feet out of the line. Might be nothing but little wolf pellets otherwise.” Maybe even one with a piece of pigtail sticking out of it. The thought brought a smile to her face.

“I can use a line throwing gun, and a harpoon gun. And I spearfish but you think you can teach me how to shoot sometime?” Elle lifted her own spear from where she’d been using it as a prop and mimed shooting, holding it all wrong and still balancing on one leg like the Verse’s ugliest flamingo.

Roose answered before he even considered the question, he had heard it plenty of times back in the old days, "If you got eyes and fingers I can have you singeing back hairs off a fly in no time." He caught himself though and brought the spear back into a more natural position as he rethought a bit on his statement, "Though it'll be a little tough on the ship is all, don't wanna blow holes in anything, heard that's a good way to meet your insides."

His eyes darted for an excuse, some kind of distraction at least, and a shadowy form in the water provided it. He put a hand up for silence as he shifted a shoulder back into place, "Think we got something here." He held his breath and surged his body forward to strike, hitting the form right in it's center. There was no struggle from it but he kept the spear pressed tightly to the ground, knowing that you always double checked for things like this. Adjusting his grip, he hauled up his catch and from the murky water a jumble of leaves, roots, and dirt slipped off the spear and back into the river, a metal can holding them together clanked about on the points harmlessly. "Well…can't exactly cook that."

Actually as far as she could tell Roose could cook anything, did in fact, only it just didn’t come out right. Elle wondered if that was why he was so skinny and how he’d survived all these years. There had to be a woman, several of them she guessed, who’d taken him in from time to time and fed him up right. Maybe she cou-

That daydream flew overboard as she watched him hold up the can up on the tip of his spear. Elle burst out laughing with no attempt to hold it in or to worry about how someone would take it. It felt good, really good, to be able to laugh. To let her guard down and feel like she was around real people. People like she worked the boats with and who would poke fun right back at you but never ever talk down to you. Or be so much prettier and younger and smarter and-

That stopped her laughing, stopped it cold like the ship had run aground and pitched everyone forward. Elle looked at Roose, sweat - it had to be sweat - stinging her eyes and making them well up to clear them. Irritated she bent down and splashed handfuls of water from the river into her face then turned and spit to clear her mouth. “Sorry,” she said. “It was funny though,” the plain faced woman added. “Is the can good enough to poke some holes in and use to keep crabs and such in the water? Might as well make use of it.”

The pair laughed and fished for a good while longer, the sun setting and surprisingly enough a few non metallic fish and crabs stashed away. Holding his hand between the sun and the treeline, the best he could approximate for the horizon in the thick jungle. “Suns getting low, better start making camp now, less you want to eat fish in the dark.” He got up from his seat and immediately began surveying the scene. It was a different biome than he might have preferred but the basics all seemed to still be there. “I’ll start working on some larger trees, why don’t you get us some firewood, you know what you’re looking for?”

“I know driftwood,” she answered, a dubious expression on her face after surveying the damp jungle surrounding. “So long as you don’t pull it right out the surf it’s dry enough. Burns real pretty blue and kinda purply too. Shepherd said it was on account of minerals. This stuff,” she bent and picked up a wrist sized bit of fallen wood, “feels real wet and slippery. Will you teach me?” she asked. Over the next little bit she learned from Roose how to look for places where dry wood might be found, the dead areas where moisture couldn’t drip down on it. Sooner than it would have happened if she’d been doing it on her own they had a respectable fire going that was going to push the night back and provided the forever comforting crackling sound. Roose knew a lot of things about living outdoors and she wanted to learn more from him.

What she didn’t let the old man show her how to do was cook. In fact Elle actively shooed him away, once at laughing knifepoint, demanding he work for his supper by telling her another story. The meal wasn’t fancy, the only diversity coming from the types of fish, crab and eels and how Elle cooked them but it was acres better than the protein pack she still had in her little bundle. Plus there was a good palmful of fresh roe for each of them, carefully cleaned out of a fat mama fish Elle had kept alive until the very end. Rich and full of nutrients her body craved and a taste her mouth watered for it was the best part of the meal in her opinion.

“Well, reckon I should get to sleep,” she told him after tossing the remnants of everything in the fire to burn. “Check the weirs in the morning soon as I can see then we can head back maybe with some fresh catch. Marisol can maybe cook them up ‘Spanic style or maybe the Sister knows a recipe. They’s good folk.”

The idea of fish cooked in any way other than being boiled was a pleasant thought, and it sent his mind back quite a few years, to simpler days. “That they are, that they are.” Rather than fight his mind to stay awake, the old man calmly watched the moon, the smell of smoke and fish filling his nose and a soft smile growing on his face.

The next morning they spent from nautical twilight until the sun was beginning to steam up the jungle checking the weirs. Roose, keen eyed and with a hunter’s acumen, spotted turtle tail drags and tracked them to their nest. Elle was certain sometimes he was using magic because there was no trail she could see, even once when she squatted with him to look at some leaf mold he swore was disturbed and pointing which way the turtle had gone. The man was a marvel as a hunter.

Half a dozen of them, young males that wouldn’t be missed, wriggled in her bag and were going to end up stored on their backs until it was time to make a meal of them. There were also a big mess of eels and half again as much fish. At least there’d be some supplement to the protein. Elle rinsed everything off under Roose’s supervision in the galley then left him to freeze them while she went and packed the turtles into an empty wooden crate, wedging them in so they couldn’t get upright and break out.

Feeling good about herself, she went to put up the bug spray and report to Vas for her work assignment.

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