Chapter 1: The Sea and the Port
Location: Galley of the Steamhawke
Timeline: After the tour...
The ship creaked and rocked, like a cradle with a mechanical lullaby. Above deck, McGinty showed around the prospective crew members; he heard the shuffle of their shoes through the floors, through metal and wood. The scurry of rats came between. His injury, it heightened his senses in ways he didn't realize were odd until he compared himself to other people. Of course they wouldn't be able to hear those things. But he could.
He didn't need a tour. The night before, he had slept well but not for long. To ease the passage of hours until morning, and hopefully a swift departure, he had wandered about the ship in the darkness. It was a good ship from what he could see and what he knew about vessels of this nature, which admittedly wasn't much. Nicholai put his trust into the captain; the woman had a good air about her, and for him to say that about someone was quite the compliment. Previous experiences had made him none too trusting of anyone, not a stranger nor a family member.
The clunking and shuffling of feet began to diverge from one point and Nick glanced towards the low ceiling of the galley. He wondered what was going on up there. Down in the galley, he was preparing the breakfast that the captain had asked for. The ship's pantries were stocked well enough so it made the task simple. He'd been on ships with nothing more than spirits and dried meat. That meal had gotten old very quickly. But the Steamhawke was still at port and so its stores had not had the time to get rotten or rancid.
Nicholai made a big pot of creamy grits with bacon, and added some vegetables in once he found them in the galley. Soon the long room was filled with the scent of warm food and he awaited the arrival of the rest of the crew, should they arrive. He leapt up onto the counter beside the stove, taking a bite out of an apple. There was a crate of them, he'd found while he was poking around the night before.
Munching on his mouthful, Nicholai heard the descent of heavy boots on the stairs leading down from above. He wiped absently at the cracked side of his face and shifted slightly into the shadow to make it less obvious. He wanted to be prepared, if it wasn't the captain.
As the figure emerged from the stairway, Nicholai became positive that it wasn't the captain. It was too small, for one thing. Almost like a child. He stepped back, further concealing himself. The figure stepped into the light and revealed a skinny and dirty young girl with the features of an Easterner.
She held her nose in the air, sniffing the porridge hungrily. Nicholai could almost hear a low grumble escape her stomach.
McGinty had just finished showing the pirate hopefuls around and Kanya, the girl, was terribly hungry. Her last meal had been the single piece of oatbread she managed to bribe from the Tavern's kitchen boy with a cheap watch. She licked her lips as she took a peek into the large pot sitting on the stove. She couldn't remember the last time she had anything as good as this porridge! Not since she had been abandoned on this port, for sure. All the fish she managed to catch were pitifully small and skinny. It seemed that everything and everyone in this place was abandoned in some way, and the fish were lonely little girls without a morsel to eat. Much like herself. She almost felt bad that she had to eat -them-.
She looked around the kitchen, hoping to find someone she could ask for food. Nicholai was well concealed in the shadows and so she saw that everything was still; he watched her from his spot on the counter, wondering if he should say something. Kanya knew she had promised the Captain not to touch anything that wasn't hers. She was determined to keep that promise. Her fathers were honest folk, after all, and they had raised her well. She didn't like to steal, even if she had to do a lot of it lately just to survive. How ironic that her only salvation from this sad, bleak, lonely town should be a pirate ship of all things!
She could always run back up and ask the Captain if she could have some food. She turned around to run back up the stairs, but her nose caught a whiff of the delicious scent of bacon and she hesitated. She stood there for about a minute, a silent debate raging between her full mind and her empty stomach.
It wouldn't hurt to just skim a little bit of the grits, would it? It was a big pot. Nobody would notice if a little bit of it was missing. She looked cautiously around one last time. Was it safe? Finally, her stomach gave another desperate growl, winning the argument. Kanya reached for one of the wooden bowls on the rack and scooped a small serving of the grits for herself. She looked again at the sorry portion in front of her and, in a bout of self pity, scooped up a larger serving. There.
Kanya sat on the kitchen floor, blowing anxiously her food. She wanted it nice and cool so she could dispose of the evidence right away. It was then that she caught a glimpse of Nicholai, his blue eye glistening through the shadows. She started, spilling hot porridge all over her pants. The heat seared her skin, but she ignored it.
"I'm sorry! I was hungry and I came down for food! I was going to ask... I didn't mean to..." She stuttered at the end of her outburst, her words lost at the silent figure staring down at her. He shook his head and smiled a bit, "I made it so that people could eat it. Help yourself, I don't know if anyone else is comin' down soon."
He shoved off of the counter and took her bowl, refilled it with the creamy porridge, and handed it back to her. He took a rag from the nearest cabinet and started sopping up the mess she'd made on the floor. The stone floor was rough under his hand and the thin fabric. Nick threw her a sidelong glance while she ate feverishly once more. Small and skinny she was, and Oriental. But she spoke with an English accent, contrasting the low rusty tenor of his own voice. A few years from home and he still sounded like a coal miner.
"I didn't mean to scare you or anythin'," he said, settling on the counter once more, resting in a half-shadow that favored the better side of his face.
She scoffed into her food, "You didn't scare me. I was just... surprised. I didn't see you there."
"Over the sound of your stomach I'm surprised any of your other senses were working," he commented casually, giving the pot a stir so that a film of oil didn't settle atop the contents and taking another bite of his apple. From below, the girl gave him a look.
"I'm not the one hiding in the dark," he heard her mumble.
"No, you're the one who was contemplating theft aboard a pirate ship," he said around a piece of apple. "I can see your motivation though. I make a mean pot'a grits."
"You're the cook?" She asked, wiping her dirty face with the back of a dirty sleeve. Nicholai nodded. "You don't look like one."
Kanya had been on airships long before she had worked on one. Almost without exception, airship cooks were loud and large - or at least broader than the average swabbie. More importantly, they usually looked tidy, a trait that captains seemed to prefer in those who dealt with their food. Perhaps it was different with pirate ships. This man was skinny and unkempt. His clothes were significantly cleaner than Kanya's own, but they looked far more worn. His dark hair was greasy and fell all over half of his face.
"I don't look it," he conceded. "But I bet you can't find anyone else on the seven seas who can whip up anythin' like what you're eating."
She had to admit, the grits were really good. Better than the stuff the cook on the ship where she used to work ever made. Nicholai's mother used to make something like it; with eight children it was easy to make a large meal in one pot and just let it be eaten.
"You're right. Thanks." She said, her mouth full from the last of her meal. After days of hunger, her stomach finally felt sated.
"And who are you supposed to be?" He asked.
"I'm Kanya. I'm looking for work on board this ship."
"You don't look like a pirate." The older man grinned. She looked like a tramp of a child, boyish and everything.
Kanya laughed. "I guess I don't look any more like a pirate than you do a cook, sir."
"Misfits, that we are," he muttered. "Skinny and dirty and thieving. A pair of old bilge rats scouring the hull for food.You're going to be a cabin girl, I suppose?"
"Maybe. I'll take any job the Captain gives me. Something involving the engine, I hope. I feel so much more at home on a ship. I hate this town. It feels like everything here is alone and abandoned!"
Nicholai nodded. He personally felt that everything in Terra was alone and abandoned, but this small town had the worst of it. Gloom was in the air all around it like a thick fog. Living there felt like living the same dragging, unchanging day for weeks and weeks. "You look abandoned yourself, little girl."
"I guess you could say that." Kanya said dryly. "It's a long story. And I'm not a little girl. I'm fifteen."
The cook took this as a lie. While Easterners did tend to the short side, he found this girl's answers childish. She couldn't be older than twelve.
As he pondered on this, he saw her squint her eyes, as if to take a closer look at him. Nicholai instinctively tensed but did not move. "You're from the Old West, aren't you? You talk like someone I know."
"I talk like a lot'a people," the man said bluntly, his one blue eye matching her dark set. "One piece of advice I'll give you, if you do end up serving this vessel, don't ask me about my history. It's better forgotten."
"Alright." said Kanya meekly, the sudden iciness in his voice deterring her curiosity. There was an awkward pause between them. Uncomfortable, Kanya sprang up. "Well, sir... Sir Cook. Thank you for the porridge. It was really good. But I think I have to go up to see the Captain now."
The cook gave a stiff nod, and Kanya started to run up the staircase.
"You come back for more grub when you feel like it, you hear?" she called him call after her. "And my name's not Cook, it's Nicholai."
He was tired of people calling him that.