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R. Bluefish

Dark Dealings (IC)

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Wednesday

August 24, 2016

The Waterfront, Freedom City

 

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Tourism had always been a valuable source of income for the city of Freedom. The main draw was obvious - FC had seemingly more superheroes per capita than any other city in the nation. And once you got here, the residents had devised many other ways of extracting your money from your wallet. The casinos were always popular, as were the restaurants. But one of the most consistently popular tourist activities was the citywide tours offered by a number of organizations. When the city was full of superheroes - and consequently, a history of superbattles - it made for an town rife with landmarks.

 

The waterfront had proved to be a surprisingly popular location for many tourists. The many docks and cargo ships that were constantly coming and going, loading and unloading, was already an impressive enough sight. Add in the ability to recant the history of the various superbattles that had taken place there, and you had a major inconvenience for the workers who had to be constantly shooing clueless tourists away from loading zones.

 

It was a hot day, with the sun beating down fiercely on the city from the sky. Cargo ships blared their deafening horns as they methodically rumbled through the water - which did nothing to deter the busload of overexcited tourists from taking pictures of everything that moved while chattering to each other excitedly. The guide seemed to be weakly attempting to get them back to the subject of whatever landmark they were supposed to be admiring - but the crowd was cheerfully ignoring her, their attention having instead been captured by the spectacle of a forty-foot shipping container with a "Mercury Shipping" logo in the side being hoisted into the air by a towering crane. For residents or citydwellers, it was a none-too-impressive sight, but for those new to both Freedom and cities in general, it was apparently miraculous.

 

Sharp-eyed observers might have noticed dockworkers expressing some consternation at the situation. The unruly tourists were crowding entirely too close to the work zone for comfort, disregarding the yellow warning signs. If there was an accident or malfunction of some sort, bad things could happen - but what were the chances of that happening?

Edited by R. Bluefish

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This Wednesday was only a half day at Claremont, due to the weird logic that the beginning of every fall term followed. So Casey found herself with a free afternoon, and opted to go on a bus tour, because you miss a lot of things if you mostly fly over the city. She hoped it would offer her a new perspective, and a chance to see her adopted city the way outsiders saw it.

 

...which appeared to be with no caution whatsoever. Feeling bad for the overworked tour guide, the blonde teen did her best to corral her fellow tourists back on the bus, because she of all people could see how much the dock workers were stressing. "C'mon, let's, let's...get back on the bus. Single file, one a time. Yes, ma'am, the docks are exciting, I agree." As usual, she had her oversize hemp bag over her shoulder, which held her full costume in case of emergencies; otherwise, she wore a Colorado Rockies jersey, khaki shorts and a pair of flip-flops

Edited by Heritage

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The crowd of tourists, already overstimulated by the city, proved difficult to control. "Yeah, yeah, in a minute," snapped an grey-haired, paunchy man in sunglasses. "Come on, what's the hurry? City ain't going anywhere." No matter where you were, it seemed that tourists were always both very rude and very easily impressed.

 

The frazzled tour guide shot Casey a grateful look before resuming her attempts to get things back on track. "Now, folks, if you'll look to your right you'll see where...where...folks, if you'll all just please look to your right..."

 

Continuing to ignore her, the crowd now seemed to be busying itself with comparing pictures and adjusting filters. The tour guide trailed off wearily, and looked at Casey again. "It's like herding cats sometimes, I swear," she said, just low enough for Casey to hear her. "Or magpies. They just get distracted by anything-"

 

A sound, deafening, halfway between an explosion and an electronic screech. People screamed - some ducked. The crowd pulsed, in the way that crowds did when everyone knew they needed to move but no one knew which way to go. The sound had come from above. Looking up, Casey saw the cargo container rocking wildly -  a gaping hole rent in its side, strange blueish energy still crackling over the metal surface. As though there had been an explosion from within the container.

 

Cables snapped, the sound sharp enough to make people clap their hands over their ears. The container suddenly sagged dangerously. The entire crane was listing to the side, damaged by the mysterious blast. Men in orange hard hats were shouting. Another cable snapped, and now the entire container seemed on the verge of falling - and if it did, Casey saw, the remaining cables would make it swing straight towards the panicking crowd.

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This can't be good.

 

Noting the perilous state of the container, Casey quickly went into action; she put a hand on the guide's arm. "Get everyone clear if you can; I'm going to get help!" Shouldering up her bag, she ran into the maze of cargo containers to change into her costume in a quick rush of air. Hiding her bag full of civilian clothes under a stack of pallets, she then took to the air to investigate the cargo container dangling perilously over the crowd of tourists far below, ready in an instant to catch it if the last remaining cables broke.

 

What the heck was in this thing?

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Within the space of an instant, the crowd's screams of fright turned into shouts of excitement when the costumed Casey appeared in the air. All Freedom tourists came here with the hopes of seeing a superhero up-close. Having that dream fulfilled seemed to instantly erase the presence of imminent danger from their minds - the sound of eagerly clicking camera shutters almost drowned out the cried warnings of the dockworkers. A few of them displayed better judgement, seizing their fellows and attempting to drag them back out of the field of danger. "Move!" shouted the tour guide, tugging at the arm of the stubborn grey-haired man. "It's coming down!"

 

"Don't be stupid," he said irritably, holding up his smartphone to record the scene. "Can't you see the hero there? She's got it under control. You oughta put this on the tour, it would-"

 

With a metallic twang, another cable broke, and with that the container came loose. Cables slithered free like snakes as the container lurched, then plummeted, swinging towards the crowd below!

Edited by R. Bluefish

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"Oh, crap!" 

 

In an instant, Casey dropped down and swooped back up under the huge container, bracing its full weight with her hands and shoulders as it began to plummet towards the crowd below. It was much heavier than she thought it would be, and it felt like a giant's hand trying to smash her through the docks into a pulp.

 

Her golden aura flared as she pushed up with all her might, her stomach registering her rapid descent as her long blonde hair whipped around her head, and a quick flash of panic ran through her head.

 

Oh God...I'm not strong enough! I need to get clear of the tourists! Why the heck are you all just standing there?!

 

Casey pushed and pushed and pushed with every ounce of her strength as a hot dagger of pain flared up in her right shoulder.

 

No, not like this! Noooooooo!

 

She didn't even realize she was screaming until the container finally came to an abrupt stop, a scant five feet above the heads of the crowd; she then slowly floated to one side, and finally dropped it to the dock with a deafening clang. For several seconds she just floated in the air, arms limp by her sides and drenched in sweat as she tried to bring her breathing back to normal, her damp face caught in the flickering light of digital flashes as the tourists cheered and applauded, somehow still unclear on just how close they all came to dying.

 

Finally she caught her breath enough to gasp out a few words. "Next time...next time, move!"

Edited by Heritage

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Only a scant few of the gormless tourists seemed to realize how close they had just come to death - they were the ones with pale faces and shaking hands, staring at the container in mute disbelief. The rest were cheering unabashedly. Seeing a superhero do her thing was a much better show than most visitors to the city were likely to get a front seat to, and if all the phones were anything to go by, Casey had a feeling clips of this were going to be showing up on the Internet within minutes.

 

The tour guide rushed over frantically to below where Casey was hovering. "Oh my God! You saved our lives! Are you okay? How heavy was that? It looks..." her gaze shifted to the massive, forty-foot steel container with the gaping hole rent in the side. "What happened? What was that?"

 

Dockworkers in hard hats were appearing from all directions, crowding around below Casey to congratulate her on her heroism. They, at least, understood the peril that had been present. "Was that a bomb?" asked one worriedly. "Are we still in danger?"

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"You might be," she warned as she floated closer towards the container. "Everyone should probably step back, just in case." She began to scan the container for heat with her IR, looking for any kind of movement or increasing temperatures inside it. Then she had a thought, and looked back to the dockworker who'd spoken earlier. "Where did this container come from? They all have labels and seals on them, right, for tracking purposes? I saw that movie Contraband, and they talked about it a lot."

 

Should she be embarrassed to admit she got a lot of her knowledge from movies? Maybe, but she was still a kid, and let's be fair, most people probably learned stuff from TV and movies, so it's not like she was alone in this.

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There was no sign of movement from within the container, but the metal surface around the hole was red-hot. Inside, she could faintly see what looked like thousands of grapefruit-sized heat signatures stacked in neat, orderly rows - except the area on the container where the explosion had happened; there it looked as though the blast had destroyed most of whatever the small objects were. Thankfully, none of the objects seemed to be growing any hotter. Yet, at least.

 

The dockworkers looked at each other at Casey's question, and one produced a shipping manifest that he had impressively managed to hold on to despite the chaos that had been happening just moments ago. "Uh..." he said, consulting the clipboard. "Yeah, looks like it came here from..."

 

He frowned. "That's weird." Looking up at the container's ID tag again, then back down at the manifest, he shook his head. "It's not listed here." He edged closer, squinting at the tag. "And there's nothing on here about where it came from. According to the records, it shouldn't be here at all." He stared around at the gathered workers accusingly, as though expecting one of them to fess up. "Is there smuggling going on on my dock?"

Edited by R. Bluefish

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Casey's face went a little pale once she saw the thousands of points of light inside the container. She'd just dropped it right on the freakin' dock; what if they'd all detonated? Still reeling from this terrifying near-miss, she turned back to the man with the clipboard, presumably a supervisor of some sort, and when she spoke, her tone was grave.

 

"Sir, we need to get all nonessential personnel off this dock immediately; whatever it was that blew out the side of that container, there are a lot more where they came from in there, and we have no idea how stable they are, or even if there's more than one container. We need police, fire, maybe even hazmat or the bomb squad on-site now; can you make that happen?"

 

That still left the tour group to evacuate; not want to cause a panic, Miracle Girl tried a new trick she and her friend Sakurako had been experimenting with at school. Pitching her voice at the same frequency as the bus PA system, she was able to broadcast her voice right through its speakers!

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, we now ask that you please return to the bus in an orderly fashion so we can resume our regularly scheduled tour. Once again, we thank you for using Freedom Tours."

Edited by Heritage

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Now that the show seemed to be over, the mass of gormless tourists seemed content to comply with Casey's command. They began filing back towards the bus in a comparatively obedient manner, chattering to each other about the unexpected display of heroics. Meanwhile, the dock supervisor had turned pale. "You heard the lady!" he shouted, rounding on the gathered workers. "Let's move it, people! We're getting off this dock!" Even as they started to move, he grabbed his radio from his belt and spoke into it urgently. "We're going to need some emergency services down here right now. I think...I think we've got a bomb."

 

Already, sirens could be heard wailing in the distance. "Look," he said, turning back to Casey, a faintly pleading look in his eyes. "If the rest of...whatever those things are...go off...can you do anything about it? Can you throw it into space or something?"

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Miracle Girl laughed ruefully. "Yeah, that always works in the movies, doesn't it?" Then she sighed and gestured at the container. "I don't know if you could tell, but I was barely able to stop that thing; if need be, I could probably fly it out into the middle of the bay, maybe even out to the ocean, but that's it. I mean, I am really strong, but even I have my limits." Then she took a step forward and placed a hand on the supervisor's shoulder. "But you have my word, sir, I will not leave this dock until I've done everything I can to keep all of you safe."

 

With that, she rose up into the air majestically, her hair billowing in the wind. "Right now, I need to do a quick scan to see if any of these other containers are packed with those things." Once she was at a good height, she swept the docks with her IR vision, praying there were no more deadly little globes out there.

Edited by Heritage

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Luck was apparently with her - if indeed it was possible to be lucky in this situation - because Casey's scan revealed no other containers that were loaded with the same deadly cargo. Only row after row of cold, uniform steel boxes. Whatever the objects were, apparently one shipment was enough for whoever was behind this.

 

Tires screeched, drawing her attention back down to the scene bellow. Emergency services were quick to respond in Freedom - by necessity, given the number of...unusual occurrences that were all-too-common in the city. Already, police cruisers were arriving from all directions, and a large white an with "BOMB SQUAD" spraypainted on the side was unloading personnel. Personnel so heavily armored and protected, they looked more like deep-sea divers than anything else.

 

Slowly and cautiously, they advanced on the ominous-looking container. As they did so, the unprotected personnel - including the dockworkers - all quickly retreated back to a safe distance, behind swifly-erected barriers.

 

With visible apprehension, one of the men moved ahead of the group to approach the container. Gingerly, he pulled himself up to look inside. He paused for a moment, then lowered himself back down. "I don't think it's a bomb!" he called out, loud enough for Casey to hear him from where she was. "They look more like..." he glanced back. "Grenades?"

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Aaaaaaand now I feel super-stupid.

 

It hadn't occured to the teen heroine that there technically wasn't a bomb here for them to defuse. Landing nearby with her hand held up and a sheepish expression on her face, Casey was ready to take full responsibility for her mistake. "I'm the one who told them to call the bomb squad." She gestured towards the huge hole in the side of the container. "Yes, they are more like grenades, but they seem like they might be unstable; some of them just exploded and blew out the side of this thing, and there's a ton more of them in there. It seemed like a good idea to have some explosive experts on site." 

 

She sighed and shook her head, then held up a hand in half-hearted greeting. "I'm Miracle Girl, by the way; I caught it when it fell."

Edited by Heritage

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"No, no, you did the right thing," the man assured her. "Bomb or not, they're still explosives, and that's our specialty. Would've been pretty ridiculous to have an exploding cargo container and not call the bomb squad, right? It's just," he frowned. "We're good at defusing individual devices. Preferably ones with a big ticking timer and a convenient red wire we can snip. But these..." he stared into the hole in the container.

 

Now that she was closer, Casey could see the container was loaded, floor to ceiling, with rack upon rack of fist-sized metallic black globes. Smoke still rose from the edges of the blasted metal, and quite a few of the globe-like grenades - if indeed that was what they were - seemed to have been vaporized in the explosion. But the rest were still there, ominous and gleaming.

 

"We can't defuse these," said the man, worry audible in his voice. "Way too many, and I wouldn't even know where to start with one. All we can do is try to move them someplace safe. We..." he swallowed. "We just better hope they don't go off again."

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Casey was very relieved that she'd made the right call, but that didn't get them any closer to taking care of the explosives.

 

"Okay, so we need to find a way to move them safely off this dock." She scanned the area, looking to see what materials were on hand that might be repurposed to handle the situation, when her eyes fell on a stack of wooden pallets some distance away. "What if we had a container big enough to hold the container that was filled with some sort energy-absorbing material, like I don't know, sand or clay or dirt? Then we place that on a barge and tow it out to sea?"

 

The blonde teen pointed at the stack of pallets. "I'm very strong and very fast, plus I'm good with tools; I could maybe hammer something together, unless you can think of something else that's already around that we can use."

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The man looked at the stack of pallets, then at the deadly container, then at Casey. "That...could actually work. We get it into something that maybe dampens the blast if it goes off, and we send it off into the middle of the water. Then once it's safely away from everybody, we can deal with it in our own time without having to worry about it going off and taking out half the dock."

 

He frowned. "I don't know if I'd be able to help you very much with that, though. This getup," he gestured helplessly to his protective gear, "isn't really designed for heavy manual labor. But then again, if you were able to life that thing," he eyed the container, "maybe you won't actually need my help at all."

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Miracle Girl did a few quick stretches as the bomb disposal officer clarified her simple plan, occasionally nodding as he spoke; this was going to be a lot harder than building bridges like she did in Girl Scouts, though the basic carpentry would in many ways be similar. Once the basics of the plan were laid out, she turned to the dock supervisor.

 

"Sir, I'm going to need tools, specifically carpentry tools; hammers, drills, saws, nail guns, whatever you have. I can work with power tools, but old-fashioned muscle-powered ones might even be better, due to my super-speed. And I'm aftaid I'll probably have to use a lot of pallets to build this thing." 

 

She began to pace out an area on the dock a bit larger than the hazardous container; she already had a pretty good idea what the finished crate would look like. 

 

"I can build it here, but we'll need a barge to tow it away from land; I'll fly the empty box over to the barge, we add some dirt, I fly the container full of explosives over, we add some more dirt, then we're ready to roll. Can you help make that happen?"

Edited by Heritage

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Almost immediately, the man rounded on the small crowd of gathered spectators and workers. "You head the lady!" he shouted, waving his arms. "Bring tools! And materials! Hammers and nails! And dirt! Who has dirt?"

 

One of the assembled dockworkers raised her hand. "I think we brought in a whole container of garden soil today-"

 

The man clapped his hands approvingly - or did a motion that was as close to that as his bulky protective suit would allow. "Good! Get it! Get it all over here! Move it, people, these things might go off again at any second!" That last part in particular seemed to provide all the motivation the onlookers needed - they immediately broke apart, rushing to gather the materials Casey had listed.

 

Within minutes, they had reassembled in front of a steadily-growing pile of materials. Hammers, drills, nails, screws, spare boards, and any other odd bits and ends the workers had thought might prove useful were all heaped high in a ramshackle pile. The barge was already being moved into position, and the worker from before used a forklift to dump a dozen industrial-sized bags of gardening soil onto the ground beside the pile. Anxiously, the man in the armored suit looked at Casey. "Is this all you need?"

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"That should do it," said Casey with an enthusiastic nod as she looked over all materials collected before her. Then she paused to take in the faces of all the concerned, hard-working people who had already done so much to help her. "Thank you all so much! Seriously, you're all amazing! Now if you could please step back and give me some room, I'll get to work."

 

Once everyone was clear, Miracle Girl rolled up the sleeves of her costume, twisted her hair up into a braid, put on a blue bandana and slipped on a pair of safety goggles. She gave the bomb squad a thumbs up and a nervous smile, pulled out a stopwatch and clicked it...and then began to live up to her name.

 

In a flash, Casey was gone; there was only a blur of red, blue and gold, and the rushing wind of her passing. And like a time-lapse film in real life, the great wooden container began to materialize: first the bottom appeared like a long, thin checkerboard, each pallet appearing, twitching from side to side and then being fixed in place by several crosspieces. Then the walls appeared, one section at a time as they methodically snaked their way around the structure. Nails were driven as fast as machine gun bullets, their staccato rat-a-tat-tat punctuating Casey's progress as clouds of sawdust drifted over and covered the onlookers.

 

And then, it was done. Casey reappeared and clicked her stopwatch again, then pulled off her goggles and wiped her face with the back of a gloved hand. "One minute, twenty-three seconds; not bad." Her uniform was damp with sweat, and she was covered from head to toe with grime and sawdust. She paused to look over at her handiwork, then nodded. "Okay, looks good." Then she turned to the workers and sighed. "Does anyone have any Gatorade?"

Edited by Heritage

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The onlookers were watching the display of impossible speed, openmouthed. Freedom City was Freedom City, but it still wasn't every day you saw a skinny girl do what would take a half-dozen grown men several days to complete, in under two minutes. They blinked as they registered their words, then the lead worker glanced at the man to his right and waved his hands furiously in a get-to-it motion. The man scampered off, returning a minute later with an unopened bottle of cold blue Gatorade, which he handed to her, pale-faced.

 

As he did so, the woman who had mentioned the garden soil whispered something in the head dockworker's ear, which sounded to Casey a lot like "Hey, ask her if she wants a job."

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Casey looked positively delighted at the sight of Gatorade, giving the man a gleeful smile. "Yes! Thank you so much!" She popped the top off (she was too thirsty to bother with twisting), and then proceeded to guzzle the blue liquid in one long go, followed by a rather unladylike burp. "Oh, excuse me! I really needed that." She then crumpled the bottle into a tiny ball and stuck it into a belt pouch for later disposal. "All right, back to work."

 

The teenage powerhouse floated over to the containment crate and grabbed a pair of chains she'd crisscrossed over it, lifting the whole thing up into the air. With the barge finally in place, it was just a matter of flying it over, transfering the chains to the explosives-filled container, and then ever so carefully floating it over and into the crate, and finally covering it all with more dirt.

 

When it was finally time to pick up the container, Miracle Girl addressed everyone present as she adjusted the straps on her gloves. "Okay, unless you're with the bomb squad, I need everyone to get off the dock...and if the squad wants to take a few steps back, well, I honestly don't blame them."

 

An interesting fact about Casey's powers: in most ways, she wasn't very different from any other physically active young woman. It was the strange golden bioenergy field that her body generated that made her do strong and durable. When she was at rest or only moderately active, you could hardly see it beyond what looked like a healthy glow. If she was exherting herself a lot more, it shone a bit brighter.

 

Right now, it almost looked like Casey was on fire, her body sheathed in golden flames as she strained to lift the container, the thick chains taut as she gently floated the metal box over to the barge and slowly lowered it into the waiting crate. Once it was in place, she let out a sigh of relief.

 

"Okay, I think the hardest part is over!"

Edited by Heritage

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At her words, the lead dockworker cautiously poked his head up above the protective barrier that he and the other onlookers had dived behind. Wasting no time, he raised his radio to his mouth and said, "Okay, you're good! Go!"

 

With a blast on the deafening horn in answer, the barge rumbled, then began to move, pulling away from the dock with its deadly cargo on board. This was the part of the plan that had the potential to be the most dangerous for the pilot of the tugboat that pulled it - but their position within the tugboat placed them as far away from the container as possible. Besides, single-handedly towing an entire barge out into the middle of the water would be a tall order even for someone with Casey's supernatural strength.

 

Minutes passed in tense silence as they watched the barge slowly make its way out to the middle of the river, far away from the either shore. They had all seen the size of the hole the strange explosion had rent in the container - if they all went off at once, there was no telling what could happen. But at this point, they had done more or less all they could. Traffic on the river had been temporarily halted to make way for their delicate operation, and a news helicopter could be seen circling overhead.

 

Then at last, the barge slowed, then stopped. It had reached the center of the river. Relieved sighs were released all at once from the gathered workers and technicians, and somebody slapped Casey on the back enthusiastically. "Ha! We did it!"

 

The lead worker's radio crackled again, and the sheepish voice of the tugboat pilot could be heard. "Uh...could you ask her to come pick me up?"

 

With a laugh, the man pushed the button on his radio. "Sure thing, Mack." Turning to Casey, he shrugged with a grin. "Detaching the tugboat ain't a one-man job. He's kinda stuck out there, so would you mind..." he made a vague up-up-and-away gesture with his hand.

Edited by R. Bluefish

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"Oh yeah, sure, no problem!" Miracle Girl rose up into the air and headed out over the water; she quickly dunked under the surface at one point to clean up a bit, the rushing wind from the rest of the flight mostly drying her off by the time she reached the tug. Landing outside the wheelhouse, Casey waved as she opened the door.

 

"Hi, I'm Miracle Girl; nice to meet you!" She offered the pilot a firm handshake. "Thank you so much for doing this; I really appreciate it." Looking around the small cabin, she rolled her sleeves back down and tucked her bandana back in her belt. "Make sure you've got all your stuff. Also, how are you with heights? Some people like to go up high for the view, but we can stay low if that would freak you out."

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The pilot, a stout grey-haired man with a potbelly, looked slightly white in the face from being in such close proximity to someone who could snap him over one knee, but her easy demeanor seemed to put him at his ease. "I'm, uh, Larry," said Larry, returning her handshake. "I already got all m'stuff - didn't want it going boom with the rest of this boat. Which won't happen at all, I hope," he added hastily.

 

Grabbing his glasses from atop the console, he fitted them onto his face and took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm ready. Appreciate you doing this for us all, by the way. If that can had gone off, it could have taken out the whole dock, and our jobs with it. I'm good with heights, too - used to go parasailing when I was younger. I guess this won't be...that much different. Right?"

Edited by R. Bluefish

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