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(Prologue) The Drink

By , Merritt Island, FL

Rona stumbled into the line that was forming on the main deck. The captain had called for a head count to make sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to. The ship’s rocking back and forth was not helping her in her half-drunken state. The captain had ordered her to check on the rigging below deck to make sure it was still in good condition, but she had decided instead to drink down her whole flask.
The captain was a shrewd and angry man, tall and dark from the years of working in the hot sun. His face was always twisted in a scornful expression as he looked down his hooked nose at everyone. He bore a long overcoat with one sleeve cut off to reveal his massive arm covered in battle scars. As he walked up to Rona, who could barely even stand, he tossed a pipe from one corner of his mouth to the other. He leaned down and puffed a huge plume of smoke in her face, causing her to reel back and sneeze.
“Sober?” he said in a deep, gruff voice, with a thick Northern accent.
“Yes of course she is!” said Ali, Rona’s friend, from the end of the line. The captain pushed her upright to get a good look at her. Rona could barely even look at him because the sun was right behind his head. She had to squint and the light hurt her head.
“I’ve only had a couple of swigs,” she said, her voice surprisingly articulate after downing a whole flask of bourbon. The captain wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t care if ya had but a glass o’ milk,” he said, standing straight up, “Yer voice stinks of spirits and you can barely even stand. Since you clearly like to sit around and laze more th’n anythin’, you can work off yer little hangover in the brig tonight. Miss Ali, Sir Noc, please show our friend Miss Rona to her new quarters for the night. The rest o’ you lot, back to work, we need to make berth by tomorrow and we’ve got a nice breeze on our backs.”
Ali and Noc approached her. Everyone else scrambled to get back to their post. Ali shoved Rona to the side and berated her.
“What the hell were you thinking?” she whispered, “You know you can’t drink on the job, you had one thing to do and you couldn’t even do that. Now, we have to throw you in the brig with the rest of those creeps. Did you forget we’re a prison ship?”
“I don’t care,” said Rona, frowning and looking down, “I’ve been with worse company.”
“That’s not the point Rona,” said Noc, a short and stocky man with a smooth face and smoother voice. “The captain’s a hardass, and you need to ride this ship out back to the mainland or you’ll never meet back up with him in Leon-Tra. You make another stupid mistake like that again and he’ll throw you off this ship.”
“I know,” Rona muttered under her breath. “I needed to forget.”
Her friends looked at each other and sighed. They practically dragged her to the brig, one level down, two levels down, all the way to the deck just above the store-room. A group of prisoners sat in each cell except the one in the far back. The prisoners whooped and called for Rona, beckoning her to come closer to their cell, which shared a wall with hers. She sat in the corner, as far from them as she could as they called for her.
At last she was alone with her own thoughts. Her head pounded with the mind-numbing effects of the alcohol in her system. She thought about where she was, and where she would go from here. She had to make it back to the city, but she couldn’t do anything to anger the captain further or she might not make it.
She thought of what she had done and what she still had to do. She thought of all the battles she had fought on the Frontier. She thought of the horrific things she had to do on behalf of her king. She thought of what she was doing now, sitting in a cage like an animal, being held back by iron bars. She thought of what she used to do. She used to be nothing but another pretty face in a tavern, either drinking herself under the table, or being used by anyone who had the cash.
Most of all she thought of her inglorious city. The city of Leon-Tra was once a bright and beautiful town, filled with wonderful people and amazing architectural feats. But now the lights were dim. The people were cruel and grim. The wonderful sculptures and buildings have been torn down to make way for barracks and weapon-smiths. The city was a city of war now. The walls were being built higher each day as the king flexed his power even further. She only harbored hatred for the vile place now.
She thought of him. The one man that she could count in these dire times. Eventually the pounding in her head slowed enough for her to fall to the hard floor, laying where she fell, and dropped into a deep and dreamless sleep.




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