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This Woman's Work Part 5

 
Lance Striker's picture
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Ordinarily the long, ruined stretch of road between New Flagstaff and Hope Springs annoyed Shadow to

no end, but this time he welcomed it. He was so eager to get home he had to stop himself flooring the

pedal, ruining his suspension and having to wheel the poor thing into Jess' garage with his tail between

his legs. Paying her a visit either way wouldn't be a bad thing, with his bloody business fresh on his mind

he could get everything done and dusted before he went home, where Hyle would no doubt reprimand

him for even thinking of talking about anything other than their relationship. He loved that she kept

him steady like that.


He glanced at the stack of documents piled on the passenger seat, the results of his sweeping of The

Farm earlier that morning. Proud men always fancy themselves untouchable, and make little effort

to cover their tracks in their hubris. The Shepherd was no different in that regard, and Shadow had

been right in his prophetic threats to him; he'd kept detailed records of every transaction, lifting the

rug back on everyone involved and where to find them. Of all the information kept, Shadow was most

relieved that he'd even kept a record of where he'd acquired his girls from to begin with, and hopefully

some of them could be reunited with family.


It would be busy work, The Shepherd was clearly a very large cog in the machinations of The Traveller's

schemes, and Shadow wondered how many more like him were hidden from the eyes of the world, plotting

and planning. Problems for another time, he told himself, simply relieved that he'd brought down one of

them. Lucille seemed small-fry in comparison, though that, of course, was the point. Everything he'd

learned about her put her position into perspective – she was relentless in pursuit of her business, a

source of income and territory for her kin, and being a clone was always a plus. More than that, he

couldn't see her uses, just another Traveller who couldn't cover her tracks, her brazen advertising of her

new business baffled him. Cutting her strings was what Hyle had wanted, but the felling of The Shepherd

was a wind of fortune and though Shadow had taunted him about his legacy, in truth it was Lucille who

would bear the burden of what was coming.


He smiled as the distinct shapes of buildings came into view through the heat shimmer. Shadow planned

to give Hyle the documents, with the advice of presenting them to the Lightbearers, Vista and Enforcers

in a diplomatic gesture. Lucille would know, of course, that Hyle was behind the attacks, but by the time

the damage had been done, along with Reavy's simultaneous attacks, no-one would take her seriously

enough to think Hope had such a massive force. Shadow always covered his tracks.


He turned left into town, drove slowly towards the garage and parked up, noticing the front was open. Hoping

she was in a good mood, he steeled himself and prepared for the worst regardless, he knew he had a way

of rubbing people the wrong way with his blunt honesty.


Peering round the corner, he couldn't see Jess or Sam, and from the silence and scenery inside, assumed

she wasn't on the shop floor. His steps were careful and light, Jess had an omnipresence that clung to his

memories, it instilled him with the caution deserving of a predator. He made his way through a corridor

or two cars, her own on his left and another half hidden under a tarp to his right – her latest project, he

assumed. The dread in his heart melted away slowly as he eyed his surroundings, replaced by an eerie

and unwelcomely familiar sensation; the fabric-draped windows and tarps flapping almost ethereally

in the slight evening breeze was a haunting reminder of his old shack in Gaia.


His boot slipped slightly on the sand lining the floor, speckled with oil, though it was the footprints that

caught his eye, or at least the ones he presumed belonged to Jess – clear and defined, not the sign of

someone who drags their feet. He traced her steps in the grains, imagining her secluded workings throughout

the day and looked towards the side door and then up at the ceiling.


“Hello!? Helloooooooo!?” He cried, waiting a short moment for some response that didn't come.


He turned to the workbenches and tool cabinets beside him, eyeing the inanimate metallurgy that kept Jess

and Sam company. Most men would baulk at the idea of a woman with a toolbox, let alone their own

garage. Shadow was not one of these men, after all, he was in love with a woman whose Athenian beauty

belied her skills with a spanner. Even so, he'd concede that it wasn't the most feminine of professions. With

Hyle, he understood; her personality, the way she'd essentially been put together. Jess, however, was a

clone far older than Hyle, and what little he knew of her past, he wondered at her skills as a mechanic – was

it a metaphor for something? Was there some underlying purpose for the notion of taking something apart

and rebuilding it, stronger than it previously was? A million thoughts flooded his head as he gazed once

more at the windows and entertained the futility of decoding Jess.


He started at the sound of a boot scraping through sand behind him and turned sharply to see her standing

in the doorway, dressed in her usual fare, staring at him through the darkness of her shades. He felt as

though she'd caught him thinking about her, prying without her permission, and so just stood, awkwardly for a moment.


“Ser Shadow.” She said, in a soft, cool tone, breaking the silence.


“Jess.” He replied, with a simple nod.


“What can ah do fer yee?”


“Just got back into town, you get my note?”


Jess walked towards her project car, fully covering it with the tarp, hinting perhaps that she cared about first

impressions with her work.


“Didn' no look at yet,” she said, turning back towards him, “for why yee askin'?”


Bitch. Who doesn't read notes slipped under a door? It'd been days since he left, no one in their right mind

wouldn't cave to the curiosity. He decided to remain diplomatic, for his own safety at the very least. The

distance they kept from each other was indicative of the gulf their friendship had yet to fill.


“Had a proposal for you.” He said, folding his arms in masked annoyance.


“What, ye done bein' wit' Hyle already?” She replied, a brow creeping up over her shades.


“Not that kind of proposal...” Shadow smirked back.


Jess just held her expression, making him feel like a twat for attempting small talk while she waited for him

to get to the point.


“Hyle's got me and Reavy on an errand...to punish Aunt Lucy for what she did to those girls at the hostel.”


“Ah, so tis why Reavy still gone an' no here for me...for us, even...wonder-farking-ful.” She said in a self-indulgent

manner, giving Shadow his turn to wait for her to get back on track. “Aunt Lucy. Yee need explain. Name's no familiar

ta me...an what girls ye mean?”


Her frown and apparent confusion had Shadow feeling much the same way.


“The ones Hyle gave you a bollocking over. The ones she rescued from Aunt Lucy's brothel.”


“Explain.” She demanded, returning to her usual cooler self.


“ 'Aunt' Lucille Slater, a Traveller of some renown. She was operating a brothel in New Flagstaff and Hyle shut

her down, but she'll make more trouble if left to her own devices...”


Jess turned slightly partway through his sentence, and began fiddling with the tarp again. He watched her

carefully, noticing her twitch slightly as he finished.


“An' has what ta do wit' me, oth'r 'n cause me trouble here fer trying to 'elp?”


“Honestly? It has nothing to do with you, but...it could. If you were willing to help make sure no more women

suffer. She's already started up a new business,” He kept his searching gaze on her, judging her reaction, “a meat

raffle she calls it.”


Jess' head tipped down, he could see her eyes closed from this angle and her left hand balling into a fist.


“Always one ta suffer, wha' good can ah do 'gainst that, neh?” Her voice rough, perhaps scarred. “Farking Hyle

saw to me understan' that. Why? WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I CARE!?”


She'd whipped her shades off, staring at him with those pained grey eyes that matched his own. Shadow unfolded his

arms, letting them hang loosely by his side, opening himself up to her.


“Because I know you do. I know you care about those girls.” He said softly but with a firm glare.


“I tried to care. An' I was threat wit' stayin' here...do yee understan' that Ser Shadow? Yee who strut wit yer guns like

matter aught to yee... Yet I gave up mine to that Woman o' yers...”


“I don't disagree with Hyle, not in the slightest. You made a mistake, yes, but it was one you did because you were

doing what you thought was the right thing.”


“And what do yee want of me...what can ah do that yee no can ask Reavy or some other who likely can do better?”


Shadow tried hard not to laugh at the idea of Reavy counselling.


“It's not about convenience, it's about inclusion. I want your help, but I don't need it. So...ANFO. Simple to

make, yes? I'll need about 250lbs of it.”


Shadow wasn't really sure what to expect, but he knew it wouldn't be hard for someone of her expertise. Hell, he

could make it himself if he wanted to. Jess just stared at him, growing paler by the second and looking shaky on her legs.


“Jess?” Shadow asked with concern.


Her legs caved and she dropped onto the ground, looking increasingly distant. She stared off into nothing and began to

whisper to herself in a strange language.


“Den xéro an boró na to káno aftó, giatí oi theoí to zitás aftó...”


Shadow darted towards her, kneeling down and placing a hand on her shoulder as she started shivering and wrapped herself in her arms.


“Hey, what's wrong?”


She repeated the same phrase as before, not reacting in any sense to him. Shadow remained calm, opting to observe her for a while.


“JJ...need you to snap out of it, okay?” He said softly, warmly, “Hey. What's going on, Jess. Come on, snap out of it.”


He gave her a light shake, she moved effortlessly under his command – she was completely comatose as far as he could make

out. Shadow sighed, beaten, and just sat down next to her, watching her for a moment before she slumped against him.


“I'll just assume you can hear me, because I'm fresh out of ideas save for throwing a bucket of water over you and I really

don't wanna be around if that does the trick...”


“Dexiá, sou, den eísai.” She murmured, to a shrugging Shadow.


“Mhm... You know, Jess...I've been watching you lately. At first it was because I wasn't sure how you'd react to whatever Hyle said to you...”


Jess just mmm'd softly, seeming somewhat lucid. Shadow looked up again at the windows.


“But then I noticed something, subtle at first. Watching you was like...looking at myself all those years ago.”


“ 'Cept yee no were slave. Yee no understand...nein like tah ever understa' bein' one fer...along time.” She whispered back

in sort-of-English. Shadow smiled.


“No, I don't understand, but this world isn't mine either. The things I've endured take their toll...when I came to Hope all those

years ago, I was broken.”


“Yer mind twere no broken, yee are still yerself, ah?” She snorted.


“I'm not so sure... These collars don't give us much of a choice, but I've always tried to be my own person. I was vulnerable

when we first met, confused...empty.”


Jess closed her eyes and Shadow felt more of her weight against him.


“I fell in love with Bella, or at least... I thought so at the time. Yet she took everything away from me yet again, and left me with one thing...”


“Am tired...tomorrow...be ready...Medb wants words wit yee...and blood.” She whispered, lazily, and clearly not in the mood for his shit.


Shadow sighed, looking down at her and whispered back to her.


“Don't be a shadow, Jess...”


There was no reply. She simply rubbed up against him, trying to get comfortable. It was awkward for Shadow, but not

unwelcome – most of their conversations ended up with him nursing an injury or an insult. This was a side of Jess he hadn't

seen, and though it had come with some troubling behaviour he didn't understand, he decided to enjoy it. She was silent, the

garage was serene and Shadow let his mind empty, enjoying a rare moment of peace. In his meditation, he experienced a strange

sensation, a tingling rising through his spine that made his hairs stand up on the back of his neck, by the second it began to feel

more and more familiar, and a sense of existential dread washed over him as the serenity fled in terror. He could sense purpleness.


Veronica walked into the garage, looking down at the pair, and Shadow held a finger to his lip so she wouldn't disturb the volatile

woman using him as a napping station. She simply waved instead. Jess opened her eyes and looked up at VeeVee.


“Mahalo.”


“Oh you're awake...” Shadow said, having more questions about what just happened now than ever, then looked back

up at VeeVee. “Hey, kiddo.”


Jess mumbled something uncomplimentary about her 'pillow'.


“Hi. Are you resting? Or playing the bucket game?” VeeVee asked.


It was happening. VeeVee had clearly been drawn to the mindful peace, spreading her neurological chaos wherever she

goes. Shadow hadn't got a clue what she was going on about, as per usual. Jess looked up at the bearded confusion then

leaned away from him with a sigh.


“No really...” She said.


“I'm...not sure what's happening really, but definitely no buckets.” Shadow replied.


“ 'E's askin' fer some aught...no sure ah can do. Or want ta fer dat matter...not unless She says so.”


“Hyle?” Shadow asked.


“He always plays with buckets, last time I speak with him he said 'oh bucket'.” VeeVee interjected, still hell-bent on

giving Shadow an aneurysm.


Jess grabbed at the project car to pull herself to her feet.


“Sa. Her.” She said in reply to Shadow, then turned to VeeVee. “With or without a hole in the bottom o' bucket?”


“I believe her words were something to the effect of, 'fine, as long as it keeps her out of the way'” Shadow stated to

Jess, trying not to indulge the bucket talk, and clambered to his feet with a groan. “Getting old...again.”


“Nyet. She tells me direct, Ser Shadow.”


“Hmmm...I did not notice a hole, is it important?” VeeVee asked, after wracking her brain on the bucket scenario

Shadow couldn't remember.


“Course is, how else keep water level?” Jess replied.


“Hyle doesn't really want to be involved...but sure, if you wanna ask her...” Shadow said, increasingly feeling like

the bucket was more important than him.


“Ah'm not asking 'er, Ser Shadow.”


“You want me to get her to come here?” He asked, brow cocked.


“She tell me, or yee deal with Medb.”


“I must return to New Flagstaff, have fun with...well...what you are doing...” VeeVee proclaimed.


Buckets? Medb? Shadow was losing grip on reality faster than a lonely man with a pot of vaseline.


“Dunno who the fuck Medb is, but that's a great idea actually. I'll just be...very far away when it happens.”


“What in Flag fer thee, V?” Jess asked the purple chaos monster.


Shadow smirked, remembering the company he'd seen her keeping one night.


“A soda, a corner.” VeeVee replied.


“A bench by the pond...” Shadow added, teasingly.


“The pond bench is good.”


“Especially when you have company, I hear.”


“Wit' or wit'out de bomb in de pond dis time?” Jess asked.


“There was a bomb in the pond?” Shadow asked, surprised he hadn't heard.


“Mm, da. Last time ah was there, some aught threw on in. Had Union goon squad all mad like.”


“The amount of piss in that pond makes that all the worse to think about...”


“A pond is like a bucket...no hole...but like a bucket.” VeeVee said, just in case she'd missed any of Shadow's

neurons. “I must go, soda and sleep.”


“Bucket still gotta hole in it, how else you put anythin' in?” Jess asked, rhetorically.


“But you said...”


“Be careful of... lobsters, I guess.” Shadow said, trying his hand at psychological revenge.


“Hmmm...I will check Luka's bucket. Good night!” VeeVee said, walking off, her chaos sown.


“Laters, kiddo.”


“Fare thee well, V.”


“One day she'll either save the world or end it...” Shadow said after waiting for VeeVee to be gone.


“Or both.”


“How very cynical of you.”


Jess shivered for a moment, then put her shades back on to a pained face.


“Yee said it first.”


“Yeah, but where I come from, cynicism is the norm.”


“Ah've give yee yer answer. Yee want, must be on Hyle's word.” Jess shrugged.


“She actually didn't want anything to do with it, but I'll let her know...”


“Or. Yee Deal with the other one. Not going to give yee further warnin' about that endin' badly,” She sighed with

a regretful tone, “because it will end badly.”


“If you've a mind to kill me, fair enough, but I've never once threatened you, despite you giving me enough reason.”


Jess shook her head slowly.


“Yee fail understand. Let ask yee question, yee ever know anyone or thing to scare Reavy?”


“Emotional attachment? Dancing? Pacifism?” Shadow said, clearly having more on his long list of things.


“Neh? Jus' answer de question.”


“No, Jess, I have never seen anything scare Reavy.” He replied, rolling his eyes.


“She be afraid of Medb.”


“And who or what is Medb?”


“Best words ah've fer that one, trained killer...yee folk call assassin, only...worse.” She said, leaning against the project car.


Shadow could think of plenty of things worse than assassins. Putting the milk in first, man flu, having to find these

'socks' Hyle keeps moaning at him for leaving on the floor. Where else would socks be? He looked back at Jess, not

really threatened by assassins, considering his abilities.


“Well...I'm not terribly afraid, but I do like peace and quiet so if this Medb can bugger off that'd be great.”


“As if. Medb lives here too.”


“Not seen anyone else around here except you and Sam...” He said, folding his arms in thought.


“Yee've yer answer, Ser Shadow.”


“Might not be a bad thing in the long run.” He sighed.


“If'n yee say so.”


“I don't fully agree with her attitude towards you.”


Jess just walked over to her car, opened the door and rummaged around inside for something while waving her arse back

and forth at him. Shadow was looking, but trying not to at the same time. After a brief moment, Jess threw a strange looking

pistol at him which he barely caught.


“Ye get caught by Techs wit' that, it not come from me, we clear?”


“Like I'd give a Tech anything but a painful death...anyway, what is this thing?” He asked, inspecting it.


“Is tracer. Tag an' follow.”


“Okay...you have something in mind?”


“No, but ah think yee do.”


He checked if the safety was on, then tucked it in his belt.


“I'll use it on Allie, then I know if she's lying about eating all my cookies...”


“Don't yee dare! Ah know all de codes too on those.” She frowned at him.


“This is sounding pretty complicated to me.”


“No. Tis not. Yee tag who yee wantin', then collar find radio code...follow, make beep closer yee are.”


“Hmm...reminds me of work back when I was human.”


“An' yer not now? Is yee a bot then?”


“Back in my day, humans didn't come out of pods, and they sure as hell couldn't fling cars about just by thinking about it.”


“Ah... So ka, conceed point.”


“Worst mistake I ever made.” He said, rubbing his finger along his collar. “How does it work anyway? Subdermal?”


Jess dove back in her car, wiggling her arse at him again. Shadow was sorely tempted to find out...


“No sure, got off Tech fer job dat went south...they not ask fer it back...yet.”


Jess appeared to find what she was looking for and unhooked her belt, tossing it into the car.


“I just have a hard time believing you wouldn't notice something being shot into your flesh.”


“Well it works. Used it meself on some Human Leaguers fer them. Fairly close too, say, umm...twenty meters mayhaps.”


“Standard sidearm engagement range then...simple enough.”


Jess, meanwhile, was pulling down her jeans, her thin panties leaving almost nothing to the imagination. Shadow shook his

head. Next she removed her top, impressively not knocking the beret off her head in the process, Shadow noticed the scars

on her back and frowned a little. She was practically naked and Shadow expected Hyle to walk through the door at any

moment. Thankfully it wouldn't come to that as she eventually changed into a skirt, crop top, and exchanged her beret for a fedora.


“Hmm...never thought I'd see you in a skirt.”


“Then yee miss out, is no first time ah wear such.”


“Hm...figured you'd threaten to cut out my eyes for looking at your legs.”


“For why?” She scowled, looking down at her legs.


“Dunno...you've always just seemed like you want to hurt me in some way or another.”


“When be the last time ah tried, neh?”


Shadow thought for a moment.


“That time you punched me behind the bar was a bit mean...”


“Don't remember that.”


“Hard to forget,” he said, walking towards her, “ 'no sulking in my bar' I think was your reasoning.”


“And yee want what? Make up fer that?”


“Box of chocolates wouldn't go amiss...”


“As if ah'd part with some aught that rare.”


“Worth a try...”


“Uhuh...”


Jess smirked at him, bridging the gap between them with a suggestive swing of her hips, then grinned. Shadow tilted

his head up, defiant of her advances. She simply chuckled, reaching up to grab at his beard. Shadow instantly covered

his bollocks in instinct, to which Jess almost laughed at.


“Nyet...those safe. Yee need 'em fer her.”


“Aye...” He said, confirming his devotion to Hyle.


“However...” She said, tiptoeing up to his ear, and whispering. “If yee were no her lover, mighta asked yee to me room

ta make up fer it until yee be cross-eyed and no walkin' in de morning.”


Shadow just stood, looking at her and processing her admission for a while. He peered into her shades, trying to find the

eyes behind them and smirked.


“Should've asked a few months ago...”


Jess took a step back and flashed him a wink.


“I'll go back to bitchy self in de morning, mind you that. Takes two, boyo. Well, maybe three even.”


“I'm actually quite traditional...don't like sharing.” He claimed, proud of the fact he was the only person who seemed

to understand true fidelity in the apocalypse.


“Too bad...” She said, with a rueful smile as she slipped around him. “Ah'd share wit yee and Her. Then

again...mayhaps, tis me nature in such things...”


“You're a force of it, it's why I've always liked you.” Shadow smiled.


“Fare thee well, Ser Shadow. Am goin' up to rest fer a bit.” She said, patting him on the shoulder.


“Aye...” He replied, making his way out of the garage, trying not to look post-coital and sweaty.


Time to have a chat with Hyle.

Comments

Hyle Troy's picture

(( .....  which should be interesting... 

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Joe Spivey's picture

((*Books a place on the wall.*

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

JeassiahBlack's picture

((*passes Hyle the popcorn



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