Chance Meeting

a story
2021-02-06 12:34:16,
2021-02-15 18:31:22
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Arnett had reached the edge of Astam Junction. He was walking quickly trying to avoid anyone's eye contact.

That's when she appeared.

A woman stepped out from behind a sign at the edge of town. She blocked his path, and made nervous eye contact with Arnett. Arnett sighed when he realized this wasn't an accident, and after weighing his options, he decided to continue on ahead anyway.

"Are you Lieutenant Joel Arnett?" she asked.

"Who's asking?" said Arnett, "I don't really have time."

"You are, aren't you?" she asked again.

Her eyes widened, and they seemed to shimmer slightly as he walked closer. Arnett came to a stop, sighing again.

"P-Please," she said.

"Look, Lieutenant Arnett has had a bit of a long day," Arnett started, "I'm low on everything except fuel and I need a job. So I'm sorry, but I-"

"Job!" she said, almost a little too forcible.

Arnett just looked at her as she struggled to think about her words.

"I am desperate," she said, her demeanor calming, "I have a job for you. I need you to take me somewhere."

Arnett sighed for a moment, looking the girl right in the eye, "Where?"

"White Haven," she says.

Arnett nods, "I see. Running away from home, are you?"

The girl didn't say anything. Arnett grumbled to himself before walking right past the girl.

"I don't do passengers," said Arnett, "Get a train ticket, kiddo."

The woman watched as Arnett walked passed. Her hand shot into her purse, but she hesitated, looking around and at Arnett who was walking away.

"I can pay," she said, "It's a full job. I can pay the Scorpios II rates!"

Arnett was frozen in his tracks. He was squeezing his eyes shut. He counted to ten and opened his eyes. He turned back to her, giving her a polite smile.

"That's expensive for one woman."

"My father will see to it you are paid handsomely," said the woman, "I am familiar with your work. I know what I am asking."

Arnett just sighed again, before nodding his head, "Alright, how quickly can you be ready to leave?"

"I am ready," she said.

Arnett shot her a worried glance, "What? Where is your luggage?"

"I need to get there," she said, "All I have, I have with me."

Arnett nodded, "Alright. Come on."

Arnett turned and headed towards the ship. He didn't listen behind him, but he could hear her sigh of relief and her rushing to keep pace with him.

Just outside of town, Arnett led the woman around a mound of dirt, where he walked into a small divot leading to a dug out bulkhead door. Arnett twisted the bulkhead door lock and opened the door, gesturing to the woman.

"Welcome aboard, the Scorpios II," said Arnett, "Miss...?"

"You may call be Gwendolyn," said the woman, who crossed her arms, "What are you playing? Where is the Landship?"

Arnett shot a confused look at her pack she had acquired from somewhere, but rolled his eyes and did a bow and a swing of his arms towards the bulkhead. When she didn't move, showing absolute confusion still, Arnett sighed and just walked into the bulkhead, disappearing into the darkness.

She hesitated, but eventually followed him in at the sound of a match being lit. Arnett had lit a lamp, and was stepping closer to another lantern light it as well.

"This is your ship?" asked Gwendolyn, "Is it crashed?"

"I thought you were well aware of the Scorpios II?" said Arnett, a smug smile showing on his face, "I'll be back, I got to start up the engines."

"They aren't on already?" asked Gwendolyn.

Arnett paused, giving her a steady look, before shaking his head and disappearing into another room. A moment later the Landship started to him. Gwendolyn heard some banging but didn't go to investigate. Arnett reappeared, a small amount of coal dust on his person. With some time to spare, he sat down on a box with his lantern.

"So," he started, "We have a little bit of time while the boilers heat up and the Scorpios II is mobile again. Your father is in White Haven?"

Gwendolyn nodded. She chose to stand on the other side of the small room by the other light Arnett had lit. Arnett waited for more, but realized he wasn't going to get anything further out of her.

"What brings you to Astam, then?"

"I honestly would like to not talk about it," said Gwendolyn.

"Alright," said Arnett, "Is there anything you would like to discuss?"

"Is this it?" she asked, "Where are the others?"

"What others?"

"Your crew?" she asked.

Arnett sighed before shrugging, "It's just me. There is no crew. Not right now, anyway."

"No crew?"

"Not right now," said Arnett.

"Where have they gone?" asked the girl, before her face went pale, "Are they dead?"

"There wasn't much of a crew to begin with," said Arnett, "My last few crew mates are just, gone. I... let them down and they had to take care of themselves."

"Doesn't seem like a good crew," Gwendolyn responded.

"They are the best," said Arnett.

Arnett rose and walked across the small room. He entered another area, stepping up two steps and taking a seat in the pilot's chair. He twisted valves and allowed the heated steam from the boilers to fill the various parts of the ship. The engines shuddered. The metal hull moaned with the effort.

But it was enough. The boilers had run just long enough for steal to begin filling the legs' pistons. The hull shuddered once more, and the ship began to rise. He could hear the woman give out a quick cry of surprise, and he chuckled to himself.

The sand fell away from the windscreen. The small amount of light filled the cockpit as they rose from the sand. Arnett hadn't felt this sensation in weeks. Maybe a month or two.

It was good to be back.

Arnett grabbed a hold of the throttles and pulled back. The legs took their first tentative steps, and the Scorpios II started off, away from Astam Junction.