Not a Little Girl
Chapter 1: The Sea and the Port
Location: The Steamhawke
Timeline: Very late that first November Evening
Rap! Rap! Rap!
Captain Daenelia tore her eyes off the yellowing map in front of her. She stretched and yawned, her back stiff from having bent over for so long.Who could be calling at this hour?
"I'm coming!" the captain called. She walked across the wooden floor of her quarters and opened the door.
She didn't see Kanya at first, but she was surprised when she did. The young girl was at least five full inches shorter than she was and was looking up at her with large, coal black eyes. Her mouth hung open as if she didn't quite know what to say. Her face was dirty. In fact, all of her was dirty. Her cotton clothes were wrinkled and filthy, as if she had slept in it in a coal bunker. Even the fancy watches on both her wrists and her belt looked like they were caked in mud or coal. One of the watches caught her eye. A dextrocite meter. Her old shipwright used to have one. Who was this girl? An orphan... A thief?
"Are you lost, little girl?"
Kanya winced, but ignored the slight.
"I hear you were looking for a crew, madam captain, ma'am?" Her voice was slightly deeper than the captain expected from the young figure.
Another young lass? What was she, anyway, the captain of an airship or a boarding school? Perhaps she should wear a frilly gown and host a tea party on the deck. And call them all 'Miss' and teach them their 'Rithmetic. Come to think of it, "Miss Chops McGinty" had a certain charm to it. The captain held back a chuckle.
"Yes, I am." She finally replied. She frowned and paused for a moment. "Does your mother know you're here?"
"I don't have a mother, madam captain."
Oh, great. Another orphan looking for free food and lodging. She'd had those before and they were usually trouble.
"I have a father... and a father." the girl added, seeing the captain's impatience. "But they're far off, in Londinium. They don't know I'm here. They think I'm on a ship, but that one abandoned me..." Her voice trailed off. The captain's cold blue eyes pierced into her, making her almost want to turn around and run all the way back to her alley.
"Listen," she tried to say it as gently as possible. "I need a -crew-, not some freeloader. Everyone who stays here, they earn their keep."
"I used to be a cabin girl." the younger girl said eagerly. "But Marty let me do engineer work."
"Really, now? You look too skinny to be scrubbing the decks or shoveling coal... Why, little girl, you don't look any older than ten."
Something that looked like anger flashed in the young girl's eyes. "I'm not a little girl. I'm fifteen." she said, hotly. "I'm just... I'm just... short." She spat out the last word as if it were something vile.
"I see." Captain Daenelia surveyed her intently. Could she be telling the truth?
"This ship where you used to work..."
"Good Queen Jane, madam captain. One of King Victor's naval ships."
The captain was silent at first. "If your loyalties are to the king, then I'll have to warn you, little girl: You are on a pirate ship."
Kanya's shock was unmistakable. Her breath caught in her throat. She had never seen a pirate ship before, or a pirate captain. Certainly never a lady pirate captain... Kanya thought this over for a few seconds.
"I don't care, madam captain. I need to get on a ship. It's the only place I belong. Please, I'm handy with steam engines."
Handy with steam engines... She didn't look it, but her hands were unmistakably stained with coal and the underside of her fingernails were crusted in black. Engineer's hands. And she had a dextrocite meter. Could she risk it? If this girl was lying, she could always abandon her in the next tavern or sell her to the slavers. And if she was truly 'handy with steam engines,' there was an easy way to test that. Not tonight, though. Too dark.
What's your name?"
"They call me Kanya Ash-hand." Ash-hand indeed. At least it wasn't Redhands.
"Alright, Kanya." the captain said, finally. "Why don't you find yourself a nice, warm spot on the deck and we'll see what I can do for you in the morning."
An elated gasp escaped from the girl, and she instinctively moved forward with her arms stretched as if to hug the captain. She caught herself, however, and tried to force her smile into what she obviously thought was a tough, big-girl facade. As she did this, the light from inside the cabin caught her face and the captain saw that her features were Oriental, probably from the distant Indochine. But she had had the unmistakeable accent of a Brit. How curious! That does explain her short stature, though.
"Thank you, Madam Captain." she said, bowing her head. She turned her heel and ran into the darkness, with an unmistakable bounce in her stride.
"Don't touch anything that isn't yours!" Captain Daenelia yelled after her before she shut the door and stared at her map, which was glowing the candelight. "I'll be damned if I have to teach anyone their 'Rithmetic." she muttered under her breath.