BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:21, The Aristocrats
Monday, May 29, 2006

A startling discovery rocks Anne as the ship settles onto Persephone for a nice, simple job. Too bad that jobs never stay simple, and a man's indescretions are calling Jacob to action.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1163    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

I know, I know. Two months between chapters ain't a good thing, but real life has been kicking me about the head and groin recently, so I haven't had much time nor motivation to write, of late. That, and the fact that I've had to knock an episode out of the season because I just couldn't write it... You know that way some people work their way through writer's block by working on the next chapter? In the process of working on this one, I realized the last episode was redundant. So, episode 22 becomes episode 21, and the story keeps chugging along. First of all, the last story would have delivered the bombshell inherent in Anne's first sentence, but it works this way just as well. And while some of the Serenity folk do show up, it is strictly a cameo. Also, things are beginning to tighten up for the ship, and there's only two episodes left for Season Two. Keep watching for the Season Finale, the two part "That Place of Darkness". As a final disclaimer, this is as close as anything I've ever written that comes to a smut-scene, and even so, it's still pretty much rated PG. Mostly, though, the problem is the inclusion of the Aristocrats. That is literally the cleanest version I could concoct. If you heard some of the filthy versions flying around... It strains the mind a mite. If you can't stomach a dirty joke, you'd best skip everything after Zane sais "This man walks into a talent agency" until Monday says "I think a part of my soul died." Just a warning. I don't own Firefly. I wish I did, but if wishes were horses, we'd all be eatin' steak. Feedback is love. Love me. LOOOOVE MEEEEE!

The Aristocrats

Anne stared wide eyed at Friday, not exactly comprehending what she'd just heard. "I'm sorry," Anne whispered, eyes unflinching from the Asian woman. "I'm not sure I heard that proper. Did you just say that I was pregnant?" "Congratulations," She said, turning back to the shelf. She gazed at the scanner for a long moment, and Anne shook her head. "Pregnant," she repeated. "That sounds like what I just said," Friday confirmed idly. "Why, should I check your hearing while you're here?" "One more time, since I seem to be workin' through some hysterical deafness, here," Anne prompted. "I'm what?" "Pregnant," Friday said, finally turning to face the diminitive pilot. "It's what happens when you have wild, passionate, unprotected sex. You see, it starts when the sperm travels up the..." Friday began to gesticulate her point, somewhat obscenely, to Anne's mind. "You don't understand," Anne stressed. "You say that I'm pregnant." "Because you are pregnant. Good God, is there somethin' about this you ain't gettin'?" Friday asked, leaning back against the wall, and making the screen change rapidly as its display was depressed. "That's impossible," Anne said. "When I was thirteen, I suffered a bout of Aprassi's Disorder. I can't have children. I'm as sterile as the innerds of that autoclave thingy." Friday's eyebrow's rose. "Obviously not," she said. She stepped forward, pressing a small, metal device to Anne's belly. She pointed to something on the screen. "You see that?" Anne nodded. "That's a fetus. Or it will be, in a few weeks. It's not my area of expertise, bein' a surgeon an' all, but I can spot a fetus when it's so obviously right there." "How is this possible?" Anne asked, suddenly feeling a bit cold. Friday frowned for a moment, then grinned as something occured to her. "I mean, my bits can't have just healed on their lonesome." Friday leaned forward, a wide, warm grin on her face. "One word. Sylvia." It made perfect sense. Of course it would be Syl who could do this sort of thing. The ship's miracle worker did exactly that. She stared at Friday a long moment, unable to come up with anything to say. "What about your husband?" Friday said, turning away. "Oh..." she whispered. That was a wrinkle. Jacob was a lot of things, but composed was not amongst them. If he heard just anywhere, he'd absolutely lose it. "I need a promise from you." "Really?" Friday replied. "No matter what he asks, don't tell him. Or Monday, or anybody else. He has to hear this from me, and he needs to hear it at the right moment," she stressed. "That's not an issue," Friday said casually. "Doctor-patient confidenciality, dohn ma?" "Thank you," Anne said, still feeling a bit light headed. Preg...nant. It didn't sit well in her head. And this might just throw Jacob right over the deep end all over again. "Hey, Anne," Casher said, stooping into the infirmery. "The captain's called a meeting up in the mess. Something about a badger, or something..." <> "So, you've never heard it?" Jacob asked. The Companion stared back at him blankly, obviously not even comprehending the sentence as it was presented. "You've been alive for more than twenty years and you've never even heard of The Aristocrats?" "Should I have?" Monday asked neutrally. Zane outright collapsed into a giggling fit, which dragged her attention to him rather swiftly. Sylvia shook her head, trying to hide the small smile behind her cup as she raised it to her lips. "Zane? I hear you have an interesting version of it," Jacob said. Zane sat up, just as Casher entered the room. Jacob waved him back down as his wife and the doctor followed not far behind. "Later, Zane. That's everybody, I guess, so we might as well get down to it." "Before the..." Zane interrupted. "Zane," Jacob snapped. "Not the time," Zane withered a bit, and Jacob faced the group again, already gathering in their respective places around the table. "We have a job. One that's guaranteed cashy money, but's got itself some trickyness to it. Y'all've met Badger at one point or another?" "The psychotic lowlife who wants to get in my pants?" Sylvia mentioned. "The very same," Jacob affirmed. "Seems like since his old place of business was hit by the Reavers, he took a change of heart. Seems like he's workin' for the locals, trying to stir up the rabble." "We can't trust him," Zane interjected again. "Why'n the hell not?" Friday asked. Jacob was a bit surprised that that question hadn't come from his wife. Anne simply stared at the tabletop, looking all manner of distracted. Zane scowled, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back. "He's a slaver," Zane answered flatly. "Is that going to be a problem for you?" Jacob asked quietly. Zane opened his mouth. "I thought not. I understand you got a fully respectable hatred to them's sell folk, but he's the only job we can get on a planet we can hide on. Y'all might not've noticed, but jobs are gettin' scarcer every week, and we don't take this one, there might not be any more. We are awful damn close to gone, and we need somethin' pullin' us back from the brink. Badger might just be that thing. So you can take your objections and bury 'em, for the time bein'. We need this, desperately." Friday nodded for a moment. "So, what's the job, captain?" Jacob sighed. "Badger weren't too forthcoming on that point." "So you're just going to accept a proposition for a job you ain't got any idea what it is," Anne said, quietly. "That's even on the assumption that he's lookin' to us as employees at all. Could be that he's got Crazy and Crazier holdin' a sword to his gullet to make him Wave us. Ever thought on that?" "Has crossed my mind," Jacob admitted. "And while it's a damned fool notion to go wanderin' about, we've got just enough fuel to land us on Persephone, and maybe reach Paquin after that. We ain't been takin' care of Legacy near enough, and parts are starting to fall off of my ship. The raggedy edge don't even cover this, hon." "I don't like this," his wife whispered. He glanced down at her. Something was different about her, but he couldn't quite put his fingers on it. Finally, she noticed that he was watching her, and looked up. "But I guess we ain't got no choice, do we?" Jacob smiled down at his radiant, glowing wife. "Sometimes y'just don't. And that's when y'learn to shine." "I'll get us on the ground," Anne said, slipping free of his arm and heading toward the cockpit. As he watched her leave, he was once again struck by that oddness he felt. Something had changed about her, since they'd gotten off of Paquin. It didn't help that they'd spent a week spewin' their collective guts out from what Monday'd brought back on board. Something was just... different. "Boss?" Zane said again. "What is it now?" "I still don't like the plan, but I guess you're right. I just... you know, felt it needed sayin' s'all." Jacob smirked. "Touching. Now, if you don't mind, we got schemin' afoot." "What about that Aristocrats thing?" Monday asked. Friday burst out laughing immediately, drawing a confounded look from her sister. "Why does everybody on this ship do that every time I ask?" "Zane?" Jacob prompted. The mechanic, with a wide grin, rose from his seat, striking up a dramatic pose. "A man walks into a talent agency and says 'boy, do I have an act for you.' But the agent says 'sorry, pal, I don't truck with family acts. Too sappy.' So the man comes back with 'oh, no, you ain't never seen nothin' like this before.' Then the agent's like 'sure then, let me see what you got.'" Zane's grin grew by a solid measure as he continued. "So in walks the man's family, a charming wife, a handsome, athletic son, and the sweetest little twelve year old daughter y'ever did see. The Daughter's carryin' two bags with her, and she opens the bigger of them up, pullin' out a baseball bat. So she takes a big back swing and drives it right into her father's gut, knockin' him to his knees. She then hands the bat to her mother, who smashes it into his back, drivin' him into a sort of back-curly thing. Then she hands it to her son, who swings harder than all of them, catchin' him square in the mouth. All his teeth go flyin' onto the floor." "Oh, dear god," Monday gagged. "So the son hands the bat back to his sister, and she puts it away, as the Father regains his feet. When everythin's just so, the whole family faces the agent and takes a bow. 'what in the hell was that?' the agent asks. 'our act,' the wife helpfully replies, opening up the smaller bag. 'I'm almost afraid to ask what's in that one,' the agent mutters. The wife turns to him and says 'pain killers and false teeth.'" "I really don't see where this is..." Monday said. "So the agent's just shakin' his head, in utter disbelief," Zane continued. "And despite his best efforts the next thing he says was 'what in the sphincter of hell would you call somethin' like that?' So the Father, upon slippin' in a new set of false teeth, grins at the agent, and with a flourish exclaims... 'The Aristocrats.'" There was a long pause. "I don't get it," Monday said. Everybody at the table groaned loudly, and she glared between them. "What?" she asked, which just made them roll their eyes that much harder. "Believe me, that was the tamest version of The Aristocrats that exists in this 'Verse," Jacob snickered. "Hell, it might just be the one'n'only that don't involve sodomy. Now Anne, she's a master of the Aristocrats. Hell, she once Aristocrated one of my pals on the Jack right into a dead faint. And this was a big, tough, bruiser of a man, and she floored him solid. You folk just don't know a good joke." "Good joke? That has to be the worst thing I've ever heard," Monday said, appalled. "I believe a part of my soul died just listening to it." "Well, then," Friday giggled. "We'd best not be lettin' Anne tell you her version." "JACOB!" Anne's scream cut through the levity of the situation like a gunshot at a tea ceremony. Greyson was up like a shot, racing up the corridor to Anne's side. The monitors were all on, the center one showing Mister Universe, and all the others showing the ruthless face of Jane. "What in the hobbs of hell?" Jacob began. "You're a very difficult man to track down," Jane hissed. "And costly. You thought you could get away from us that easily? You thought that your friends were immune to punishment?" "I don't see's what you're gettin' at, woman," Jacob said, staring her in the eye. "Excuse me," Verne said. "What's going on? My set shows that you're getting two signals." "I have a warship over Ion," She said, stepping a bit to the side, and letting the holo-tank fill the screen. Tech like that was reserved entirely for the most advanced warships in the Alliance. She weren't bluffing. "I say the word, and your friend meets the same fate as his predecessor." "This doesn't have to go like this," Verne said, suddenly able to see her, Jacob guessed. "I could be very helpful. I have information on..." The alarms began to scream on the ship behind Jane's mad, smiling face, and the holo-tank tracked a missile as it sped away from the heart of the tank, which would naturally be the ship itself. "Oopsie," she whispered with a wide grin. Verne's face took a horrified look for just a moment, then the signal ended abruptly. The center screen showed an error message, then defaulted back to the main page. "Nin shi zui wu, mo qing di mu gou!" Jacob screamed, and Jane smiled back at him, her mad grin not altering a hair, except maybe to grow wider. She shook her head slowly, her green eyes taking an almost contemptuous light. "Temper, temper," she said smoothly. "It wouldn't do to blow your top." "I swear, I will be the one to end you," Jacob snarled. "Brave words," she chuckled, but the words ended as abruptly as her grin. Her expression washed away, leaving a predatory expression that could best be described as barely contained bloodlust. "Make no mistake, mister Greyson. I will find you. I will kill you. And she will live just long enough for him to kill her. Don't wander far," her smirk returned. "I don't want to miss the end of the show." The screens went dead, leaving Jacob staring at nothing but space and Persephone, which was quickly approaching the point where one could see Persopine City. Anne turned to him, obviously still shaken. "What do we do?" she asked, her voice small and afraid. "What we have to, bao bei. What we have to." <> "Why do I always have to stay with the ship, sir?" Casher asked. "I'd be every bit as helpful out there, and while it does give me time with my writing, it's been a dog's life since I wasn't engaged in an adventure in sitting." Jacob shook his head as he slid his Mauser into its holster. "Plenty of reasons," Jacob said. "First of all, you ain't exactly inconspicous, and the very last thing we need at this partic'lar moment is to be standin' out. Second, Syl's got an in with Badger, seen's how she done uncorked the pheromones first time he came on board. That's of use to me. Third," he paused a moment. "I know you won't let anybody hurt Anne. And that's somethin' which don't come easy to a protective fella like me." "Well," Casher muttered, "I'm almost flattered, sir. Really, I am." "Really ought not be spendin' so much time around Zane. He's startin' to rub off on you, in all the wrong ways," Jacob chuckled. "You ready to go?" "Always," Syl said, sliding her shotgun into her coat. Casher glanced between the two, then shrugged. Jacob felt a small smile once again creeping across his features. It had been a very long time since he could go out like this, with Syl by his side. "You do realize that this might get ugly?" Jacob said as he trod off the ramp. Gorram, he really needed to get a new Mule. These long walks were getting entirely tedious. But, considering the state of the city, even months after the Reaver's made their bloody mark, perhaps a vehicle wouldn't be the best option. "It won't," Sylvia said simply, her eyes never halting as they swept the crowds of Eavesdown. Jacob frowned for a moment. "You sure about that?" Jacob asked. In response, she gave him a 'what are you, stupid?' look, and he shrugged. "Just askin' s'all." "And I'm telling you that this'll be easy-peasy. Just trust me on this," she said. Which was right about when Jacob felt a gun barrel digging into his spine. "Oh, no. Nothing could possibly go wrong," Jacob deadpanned, to Sylvia's expressionless face. She simply raised her hands from her side, where her weapons were visible, and made a face like he should do likewise. "Should start up a Wave-box, tellin' folk winnin' lotto numbers. It'd be a cash cow, I tell you." "Jacob," Sylvia said. "What?" "Shut up." "Badger wants to see you," the dark man with dreadlocks said around a cigar. He waved the machine gun to a side alley not too far away. "Yes, and I was under the assumption that he wanted to see us alive," Jacob countered, to which the dark man rolled his eyes and his stogie. "Badger says you come, so you come. Don't much matter to me none what condition y'r in when you get there," he said, jabbing Jacob again, to start him moving. Sylvia had already taken her first steps toward the alley, forcing Jacob to keep up. "Another wonderful plan," Jacob muttered to himself. "Show up, get the job, do the job, get paid. Is that so hard?" "Shut up," Cigar-man growled. "But of course, that son-of-a-bitch up there just won't have none of me havin' a good day's work, now will he? Just got to muddy things up whenever things have the slightest bit of smoothness to them, don't He?" "Oh, for the love of God, shut up!" Cigar-man shouted. "He's had a bad year," Sylvia intimated to the guard directly behind her. The guard did not respond. "You mind explainin' to me where we're headed?" Jacob asked. "Why won't this guy shut up?" Cigar-man muttered. "Badger's new den," the other one said simply, not even bothering to turn. Jacob glanced around. Didn't look like much. "So, when do we arrive?" He was answered when the almost-silent thug knocked on the wall. A totally non-descript section of it swung open, revealing a simply furnished room. A man sat, his feet up on a desk, with an apple being buffed against a somewhat unclean looking vest. "Fancy meetin' you 'ere, Captain Greyson," Badger said, not looking up from the highly focused observation of his apple. "I thought you might'a just tried dodgin' my invite." "You have a job, so I don't see as why you needed to drag us in at gunpoint to offer it," Jacob said. Badger glanced up, and the apple slipped from his hand. With a rictus of anger, he kicked the desk away, storming up to Sylvia. "You stood me up, you gorram tease!" He shouted into her face. She drew herself up, matching him glare for glare. "I saved your life," she replied, without any trace of a Dyton accent. Badger took a step back. "You ain't from the old homestead," he announced. "What else you been lyin' 'bout?" "A few things," she said casually. "Some of them important, most of them not. I really don't see why this..." "And just how in the hell'd you save my life?" Badger demanded, taking a step forward, which Syl quite obviously refused to match with one of her own. "Where were you when the Reaver's hit?" she asked. "I was wait'n for you to sh..." Badger replied. "Oh." "Exactly. Call it serendipity or call it fate, but because of me, you're still alive," she said. "Now, are we going to talk like civilized men, or are we just going to stare at each other until one of us collapses of thirst?" Badger seemed to chew on a few choise words, but took a step back. "Ruttin' mystics," he grumbled as he retook his seat. He picked up his bowler hat, which by some strange coincidence contained the apple he'd discarded, and let it rest on his head. "You want a job, well here's the skinny on it." <> Casher paused once more, right at the edge of the infirmery. He felt increasingly uncomfortable with this place every time he came into its presence, although he couldn't for the life of him remember why. The only thing which kept him from turning on his heel and finding a kinder place to rest his weary body was the current inhabitant of the room. She still moved a bit sluggishly, being the slowest to shake off the brutal and nearly crippling disease which Monday had so graciously brought on board at the last stop. He almost felt like turning around and leaving even then. It felt odd, to be staring at her. Like she was something not quite of this 'Verse. She'd gotten hit hardest by the disease, so hard they'd all thought it was going to kill her, but she pulled through, just like the rest of them. Casher tried to step forward again, but once more found himself hesitant. Something about this place was severely damaging his calm, and he didn't know why. He glanced over her silk-robed shoulder, and frowned at the screen. "What is that?" he asked, finally free of the spell which held him outside. An odd weight seemed to press on him as he entered the infirmery, but he shrugged it off. Friday gave a start, turning off the screen and turning around. "Oh, Casher, it's you. I thought it was the captain, for some reason," she said. He tilted his head, not quite catching what that meant. "I don't readily see how you could confuse us," Casher pointed out. He took a breath, then seated himself on the slab. "I came because we really need to talk." "I suppose we do," she replied quietly. There was a very long, very awkward silence between them. "Of course, the talking kind of requires air to come out of a fellow's mouth," Casher advised. "It usually helps," Friday accepted. Followed by another silence. Casher was getting more uncomfortable in this room with every passing second, and suddenly couldn't hold back any longer. "What you said, two days ago." "Oh, God," she said, turning away. "No, no!" Casher unseated himself. "I won't let you just run away from this. I heard what you said, even if you don't quite remember saying it. I need to know if you meant it." "I was fevered and delirious," she attempted, but for once, Casher saw right through her. "You were afraid you were dying, and you were desperate to get that last word in," Casher corrected. "That does not mean that what you said is any less valid, considering that you did not die." "I just," she started, then fell into a reticence. "I'm... I'm not ready." "Ready?" Casher asked. "For what?" "For what you're asking for. I can't... Not after what he..." Casher shook his head, tipping up her chin so he could stare into her deep brown eyes. "I'm not asking for that. You know that. But I don't want what we almost had to just... disappear because of one sadistic hun dahn." Friday almost seemed to be in tears when she whispered. "Will you be there?" "Nothing could keep me away," he replied. She smiled then, small, but brighter for the encroaching darkness. He found himself smiling with her. "Just promise me that you'll... take it slow," she stressed. He couldn't quite make out what she was getting at. "As slow as you want. I promise." <> "I am not liking this job," Jacob muttered as he pounded his way up the ramp. "Oh, it's not that bad," Sylvia offered brightly. "Only thing we need to do today is talk to a rich, pompous hun dahn with too much throw for his own good." "Obviously you've never met the target," Jacob murmured. "It can't be that bad," Sylvia stressed. "You keep doin' that, and this entire thing's going to fall down around my ears, I swear on the Black," Jacob snapped. "You seen how our luck's been the last little while? See some sort of a pattern? All our contacts going down in flames, Brownlee's getting smashed, Mister Universe going the way of the seagull? Ain't even to mention our unpleasant introduction with Badger." "Hey, boss, you got a job?" Zane shouted from the ceiling, where he was hanging from the rafters replacing the burnt light bulbs. Which was just about the only thing the ship still had enough of, now that he thought about it. "Most certainly do. You got that washer up and running yet?" "Won't take long, boss," the mechanic said, swinging his way back over to the walks. "Why're y'needin' it?" "Why else? I've got an article of clothin' needs cleaning," Jacob said. Zane stared at him a moment too long. "Now would be good. Thing needs to be dried inside an hour." "Jacob," Sylvia said softly. "No," he said. She retracted a bit, and he could feel that she was a bit hurt. He hardened himself; he didn't have time for this at this particular moment. Besides, he couldn't coddle his crew at a time like this. In long, ground eating strides, he made his way up the stairs toward his room. "It surely didn't help that he only mentioned that the party starts in three hours." "Party?" his wife's voice came from above, making Jacob miss a step and almost faceplant onto the catwalks. "There's going to be a party?" "Yes, dear," he said, faking neutrality as he watched as the paycheck flew down the crapper. "In a few hours." "Is it a shiny, rich people party?" she asked, sticking her head around the corner. "The very same," Jacob said. "Oh, this'll be so much fun. I'm gonna go get my dress," she said with almost childlike delight. Jacob and Syl shared a look. "What?" he asked. "Nothing," she said, feigning innocence. "Good, because this job got extremely complicated," he grumbled. "And, just for my own information, here... how could taking your wife --- one that's part of your false identity, mind you --- to a fancy party complicate a job which consists of handing a rich man a piece of paper?" Jacob paused at the foot of the stairs leading up into the kitchen. "You've heard her version of The Aristocrats, no?" "Shuh muh?" "You see, she'd tell The Aristocrats," Jacob explained, "...to aristocrats. And aristocrats have a tendency to stab folk over things like that." "Yeah, I guess they do," Sylvia conceded. "But I severely doubt that she's going to be stabbed over a little joke." "If only the 'Verse could be so friendly," Jacob said with a smirk. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get changed." <> "Jacob and Missus Northcutt," the man intoned to the almost empty room. All of the haste and worry, and they'd ended up showing to the party early. He shook his head as he stepped past where the security wall had been temporarily shut down. The doorman knew about Jacob's bullet, and made an exception for it, unknowingly letting Anne's through without incident. He glanced around the room, instantly picking out faces he'd seen during his last stay on Persephone. "So, who was it you're lookin' for?" Anne asked quietly. "Heavy set fella. Really should talk like the locals, you realize?" he pointed out. "Per-maybe-haps I should," Anne agreed, smiling from his arm. "Heavy set fella, y'say? Ain't that lookin' for a needle in a damn sizely stack a' needles, lookin' through the rich for a chubby 'un?" Jacob shrugged. "I guess. He's older, grey. Has a trimmed moustache, and he wears a sash for some reason." "Is that him?" she said, pointing across the room. Jacob stared at where her finger indicated. "Uh, no, I'm not even sure that there's a man." "You think?" she asked. She pulled back with a stifled laugh. "Tzao gao, guess there's some things money can't fix. Like a full beard on a seventy year old woman. What about that?" "I'm pretty sure that," Jacob said, staring down her arm as it pointed in a new direction, "is a buffet table." Anne blinked. "But it's got a sash..." Jacob rolled his eyes with a smile. "It does at that." "You think they got real chocolate?" she said, sounding hopeful as a child at Yuletide. As she stared up at him, with those deep brown eyes, he suddenly found himself just wanting to be alone with her. Somewhere soft. Gorram, she was radiant today. "Go ahead, just don't make yourself sick. Just done got over that floppy stomach you had..." he said, trailing off as she gleefully made her way to the enormously expensive snacks and treats. He shook his head, and almost gave a start as a boot heel landed behind him. "Northcutt?" the man said. "Major Northcutt?" "You got the last part right," Jacob said. The name of the man eluded him for the moment, but he had a tickling memory of... drunkedness. "I must admit, I'm somewhat surprised to see you here," the man said, staring across the floor. "And I must admit, I'm somewhat surprised to see you sober," Jacob responded. The man smiled slightly. Oh! Easter, a Colonel, if memory served. "And why exactly were you surprised to see me?" "You know why," Easter said, his voice taking on an edge of anger. "I took it upon myself to find out some things about you. And I could not find your listing. Which made me think that you had..." "What?" Jacob interrupted. "Joined the Templars?" Easter shrugged. "The thought had occured. Ever since the Reavers hit Persephone, the fleet has torn itself in two. Half of it remains where it belongs, in our hands, but the rest have split between those traitorous Templars and simply flying independant." Templars. They were a recent phenomenon, as far as Jacob could tell. A military body answerable only to themselves, using the proffered manpower and machinery that they had absconded from the Union of Allied Planets Armed Forces with to enforce their own version of the law on any rock that they landed on. That wasn't that bad, in and of itself, because their version of the law was pretty much everybodies version of the law, but when a greedy bastard gets ahold of a Tohoku Cruiser, suddenly there ain't much he can't have. In exchange, though, they did have a doctrine of hunting down Reavers on sight. "No, I don't believe I've sunk that low, yet," Jacob answered. "Although I'm somewhat puzzled by your presense here. As I understand it, the military is not altogether too popular in Persopine at the moment." "I am here to enjoy the food and drink, nothing more," Easter said, taking a glass of wine as the server passed. Jacob affected a frown. "Might want to practise some discretion at that," Jacob said, motioning toward the glass. "I notice you are a great deal calmer this time. Than when you had Monday on your arm, I mean," Easter muttered. Jacob was about to dodge the issue when Anne came back, with a plate piled high with fudge and shrimp, of all strange combinations. "You've gotta try these, hon, they're ruttin' spectacular!" she exclaimed. Easter gave Jacob a look. "My wife has a calming effect on me," Jacob said with a smirk. Easter raised his eyebrows, glancing between the two. Finally, he shrugged. "To each their own proclivities, I suppose," Easter murmured into his wine. Anne glanced to Easter, then back to Jacob, pausing only to pop a small block of fudge and a shrimp tail into her mouth. "So, who's he?" she asked. "A few rough edges?" Easter asked. "More than a few, but that's what attracted me to her," Jacob answered. Gorram, he kept this up, he'd have his head so far up his own pi gu, he'd be actin' like this forever. "You never know what you want until you have it." "Wise words. She does have a earthy quality to her that is intruging, to say the least. I suppose you always know where you stand with her," Easter said, smiling over his wine. Anne smiled wanly around fudge and shrimps. "Does he ever," Anne stated proudly, then frowned as a familiar face appeared from the crowd. "Well, I must say I should have expected you here. You always had a knack for finding the best party on a given planet," Jacob managed with touch of civility. Monday scowled at him. "It's the only party, Jacob," she said, taking Easter's free arm. "Well, I suppose that's my cue to leave you two alone," Jacob said, and Monday made a shooing motion. The doorman turned and continued announcing the newcomers to the room. "Inara Serra and Miss Rosewater, and escort," he boomed, and Jacob's eyes locked onto a pair of blue which he thought he'd not likely see again. Easter saw him too, and backed away a step. "You know that man?" Jacob asked. "That is Malcolm Reynolds," Easter said. "He is a very dangerous man." "Really?" Jacob queried. "I suppose I shall have to talk to this very dangerous man, then." Jacob made his way through the growing crowds, Anne staying doggedly by his side, his diminutive shadow in her black dress. Her only dress. Malcolm stood his ground by the entrance as Inara made her way into the masses. "I can't say as I expected to see you're face in a place like this," Mal said, his expression one of a man stretched too thin for far too long. "Didn't expect to find m'self in it," Jacob replied, allowing his normal syntax to return. Wouldn't do him to be all uppity and bu wun gao pi on his ship. "And you seem to be quite the household name these days. Something I hear about startin' up the Unification War again?" "It's... complicated," Mal said, eyes darkening a shade. "I didn't ask for this, but we've all gotta do what we gotta do." "That don't explain why you're playin' social butterfly," Anne pointed out. Mal shrugged uncomfortably. "It's a favor to her. Seems to think she won't be safe on her onesy nowadays. Especially with the tyke draggin' her heels behind 'er." "Speakin' on which, who was...?" Jacob began. "Inara's student, near as I can figure out. Not that there's much she lets me figure out." "Warrick and Fiona Harrow," the doorman announced. "Finally," Jacob said, rolling his eyes as the rotund man entered the room, red sash broadly proclaiming his lordhood. At his side was a much younger woman in a resplendid dress. One that he'd seen elsewhere... although he couldn't immediately place her. Jacob excused himself, leaving his wife with Mal and approached the man, who frowned immediately upon seeing him. "Sir Warrick, I..." "They let just about anybody in, it seems," Harrow interrupted. "I would introduce you to my daughter, but I believe I would rather saw off my own leg than have you associate with her." "Dad, that isn't necessary," the young woman said, shaking her head. It was then that Jacob placed her. On Ion, working with Mister Universe, although she was universally referred to simply as Fi. Well, wasn't that something? "I was sent to give you a correspondence from..." Jacob began again. "Why should I trust anything you have to tell me, Jacob?" Warrick said, forcing Jacob back a step. Fiona rolled her eyes. "If that is even your name. You don't belong here, even less so than Captain Reynolds, whom I believe you have likewise deceived. Perhaps he will be in a somewhat vengeful mood were I to enlighten him..." "Father, enough!" Fi said sharply. Warrick looked confused for a moment, then halted. "His name is Jacob, just not Northcutt." "How would you...?" the elder Harrow asked. "Northcutt is a fabrication he had constructed for the express purposes of walking through that door," Fi said, casting a thumb over her shoulder toward the door. She really did look more at home in a dress than in work clothes, Jacob thought. "And why exactly would he do that?" Harrow demanded. "To save somebody's life," Jacob answered. "You remember Dmitri Niska?" "A sadistic sociopath elevated by financial plenty," Harrow responded. "He was found dead in his room. Somebody else was there, too. Somebody not much better off. Are you saying that you went through all this effort to save the life of somebody you barely knew?" "It was the right thing to do," Jacob said simply. "And what was your part in this?" the father asked the daughter. Fiona smiled, her pale cheeks dimpling. "I helped program the IdentCard." Warrick seemed somewhat appalled. "I'd heard Colton had fallen in with a disorderly crowd, but you? I can't believe it. I shan't believe it!" "Believe it," Fiona said simply. "His name is Jacob, but it's not Northcutt. It's Greyson." "Atherton and Banning Wing," the doorman announced. "Greyson..." Warrick said. "And your wife," he glanced to where she was deep in conversation with Mal, who seemed about ready to laugh. No doubt, she was regaling him with a legendary retelling of The Aristocrats, "would be Anne. You are a very, very wanted man, Jacob." "So I hear," Jacob chuckled. "Look, now that you are willin' to listen to me, I have a message for you." "Who is it from? That psychotic lowlife Badger, from Eavesdown?" Fiona snickered at that, drawing a strange look from her father. "I think calling him that does a disservice to the psychotic lowlife community," Jacob responded. "And yes, it was." "What does he have to tell me?" Harrow said, looking rather harried. His gaze still went to his daughter, looking a touch betrayed. "All that he told me was 'They are ready.' Don't particularly know what that's s'posed to mean, but there it is." Harrow nodded for a moment. "Very well. It can begin at any time, then." "Excuse me, what?" Jacob asked. "Oh, not your concern. I suggest you leave Persephone quickly." "I've been getting that advice fairly damn often, recently," Jacob muttered. Suddenly, though, Jacob felt a tug at his sleeve. He turned, startled to see Monday, staring into the crowd, her face pale and her eyes quivering. "What's wrong?" "It's.... it's..." she said. Anne chose that moment to appear at Jacob's side. "What's the problem?" she asked. Jacob nodded to Monday, who was still staring, terrified and affixed. Easter wasn't far off, concern plain upon his features. Anne frowned a moment, then nodded, taking Monday aside, speaking in hushed tones. Easter took a step forward. "I think not," Jacob said. "She needs an ear neither of us can provide." Easter frowned, but did not go any further. Warrick, caught by the situation, affected a smile, one which was somewhat shaky for the evenings revelations. Fiona, of course, was now nowhere to be seen. Finally, Anne let out a very unrefined growl and stalked into the floor, leaving Monday shaking, her hands still grasping the arms of the chair they had taken up next to. She'd crossed half the floor when a man with short blonde hair caught her arm for a moment. Jacob's eyes narrowed as the man leaned down and said something, but he let her go almost immediatly, and she proceeded on her way, her face a veritable thunderhead about to release bolts. Jacob took a step to follow his wife, but made it about that far before the crowd let out a communal gasp. The press parted as Jacob approached, with a man holding his groin while down on his knees. Anne had just finished shoving the blonde bit he arrived with to the floor when Jacob managed to catch her before she did something even more irredeemable. "What in th'ever livin' hell's runnin' through your mind, woman?" Jacob demanded, and Anne answered him with a searing glare. Not at him, simply making a stop-over for its intended destination, which was back at the man with the groinal injury. Wing, that was his name. Atherton Wing. "Oh, dear," Warrick said, as he appeared at the edge of the crowd. "You sick son of a bitch," Anne spat down at him, "It wasn't enough to do it once, you had to hire somebody to do it again for you..." "Wei!" Jacob shouted. "What..." "You filthy whore," Wing managed through gritted teeth. "I've spitted men for half..." "I was afraid of this," Harrow said sadly. Wing made his way slowly back to his feet, thrusting out his hand behind him, for the young blonde woman to take. He pulled her rather abruptly to her feet, giving Anne a look which dripped of acid. "You should have thought to better restrain that slut of yours," Wing snarled. "Might be best that you restrain your tongue before it flaps the wrong way," Jacob offered. "Was that a threat?" Wing demanded. "Is that how you want it took?" Wing sneered. "My quarrel is with her, not you. Your assault will not go unpunished." "Here it comes," Harrow said, with depressed expectation. "I accept your challenge," Wing said. "What?" Anne said. "This is insane!" Jacob added. "And it's also perfectly legal," Harrow pointed out. "There has been a challenge," an onlooker boomed. "You can't go through with this," Jacob said, pulling her behind him. "There is nothing you can do to stop it, son," Harrow said sadly. From the edge of the crowd, Jacob caught Reynolds smirking to Inara. "See, I told you I wouldn't pick a fight this time," he stage-whispered. "You don't understand," Jacob said, his mind blazing through a thousand excuses, looking for one which even this crowd would be hard pressed to not heed. Then, like a blaze of fire streaking through the heavens, then landing in his front yard and killing his cat, it came to him. "She can't fight, because she's pregnant." Those nearby seemed taken aback. Even Anne, who stared at him with a mixture of confusion and apprehension. Atherton's face screwed up into a hateful rictus. He seemed about to say something when Harrow interrupted. "It is against all precept to duel an expectant mother," he said calmly. "Moreover, it is against the law." "Fine, then," he hissed, pointing at Jacob. "You will be her second. You should have learned to keep your bitch in line." There was not so much a whit of compromise in his words, nor his glare as he adjusted himself one final time. Without another word, he made his limping way to the door, the blonde still glued to his arm. Harrow shook his head sadly. "Spoiled brat that he is, he has killed a dozen men with the long blade. You, sir, have just commited suicide," Harrow stated. "He can't be that tough," Anne retorted. "He is an expert swordsman. And I doubt the same could be said of your husband." Jacob grinned. "I know which end to hold." <> "Well, that went well," Jacob said as the door was locked behind them. Anne smiled at him, but was nervous. How had he known? Had he guessed? It must have been. Not her problem now. "He had it coming," Anne said. "Trust me." Jacob shook his head. "Bein' all rich and fanciful ain't a reason to be rearrangin' his privy parts. Well, not enough of a reason, at least." Anne couldn't restrain the scowl with stretched across her face. "Keepin' out of your crew's affairs might be a good policy most days, but this case has you one step behind the pack. Atherton Wing is bad news, Jacob." "I was gettin' that," Jacob agreed. "Mainly from the you kicking him 'twixt his nethers, but..." Anne shook her head, letting herself rest on the lavish, oversized bed that the room furnished. It was softer than... well, softer than anythin' she'd ever rested on, by a fair measure. Still, it wasn't comfortable until Jacob sat down next to her, his hand engulfing hers in an unconscious gesture. "He's a bad man, love. A very bad man. Ain't even sure it's my place to say..." Jacob remained silent for a moment, then waved her to continue. "It's about Monday. And Friday, it seems." "And how could that..." "Bi zwai," she chastised. "When Monday was eighteen, she took her first client. That client was Atherton Wing. You know that Companions are sometimes used on virgin sons of advanced age? This was that, exactly. See, Atherton's had himself a kink at the time. Couldn't perform with a willin' woman. So, he hired one, then made her all manner of unwillin'. She was his slave for a damn long while, so I gather, before he cut her loose. She was young and ashamed, so she didn't tell nobody." "I'm startin' to develop somethin' of an unhealthy anger towards this man," Jacob said, his voice perfectly neutral, the way it got sometimes when he was fuming. "Prepare to get unhealthier," she said, quaking against the waves of rage which tore through her as well. "You saw that man who nabbed me?" she waited just long enough for Jacob to nod. "Turns out, Atherton's got some other dirty secrets. This guy told me that Atherton hired the man who done what happened to Friday on Bena." "...Could you repeat that one?" Jacob said quietly. "Might not a' been there, but Atherton raped Friday." "Alright, then," Jacob said, his eyes burning darkly. "I'm going to kill this man." "Jacob..." "No," he snapped at the air, his eyes locked on the far wall. "If anyone messes with my crew, they answer to me." Anne found herself smiling. "Always could trust you t'do the stupid thing," she whispered. She reached behind her, pulling the buttons free of their moors, and the dress began to loosen from its admittedly tenuous grip on her shoulders. Her only dress, this one, and the only one she ever got comfortable wearing. Jacob eyed her askance for just a moment. "One last thrust for a man not long for this world?" he said, a smirk on his lips as he lowered her diminutive form onto the bed. "If you'd like t'think," she replied, closing her eyes rapturously as his lips began to make a wet trail down her neck. "Might want to restrain yourself," she managed to mutter. "Big day for you tomorrow." Jacob's grunted reply sounded in the lavish room as he went lower still. Just as he slid the dress off her shoulders, though, he hesitated. She opened her eyes, taking in his somewhat confused expression. He stared at her, mouth slightly open. And not at her eyes. "Something's different," Jacob said. His eyes rose to hers, and she could see the gears a-spinnin' in his head. Suddenly, with an almost audible clunk, everything he must have seen over the last twenty four hours came together. "How's that... You're... pregnant?" Suddenly, she found herself smiling up at him, a contagious grin which caught on his own face as he flipped her up so now she was straddling his hips as he laughed. She found herself joining him. Half naked, on another man's bed, waiting six hours for her husband to get into a swordfight, and her impossibly pregnant, and she laughed. "When did you learn?" "You remember when we was all sick?" Jacob nodded. Anne smirked. "Well, turns out I didn't get that bug at all. Just mornin' sickness. I heard my mother had all the symptoms early, so I guess it rolls right along." "How far along are you?" Jacob asked, eyes bright. She took in a breath to tell him, but she was struck by the strange odor of the room, the way it had changed suddenly. Now, it smelled somewhere between lemon and pepper. It made her mouth water slightly, as though somebody were cooking dinner. It was right about then that she remembered what that smell meant, and her heart lurched. "Hold your breath!" she shouted at her husband, leaping off of him and running to the door. Jacob's chest stopped rising, but he watched her as if she'd suddenly grown horns along with her fetus. She pounded at the door, even going so far as trying to drag it open, but it was locked tight. Damn it all! The breath in her lungs began to burn as she glanced to the flaming hearth at the far end of the room, and the fire sensors disguised in the cieling. With a smirk across a tight face, she grabbed a chair, thrusting it into the flames. The flames flickered around the chair, not igniting it in the slightest. Ruttin' hell, had to be a gorram hologram, didn't it? Anne thrust her hands into Jacob's pockets, feeling for the lighter he almost never used. Her fingers closed around it as her lungs finally gave out and she pulled in a heady breath of over-sweet air. With a growl, she shook her head at her husband and set about lighting the chair's upholstery ablaze. It caught very quickly, and she held the impromptu torch up to the sensor. In a matter of seconds, the door slid open, and she grabbed her husband's arm. Jacob lurched out the door, gasping in a breath in the hall. "What the hell was that about?" he said, taking in new lungs of fresh air. "The only way to unlock the door was to set off the fire detection system," she explained, trying desperately to purge the gas from her lungs. "Can't lock folk in when there's a fire. Against the law." "What about the breath?" he asked. "Gas." "What?" She finally coughed, no longer tasting that lemon-peper every time she exhaled. "It's a neutralizing gas, based off of cocaine. It makes you burn all your energy, leaving you exhausted in a matter of a few hours. Used to supercharge soldiers a spell, and make dandies die in swordfights." "One of these days," Jacob said, "you're gonna need to tell me how you know so damn much about these things. Now, we got a problem in they'll likely be by in a few moments to check on that fire." "Which means we maybe ought run off, then?" Anne asked. She could feel thrills of energy surging through her, but she knew exactly why that was happening. Gorram drug-air. Jacob shook his head, though, as he reached back through the door, picking up his sword. "No, this ends now. Atherton Wing done messed with my crew, and I believe you heard when I said anybody messes with my crew, they answer to me." "Jacob," she warned. "This ain't no time for thrillin' heroics." Jacob, though, had taken to grinning. "Beg to differ, love. This here's the perfect time for thrillin' heroics." He dragged her to her feet as he began to run down the halls, past the columns and whatnot what made this place all fanciful and moneyed. He strapped the sword onto his back as he ran, and she worked at getting her dress to something resembling normalcy. Finally, he burst into the courtyard, the night pressing in, despite the ever-present skyline of Persopine. "Wing!" he screamed. "Get your ass out of bed!" He stood, before the doors, for long minutes as a pair of armed men burst through the door and leveled handguns at his head. He simply stood, waiting. Eventually, the guards were joined by the master of the house, clad in a silk robe, hastily tied shut, his young, blonde trophy wife by his side. As well, the fair-haired man from the party appeared from a side door, joining the group. "What is the meaning of this insult? Why did you set fire to my home?" Wing asked. His wife pouted by his side. The fair haired man rolled his eyes and looked every bit the ashamed father of the ignominious drunkard. "You tried to drug me. That don't sit well with me. We end this now," Jacob said. Atherton scoffed. "This is highly uncivilized," Wing said. He wasn't at all groggy. Hell, that hun dahn probably was wide awake the whole night in anticipation of the morning's murder. "I make no claims to civility, Atherton. Especially not t'wards those who try to poison me in my sleep," Jacob hissed. Wing made a feigned expression of shock, but the fair-haired noble just sighed, kneading his brow. "You don't seem surprised." The younger man smiled mirthlessly. "I cannot say that I am." "Hauser, what is this?" Wing demanded. "This time, my lord, you shall have to fight your own battle," he said, pulling a sword-baldric off his shoulder and dropping it to the ground. Wing stared daggers at the man as he stood aside from the group. The guards glanced between Wing and this Hauser, then holstered their weaponry. Wing scowled one last time, then whispered something to his woman, who stepped aside. A ring of metal against metal sounded in the night as his sword lept to his hand, and Jacob stepped forward, his own blade before him. There was a moment of observation, then the two came together, weapons clashing. Hauser skirted the conflict to stand at her side. From time to time, he frowned at the way the fight was progressing. "Oh, dear," he said. "What?" she asked. "He actually thinks he's winning," Hauser said as Jacob jumped back from a near swipe. Jacob was grinning. "Best be carefull," her husband chuckled darkly, waving his blade. "These things are more'n a touch sharp." Wing scowled, leaping forward again, and the two began to move in what seemed like an elegant, if frightening dance. Elegant, and yet if a single step faltered... "You actually think he's struggling, yet?" Anne said. She'd seen him train before, and he was capable of so much more. Of course, training with Casher was a far different struggle than against an expert swordsman. The two broke, circling wide, blades directed at one another. "You should have left her the hell alone," Jacob said. Wing frowned. "Who?" "My ship!" he shouted, batting the sword away and landing a nick against Wing's arm. "My crew!" "He has something of a protective streak, does he not?" Hauser commented. "A touch," Anne affirmed. Atherton began to sweat as Jacob's attacks grew faster, more focused. She watched as her husband flowed like water, unstopable, undefatigable. Then, she saw it, the moment of weakness. A shattering point. With a twist of his wrist, Jacob flicked Wing's blade toward him, just managing to twist past it. He grabbed the hand holding the weapon, then smashed Wing in the face with his elbow. The 'noble' dropped to the ground, his weapon in Jacob's right hand. Hauser grunted in surprise. Jacob knelt down in front of Wing, holding the weapons on either side of the man's throat. "I live by a very simple code, Atherton. You mess with those I care about, and I repay you tenfold. You mess with my crew, you answer to me. And here comes the reckoning," Jacob threw Wing's weapon away, spinning the blade in his hands, pointing it at Wing's chest. He raised it above his head, but found himself unable to drive it back down. She watched in confusion as he let the blade fall to the grass. He stared down at Wing, and his broken face. With a condescending smile, Jacob knelt once more. "I'm going to be a father," Jacob said. "And I don't want to have to tell my child I killed a man like this. So this is your only chance. If you touch anybody on my crew, or send anybody to do it in your stead, next time, I won't let you live. I swear it. I can beat you at your game, by your rules. Remember that before you call down my wrath again." Jacob stalked away, headed back toward where the ship was docked. Anne, though, stared at the blade on the ground. She strode forward, picking up Sylvia's wedding present. "You know," she said, to the broken-nosed Wing, "mercy is the mark of a great man." She spun the blade in her hands. Jacob was a better man than any she'd known, but he still didn't grasp how brutal the 'verse could be. And one enemy left alive when he ought be dead was one enemy too many. And she was sick of having so ruttin' many enemies. "And Jacob is that. A great man," she continued. Then she raised the blade high. "Unfortunately for you... I'm not." And Wing's wife began to scream. <> The walk back was actually a touch cold, with the adrenaline streaming away from him, like water off of wax. He didn't even notice for a long moment when Anne took her place beside him. She was carrying his sword, he noticed. When had she...? It didn't matter. It was over. Atherton wouldn't even think of coming after him now. "So," he said. "How far along d'you figure you are?" Anne stared at him a moment. "Ain't proper sure," she said. "Hell, two days ago, I didn't even know I was pregnant. Pregnant... huh." "What?" he asked. She smiled a bit. "Guess I just ain't used to the idea. Never did think it could happen, after all." Jacob slipped his arm around her waist. "Figure it's a boy or a girl?" "Girl," she said. "So confident?" he chuckled. "Girls kick ass. Says so on the shirt." "I figure it'll be a boy. Just to mess with ya," Jacob laughed. Then a thought occured to him. "With you like this... should we even be...?" "If you try backin' out, I'll tie you to a chair," she said sweetly. "Friday said there weren't nothin' wrong with it, less'n it involves whips and such." "She actually use those words?" "She did, actually. Made me a bit nervous, to tell the truth," Anne admitted. "Then again, the woman does own several corsets, so..." Jacob smiled as the streets of Eavesdown slipped away, and the docks came into sight. And so did a man who Jacob did not expect to see in the world of the living. Jacob missed a step, staring at this man, who should, by all sane reasoning, be dead. "Verne?" Jacob said. The self-proclaimed 'New Mister Universe' spotted him, and trod over slowly. "What... how?" Verne gave a wan look. "You really think that we'd stay on Ion, knowing that there were Operatives after you? That would have been a slow suicide, as recent events prove." "But when she fired..." Anne said. "They took out the relay we were routing the Signal through," Verne chuckled. "Truth is, we came her so Fi could visit her father. Nice fella, if a bit stodgy." "So, you're all here on Persephone?" Anne asked. "For the moment. Staying moving's a bit taxing though," Verne nodded as he spoke. "I noticed you were down to one chin," Jacob noted, and the older man chuckled. "Hard to get your six square meals when you're on the run," Verne replied. "I figured you deserved to know, so you might as well tell Zane and the others." "What are you going to do now?" Anne asked. "Keep moving, I guess," Verne said. "Can't stop the Signal, Jacob." "Can't stop the Signal," Jacob agreed. With that, and a nod, the now thinning man dissappeared into the streets. Jacob felt a weight removed from his shoulders. One less group of deaths on his mind. The pair trod triumphantly up the ramp, and Zane leaned down from the doorway to the kitchen. "Well. Two in the mornin'. Have fun at your li'l shindig?" he asked before flipping down his mask and beginning to weld something. "A bit," Jacob replied. He turned to his wife. "You mind takin' us out of the world? I'm not likin' bein' on this world at the moment." She nodded and made her way forward, toward the cockpit of the ship. Jacob, on the other hand, made his way up toward where Zane was hard at work, despite the ungodly hour. Of course, the man never did seem to sleep. "Mister Universe is alive," Jacob said, and Zane paused in his work. "Really?" "Yup. Told me to say hello. Also ran into Fi. She was well," Zane smiled a bit. "Wouldn't mind runnin' into her again," Zane mentioned. "So, what kept you out so late?" "Got into a fight," Jacob said. Zane glanced his direction. "What?" "Nothin'. Ain't you tired?" "Not as such," Jacob said. Suddenly, a grin lit onto his features. "Say, you here the one where the man walks into the talent agency?"

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