I forget whether I wrote this as a response to a roleplay we had or as a prelude to a roleplay we were going to have. Either way, Emka's going on a date, and she's also mortified.

Interlude #1: The Dress

She knew (it came to her mind frequently and with much dread rising in the pit of her stomach) that the whole idea would come to no good. At worst, Buzzer and Spook would be too dissolved in laughter to help her, and Ramrod would wander off to get himself drunk. Alleycat -- she couldn't even picture a dress on Alleycat. The idea of a dress on herself was enough to summon up a massive migraine, but -- in her reasoning -- it had to be done. How was she supposed to go on a date (which was another word she had a great deal of trouble referencing with herself) in her pilot's uniform, even if it did amount to the only clothing she had?

-Mistress, more things would get accomplished if you actually opened the door and walked into the room,- Beowulf, her Gear, supplied helpfully.

Emka glared at the inside of her visor, which was where the Gear's words appeared, printed in red text on the right-hand side, and sucked in a deep breath. "That's why I'm standing here, you junkyard reject," she informed him conversationally.

-There's no need for name-calling, Mistress.-

Bullshit, she thought miserably. I could call him names for getting me into this, but where would that get me? Beowulf was the only person she could take it out on, and he knew it.

As if sensing his advantage in Emka's reluctance, the Gear continued. -You could always steal a dress from one of the shops in Bl -- - That line of thought broke off abruptly.

Emka didn't respond to the Gear's near-misfire, but the half-uttered statement seemed to fuel her resolve, and she pushed the door lock open. Her steps up the hallway were mechanical, as if her body were quite literally dragging her spirit along toward a fate worse than death. A slim, pale girl dressed in black darted across the hallway, directly in Emka's path, bearing a box piled over with Gear parts. She stopped and turned, blinking.

"A-aah, Em-ka!" Spook said, smiling and pleased to see her. "Person here, buying. You go in soon."

Emka looked at her blankly for a moment before realizing that the girl was warning her not to go up front yet. "Right," she muttered slowly, and Spook blinked at her.

"Shi'ail, Em-ka?" she asked, concerned. "Are you all well?"

"I'm fine," the girl replied abruptly, shaking her oddly-colored pink hair around her face to cover embarrassment. "I'll go in -- in a few minutes."

Spook nodded, apparently satisfied, then trotted off with her burden.

A few minutes passed, during which time Spook made her way back past Emka into the scrap shop and Buzzer wandered past and back her with a grin and a wave. She was almost too dazed to return the greeting, jerking as if from sleep when she heard their customer leaving with a roar of an upgraded engine.

Emka made her way forward again, dragging herself against the wall. As she approached the doorway, she straightened herself up, reasoning that if she was going to be laughed at, she might as well not have a hangdog look about it.

"'Hoy, Emka!" Alleycat waved to her from a pile of scrap, and Ramrod grinned a nod at her, for once having no lewd or suggestive remarks for her. She wondered why.

Not for long, however -- Alleycat had always been one to get straight to the point. "What brings you here this time around, Em?"

"I --" She stopped, mouth hanging open for a long moment before she shut it with a snap. She hadn't any idea how to go about expressing her need.

"We don't have any new parts," Buzzer said, eyeing her curiously.

Ramrod, sensing impending disaster, reached for a conveniently placed bottle of beer. He always had one nearby. Even Spook seemed unnerved by her unusual behavior, hopping onto a counter and seating herself to play with a bit of wiring that lay there.

"I ..." Emka started again, with the same results as her first attempt.

Alleycat lifted an eyebrow. "Are we supposed to guess or something?"

"No!" the pink-haired girl gulped out, shrinking back and wishing she could fade into the floor. "I need your -- help. With.. something."

"Uh-huh." Alleycat's gaze began to drift around the room as if she were hoping for another beer as conveniently placed as Ramrod's had been.

"A ..." Emka's voice trailed off again, and the group of smugglers waited patiently, Buzzer walking over to remove the wiring that Spook had been playing with from her hands. Emka took a gulp of air and stood up sharply, staring blankly ahead of her as she often had standing in line at military training. "I need a dress," she said, snapping it out as if in response to an order.

Spook blinked, and there was a crash -- Alleycat had found her beer and subsequently dropped it. Ramrod eyed her once, glanced at his beer doubtfully, then took a long drink from the bottle. Buzzer started to play with the wiring he'd taken away from Spook.

Emka ducked her head. At least they weren't laughing.

"So. Um." Alleycat broke the silence, looking for something to clean up the mess she'd just made. "What do you need a dress for, Emka?"

Emka growled something half-intelligible, and there was a gulping smack as Ramrod finished off his bottle and looked for another.

"I didn't hear you," Alleycat said, uttering the obvious.

"I'm going -- somewhere," Emka offered up, this time more clearly -- and with different wording. Spook's inquisitive look prompted her to add, "To eat."

"With someone?" Alleycat asked, returning triumphant with a broom and dustpan.

"Yessss," Emka uttered softly.

"So what you're telling us --" Alleycat grunted, bending down to sweep the shards of glass into the pan. "-- is that you're going on a date."

Ramrod opened another beer and started to drink emphatically. Emka nodded.

"And you don't have anything to wear."

Another nod.

"Who Em-ka go with?" Spook asked suddenly, the barest start of a knowing smile on her face.

Emka gave her a dark stare.

"Are you going to make us guess?" Buzzer grinned at her, catching on to the game. He received an equally vicious look.

"Sid," the girl grumbled, barely audible, in a gesture of surrender.

The shattering of glass again greeted her statement. This time, Ramrod had dropped his drink. Alleycat threw the broom at him and walked over to Emka, hands on hips. "You never cease to amaze me, Emka," she said. "But, much as I'd love to see it, I don't have any dresses for you."

The pink-haired girl looked at her sharply, and she shrugged. "I'm sorry, Em."

Spook hopped down from the counter, looking dubious. "I have dress," she volunteered. "But -- short."

"You or the dress?" Buzzer cracked, and Alleycat shot him a look.

"You should know," she retorted shortly. "You've seen her in and out of everything she owns."

Buzzer did have the decency to flush a reasonable shade of crimson and back down. Spook stepped forward and took Emka by the hand, patting her wrist. "It be okay, Em-ka," she said firmly. "You come see dress?"

Emka, with no other alternative, nodded dumbly. Spook was forced to pull the girl along to her quarters like a dog leading the blind. Emka's eyes were fixed on something far beyond their sight, something that probably involved more drinking than was healthy, and Alleycat walked up behind to give her a slap on the shoulder. "First dates are always rough," she offered pleasantly.

Emka looked at her blankly, then shook her head, eyes clearing. "First ever," she confessed, voice at half volume.

Alleycat glanced at her curiously. "That surprises me, actually," the smuggler commented. "You're a pretty enough kid, and you seem ..." Her voice trailed off as she considered the notion of whether Emka was nice or not.

Her words, however, had fallen upon deaf ears, as Emka was once again contemplating a bolt back to the desert and hiding until the appointed night was well past. When they reached Spook's doorway, she was so tense she nearly fell flat forward when Alleycat pushed her from behind and stepped into the room.

Buzzer and Ramrod were left outside, Ramrod staring glumly at his drink and Buzzer waiting patiently for the women to finish. They'd need a man's opinion, he reasoned, and he was prepared to do his duty in that regard. He wondered if they would actually be able to find a dress of Spook's that would cover enough of Emka to be decent in public.

Ramrod uttered a heavy sigh and finished off his drink, then he wandered back to the cooler for another one. Buzzer watched him for a moment with some amusement. He was probably wondering where his somewhat dubious charms had failed with Emka. That, however, was his problem. Buzzer leaned against the wall with a yawn and continued to wait.

Inside the room, Spook was fishing through her closet and tossing articles of clothing over her shoulder as they got in the way of her search. Emka was seated on the bed, face buried in her hands. Alleycat yawned as one of Spook's shirts, this one a dark blue, flew from the girl's hand and nearly hit her in the face.

"You sure it's in there, Spook?" she asked mildly.

"Is here!" came the girl's muffled voice, indignant. "Not wear -- put in back."

"Guess you've got a point there ..." It wasn't as if the smugglers had a great many occasions to dress their best, after all.

"A-ha!" the girl said triumphantly, rearing out of the closet with a crumpled dress -- black in color -- in her hands.

Alleycat lifted an eyebrow. "Well, it certainly doesn't break with your usual color scheme."

Spook gave her a dirty look. "I like black, Al," she informed the other curtly, and Alleycat raised her hands placatingly. "Stand up, Em-ka," the small girl commanded, and Emka looked at her blankly.

"Oh -- yeah." She got up unsteadily, and Spook tossed the dress to Alleycat, who measured the dress against Emka's figure and frowned consideringly.

"How did it fit on you, Spook?"

"Loose," the girl replied promptly, wrinkling her nose. "Little too-big, little too-long."

"Well, we'll see," Alleycat muttered. "Emka, put the dress on."

Emka blinked, glancing down at the smooth fabric that suddenly rested in her arms. "I -- uh --"

"I'm not gonna do it for you, chum," Alleycat said calmly. "Now strip and put the damn thing on!"

"We turn around," Spook said, a laugh in her eyes, and she grabbed Alleycat by the arm to pull her around.

The pink-haired girl was ignoring her, though, concentrating on figuring out which side of the dress was up. She sighed, turning her back to the door, and pulled the jumpsuit off, tossing her jacket on the floor and tossing her boots on top of that. The rest of the suit came off easily enough, and Emka suddenly realized she hadn't bathed in several days. Yet another thing she'd have to see to.

"Beowulf," she said suddenly, "I'm gonna have to ditch the visor for a few."

-Very well, Mistress,- he replied pleasantly. -I take it they were able to provide you with some suitable clothing?-

"Something like that," Emka muttered. "Logging off." She pulled the visor off and threw it on the floor next to her boots. She then pulled the dress over her head. The straps settled neatly to her shoulders, even though she was forced to tug the dress down over herself. It was tight. No tighter, however, than her flight suit. She grimaced, glancing down.

"Too short," she muttered aloud, and Spook turned to look at her.

"Yes," she sighed in agreement. "Too tight at neck."

Emka nodded. The dress was intended for a straight cut a few inches below the collarbone, but the straps were designed for a person shorter than her -- so it reached nearly to her neck.

"Well, here's what we can do," Alleycat said, ever practical. "If we cut the straps, we can yank the dress down a little more, so she'll get more coverage below, where she needs it. She can spare a couple inches at the top."

Emka's face colored, and she shook her head uncomfortably. There was more of her on display at the moment than she had ever wanted on display. Any more and she decided to quietly curl up in a corner of the room and die.

The other two, however, had already proceeded with their plan of action, procuring a pair of scissors from one of Spook's drawers. They carefully cut the threads that held the straps in and pulled them loose. The next thing Emka was aware of was a powerful yank (at which she barely restrained an unlady-like shriek), and the dress settled a few inches lower on her body. After a few more moments of straightening the seam, the two women stood back and looked at her consideringly.

Spook's face broke into a grin. "Looks nice, Em-ka!"

"Yep," Alleycat agreed with an amused look. "You should see yourself, Emka."

"N-no," Emka got out, but Spook pulled her toward a mirror anyway. Nonono, I don't want to see -- I already feel uncovered, I don't want to know what it looks -- Her thoughts ground to a halt as she was pushed into place in front of a tall mirror. An idle thought happened to wonder where Spook had gotten it, but there were more pressing matters at hand.

"See?" Spook said, pointing at her reflection. "Look nice!"

Emka stared quietly at the apparition in the mirror. She hadn't seen herself for a long time, she supposed. Not since catching her reflection every time she passed the mirror in her sisters' bedroom. She was thinner now, probably thinner than she should be. Her hair hung an inch or two above her bare shoulders, where she felt instinctively something should be.

"I don't guess you have any jewelry." Alleycat's voice broke into her thoughts, and she shook her head. "Well ... here, you can borrow this."

She felt something slide over her head and saw that it was a thin chain, silver in color.

"No pendant or anything," the smuggler shrugged. "I lost that a long time ago. But it's something."

Emka nodded slowly.

"Shoes!" Spook cried suddenly, and Emka spun.

"I -- have sandals I can use," she said quickly, and the girl calmed down.

"Well, it looks like you're good to go," Alleycat said jovially. "Let's go see what the guys think, shall we?"

The gear pilot nodded again, even more haltingly than before.

"Come, Em-ka!" Spook called, already at the door. Alleycat followed her there, and she heard the door swish open.

The girl in the mirror stared back at her, blue eyes unblinking, hand drifting to toy with the chain. So you're me, Emka thought at her. It was a long moment before she turned from the mirror and walked out the door.