“I didn’t do anything wrong,” the scruffy young man slouched, staring at the window behind Captain Duncan’s desk as though he could somehow break the glass solely with the power of his mind. He was taller and more heavily built than an eighteen year-old had any right to be, but the Captain – who had two daughters, four sons, and half a garrison full of newbie teenaged recruits to deal with – could have spotted this punk’s attitude problem at fifty paces. It was surly. It was contrary. It was rebellious. It was fumbling towards machismo. And in the absence of an actual father-figure to scrap with, it was going to disagree with him in principle.
And sure, that was predictable, but the predictability didn’t make it any less of a pain in the ass to deal with. His girls he could withhold allowance from. His recruits he could put on janitorial scutwork. But punks like this? Hell.
Captain Duncan cleared his throat, “Lieutenant Miho?”
“Vandalism causing property damage under fifty thousand bellies,” his annoyed-looking junior officer began to count off the charges against him. Kids like this punk were a bellie a bushel in Loguetown, and Miho fancied herself valuable enough to be sent after bigger fish. “Assault causing bodily harm, assault with a deadly weapon, assault while under the influence of alcohol, aggravated assault, public mischief, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, and assault on a Marine officer.”
Oh. So that was where Corporal Yu’s black eye had come from.
The Captain blinked.
“He was carrying a crowbar, sir.”
“I see. What would you recommend, then, Miho?”
“I say we deport him to the Devdasi Correctional Island, sir? Some time on the chain gang will give him room to think, and that’s our usual procedure.”
The thing was, Miho wasn’t old enough to understand preventative law enforcement yet. If you caught all the big fish while they were still little fish, you’d have a hell of a lot fewer sea monsters mauling traders on the Grandline. Send a punk like this to Devdasi and he’d come back the lackey for some sadistic sea-rat.
Hell. Between that strange white hair and the abnormal build, he’d probably end up a third-in-command with a theme weapon in no time. Being a pirate leader was all about pissing contests, and all that really counted in pissing contests were looks, brawn, and attitude.
“Son,” the Captain Duncan sighed, “Are you trying to tell me that you didn’t do any of that? Because Miho here pulled you out of the Gold Roger Bar with half the bounty hunters in Loguetown watching.”
The punk was glaring at the Captain, now, instead of the window, and Duncan had to admit that that took balls. Usually they were either too stupid to meet his eyes, or they’d already had the piss scared out of them by Miho and her boys on the way over.
“I never said I didn’t do that. I said I didn’t do anything wrong,” the punk verbally rolled his eyes.
“You think starting a bar fight in the worst dive in Loguetown, shattering a man’s jaw, braking another man’s ribs, destroying fifty thousand bellies worth of private property, and punching an officer of the law in the face are all minor offenses?”
“That… hitting that Marine guy was an accident. He shouldn’t have tried to arrest me in the first place,” the boy was clearly frustrated, and his hands clenched into fists that were hurriedly stuffed into his pockets.”What do you care what I did at the Gold Roger? They were pirates! If your guys weren’t strong enough to fight them themselves, then you should be thanking me!”
By this point, Miho looked just about ready to turn their prisoner into fish-food.
Hooboy. This just kept getting better and better. They weren’t looking at some hanger-on groupie who hoped to get picked up by a pirate crew if he spent enough time looking tough and kissing ass at the infamous Gold Roger. They were looking at someone with a chip on his shoulder: prime bounty-hunter material. And that kind of living, with no rules to live by at all – that turned them even crazier than joining up with a pirate crew. At least with the pirates they got some structure.
Captain Duncan was getting too close to retirement. On days like this – when the sky was grey and the problems were were always the same and there was never any answer to them – he swore that he could feel his bones aching. These kids were raised like mongrels on the street because their no-good fathers were dead or pirates. As a parent, the whole situation couldn’t help but pain him. There were so many thugs and thugs-in-training in Loguetown that they might as well be honest with themselves and call it the major local industry. If the Grandline weren’t here this would be a ghost town. What did Loguetown have other than tourism for people dumb enough to want to gawk at the pirates, and the resupply shops?
The Captain couldn’t fix this place. He’d thought he could, once, when he was young and idealistic. But he’d been wrong. Loguetown didn’t have problems. Loguetown was the problem. Maybe it was only fitting that the Gateway to the Grandline was a city of dead ends.
“Son, you’re eighteen years old. You’re a kid,” the Captain said, matter-of-factly. “What the hell are you doing starting fights in pirate bars? I don’t care if it makes you feel like a man; those people are dangerous, violent psychopaths, and if you keep this up you’re going to learn that in a not-so-pleasant way. You piss them off too much, and pirates aren’t going to care if you still live with your momma. Understand?”
Giving them stern talkings-to had never really helped in the past, but trying to reason with them made the Captain feel better. Like he was giving them a fair shake, even though they had no money and their only role models were men who who pillaged and plundered for a living.
Whose fault was that?
“I don’t have a mother anymore. And I was bred in Loguetown. I can handle myself,” the punk visibly bristled, puffing up with pride. His blood was still flowing. He was pumped. And Captain Duncan remembered, idly, the age where the only time he hadn’t been spoiling for a fight was when he was too drunk to remember what fighting was. That had been when his hair was still black, and before he’d met Clementia.
When Gold Roger had still stained the waves. Those had been surprisingly good times.
“…Can I go now?” The punk piped up sarcastically. Finally, he had the decency to sound as worried as a doomed man should be.
Every day, he did this. His people caught them stealing, or threatening, or maiming, and the Captain would sit in his desk and tell these eighteen year-old kids that they were doomed, plain and simple, to a short, harsh life on the sea that nobody would miss when it was gone.
All because of these pirates. The punk, surprisingly, was right. Fight the pirates for petty cash or join the pirates for room and board; it didn’t matter. These kids were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.
“What’s your name, son?”
The punk looked taken aback enough to stop flinging macho body language all over the room, and the non sequiteur was enough to stop Miho from worrying at her axe hilt.
“… Sam. Sam Merrick.”
“What do you have against pirates?” The Captain pulled out his pen, and a sheet of stationary. “Aren’t all the most successful men from this area rogues?”
“Nobody messes with me, pirate or no,” Sam pulled himself together enough to start sharply gesturing. “Besides, this place is a complete shithole because of them! Pirates wreck everything! I saw Gold Roger die, but nothing changed. Most of them are worse. If you let them they’ll walk all over you, but I don’t let anyone fuck around like that with me or my friends. They got no right to do that. If they want to mess with me I’ll mess with them first.”
“I see,” the Captain jotted down a few lines. “Well, Sam, it’s your lucky day. I should be sending you to Devdasi. Instead, I am going to let you go.”
Horror, alarm, suspicion, relief… the punk’s expression was priceless. That was how the Captain knew that he was doing the right thing.
A smile ghosted around his lips.
“On one condition.”
Suspicion had rallied its forces somewhere around the browline, and was rapidly winning the war for Sam’s face.
“In approximately five days, you will receive a letter via carrier pelican from East Blue Marine Command. If you do not listen to the instructions in that letter, I will have you hunted down by every Marine in Loguetown, and they will be more than happy to give you a very personal understanding of how much they dislike having to put in overtime. Understand?”
“Good. Get out of here.”
The punk tried to look like he was sauntering, but really, he ran out of there so fast you’d think his pants were on fire.
“Miho, could you take this to the communications officer? I need it faxed to the OCS.” He handed his letter to Miho, who was looking downright homicidal.
Her knuckles went white around the parchment. “The OCS? …Sir, permission to speak freely?”
Oh, why not? His mood was lifting so much even this godawful wooden office chair was starting to feel comfortable. Maybe he’d take Clementia out tonight.
“Go ahead, Miho.”
“Are you insane?”
He had five days.
On the first day, Sam returned from the Marine Station to the hole he called home. There he had packed up all of his cheap gin and put it in a cardboard box, so that he could later sell it to winos. Between fighting in the Gold Roger Bar without being severely maimed, and being let go by the Marines, he was convinced that the last twenty-four hours had been an alcohol-induced hallucination. Sam was never drinking again.
On the second day, Sam came to his senses and liberated his gin from its cardboard prison. Sam was a local scrapper, not some nancy-boy tourist who thought that boozing with pirates would buy him some Loguetown street cred. So even though he knew he could take care of himself, and that nobody messed with him or his friends, he also knew that the only rational response to shattering some pirate’s jaw and mouthing off to a Marine Captain was to get very, very drunk. That way he could put the coming gruesome revenge out of his mind. Why five days? What was that Captain planning that would take five days? Were they calling in a specialist or something? Hell… all he’d done was punch the guy. Marines were such pansies.
On the third day, Sam entered an alcoholic haze the likes of which equaled the benders of the great Red-Haired Shanks himself. To this day, he is unsure of where that bite mark came from.
On the fourth day, Sam said a gruff good-bye to all of his friends. Then he bought them beer, so as to take the edge off of his hangover, and to prove to himself that he was calm and not panicking. Sam never panicked. Imminent doom was no reason to start now. Nope. Not at all. Not one bit. Not him, nooo sir.
Then, on the fifth day, Sam got a letter.
Dear Mr. Merrick,
Congratulations. At the recommendation of one of our senior officers, you have been accepted into Marine Officer Candidate School! Please make note of the list of required course materials attached, and purchase them at your convenience. Transport will arrive at the Loguetown pickup point on March 3rd.
Welcome to the Marines, sailor!
Commodore Marta Walsh
Director, East Blue OCS
Maybe he was still hallucinating, after all.