Author: aris_tgd / aris_writing
Summary: Cyberpunk AU. Sometime in the future: Tortuga is still a pirate port, but a stranger breed of pirates have taken up residence there. On the other hand, if your mission is spreading civilization via the greatest traveling libraries the world has ever known, there's no more exciting stop on your journey. And everyone has a story.
Fandom: Pirates of the Caribbean
Pairing: Jack Sparrow/James Norrington
Rating: PG-13 for Adult Concepts
Original story: The Very Model of a Modern Librarian by oneiriad
Notes: Thank you to ALL of my many and varied betas, including liviapenn, hannahorlove, variola_vera, scrollwyrm, angevin2, and a few folks without livejournals.
Warnings, if applicable(highlight to read): This story has no warnings, but it is somewhat dark; if you feel it needs a specific warning, please leave a comment (After the reveal, feel free to PM me.)
Jack rappelled dangerously down the Pearl's mast, clattered to the deck, and skipped across Anamaria's field of vision. "Guess what I've seen?"
Anamaria--who had, until five minutes before, hoped for a completely relaxing day spent panther-skinned--already had a good idea of "what", from the bleeping messages on her v-field.
*** SelkFin (email@example.com.A84) has joined #SkinnerLounge on TortugaNet
[08:18] SelkFin: Hey, guys!
[08:18] SelkFin: We're coming into port today!
[08:19] Message from SelkFin: Hey, Ana! Are you awake? Guess what? The Dauntless library is coming into port this morning! Is Captain Jack Sparrow around?
"Grough," she vocalized annoyedly in Jack's direction.
"The Dauntless," Jack said triumphantly, "is--"
"Rr-ough," she vocalized, slightly more annoyed.
[08:20] -> SelkFin: Piss off. If you want to see the captain, he'll be flinging himself into that librarian's arms as soon as the dock hits.
[08:20] MonkeyBarrel: Oh, good, Hector wants the deSades in hardcover for some reason.
[08:21] PollyTalks: Well, you can't read de Sade on a handy, for Eris' sake. Some things must be kept sacred.
[08:21] MonkeyBarrel: Give us a break, beaky.
[08:22] Message from SelkFin: But then how would I see the prettiest kitty? :DDD I'llbeovr!
Jack, meanwhile, was scowling slightly. "Shoulda known you'd be in the know already," he said. She snorted and flicked her ears backward. "I'm giving you watch. I've got a plan to arrange."
He ducked back down to the captain's quarters. Ana watched him go, then stood and stretched, idly raking her foreclaws on the deck to piss him off. If she knew Theodore "SelkFin" Groves, the dolphin would show up unannounced in a couple minutes, and she wanted to be awake.
[08:23] PollyTalks: Hey, Ana, will our Pirate Lord be down at the library?
[08:23] Panthera: Only long enough to seduce the librarian.
[08:23] PollyTalks: :(
[08:24] PollyTalks: Cotton wanted to talk about percentages from that EITC job.
[08:25] Panthera: Try him this evening. When he's in a better mood.
Jack bounded up the stairs and posed. Today he'd chosen skintight leather trousers and a loose cotton shirt, his hat perched jauntily on his head. Anamaria swished her tail and blinked, unimpressed.
"Well, so says you," he said, and swaggered toward the gangplank. "Don't wait up for me, I have someone's business to attend to."
Anamaria snorted again, and headed to the quarter-deck to catch some sun.
Andrea Gilette loved books, and she loved the ocean, which meant BookShip Librarian was really the only possible job for her.
Oh, sure, there were higher paying internships in the preservation division in the Eunion itself, or even in the AfricInternal book service, but none of them meant sailing on a BookShip for days at a time, out in the middle of the ocean, smelling salt and sea-air, nobody around but the rest of the crew and a few porpoises. She already planned to re-up when they legged back to London at the end of the tour; she'd finished all her library science requirements except the exams, and then she'd be able to apply for the post permanently.
(Her parents, when she'd weaved them that news, had sent back a note sniffing that they'd prefer to have their son back. And people wondered why Andrea never talked to her parents anymore.)
BookShips were necessary literary services for less fortunate sections of the populace. BookShips allowed people in Eunion-oversight territories to have the full access to Eunion library sciences, even if they didn't have full implants or access to the Atlantic Island Territories->Mainland network during infonet uptimes. BookShips were a necessary good, sent to make sure that everyone had access to Standard Educational Services. BookShips were a hell of a lot more exciting than a standard hardcopy preservation internship.
The Tortuga school building (Silly to call it a district, even though it was one of the legitimate skyscrapers on the island) had as many books to return as she dropped off; as a result, the gravie was just as unwieldy through the streets in the opposite direction. She decided to take a longer route down to the docks, with less traffic, now that she wasn't in a hurry. Even though the cobblestones on the non-major thoroughfares made the field on the cart wobble.
"Donate to the Church of the Immaculate Body?"
She looked up from the gravie's handle, startled. It was a classical church building, maybe 21st century, maybe even earlier. The woman was wearing a red dress which started in a swirl of ruffles around her toes and stopped halfway up her breasts. She smiled and held out a box with a credit-reader strapped to the front. "It's tax-deductible," she continued.
Andrea pressed a hand to her library name tag. "I'm afraid I'm Eunational," she said.
"Still tax-deductible, with a 99-5m," the woman said, obviously used to reciting the spiel. "We accept anyone so long as you're not Altered."
Andrea frowned. "And what's the Church's policy on hormone tattoos?" Not that she was going to give them money anyway, but the whole Natural Body movement made her angry.
(Her sister had taken her out to lunch, and out of the blue offered, "If you want to scan my X-chromosomes for a Renewal, you're welcome to it." When Andrea had stammered that she wasn't planning on it, her sister had looked shocked and said, "You're going to do it surgically?"
Andrea had finally articulated that she wasn't sure she was going to 'do' anything.
She and her sister still talked, but she wasn't ever sure they communicated.)
The woman gave her a second look, not searching, just confirming. "We support medical and quality-of-life interventions," she said. "We're Immaculate Reformed. It's Orthodox that says surgery is a sin."
Andrea snorted. "And the Church gets to decide quality-of-life?"
"You know, I'd love to discuss it. The work we do, our philosophy." The woman stuck out her hand, the one not carrying the donation box. "My name is Scarlett."
"Andrea," she said involuntarily. She didn't return the handshake. "And perhaps some other time."
Scarlett eyed her badge, then her cart. "Maybe I'll come down to the library before you guys leave," she said. "Check out a book. Do you have Out of the Dark by Helen Keller?"
"I'll have to check the computer," Andrea said.
"You do that," Scarlett said, then turned to wave the collection box at the next pedestrian. "Donate to the Church of the Immaculate Body? Tax-deductible!"
"Jack," the librarian said, voice edging right up to the last inch before annoyed.
Jack ignored James' tone of voice and slipped around behind him, sliding his fingers along the waistband of his trousers. As James stood obligingly still, Jack worked his hips up against that perfect arse, tilted his head alongside James' neck and inhaled the smell of James--crisply laundered shirt, sea-freshness, and that James-all-James sweat. "All work and no play makes Jamie a dull boy," he pointed out.
"We're scheduled to leave on the evening tide. I don't have time for this." The words sounded final, but James wasn't moving. Jack got his fingers around his belt and started unbuckling.
It was a cheap excuse, using a lost book to get the librarian back to his room, he admitted to himself. And maybe using The Gay Man's Kama Sutra for bait was a little much, but you never could tell with literary types. They needed a knock on the head sometimes.
Speaking of which, there was that thing he'd been meaning to deal with--silently apologizing to James as he worked his stubborn belt buckle, Jack called up v-space for a moment and shot off a standard sorry-no-cash note to that Church Of Wotsis girl, the nice one in red, then shut down the comm implant for the evening. Wouldn't do for that to be going off, indeed.
He got James' belt off after another moment. "Plenty of time 'till evening," he purred, back on task. "Besides, don't you want to see what new ideas I've got from that book?"
"And I'm appalled at the quality of your watch, if they didn't catch the storm warning," Jack mentioned. "It's all our weather tower's been crowing about all day."
James went even quieter, which made Jack think he did hear about the storm, but then Jack was much too interested in the business he'd got his hand about, and the noise James made simply couldn't be called 'uncommunicative.'
And at first this had been simply--a challenge. The stoic academe with the gorgeous eyes, who Jack had wanted and who hadn't taken Jack's hints the first time and had to be tricked back to Jack's bed before he'd responded enthusiastically. But Jack had tricked him back again--and again, which made it pretty clear that it wasn't a trick any more. It wasn't a lot of things that it had been.
"You're keeping the book, I expect," James commented during a momentary pause, when the first raindrops started pattering against the window.
Not just the book, Jack thought, and grinned. "Pirate."
Elizabeth talked Will into stopping on their way home from the library to feed the dolphins at the pier. They bought a bucket of fish from a merchant upland, and walked down to the water together, hands nearly touching on the bucket's handle.
The dolphins called and pushed each other for the mackerels and anchovies, and when there was no more fish they went back to splashing each other, then turned and headed for deeper waters.
Will was staring at her and smiling. Elizabeth pushed her hair back and gave him a look. "What?"
"Did you ever want to swim like that?" he asked, nodding at the dolphins. "Get a skin and swim out... free?"
She laughed. "Doesn't everyone? Didn't you?"
"For a while, yeah." He grinned, then looked down at his feet. "After I found out about my dad, I really thought about... well, applying for Eunion citizenship through my mother, so I could get anything done so I wouldn't remind myself of him."
Elizabeth squeezed him on the shoulder. He looked up after another moment. "But I got over it. What about you?"
"I just wanted to live on the ocean." She made a face at some of the floating stuff off the pier. "But at the moment, that doesn't sound too wise. Speaking of which, Council meeting this evening? Harbor cleanup? Petitions to write?"
"I think we need a shower, first." Will looked out to the horizon, sniffed for a moment. "Storm tonight."
"See? You don't need implants to tell you that," she said, hooking her arm in his. "Fooey on the Eunion; they wouldn't last a day out here, anyway. We'll fix our own harbor."
Scarlett had tried to live her life according to a plan. It hadn't worked. Now she counted it a victory if her day went according to schedule.
Mornings were devoted to worship services. Tortuga's citizenry didn't have what you would call regular workweeks, so they tried to hold services every morning. Which meant prepping and striking, as well.
Noon was bread service--a huge part of their budget.
Afternoons she and the other deacons asked for money. They wrote letters to the central Church with their budget overruns and their needs. They wrote to Eunion senators. They wrote to previous donors. They even gritted their teeth and wrote to the Orthodox branch, who had the advantage of being on the side of the true believers, who tended to be freer with their money.
And in the evening, they held circles, and one-on-one sessions, for those who didn't have access to the changes they thought they needed in their lives. Men and women who couldn't just go to the autodoc and get their eyes re-focused or their skin de-lined, who lived with gout and missing teeth and a thousand other ailments that people on the mainland--any mainland--took for granted they would get cured, on demand. She'd spent an hour tonight with Mr. Cotton, one of the regulars--and how stupid was it, she wondered, that it was easier for the man to find an Uplifted macaw who could translate sign language than it was for him to find an autodoc to fix his tongue.
Working with Cotton was good, because he didn't remind her of the other people she ministered to--those who came because they hated themselves. Because they wanted to escape their flesh.
Scarlett splashed water on her face in her room. She'd turned in her credit reader and the cashbox--far too little, of course, but they couldn't expect much from street hawking. And the messages she'd sent out begging for money had all returned null, even the one to the self-styled Pirate Lord of Tortuga. It was enough to make a girl stop believing in the power of local government.
She unzipped her dress and pulled down the bodice. Under the fabric she'd layered a few mediseptic pads. The side of the first one was blinking red, and she gingerly stripped it off. The infection wasn't bad today, but it still stood out in ugly white against her ribs. The cuts--originally clean, straight, razor-lines, were nasty sores. Grimacing, she put the used pad in the biohazard bag and pulled a new one out of her dwindling supply.
Tortuga's Council, for what it was worth, had asked for antibacterial supplies from the UN, but the port water hadn't reached emergency levels, and the WHO was (according to the newsnets) still struggling with the Indian Ocean biofilm. Anyone who contracted the latest infections was just... hit with bad timing.
Scarlett pulled her dress on again once she'd got the pad in place, stared at herself in the mirror.
"Flesh is not the enemy," she whispered. And then, "One person in the right place can change the world."
Her netunit in the corner was flashing news about the storm warning. Scarlett thought about the librarian she'd met on the street that afternoon, and decided to get her coat.
$$ Weathernotice: Tonight's storm prediction 56% -> 89%
Anamaria eyed the update and hruffed. Then she texted a note, Captain, let me deal with the religious petitioners from now on. It's my job.
She didn't expect a response; the librarian who obviously thought nobody in the islands could afford their own shiftskin was going to be taking up all Jack's attention for the next while. She snorted at the thought and turned to clean out her front paws.
After some thought, she sent a followup: I promise not to bite the head off those anti-Altered jerks. Even metaphorically.
A dolphin trill echoed up from the waterline at the same time as she got a message, Anamaria! Hey! Hey!
She poked her head over the railing to see Theodore jump out of the water in a silvery arc, then slip back under the waves. He popped his head out a moment later and chirruped again.
Her ears twitched back, but she padded for'ard along the railing until she came to a coiled docking line, and nudged it overboard with her head.
A minute later, Theodore climbed over the railing, a grin on his face and his shiftskin wrapped around his waist like a towel. The gray material glistened even though it had already shed its water, and the only thing dripping on the deck was Groves.
Anamaria snorted and went aft again, as Groves turned around in place and waved his arms. "This ship," he said, "is amazing."
His voice was raspy from speaking through mods and his v-space unit for so long. Ana curled up on the quarter-deck again and waited.
After a minute, he came and sat down next to her, carefully keeping his distance. He hadn't tried to pet her after the first time, at least--even spoiled Eunion boys on an indeterminate-length "break" from college could read her fangs.
"Amazing," he repeated after a moment. "You're so lucky, Ana."
If she could be bothered, she could power up her v-field and tell Theodore Groves about lucky. About how he could go home anytime to his college in the Eunion, or transfer over to the American Capitalist States, or even up into the Trans-Asian Sphere. How she knew skinner nanites were covered by insurance over there, and the skins themselves programmed anywhere you wanted, even if it wasn't legal to use them most places. She could tell him exactly how endearing it was that pods of shift-dolphins from London and Paris and Barcelona called themselves selkies and took two or three years to hit all the hot tourist spots. How it was weird that he didn't think it was weird that she could shift, herself.
She could tell him about how this was more than her vacation; this was her choice.
He flopped backwards onto his elbows and grinned at her, innocent and enthusiastic, hair drying scraggly across his forehead. Anamaria just sighed and gave into the urge to lean up against him.
"I need you to take over for a bit," James had said when Andrea got back to the ship. "Customer service emergency."
The "Customer service emergency" was lounging on the wall by the gangway door, wearing trousers that must have been sprayed on and smirking in everyone's direction. Andrea raised her eyebrows and James flushed a bit. "I'll return before we leave."
That had been hours ago, and closing time had come and gone. Andrea sorted all the returns onto shelving carts and sighed.
"Storm's starting to shake up," said Stevens, their pilot. "We ought to stay in port tonight and set out tomorrow. We can make up the time once we're in the clear."
"All right," she said, and brushed her hands off on her skirt. She wondered if she should call James--he had all the basic comm implants, and she could get a signal off Tortuga's network.
She shook her head. Or she'd get through to him in the middle of... taking care of the customer service emergency, and. No, there was nothing good that would come after that and.
Instead, she should really stow the books; it was work she usually put off until they were under weigh, but tonight shelving seemed like good exercise.
There was a signal at the door.
Andrea started at the noise. James had his own keyed entry--why would he signal? Unless--
It wasn't James, it was the woman from the church earlier. Scarlett. She'd thrown a coat on over her shoulders, and was holding a physical rainshield over her head.
"Hi," she said.
"We're closed," Andrea said reflexively.
"I know," Scarlett said. "I just saw your updated docking schedule, and I thought... well."
"That you'd just drop by?" She looked up as a flash illuminated the sky, and thunder rumbled straight after. "After a mile's march in the rain? Maybe thought that you'd be able to raid the late fees?"
Scarlett shook her head. "I didn't come here to beg, or to proselytize. I just meet so many people in a day, and you... actually seemed to want to argue philosophy, at least."
"It's not philosophy," Andrea said sharply, more sharply than she intended. "It's my life."
Scarlett stared at her for a moment, then said, "Did you find the book?"
It had been a busy day, but not an overwhelming one. "Yes, I found the book. Helen Keller, the class struggle and blindness."
"Read any of it?"
It had been a less busy day there near the end. "I read a little."
Scarlett nodded, slowly. "I wasn't always with the Church, you know. That's my life, too."
Andrea chewed on her lower lip. Scarlett stood, rain dripping off her umbrella and onto the hem of her skirt.
Finally, Andrea suggested, "Would you like some tea?"
Scarlett smiled hesitantly. "Yes, thank you."
Theodore loved the sea.
He'd been born in the wrong time, he thought. There was an age when you could just sign up with the British Navy and see the whole world, and it was completely new to everyone on board. Nowadays his head was stuffed with knowledge, and the only thing he knew to get rid of the feeling that he had all the time back home, the feeling of being pressed in on all sides by knowledge, by self-assurance, was to get completely back to the physical.
The storm broke over the deck of the Black Pearl, and Anamaria sniffed and hid under the awning. Theodore grinned and held up his arms. If he wanted to, he could tap into SatNet and see the shape and form of the storm, could watch the air pressure changes and predict when the rain would be over. He could send vision-feeds to his parents and a hundred e-buddies saying Guess where I am? Look what I can see!
Instead he closed it all down, everything but his private v-link with Anamaria, and stepped out onto the main deck, into the blasts of wind and rain, letting his skin sting with the force.
"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" he shouted into the storm. "Rage, ye cataracts and hurricanos!"
You're far too young for Lear, Anamaria sent him after a moment.
Theodore just grinned and let the sea fill him to the brim.
James wanted to stay, more than anything, until the dawn came up through those huge windows and brushed rosy fingers across his eyelids, but he couldn't. The storm was in a lull and he knew the Dauntless was going to have to leave with the morning tide unless a miracle occurred.
"I need to go," he murmured into Jack's neck.
Jack sighed expressively and rolled onto his stomach, giving James room to clamber out of his bed.
He took his time getting his clothing back on. The rain was still coming down, the sea rocking beneath them. Jack grumbled and threw on some clothing of his own, while James checked the wetweave on his coat was still holding and shouldered his bag.
As he turned to leave, Jack grabbed his wrist. "What if I asked you to join my crew?"
James' mouth went dry. "Jack, I can't." And this was more, deeper than his earlier protestations, which had mostly been for his own comfort. "I can't. I have a duty."
Jack let him go surprisingly quickly, and James wondered what, exactly, had just been offered--and what he'd rejected so soundly.
Who do you think you are, James Norrington? he asked himself. What are you doing here?
He scrubbed his face. Andrea was already going to kill him when he got back--and possibly refuse to take cart duty the next time they hit Tortuga. It was only fair.
Jack followed him to the deck, and James nearly tripped over Anamaria, who had curled herself up almost blocking the door, out of the rain. "Jesus," he cursed, then looked up to what--who she was glaring at, a young man lounging in the rain in nothing but a shiftskin and a smile.
"Oh, sorry," the man said, scrambling to his feet. One could almost make out he was blushing, in the light from shore. "We thought you'd be hours yet," he added, voice taking on a lilt that made James either want to punch him or melt into the deck.
Jack, for his part, took a step into the rain and glared, hands on hips. "Get off my ship, you goddamn dolphin."
The man grinned again and briskly jogged to the edge of the deck, where he pulled the skin from his waist--James averted his eyes, but not before he'd caught himself staring at the curve of his arse--and jumped. He'd skinned by the time he hit the water, and was gone, a flash of black on black.
Jack turned to Anamaria and scowled. "Because I said so," he snapped, "I'm the captain, and if you want to have friends over make sure they have some common decency."
Anamaria--oh. James started, and looked down at her. She looked up and blinked huge panther-golden eyes.
James had never gotten full v-implants; they were covered by his insurance but they were distracting and you had to take most of a year to learn to use them properly. Most people in the Eunion just got basic comms and used a terminal for anything more complicated. He didn't know Anamaria had been using them. He didn't know Jack had.
Jack turned and headed back to his cabin, stopping to squeeze James' arse on the way. "See you next time 'round," he said, while James was still standing there, shocked.
"It's like trying to communicate with the deafblind," a husky female voice said.
He looked up. Anamaria had slipped her skin; she was leaning against a supporting post, gray fabric wrapped around her from her breasts to her knees. He could barely see her silhouetted in the stormlight, but from what he could see, she was a lovely woman--dusky skin, shining eyes.
"I'm sorry?" he said, and then, "I'm sorry."
She laughed. "God, every time I do this I want a smoke. You've walked up here how often, now?"
James dug around in his pockets and finally came up with the packet of Cancerettes he'd stuck in there ages ago ("Now 60% less likely to cause lung cancer! This statement not guaranteed by the Eunion Food and Drug Council") and held it out. She pulled one and struck the self-lighter one-handed, took a long draw.
He took one for himself, lit it. "I just wasn't expecting... where do you even get skinner nanites out here?"
She tapped ash onto the deck and gave him a look. "Pirate."
He snorted. "Right. The skin as well?"
"It was my mother's."
He was too dull with shock to be startled again. "Oh." He looked down at his cigarette and realized he had just been letting it burn. Mechanically, he took a drag, let the smoke burn all the way down--he'd have to get his lungs checked over when they got back to London, he idly thought, or spring for an autodoc visit when they reached Port Royal out of his own salary.
When he'd exhaled out the last breath of heat and let the rain carry it away, he'd found another question. "So you've got a working skin and a full v-link... with those kind of resources you could go anywhere. Why here? Why this?"
Anamaria laughed again. "Jack's the captain, I'm the first mate. When I get sick of it, I'll leave."
He nodded, and was midway through his second drag when she asked, "So why are you here?"
James shook his head. "I--"
"Not here, here--I mean, that's Jack." She shook her head as if that was obvious, and he wondered for a moment how much she meant by that. "Why aren't you back home in the Eunion, where medicine is free and everyone's good in bed?"
He rejected a few responses while she took two more lungfuls of smoke and breathed them out through her nose. He wondered--what did people here really think of the Eunion? What did they think of him?
Finally, he said, "I don't know. Everyone needs books."
She smirked. "Everyone needs books. Right."
He didn't know what to say to that. She shrugged. "See you next time you're in port, then."
"Yeah," he said, as she turned and walked toward crew quarters. He sighed and looked out in the downpour, took one last draw before holding the tip of his cigarette out in the rain to kill it.
"And don't be too long, next leg," Anamaria suddenly called out. "Jack climbs the walls when he misses you."
He looked, but she'd already vanished--he might have caught the tip of a black tail, but it could have been the light. Still, he grinned. Gilette was going to kill him, and it was going to be a miserable walk home in the rain, but already he felt warmer.
("I finally learned to not hate my body," Scarlett explained. "And I want to help more people do that. I see so many people every day who want to change themselves, not because they need it, but because they think that will make them happy. But it doesn't get rid of the hate."
Andrea took a drink of her tea and smirked. "I don't think I hate my body," she said. "I just think it's a cosmic joke."
Scarlett smiled. "We've got a special place in our church for cosmic jokes.")