Brave New World
Chapter I: Sisters
Anastasia Manikas, who preferred to go by "Anna", yawned as she rolled out of her hammock bed in the crew quarters of her pirate vessel, the Waveskimmer. Well, not quite a pirating ship. As Anna often told herself, the misfits and outcasts on board the Waveskimmer were not throat cutters or village plunderers. Rather, the ship merely coasted from town to town, city to city in the brave new world that humanity now called home, and the crew mates did what they had to survive.
"Finally up?" teased Chara Manikas as the elder sister climbed to the upper deck and into the bright morning sunlight. Sixteen years old and with wavy red hair, Chara was the image of a wild younger sibling. Still, Chara's light brown eyes always hinted at the loneliness and loss that Anna tried to put behind the both of them. Both sisters wore clean but unassuming clothes: Anna, a long-sleeved blouse and pants and Chara, a short-sleeved shirt and knee-length pants. Both girls wore simple commoner's shoes.
"What do you mean, finally?" Anna asked as she tossed her brunette hair and tied it into a short ponytail. Unlike Chara, she kept her hair tidy and out of the way, the better to carry out her rogue-oriented skills. "Was I asleep that long?"
Chara glanced up, thinking. "Just a bit, I guess," she relented. "Still, you're just in time. Look! We finally made it... Passeleus, the shining capital of the Chrysos Federation. I've always wanted to see it, and here it is!" She faced the bay city and spread her arms wide as though greeting an old friend. Countless two- and three-story buildings made of brick, stone and wood cluttered the metropolis along with a few tall guard towers and lighthouses.
"It won't be shining as much once we're in there," Anna warned as the Waveskimmer, an outdated but functional caravel, sailed to the crowded bay's waters. "Trust me, Chara, it'll be just like everywhere else: thieves, mercenary thugs, organized crime, secret deals..." She shook her head.
Chara shuddered. "Cheer up for once, Anna! I know, we almost got caught by those hired goons back in that other town, but this will be different. We learn every time."
Anna paused before answering. At twenty years of age, she was a little young for a life on the sea but this harsh new colony world had forced her into it. Long has humanity left behind the old land to escape the poverty and civil wars, and now this untamed series of landmasses beckoned... but only rewarded the most cunning and daring. Two orphaned girls weren't exactly the type who thrived in the colonies, but as Chara said, they were learning. And they weren't entirely alone. "I guess you're right, Chara. I'm just trying to protect us, like I always do."
"You can say that again." Chara made a face.
"Just kidding," Chara smiled as the ship's de facto captain, a wide-shouldered man named Rikos, came striding out of his quarters. Short black stubble coated his square jaw and his clothes were patched in a few places.
"We'll reach port in fifteen minutes. Time to get ready," Rikos warned the sisters. "Anna, Chara, it's both your turn to find some goods. We're low on bread, rum, sugar and medicine. Get to the bazaar and do your thing. We'll set sail as soon as you're back." He glanced at the bustling piers. "Port security is tight here, but we need those supplies. Get some breakfast before you head out."
Anna nodded. "You can count on us."
A while later, a few other members of the crew surfaced as the Waveskimmer sailed casually into Passeleus' docks and settled next to one of the slick wooden piers. As soon as the caravel's boarding ramp thumped onto the pier's thick wood, two uniformed Passeleus dock officials marched over, clad in identical sea-green outfits.
"Name and reason for visit?" one of the men demanded.
Rikos didn't flinch. "Captain Rikos Gossui of the Waveskimmer. Sending out my crew to buy some supplies. These girls are my shore party."
The official gave the Manikas siblings a sharp look but Anna had long since learned to endure withering glares. She got them rather often. "How long will you stay docked here?"
"Two or three hours, I expect," Rikos shrugged.
Glancing at the other official, the uniformed man slowly said, "We charge docking fees after the first hour. And not to be disrespectful, but your vessel is in poor shape and I need confirmation that you can afford those fees. Five gold gayas for the second hour here and ten for the third hour."
"Ah... yes, of course," captain Rikos said with a dismissive laugh, patting his pocket. "I have enough gaya coins for that, do not worry."
The official narrowed his eyes. "May we come aboard and check your cargo and treasury? Just for a moment?" His tone made it clear that it wasn't a request.
Rikos backed up a step and motioned with a hand. "Right away. May my shore party depart?"
"They may, but if they're not back after the third hour, you will be required to stay until they return, and you will be charged accordingly," the other official warned.
"I understand. Girls...?"
"We're going," Anna assured him, patting Chara on the back to get her moving. Once the both of them walked down the pier and into Passeleus' crowded streets, Anna finally released her built-up tension. "Still like the capital of the Chrysos Federation, Chara? Gold-hungry bastards..."
Chara's expression was somewhere between excitement and distaste. "I know, we're back to the world of strict rules and backstabbers," she smiled, slightly mocking her sister's deep caution against such things. "Come on, we have three hours! Let's explore the city a bit."
"For escape routes, I hope," Anna lowered her voice. "You know that we can't afford medicine and the brand of rum that captain Rikos likes."
"Oh please, I'm not five," Chara rolled her eyes. She pointed toward a bustling market. "How about there?"
Anna found herself dragged into a festive marketplace where brightly-colored banners overhead advertised all sorts of goodies from fresh fruits and vegetables to rare gems to firearms. Concealed under her worn jacket Anna had a flintlock pistol, a weapon she hated to use but knew that she had to fire sometimes. Twice already her life had been saved by that handheld thing. And here, she found whole racks of muskets and flint-lock pistols, even a few blunderbusses. The prices, though, deterred all customers except wealthy landowners who needed to supply their private armies.
On the lighter side of things, Anna gaped as she witnessed the colony world's most exotic beings. With the torso of a man but the furry legs and horned heads of wild bulls, minotaurs stood out of the crowd like a lighthouse at midnight. Each bipedal creature had clothing and piercings to represent his or her native tribe, some more haughtily than others.
"By the gods, Anna! Have you seen so many of them before?" Chara squealed.
"Don't point at them," Anna hissed, lowering her sister's pointing finger. Still, she had to admit that seeing this many minotaurs proved that she was in the colony world's biggest city. Rarely did the reclusive, pacifistic minotaurs mingle with human beings, though some of the more adventurous tribesmen worked hard to foster human-minotaur relations in terms of business, trade and artisan work. Indeed, the once-warlike minotaurs now supported themselves by all kinds of arts from glass blowing to wood carving to blacksmith work.
However, not even the finest minotaur blacksmiths could compete with the other native non-human race: the cyclopes.
"Okay, now I'm really impressed." Anna couldn't help a thrilled smile as she saw a trio of cyclops knights walk past. Each ten feet tall, the cyclopes towered over even the minotaurs and their shining silver armor made them all the more awe-inspiring. These three carried their helmets under their arms and had their huge swords securely in their sheaths, and Anna had no doubt that these giants were employed in a private army somewhere. Even in this age of muskets and cannons, durable cyclops-made armor ensured that knights still had a place in most armies and militias, usually in less-developed colonies.
"You think those guys work for a local feudal lord?" Chara bubbled, unable to tear her eyes from the gleaming giants.
Anna nodded. "Just what I was thinking. Most cyclopes are either blacksmith or knights, but not both. And these guys obviously don't spend all day at the forge. Right?"
"Mmmmm," Chara nodded. Then a look of inspiration crossed her face. "I'll go ask them!"
"Hold on... wait!" Anna reached out a hand, but it was too late. Chara pushed her way through the crowds and dashed in front of the three cyclops knights.
Chara and her adventurous streak, Anna mentally shook her head as she followed her sister. When will she learn that it brings trouble?
The lead knight held out a hand to halt his fellows, then glanced down at the excited human girl with his one giant eye. Unlike human beings, cyclopes had round heads with squashed, pug-like noses and rather wide mouths and no facial hair. Their skin was a cocoa color. Frowning slightly, the lead knight held out his armored hands and made a few rapid motions, communicating his thoughts with the human-cyclops sign language: Why you block way, girl?
Chara giggled and motioned back: Curious. Fun. What is name?
One of the other knights chuckled deeply while the lead cyclops shook his head and motioned his curt response. Patrol for employer. Most go on. Leave us.
But enjoyable for me to meet you. Never met cyclops before this.
The lead knight sighed and snapped his hand out in the commonly-accepted sign for get out of my way. Having no other choice, Chara stepped aside and the three knights lumbered on their way, scattering everyone else before them.
"What were you doing?" Anna hissed once she caught up to her sister. "Those guys are..."
"Harmless, Anna. When was the last time a cyclops knight bullied someone for no reason?" Chara bit back. "I know what they're like."
Chara sighed. "I just want to have a little fun, even if you don't understand what that means."
Anna folded her arms. "You know I just want to keep us safe. Ever since dad..."
"I know. Let's just find that stupid medicine and rum," Chara snapped, walking off again into the bazaar and shoving past a startled minotaur.
"Sorry for her behavior," Anna told the humanoid as she passed. The minotaur nodded and shuffled along his way.
A while later, both sisters had caught sight of the goods that they were looking for. Just down the street lay a liquor store, and a few buildings down sat a medicine shop. Bread and sugar could be bough even with captain Rikos' modest treasury, so Anna dug out a few silver gayas from her pocket and soon had the goods in a cheap cloth pouch slung onto her back like a backpack. "You get the medicine and I'll take the rum," she whispered in her sister's ear when the both of them hid in a remote corner.
"We'll meet up over there, by that inn," Chara finished, pointing at a small but comfortable-looking inn down another street. "Then right back to port."
Anna nodded. "Let's go."
While Chara innocently made her way to the medicine shop, Anna peeked into the liquor store's front windows to get an idea of how to do this. Right now, a fat, balding man was reaching for a bottle on the rack for a customer but there was no one else inside. A wooden door, slightly ajar, revealed a store room in the back packed with bottles of whiskey, beers light and dark... and rum. There's my prize.
Anna waited until the customer left, checked that there were no town guards around, then slipped around the building's side and checked the window to the store room. She silently thanked the store owner's forgetfulness: the window was unlocked and Anna slowly and quietly slid it up. Quiet as a mouse, Anna easily lifted herself up the window ledge and sprang into the store room.
Even more quietly, Anna closed the store room's door to completely muffle any sounds that she might make and then she turned to the hundreds of bottles on the wooden racks. She knew what brand of rum that captain Rikos liked, and he'd be upset if she brought back the right kind. She scanned the labels... where was it?
Heavy footsteps alerted Anna and she hastily seized a random rum bottle and slipped behind a barrel just as the store owner swung the door open and walked in. "Thought I left that thing open," the man muttered as he glanced at the door on his way in.
Holding her breath, Anna resisted the urge to check the man as he rummaged through his supplies. If he saw her peeking around the barrel's corner, she'd be caught with an angry store owner between her and this room's only two exits. Luckily, though, the balding man merely hummed to himself as he picked a few bottles and shuffled back to the store's main room.
Time to split. Anna slid her ill-gotten rum bottle into her backpack and gracefully slipped out the window, sliding it shut behind her. Then she turned and sprinted down the cluttered back alleys and made her way to the appointed rendezvous point. She stood before the inn, impatiently tapping her foot as she waited for Chara's unmistakable red mane of hair to appear in the crowd.
Finally Chara showed up, but she wasn't alone. "Thief! That's her, with the red hair!" a shopkeeper cried, jabbing a finger at the fleeing Chara.
Three town guards, clad in leather armor and bearing muskets, chased after the younger Manikas sister. "You're under arrest!" one of them shouted, but all three men were already panting from chasing the gazelle-like sprint of their quarry.
"Let's get out of here!" Chara shouted as she sprinted past her sister. Getting the cue, Anna bolted after her partner in crime and hurried down another back alley, actually hoping that the guards would chase them this way. The many barrels and planks of wood propped up in here would come in handy.
"Stop!" a guard hollered but Anna and Chara kept moving, and once Anna rounded a bend she kicked over a number of long, sturdy wood beams used in construction sites. The guards shouted in alarm as the heavy lumber crashed down on them, pinning one man under the sheer weight. The other two leaped over the wood pile and kept up the chase.
Making use of her light weight, Chara sprang from the long, wide alley floor and dashed up a catwalk ramp that ran alongside the back wall of a large building. Anna followed her up, but not before tipping over a few barrels to slow the guards down a bit. She didn't think that the guards would actually shoot petty thieves like them, but Anna didn't want to risk it. And as Anna planned, the two guards stumbled and strained their way through the alley's clutter.
"Home free!" Chara whooped.
"Let's get down!" Anna huffed, noting how creaky the catwalk was. It started to sway. "This thing's dangerous! The alley clears out soon. Get down!"
"It's okay!" Chara called over her shoulder as she ran. "I think I can..." She shrieked as her foot shattered a wooden plank and the catwalk came crashing down. Anna rolled off the catwalk and scrambled to her feet, grateful that the rum bottle in her backpack hadn't shattered.
Chara wasn't so lucky.
"Chara!" Anna shouted as she made her way toward her sister in the cluttered alley. Chara had crash-landed badly and a jagged piece of wood had scraped her arm and side, tearing right through her clothing.
Before the guards could catch up, Anna stopped and hoisted her sister to her feet. "Can you run?" she asked urgently.
Chara nodded tensely. "Let's go!"
The sisters hoisted themselves over a few barrels and cleared the alley just as the two guards fired their muskets, filling the alley with the loud boom of ignited gunpowder. Gray smoke wafted in the air as the musket balls pinged off the far wall, missing the two sisters by a wide margin. Nearby pedestrians shrieked at the sound of gunfire but Anna ignored it as she led Chara through a side route to avoid heavy traffic. By the time the sisters were halfway through the city, the guards had vanished and Anna stopped in another alley.
"Let me wrap that up," Anna muttered as she drew several clean rags from her pocket for emergencies like this. Chara winced as Anna bandaged the wounds.
"It was an accident," Chara grated as Anna finished tying the knots.
"An accident that nearly got us arrested, or even killed," Anna told her sister sternly, taking hold of her upper arms. "Maybe I should have come here alone. This city is too dangerous for..."
"Don't give me this lecture again," Chara growled, wrenching herself free of Anna's grip. "Let's go before more guards show up. Come on."
A hot retort surfaced in Anna's mind but she silently sprinted with her sister to one of the city's many exits and toward the piers. Both of them slowed down to a casual trot and Anna gave her long-sleeved coat to her sister to hide the makeshift bandages. Chara's short-sleeved shirt clearly exposed her wounds.
"Just under two hours," the same two pier guards nodded as Anna led her sister to the waiting Waveskimmer. He turned to captain Rikos. "That will be five..."
"I've got 'em, I've got 'em," Rikos grouched as he handed over the coins. He didn't have many to spare. "Now let my crewmen back on. I've got to sail."
"Have a safe trip, and do come back," the guard said with forced politeness as Anna and Chara walked across the boarding ramp. "Passeleus has much to offer."
"I'll remember that," Rikos commented as his other crewmen raised the ramp and slowly drifted the Waveskimmer into the bay. Once the ship was heading out the bay with wind ruffling its triangular sails, Rikos turned to the girls. "How did it go? Get the goods?"
Both Anna and Chara set down their backpacks and revealed their contents. "Good, good," Rikos praised as he picked up the rum bottle. "You gals do good work."
"We were caught, though. Best to avoid this place for a while," Anna warned.
Rikos shrugged. "Noted, but there's plenty of other towns in the meantime. Take a few hours to yourself, girls. I've got a lunch prepared for you both. I think you deserve it."
"Thank you," Anna smiled as she led her sister into the Waveskimmer's small dining hall. As soon as they both settled down, however, Anna turned to Chara. "Look, I didn't mean to be so hard on you in that alleyway. But I mean what I said. I hold myself responsible for you, and if you got really hurt... I'd never forgive myself."
Chara sighed as she picked at her food. "Thanks, sis, but still... you worry about me all the time but insist that we stay on the Waveskimmer, stealing goods from town to town. Why can't we just settle down and not have the danger in the first place?"
It was an argument that the Manikas sisters had had a hundred times ever since joining the Waveskimmer's crew. "There's not enough work or space out there for two relatively unskilled people like us," Anna reminded her sister yet again. "Dad had a decent business but even he... you know."
Chara nodded. Two years ago, their father, a widower, had been forced to borrow more and more money from a local crime family until the gangsters had come back demanding their money. Unable to pay them back, Mr. Manikas had been stabbed to death before his two daughters' very eyes. Only narrowly had Anna and Chara gotten away, and ever since, they had been scarred by the colony world's unforgiving nature.
In general, this world was no place for youngsters. The colonies crawled with violent rivalry over land and treasure, not to mention deadly mercenaries, bandits, and organized crime. The lack of official, powerful governments and laws made things all the worse. Many proto-nations like the Chrysos Federation were close to becoming legitimate states, but there was a long way to go yet.
Finally Chara took a few small bites of her lunch, staring at her plate. "Do you think dad would be proud of us? Would mom?"
It was another question that the sisters often asked each other, and Anna was no closer to having a certain answer. "If we keep looking out for each other and avoid harming others, he'd be okay with us. And so would mom."
"Yeah," Chara said distractedly as she ate. "Dad would be proud of our pirate ship."
"Don't be like that," Anna protested her sister's mocking tone. "We don't have much other choice."
"I guess." Chara finished her lunch in silence and Anna did the same.