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Borne By Water

019: Unlikely Salvation     020: Naked Woman     021: His Question
022: Her Question     023: His Question (ii)
024: Stowaways     025: Her Question (ii)


Post: 08.14.2001
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning 

Unlikely Salvation
[s063]

Phoenix woke with a start and inhaled sharply--or rather, tried to inhale.  A small gasp was all he was able to achieve before deteriorating into a coughing fit.  He was vaguely aware of someone turning him on his side.

More gasping and coughing.  Finally, with every remaining ounce of energy remaining in him, Phoenix coughed and vomited up copious amounts of water.  A few more coughs, and he could finally breathe somewhat normally again.

Cold and wet. 

Groggily, he opened his eyes.  The world was a blurry swirl of colors.  In fact, for a moment, he wasn't sure that his eyes weren't still closed.  His mind slowly came to the conclusion that he was lying on the cold hard deck of a boat—a boat that was not Lady Luck.  He was, indeed, completely drenched from head to toe.  But, the light was too much for him, so he closed his eyes again.

Head throbbing.  He made the mistake of touching it. 

He gasped in pain.  This, in turn triggered another coughing spell that seized his body for a minute.  He spat out more water, but not much.

Suddenly he became aware of a hand on his face.  It was cold and wet too, but he knew that it was not one of his.  He quickly rolled over--his eyes instantly open, searching for the hand’s owner.  The sun was not even fully up, but it was plenty to blind Phoenix’s tired eyes.  A flash of blue hair suggested that the other person’s hand belonged to (2)syl.  He was too exhausted to double check.  Eyes closed again.

“Oh.  It’s you.”

"Yes.  Me.  I thought you weren't going to make it."

"Heh.  You can't get rid of me that easily.”

Phoenix slowly sat up, and as he did, turned to face the ocean.  His back was to the sun, as well as (2)syl.  He dangled his legs over the edge and attempted to coax his eyes into adjusting to the light.  He stared at the ocean.  The undulation of the waves and the gentle rocking motion of the boat had a hypnotic effect.  There is something strangely peaceful about it now.  Not like earlier.  Wouldn’t mind going back to sleep, actually.

He started to recall the recent events.  The island.  The explosion.  The wave. 

"What happened?  Where are we?  I thought we weren't going to survive that wave.  I've never seen anything so big in my life!"
 
"I found myself here on this boat.  I’m not sure how that happened.  You were just…floating, helplessly.  I pulled you out and revived you."

Phoenix gazed at the sea and tried to picture his own lifeless body floating amongst the waves.  There’s something all too familiar about this.

"Revived me?  Not many people know CPR these days.  Who taught you?"

"I don't remember."

Phoenix started to notice that his head was not the only thing damaged.  His right index finger was sore and swollen, and blood was oozing from one of his ankles.  Plus, he now realized that there wasn’t much that wasn’t hurting.  On the upside, his eyes were starting to focus more normally now. 

“Well, at least you remembered how to do it.  I’m alive because of that.”  Phoenix smiled and glanced at (2)syl.  “Thank you.”

(2)syl sat nearby curled up in a ball.  Her legs were crossed, and she held them to her chest with her arms.  Phoenix could see nothing but eyes, hair, and skin.

“(2)syl?”

“Yes?”

“Are you…naked?”

  Post: 08.31.2001
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning 

Naked Woman
[s063]

(2)syl shot him a semi-hostile glare over her knees.  “Of course, I’m naked.”

He looked away in indifference.  “Sorry.  Didn’t mean to upset you.  I was just—well, one can never be too sure with some of these skinsuits, these days.”

He glanced back at her.  She wasn’t smiling.  In fact, she almost looked a bit frightened.  I guess I wouldn’t be too cheerful if I was naked in front of somebody.

“Speaking of skinsuits, what happened to yours?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t know?”

“When I woke up, it was gone.”

“Ah.  With all the commotion, it must have simply ripped clean off.  With all the tears it had, it’s a wonder that it didn’t happen sooner.  Well, that’s one of the problems with skin-tight clothing; it just can’t wait to tear itself from your body when it gets a chance.  That’s why I wear loose clothing, like this trench coat, for examp—but where are my manners?  You need this more than I do.”

Phoenix stood up quickly—too quickly.  His exhausted condition, combined with the rocking motion of the boat was more than he could handle.  He fell straight toward (2)syl.  Somehow she managed to move herself out of the landing zone before he hit.

As he landed, pain shot through his side.  “Ow!”

He was about to thank her for allowing him to land on the cold, hard deck, when he noticed that in the commotion, she had let her guard down…literally.  She noticed that he noticed, and immediately resumed her previous limb configuration.

Both quickly looked away from each other.  His heart started pounding.  Primal urges swelled within.  Don’t even go there, you moron.  You know they can’t be trusted, so don’t even consider it.

He sat up, but didn’t attempt to stand this time.  Awkwardly, he started to remove his trench coat.  “I mean, I know you like to show off, and all, but,” (he faked a sneeze), “I happen to be allergic to naked women.”  Not even a smile.  “Tough crowd,” he muttered.

He handed it to (2)syl.  She pulled it over herself like a blanket.

“Thanks.”

He smiled.  “You’re blushing, syl.”

“So are you.”

The smile instantly vanished and he immediately looked away.  He hadn’t been expecting that.  Females are so glitching annoying—especially when they’re not wearing much.

  Post: 09.26.2001
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning 

His Question
[s063]

Phoenix looked back at (2)syl who was huddled under his coat.

“I’m trusting you not to steal anything from my coat.  Of course, I guess you don’t have any pockets to put stolen items into.”

A hint of a smile briefly graced (2)syl’s face.  Phoenix chuckled lightly.  Well, at least she’s a bit friendlier, now.

“So, you’re not going to actually put that thing on?”

“I would if you turned around.”

“Well, like my dad always said, ‘Never turn your back on a woman—especially a naked one’…”

(2)syl glared at him.

“…but, I suppose I could make an exception, in this case,” he quickly added. 

He turned around.  “Oh yeah, and be sure to take care of it.  It’s my favorite.”

As (2)syl donned the coat, he stared at the water.  Again, the vision came to him.  He saw himself drowning in the waves

I know I've imagined this sometime before today...but when?

"I'm finished," said (2)syl from somewhere behind him.

He turned around and smiled.  The sleeves came down over her hands, and the coat came down too far.  Probably a good thing considering that she has no pants.

"Looks good on you, but then again, most things probably would."

"Then, why should I bother wearing anything at all?" (2)syl cynically mused.

"Whoa!  Déjà vu!"

"What?"

"You ever get déjà vu?"

"Yes.  Sometimes...  As a matter of fact, when we first met..."

Phoenix looked puzzled, but only for a moment.

"Oh.  Heh, heh.  The holomask."

"What?"

"That wasn't actually the first time we met."

(2)syl looked extremely confused.

Phoenix searched his persona databank.  "Let's see here...MU, was it?"

He activated the holomask.  His face, hair, and clothes shimmered, and then instantly changed into the image of MU that he had used a few weeks back.

(2)syl's eyes widened as she gasped with astonishment.  "A few weeks ago--in the street!  You saved me from that hovercar!"

He smiled.  "That's right."

"But, the voice--"

"You mean this voice?" Phoenix asked, his voice now processed with his vocal modulator."

"It really was you!" exclaimed (2)syl. 

“Heh.  Of course.  Who else would it have been?”

  Post: 12.18.2001
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning 

Her Question

The image of MU started to flicker with static. 

“Accursed machinery,” he barked, “must be a loose connection.”

The implant, which resided in the side of his skull, was apparently still malfunctioning.  He attempted to jolt it back into proper operation by sharply punching himself in the right side of his head several times.

(2)syl giggled.

“I’m glad you’re getting a kick out of this,” he said wryly as he gave himself one last whack.

(2)syl giggled a bit more. 

The image of MU finally stabilized.

“At least it still works—sort of.  Well, enough fun for now.”

As the holomask deactivated, his normal blue human eyes appeared again, his fangs disappeared, and his yellow hair became much shorter and returned to its correct shade of blonde.

“There,” Phoenix said in his normal voice, “all back to normal—well, relatively speaking.”

“Normal?  Just how often do you use that device of yours?”

“Oh, most of the time, when I’m in public.”

“Why?”

He paused and looked over the sea.  He wasn’t sure if he liked how the conversation was going, but at the moment, he was too lazy to figure out a smooth way to change the subject. 

“It’s just part of the job,” he finally answered.

“Job?”  syl looked confused.  “What exactly do you do?”

“I…,” he started.  His mind started contriving some sort of occupation to go with the identity known as “Phoenix.”  He looked back at her.  Her hair was a mess, her blood-smudged face bruised and dirty, her body wrapped in nothing but an oversized trench coat.  So helpless, and yet, so trusting.  There’s no reason to trust me.

“I…,” her eyes locked on to his.  One black, one brown.  Blue hair.  Eclectic, yet, they match perfectly, somehow. 

“It’s okay,” syl said softly, “It’s really none of my business anyway.”

“It’s not that, it’s just…”

Lie, glitch you!  Just lie!  Make something up—anything.  Just do it!  You’ve done it countless times before!  Why not now?  Just a little one.  

For once in his life, he couldn’t bring himself to tell a lie. 

But, what other alternative do I have?  The truth.  What?  The truth!? Hmmm.  I guess that may not be all that bad.  After all, few cross the ocean and live to tell about.  Furthermore, the ones that do have working boats and a hypercurrent—neither of which we happen to have.  And, even if, by some miracle, we make it to the other side, the coast is not a very hospitable place either.  And if (worse case scenario) we both somehow live through all this, we’ll go our separate ways and never meet again.  Besides, such a forlorn woman is no threat to me.  I guess I can live with that.

He took a deep breath.  “I’m a con artist.”

(2)syl raised an eyebrow.  Maybe she won’t even believe me.  I didn’t even think of that angle.

“A con artist?”

“Thaaaaat’s right!  A holomask comes in quite handy for swindling someone, or making a quick get away.”

“Oh,” said syl, as she paused to think this new revelation over.

A strange but familiar feeling steadily grew within him.  It was as if this last bit of conversation had released something inside of him.  It was exciting—intoxicating, even.  Yet, it brought with it a sense of peace that was indescribable.  This feelingIt’s been so long.  I had forgotten.  I forced myself to forget.  I force myself to forget.  I will continue to force myself to forget.  But now, let me enjoy it for just a bit.

“Why?”

“What?” Phoenix asked confusedly.  I don’t understand what she means.  There is no “why.”

“Why…why are you a con artist?”

“I don’t understand.  What do you mean?  I just am.  There’s no reason for it, really.”

“So, you’ve always been a con artist?”

“Yeah, pretty much.  I mean, there are times when I need to lay low.  I’ll pick up an odd job here or there in the mean time.  For example, I was a fighter pilot for the Nation of Utopia for a year or two, as a matter of fact.”  Phoenix shuddered at the thought of Utopia.  “But other than that, I’m a full-time con artist.”

“Who taught you?”

He smiled warmly.  “Dear old dad.  He was a con artist too.” 

“So, you’ve always been a con artist?”

“Uh….yeah.  I mean, what else would I be?”

(2)syl looked away and shook her head.  “That’s…sad.”

He shrugged.  “Yeah, I guess in a way.  But, my dad was a great man.  He took care of me.  He wouldn’t have taught me to be a con artist, if it wasn’t the best thing for me. I sure do miss him.”

“Is he—”

“Dead?  Yup.  Murdered, in fact.  But, that’s another story for another time.”

Phoenix had now decided that it was high time to shift the conversation. 

“So, what about you, syl, or should I say ‘Thuf-oa’?” 

(2)syl looked puzzled

“Don’t think I forgot the name you used when we first met.  I never forget a name—well, heh, except for my own, on occasion.  So, which is your real name, and why did you try and trick me?  Wait, lemme guess…you’re a con artist too, right?” 

  Post: 01.19.2002
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning 

His Question (ii)

“I--of course not!” syl replied.

“Oh, come on, Thf-oua, you can be honest with me,” Phoenix countered.

“I’m not a con artist, and my name is (2)syl,” she said firmly.

“syl?”

“(2)syl.”

“(2)syl.  Well, excuuuuse me!  So, tell me, (2)syl, why did you lie about your name to me earlier?”

(2)syl paused and glanced away.  “I just—it’s too dangerous to just give out your name to someone on the street that you don’t know.”

“I guess I’ll buy that for now.”  (2)syl didn’t smile.  Oh well.  He paused to see if she would say anything.  She didn’t.  He briefly considered letting the conversation end right there, but his curiosity got the best of him.

“Okay, so you’re not a con-artist…what do you do, then?”

syl stared down at the neo-plastic deck which was starting to become dry in the sun.  “I don’t know.”

“Don’t know?  You mean, you don’t know what you’d like to do, or--”

“No, I mean I just don’t know.  Or I don’t remember, at least.”

“What?” he asked, puzzled.

syl paused to rub her forehead.  “I don’t have any memories of my life before a month ago.  I know it sounds strange.  It is strange.”

“And you don’t have any idea what caused your memory loss?”

“No.”

“Hmmm…,” he mused.  She might be telling the truth, but that’s a little tough to swallow.  I’m gonna have to keep an eye on this one.  She may be trickier than she looks.

“But you remember some things, though, like CPR, for instance.”

“I seem to be knowledgeable about things in general, just not myself.  I know we’re still quite a distance from the mainland.  I know that the ocean is dangerous.  I know it’s filled with all sorts of dangerous things like foamweed and Zannathans.”

Phoenix shuddered at the thought of encountering a Zannathan.

“And I know we’ve not got much hope of living to see land,” syl finished.  She turned her head away quickly.

Was that a tear in her eye?

The sun was completely up and in its full glory now.  Phoenix noticed a shiny something in syl’s hair.  Multiple shiny somethings, he now realized.  Hair clips.  The angle of the sun, and the gentle rocking of the boat created the illusion that the clips were moving of their own accord.  No, they actually are moving!  What the—?  They’re covered with something—something living!

He leaned forward for a closer look.  syl, startled, retreated from him slightly.

“Wait!  Don’t move!”

syl froze as he slowly reached for a hair clip.

“What’s going on?” she demanded.

“Looks like you’ve got a few stowaways,” he replied.

  Post: 01.19.2002
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning 

Stowaways

Phoenix gently removed the clip and brushed it off with his finger.  Two black semi-spherical shapes dropped to the deck of the boat.  They were about the size of the fingernail on his pinky.  They crawled around on the deck for a few moments before Phoenix smashed them with his hand. 

“What the glitch are those!?” exclaimed syl.

“Easy, they won’t hurt you,” he said as he reached toward syl for the second clip, “They’re only after your clips.”

Five of the little black creatures tumbled down, only to fall prey to Phoenix’s hand.  He went for the third clip.

“Look,” he said, and held out his hand to syl.  He held three of them carefully in the palm of his hand.  “Know what these are?” 

She shook her head. 

“They’re called gnaw.  They swim around the ocean in packs called ravenouses.  They’ll feed on just about any non-organic material, which is why they’re one of the Seven Dangers of the High Seas.  Check out your clips.”

He gestured toward the three clips that were lying on the deck.  She picked them up and examined them.  They were largely intact, however a few small chunks were missing, here and there.  They looked like silver leaves that had fallen prey to greedy insects.

“Metal is a little tougher for them,” he continued, “but in a matter of seconds, they’ll eat right through stuff like synthetic fiber cloth--”

He smirked. 

“syl, your skinsuit wasn’t made out of synthetic fiber material, was it?”

“I didn’t exactly check the label,” she scowled. 

“Good thing I’m wearing cotton underwear,” Phoenix joked.

No response.

  Post: 01.24.2002
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning 

Her Question (ii)

Phoenix tapped his large silver comb on the deck.  He promptly smashed the two gnaw that fell off of it.  By this time, his left hand was covered with gnaw remains.  He had had the foresight to be sure to keep his right hand clean.   It was this hand that wielded the comb.  Once again, he passed the shiny comb through syl’s iridescent blue hair.

I can’t believe she’s letting me do this.  I can’t believe I’m letting me do this.  This is not a good idea.  But I guess there’s no alternative, really.  She can’t see the back of her head, after all.

“Do you really have to kill them?” she asked.  “I mean, they didn’t really harm me.  Why not just put them back in the ocean.”

“Well, we don’t want them to eat away at what’s left of our poor little boat, do we?”

“I guess not,” syl said quietly.

Silence existed for a few minutes, broken only by the tapping of the comb, the violent deaths of gnaw, and the peaceful lapping of the waves against the side of the boat. 

The undulation had a calming effect that was somehow soothing to his aching body.  He thought his ankle had stopped bleeding now, but he hadn’t checked recently.

He passed the comb through syl’s hair yet again.  Her blue hair seemed to be purplish in spots, he noticed.  A closer inspection revealed that the shading was caused by what he guessed to be blood.

Earlier he had noticed dried bloodstains on the deck, the railing, and on syl, herself.  A sever-whip lay quietly in the corner.  What atrocity took place here before my arrival?  He was about to ask syl about it when…

“So, what’s ‘Plan C’?” she asked, out of nowhere.

He froze in mid-comb.  “I beg your pardon?” he asked incredulously.

“ ‘Plan C.'  I imagine all good con artists have multiple means of escape.  I assume ‘Plan A’ was your little airplane, or whatever.  ‘Plan B’ was the boat, right?”

Glitch, that’s uncanny!  How can she know so much about things, but nothing of herself?

“Yeah,” he replied, and resumed combing, “something like that.  ‘Plan A’ was quickly by air.  ‘Plan B’ was quietly by sea.  Oh, and you remember our fun little ride right before the island blew?  That was ‘Plan C.’ ”

“Oh.  Well, what about ‘Plan D.’ ”

He tapped the comb on the deck again. 

“I’m still working on it.”  Phoenix took a long pause.  “We need to check the condition of this pile of j’aa boat.  Who knows?  Maybe the thing still runs.”

He killed the two gnaw that lay on the deck before continuing.

“I think my internal mapping system is still functional.  We might be able to use that to navigate.  It sure would be nice to find a hypercurrent.  We’d make it to the mainland in a matter of hours instead of…days, weeks, possibly.  Tricky, though, and this thing may not even be equipped for hypercurrent travel.  If not…”

Phoenix’s thoughts trailed off.  The silver fingers of the comb had passed easily through the azure locks multiple times now without finding any more stowaway gnaw.  Phoenix even combed backwards once to be sure.  As a side effect, the back part of her hair was lifted up.  The back of her neck was now exposed to him, and he could see the very tip of her strange back tattoo peeping out from under his trench coat. 

The sudden unexpected bareness caused her skin to grow tiny bumps, and Phoenix thought he saw her shiver slightly.  For a brief second, he had an overwhelming urge to kiss the back of syl’s neck.

Where the glitch did that come from?

But he knew exactly where it came from, and immediately shoved it back into the deep dark recesses of his mind, from whence it came.

“I think we’re done,” he said finally.

“We’re glitched, you mean?”

He quickly recalled the last bit of conversation and realized the source of her confusion.  He smiled.

“No, just done with your hair.”

She turned to face him.

“Thank you,” she said with a hint of a smile.

Phoenix nodded.  “You look a little more respectable now, too,” he noted.

He cleaned off the gnaw corpses with some seawater, while she ran her fingers through her hair a few times.

“I hope your ‘Plan D’ works, whatever it is.”

“I hope so too, syl.  I really do.”

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