The Huntress Chapter 4
Morning didn't come early.
To be exact, it didn't come until closer to noon.
On account of the inn's positioning, it wasn't until the sun had moved a considerable distance across the sky that it was finally in a position to shine directly on her face. Groaning, she turned her face away from the offending rays of light. Just a few more minutes...
"You are awake now, I see-mgph!!!" Ashton regained his balance and extracted the pillow from his face, courtesy of a hard throw from Opera.
"Yeah, I'm awake," she muttered, deciding that she didn't have much chance of getting any more sleep. Her Tetragene physiology was accustomed to going longer without sleep, but it also wanted longer periods of sleep in exchange. "Any more brilliant deductions?"
He seemed to have clued in that she was not a morning person. "I did not mean to wake you up. But I thought you might not want to sleep too long. We do not wish to miss the ferry in Herlie."
Yet another thing this planet didn't have. Alarm clocks. "Yeah, yeah, gotcha. I'm awake. Let's go."
Ashton handed a picture to her. "Your's, I believe."
Opera glanced at the picture. It was her photo of Ernest. She glanced back up at Ashton, a slightly dangerous look on her face. "Where'd you get this from?"
"My apologies," Ashton offered. "I woke up several hours ago, and took the liberty of borrowing the photo and asking around at a few other businesses in town. Unfortunately, it seems that your boyfriend has not passed through this village."
Opera sighed, before returning to the important issue. "You went through _my_ stuff, without _my_ permission?"
Ashton took a step back nervously. "I took utmost care not to lay a finger on... your little weapons, I assure you..."
She eyed him suspiciously. "Are you... absolutely _positive_?"
Opera quickly rummaged through her pack. Producing both the automatic pistol and the two remaining clips of ammunition, she gave them a cursory inspection. The gun's safety was on, and both clips were full. Realistically, Ashton probably wouldn't have had a clue how to work them, but firearms were notoriously easy to figure out for people. Satisfied, she re-packed them and stood up. "Okay... I guess we ought to get moving."
"I believe we have time to stop for breakfast first, if you wish."
"Okay. Let's eat. _Then_ we get moving."
Half an hour later, the two were looking at an assortment of empty plates, the sole remnants of their breakfasts.
"Well, I'd say that meal certainly boosted our luck for this part of the tirp."
"I most certainly think so-OUCH!!!"
Opera withdrew her fist from Ashton's shoulder. "No, idiot. The _correct_ answer is No, Opera. There's no such thing as luck. All that meal did was make sure we don't deal with this trip on an empty stomach'."
He rubbed his shoulder. "Of course. How careless of me to forget."
"I'm dead serious, buddy. You've got to get rid of that stupid belief in luck. Prove to me that you've got bad luck."
"Well... I was the thirteenth child in my family, I got food poisoning twice before I was five, a religious man said that I was cursed, all five of the pets I have owned have died within a year, I missed the cut for soldier training by one person-"
"Alright, alright, I get the idea," Opera agreed, cutting him off. "But that's not luck. That's just life giving you a bad hand. That's completely random. But that doesn't mean you have to take it. You can either sit on your ass and sulk... or you can flip fate your middle finger and tell it to go screw itself!"
Ashton blinked. "I beg your pardon? You were making sense until that last part."
"You can go on believing in bad luck for the rest of your life, or you can decide to face everything and try to make something better for yourself!"
"That makes more sense."
"Good. So what's it going to be?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Didn't you hear a word I said? Are you going to spend the rest of your life whining about your bad luck? Or are you going take charge of your life and _choose_ where you want it to go?"
Ashton shrugged. "I will have to think about that."
Opera sighed. "That was _supposed_ to be a rhetorical question."
"But you are suggesting to me that my entire life has been based on a lie."
"No, I'm suggesting to you that the rest of your life is going to be based on a lie. Unless you start changing things."
"In order for change to occur, opportunity must as well."
"Alright... let's take this from the beginning. You tell me the three things that you want most in life."
"Money, a girlfriend and good luck."
Opera scowled. "Well... ignoring the last one, let's look at the first two. Money and a girlfriend. You just got a 15000 gil reward. Do you still need more money?"
"No, I believe this will tide me over for quite some time."
"Great. That's half your problem. Now for the other half. You need a girlfriend. Why don't you have one?"
Ashton shrugged. "Because I am unluck-" Opera's glare made him stop. "I... do not know."
"It's because you don't take opportunities when you have them!"
"I beg your pardon? I do not believe I have had any opportunities as of late."
"You just blew three chances back in that village, you idiot!"
Ashton halted. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me! I distinctly saw three different girls flirting with you! And those were just the ones I saw!"
"Impossible. Which ones?"
"The one at the entrance, the waitress at the restaurant yesterday, and the clerk at the jewelry store. And I'd swear that one at the jewelry store looked like she wanted to wrap her legs around you too. Good thing the counter was in the way."
"They were acting quite normal, I assure you."
Opera sighed. "You mean, they acted just like all the other girls you've met?"
"Exactly. Except for you."
"Is something wrong?"
"Ashton. Those girls were batting their eyelashes, giggling, showing cleavage, and giving come-ons in general. That jewelry store girl was practically yelling I want to have sex with you right NOW!'."
"She was? I must not have heard that."
"For crying out loud... I give up. Check please."
"Well, that makes _four_ girls flirting with you from Mars."
Ashton shook his head. "But I have only talked with one other girl since... the girl at the exit?"
"Uh huh. I don't think they normally lick their lips like that for people passing through."
"But I was merely talking to pass time while you made inquiries at several places."
"Maybe _you_ were talking. _She_ was flirting. Do you talk with your eyes shut or something?"
"I do not know. Perhaps you are merely more observant than I am."
"I'm pretty sure of it," Opera agreed, rolling her eyes. "So what's with those swords? They look different than the ones you had before."
Ashton nodded. "I purchased them in Mars while you were asking around. They are magically enchanted to be more effective against demons, as well as lighter and sharper. Since demons are more common these days..."
"And you've got some money to buy them with..."
"Correct. Enchantments aside, they are quite well-made. One must carry adequate equipment if one is to survive in the business of being a hired sword. Especially with luck like mine."
"Nothing doing, buddy. Shit happens. To everybody. You just let it get to you too much. You have to plan ahead, and then adapt before the problem happens. What's the next bad thing that could happen to you?"
Ashton looked thoughtful. "I may not arrive in Lacour in time for the tournament."
"So you adapt. Walk faster."
He increased his pace to match Opera's. "Perhaps these swords will prove defective."
"Did you inspect them before you bought them?"
"You should think about that before you buy things. You're a good swordfighter aren't you?"
"To hear those who would hire me, I am considered quite good."
"So there you go. Tell the person that you'll use his swords if he gives you a guarantee."
"Why would he agree to that?"
Opera displayed the metallic badge on the arm of her jacket. "See this? Platinum membership in the IRWO."
"Intergalactic Ranged Weaponry Organization. Biggest weapons club in existence. Over 5.4 trillion members. And I've got a platinum membership in it. There's only 593 people with that."
"Damn straight, it's exclusive. You know why I have this? Because I use _a lot_ of different weapons. What's more, I use them in some real-life, dangerous-as-hell situations. Which means that I'm probably as good as dead if my equipment sucks. So I know how to tell a good weapon from a bad one."
"I fail to see how all this would relate to me buying a sword."
"It has everything to do with it. When I get home in one piece, because a certain weapon didn't let me down, people hear about it. A lot of people hear about it. They figure that any weapon good enough to keep Opera Vectra alive must be pretty damn good. And whoever produces that good weapon sees their sales go through the roof. I've had manufacturers _pay_ me to accept their latest weapons, hoping that I'll use them and give a good report on them.
"Same thing for you. You're a swordsman, and supposedly, a pretty good one. So if you use somebody's swords, get into a whole lot of fights, and live, that looks good for your weapons. So people want to buy those weapons. So the guy's sales go up, and he makes money."
Ashton appeared to consider the ramifications of this. "I could have... requested a discount, in exchange for using his swords?"
"Right. After you kill a few demons with them, people are going to want to know what kind of weapons are helping you do that. And you'll tell them. And then they'll go buy some weapons. Good for you, and good for the guy who makes the swords."
"I had never thought of it that way. It is similar to the system used in the Lacour Tournament of Arms. You use weapons from various weapon shops, each shop hoping that you will win with their weapons and gain them a contract with the military..."
"You got the idea. A reputation's no good if you don't make it work for you, right?"
"So what's the low-down on Herle?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Tell me about it. It's got some kind of ferry service, right? What else does it have?"
"It is the chief connecting port to the continent of Lacour. Virtually anyone wishing to travel between Cross and Lacour must go through it."
"So..." Opera reviewed the various tidbits of information she'd learned over her association with Ernest. "So there'd be a lot of commerce going through it. So there'd be a few wealthy people there. Probably a decent amount of tourism happening. Which means things are more expensive than normal. Probably some organized crime. Stop me when I'm wrong."
"Not yet," Ashton admitted. "But the organized crime is only minor if you do not pick fights. But the city as a whole is abnormally wealthy, I am led to believe. I have taken up many well-paying jobs from people there. But prices are regulated to keep tourists coming."
"Sounds like a nice place. Too bad we're only passing through."
"I would not count on that. With my luck, we may yet miss the ferry."
"Then adapt. Walk faster."
"But what if we are too fast, and end up having to wait?"
"Too early or too late. Take your pick."
Ashton sped up slightly. "As you say. If I was so unlucky as to arrive early... it would still provide a chance to eat before the ferry departs."
Opera slowly nodded in approval. "That's the spirit. And I'll have a chance to ask around to see if anyone's seen Ernest. A port town would get a lot of information. _Somebody_ has to have seen a man with three eyes."
"Unless my bad luck was to extend to you-UGH!!!"
Opera withdrew her elbow from his stomach. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Unless you feel like explaining to me how _you_ could possibly have any bearing on _Ernest_."
Ashton looked thoughtful. "Perhaps, but one must never underestimate the reaching influence of bad luck."
She rolled her eyes. "Alright. Let's assume for a moment that there _is_ such thing as bad luck. That means that there's also such thing as good luck, right?"
He nodded. "Not that I would know from experience, but that does make sense for other people."
"So what happens if you run into someone with good luck? What if you both want something to happen. Your bad luck tries to keep it from happening. Their good luck tries to make it happen. Who wins?"
"Whoever's luck is stronger, of course."
"Now let's take that a step further. What if you both _want_ something to happen that is going to get you both killed. Does your bad luck _still_ keep it from happening?"
Ashton looked confused. "I would want to do it. Yet, allowing me to do it would result in my downfall, so my luck would not prevent it from happening. So, in the end, my luck would permit it to happen."
"Okay. So you're saying that it's possible for you to _seem_ to have good luck. When really, it's just your bad luck setting you up for a bigger fall."
"That is correct."
"So what about the other guy with good luck? Does his luck let the event happen? Even though he'd get killed?"
"Of course not. His good luck protects him, preventing the event from happening. Assuming his good luck is stronger than my bad luck, of course."
"Of course. So you're saying that it's possible for someone to _seem_ to have bad luck. When really, it's just his good luck arranging for good things down the road?"
"That is correct."
"So how do you know you've really got bad luck?"
"Quite simple. Because..." Ashton trailed off, a slightly bewildered look appearing on his face. "But... there is no justification for believing that I am actually a lucky individual. The idea that my entire life of bad luck has all been towards a lucky purpose..."
"...is as crazy as thinking it's possible for a hired-sword to be unlucky as you for so long without actually getting himself killed?"
"Yes. No. I mean... I don't know."
"I'm serious. You told me before that you didn't make the cut for being soldier. Why not?"
"My swordsmanship was inadequate."
"You told me before that you were considered good for a hired-sword."
"I devoted myself to training afterwards. Quite extensively."
"See? Because of that little incident, you became a good fighter. Instead of some stupid military flunky, you're an independent business man. You should be _glad_ you never made the cut back then. What about that religious guy who said you were cursed?"
"Well, he _did_."
"And what happened next?"
Ashton shrugged. "He told me I was cursed, then recommended a charm to ward off the bad luck-"
Opera opened her mouth to reply, but thought better of it. A look of comprehension was slowly dawning on Ashton's face. Finally, she settled for a "...how much did it cost?"
"I will _KILL_ the man!!!"
"Uh... well, no need for extreme measures like _that_..." Although she might have done the same thing herself, after offering the man a chance to hand over his life savings in exchange for saving his life.
Ashton abruptly calmed down. "No... I still do not know for certain. Perhaps my bad luck merely overpowered the charm..."
"Hey, are you _trying_ to be stupid? You just figured out that you got swindled out of some money because of this stupid bad luck fetish of yours! You're going to be poor lunatic if you keep this up. As near as I can see, you're too much of a coward to even _want_ to believe anything else!
Ashton was unmoved. "You have your own beliefs, and I have mine. You choose to deny the existence of luck, while I choose to acknowledge it."
"I believe that shit happens, and that most of it can be dealt with, overcome, and occasionally nuked, if you've got the guts to face it. _You_ just blame it on everything else!"
"You would think differently if our positions were reversed, I believe."
"Are you trying to say that I'm lucky?!? I'm in deeper than you'd ever believe! You have no damn clue what kind of a fix I'm in right now!"
"Please, enlighten me."
"Do you know how fast light travels?"
"I do not. If light did indeed travel', I imagine that it would travel quite fast."
"So how far do you think it travels in a year?"
"You'd better believe it. How far do you think it travels in 143.8 years?"
"Well, that's how far away my FUCKING HOME is right now!!!"
Ashton stared at her incredulously. "Inconceivable. You are only twenty-three, you said. And you most certainly cannot travel' faster than light."
"I've got a ship that was fast enough to get me here in two weeks. And it's FUCKING DESTROYED now!!!"
He assimilated the information for a moment before making a judgement. "That is bad."
"No _SHIT_!!! You know _why_ I'm in the fix right now? Not bad luck. Not misaligned stars. Not bad karma. It's because I was in such a hurry that I forgot to fill up at the last energy station, and I ran out of power! My ship stopped working and crashed here. I barely survived, and my ship so trashed that it's barely worth selling as scrap metal. So I'm stranded here. 143.8 god-forsaken light-years away from home!"
"That is very bad."
"DAMN RIGHT IT IS!!! But you don't see me whining about bad luck, do you? I'm working to deal with this problem. I know that there's an idiot named Ernest somewhere around here. He's the reason I came out here in such hurry in the first place, but he came in his own ship. I find him, I can get back home with him. I have no clue where the heck he is, but do you see me getting discouraged?"
Ashton acknowledged the point. "No. Extremely irritable and profane, but not discouraged."
With some effort, Opera forced herself to calm down. "Right, right. Nothing personal. But the fact is, I'm _facing_ my problem. If I'm stuck here for the rest of my life, than fine. I'll figure out a way to _build_ a ship or something. But for now, there's a chance at finding Ernest. And I'm going to keep going, no matter what happens. The day I give up and just attribute it all to bad luck is the same day I roll over and die!"
Ashton nodded slowly. "I see. If nothing else, you are certainly adamant in your beliefs. Perhaps I will meditate on them at another time. In the meantime, we are wasting time like this."
Opera sighed, reluctantly nodding and letting the issue drop. She'd made her case, and gotten a small load off her mind. And it would be a good warm-up for the lecture she'd be giving Ernest when she finally found him.
One of the most annoying things I found about SO2 was a combination of the variety of backgrounds that the characters came from, coupled with the story-writers doing pretty much squat to take advantage of it. I mean, you've got five different races, only half who have any inkling of what outer space really is, and the issue is settled in a few lines of dialogue. I plan on trying to play the fact a little more realistically throughout this story. Later.
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