Just a 30 minute warm up short story, only did a bare minimum of editing. Ju is a member of The Order of the Grey Lady, a resistance group in the Eclipse Phase era fighting against the Vladislak monarcy, led by Ananya Sahoo
She sat against the trunk of the tree she had been posted to and worried. She always worried these days, every time she got put on a mission. Would this be the time? Would she go down to strip a body of it’s armor and weapon and see her face? A signal from the group leader that the supply party was coming. She stood up, and loaded her crossbow fretfully. How did it come down to this? She had wanted to make things better, for them both. She had been so optimistic, so passionate once. Now she woke up every morning and had to choke down the nightmares that endlessly plagued her. A second signal. She double checked her equipment, and started breathing through her nose in a slow cadence. She wouldn’t be here today. She wouldn’t.
Ju was fifteen when she met Mei. They had both been working in the same field for a year now, but had somehow never met. It was a bright, crisp morning, and they had set-up their ladders on the same apple tree. They both didn’t talk at first, just quietly filled baskets and put them onto the ground near each other. Mei’s arms were the first thing Ju noticed; they were long, lithe, and muscled from day after day of farm work. After that it was her hands, how her fingers gracefully pushed leaves to the side, never dropping a single apple. Then her shoulders, her legs, the delicate way her torso moved to shift her to different parts of the tree.
Watching her move was intoxicating, and Ju became so distracted that she didn’t notice that she was half a basket short of her quota until she noticed that the older woman who checked their work was coming down the lane of trees. Eyes wide, she started panicking, grabbing apples and tossing them into her basket, not caring if one or two got bruised. Suddenly, an apple landed in her basket right as she turned away from it, startling her so badly that she let go of the branch that she was holding onto. She felt herself flailing backwards, losing her footing, and the sinking feeling of falling began to form a pit in her stomach, when a strong hand grasped her wrist and pulled her back. Looking up, she was suddenly almost face to face with Mei, a wry smile growing on her face. Mei then tossed another couple apples into her basket, gesturing towards it with an eyebrow raised. Ju gaped at Mei for a moment, a blush rising onto her cheeks, and began filling the basket as well.
Between the two of them they managed to clamber down to the ground with all their baskets filled right as the checker stopped in front of the tree next to them. Presenting their labor to her, the old woman just grunted and checked off their names, handing over their payment of a few copper pieces. Sighing with relief once she was gone, Ju collapsed up against the apple tree and closed her eyes. The tingle of someone looking at her twitched up the back of her neck, causing her to slowly open her eyes again. Mei was standing in front of her, a lunch bundle in one hand. She stuck out the other one with a large friendly grin, “I’m Mei. Do you usually stare at the people working near you, or am I special?” Ju blushed even harder then before and took her hand, “Um, I’m Ju. And um...you are special I guess, I mean!” Ju’s eyes went wide as her face went completely red, “I don’t usually stare at the people working near me, but you aren’t...special...I mean, I am sure you are, somehow. But.” Ju trailed off and stared at the ground in front of her, not sure how was making such a massive fool of herself. She heard more than saw Mei sit cross legged in front of her, and start opening her lunch bundle. “Well, I am happy to meet you Ju.” she said simply.