BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 3:05, Confederation, Part 1
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Finally arriving on Hera, Jacob settles down to unwind, but is interrupted by a startling revelation by a member of his crew. And not too far away, even as the Independant Planets sign their Confederation, somebody is waiting in the darkness for the perfect moment to strike.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1346    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Wow. This one ended up being a hell of a lot longer than I thought it was going to end up. I'd intended to have discrete episodes, with this spelling out and wrapping up one storyline before I spend a moment elsewhere, then jump back into the fray, but it seems like I'm going to need to spend a bit of time in the next one dealing with the overrun. I'd intended, originally, that Confederation be a single episode, but as I was half way through the drinking game, I realized it was going to be entirely too long to wrap up in a single episode, so I decided to split it at the most dramatically appropriate spot. This one, like the beginning of BSG's season two, is the closing up of a number of old threads I had weaving through the first few episodes, before I move on to bigger and better things, but only as it regards to the Crew of Legacy. For the rest of them, their respective stories are only just beginning. I'm also glad that I could get the crew of Serenity in here, and moreover, get their voices correct. The first attempt I took at including them was an abject failure, such as that I had to start all over again from the first line, but the rewrite, as you can see, is much improved. It's got Jayne (and River) being lewd, Mal yelling at Inara, and Kaylee hugging people. Just another day on Serenity. The language warning is back in effect, and with great gusto; this is not intended for the immature reader (and I say that including the childish fourty year olds out there...). Also, the bastard Spanish spoken by Lex, like the Mandarin throughout this season, has scroll over translations. Just point at the words, and it'll tell you what you're missing. Serenity and the 'Verse are property of Joss. Everything else is mine. Feedback is food. Feed me. Feed me browncoats... FEED MEEE!

Confederation, Part 1

The halls slipped past Blue as his pace through the still brightly lit halls left the pages stumbling out of his path. He noted idly that the ones which hadn't cleared out of his way found themselves propelled into the walls; he was in no mood to have to skirt and scurry around his own peons. The tiles seemed to form arrows to Blue's mind, directing him onward as he refined his wrath into something cold, hard, and capable of being grasped. A tool, to use as he needed, rather than something which would simply set everything ablaze. He'd learned at a young age, in that facility under Shadow, that he had to be subtle if he wanted to survive. And he did want to survive. Subtlety was now so thick into him as to seep into his very bones, but he also recognized its counterpart. Sometimes, subtlety was the only path which could fail. This was such a time. He turned a corner, seeing the doors to the board room in the distance. A solid fist of guards, similar to the blue gloved Agents, save for the gloves, snapped to attention, forming a solid legion barring him from entry. One of them, wearing a Guard which was oversized by a solid measure, broke from the ranks and stood before them, staring as Blue beared down on them. "The session is barred to all entry," he said, extending his floppy tipped hand to stall Blue. "If you approach, we are authorized to..." Blue didn't let him finish, simply locking his glacial gaze onto the man, and reaching into the wide-open door the improperly fitted Guard left, worming his will into the man's mind in a heartbeat. From within, he choked the man, stifling the beat of his heart. One beat. Two beats, three beats missed. Four. As Blue's footsteps drew closer, the so-called leader grasped his sternum, his eyes bulging from his head, and fell to his knees, gasping for breath he could not draw. Finally, after a time which was as an eternity to Blue's perception, his body reached where the goon was gasping an agony. Blue placed a dark fingered hand on the man's brow. "Anyone else?" he asked, staring straight forward. The crowd parted almost biblically before his brutal gaze. Stifling the urge to smirk, he gave the goon under his hand a gentle shove, retracting his psychic chokehold and letting his heart start beating again when he hit the floor. "Good. Let no one else enter," he said, as he continued. When silence greeted him, Blue cast a short glance over his shoulder. "Did you not understand my orders?" Blue asked, his voice perfectly neutral. The guards went deathly pale, almost in unison, and snapped into formation again, this time behind him. Good. They could still be useful to him, then. He picked up his pace again. He hated to be late, and the doors, thick steel covered in silver and lapis lazuli, were the only thing barring his path. He almost hated to have to deface the emblem of the Blue Sun, but in this instance, a dramatic entrance was in order. A shriek of metal parting from metal, and metal from stone, announced Blue's interruption, and was punctuated by the cataclysmic crash of metal into wood. Blue strode through the decimated doorframe, resplendid in his very finest suit, and took his place, standing amongst the bedlam, at the foot of the long table. Slowly, the dust settled, and the screams of panic and shock died down, and the smile he'd been working so hard to surpress crept out. Just a bit. He decided to leave it. It served his purposes. "Agent Blue, this is extremely irregular," Chairman Bosch shouted. Ever the pompous windbag, Bosch. Blue didn't bother working his way into the Chairman, or any of the others crowded around the table. They had EndoGuards weaved into their skulls, for just the very purpose they now found themselves confronted by. If the EndoGuard had been made manditory by the Parliament, Blue found himself considering, perhaps then the entire Miranda incident would never have occured, but then Blue would never have found himself in this position. His smile increased somewhat. "It is?" Blue asked, lowering his long fingers to the table, over the vacant chair which had remained vacant for more than twenty years, until Eli's phenominal return. He turned back, taking in his handiwork; the massive door, costing more than one million credits to create and install, was now a twisted, worthless hunk impaled halfway through the decorative woodwork and far wall. The doorframe had been opened up into a hole half again its original size. His smile increased just a little more. In terms of grandiose entrances, this had to rank among the top five in the 'Verse. "I don't see it thus." "You are not permitted into this chamber," Elise piped up. Of course, she also had an unpleasant propensity towards predation of the young interns and pages who worked in the building, and was appearantly quite gender indescriminate. Also, a closet sadist. Blue reached into his pocket, and pulled out the data disc containing every bit of scandal and excess he'd accumulated on the entire board over the course of his employment, and set it gently down. He didn't need to. He could have a thousand copies of it, given to every news outlet short of Earth-that-was in an hour. He'd been preparing for this moment for decades. He'd just never suspected he'd have the Coordinator's blessing in it. "Neither should you be, Elise," Blue said, coldly. "You, who's salary is rated at a quarter million a year, yet saw fit to purchase, in cash, properties totalling more than twenty million for four consecutives years. That's a lot of money to appear out of nowhere, isn't it Elise?" Of course, it was the financial statements he'd gathered which were the most damning. He'd never met a room full of people so fat, so weeping of rich oils and perfumes, so tempting to crush under a heel... "Thats..." Elise stammered, but Blue ignored her, turning to the man next to her. A minion, in all senses, past and present, of the word. Utterly incapable, and only here due to the beds he shared in his youth. "And you. You once arrived late for a business trip on Ariel, if I recall, it was three years ago this coming Thursday," Blue said, letting the silence mount after his last word. The minion glanced around. "The shuttle experienced difficulties," he responded, but Blue just smirked. "The shuttle arrived on perfect time, which is somewhat surprising. No, you're tardiness was due to something else. A little diversion on the way, I should say?" he pulled out the capture from his inside pocket, verified that it was the right one --- for he had more than a few --- and slid it across the tabletop. The minion was greeted by video of him being used as a toilet by several twelve year old boys. Blue had laughed quite a bit when he'd seen that one. Blue pointed at the chairman, next. "We will not stand for this attempt at blackmail, Nicodemus," Bosch snarled. "In fact, I shall have you ejected from this room this very instant. You don't belong here." "Do I not?" Blue asked. "No. This is a place for upstanding," Blue chortled, but Bosch soldiered on, "businessmen. Not for extortionists," Bosh said. Then he grinned his own little grin. "And especially, not for a half-breed mutant nick like you." And that was exactly the wrong thing for Bosch to say. It was wrong, because it pissed Nicodemus Blue off. With a broad, sweepign gesture from Blue, all of the chairs exploded away from the tables, carrying their occupants to the walls, with Bosch's sole exception. With slow, stiff steps, Blue went around the length of the table, and turned Bosch's chair to face him full. "You, though," Blue said, through gritted teeth, barely holding what remained of his temper in rein. "You are the ringleader of this depraved menagerie, and most exemplary of them. I have enough on you so that the thickest skulled magistrate on Sihnon what isn't in your pocket --- if one can be said to exist --- wouldn't just throw you in prison, he'd have you put to death. Hell," he laughed, "if I were to present the same to any magistrate in the Border worlds, he'd without hesitation have you shot. You are a disgrace to this orginization, and everything it stands for." Without another word, Blue narrowed his will into an auger tip, forcing its way through the admittedly formidable protection the EndoGuard afforded the Chairman, and made the man's brain begin to bleed. As he stared, blood began to run from Bosch's ears, nose, mouth, and eyes. He tried to push Blue away, but his limbs were limp and flaccid, and he only succeeded in mussing Blue's jacket somewhat. The crowd cried out in horror as they watched the Chairman die, and at least one woman's screams died out suddenly as her body decided it was better off unconcious. As Bosch's glubbering came to a close, blue pulled him by his collar, depositing him onto the floor. Blue took the late-Chairman's place, leaning forward over his elbows to stare at the crowd, still pressed against the walls in his burst of unrestrained anger. Blue forced the smile back into place, and let them all free of their ethereal bondage. "Of course," he said, in an overly conversational tone, "he's already cost the Corporation entirely too much money over the last twenty years to tax it any further by his going to trial," he turned to the crowds, flattened against the walls, next. "And you all have cost the company entirely too much to remain in its employ for one further minute." Now, the smile was genunine. "Clear out your offices immediately. As of oh-nine-hundred this morning, you will be tresspassing on this property, and all properties owned or operated by the Blue Sun Corporation." "What are you saying?" Elise asked, her voice weak and hoarse. "You're fired," Blue clarified, leaning back with a dismissive gesture. "You're all fired. Get the fuck out of my office." "You can't do that!" the minion cried. "I believe I just did. I am Acting Coordinator, which is a position invested with one hell of a lot more authority than even your precious Chairman," Blue punctuated his statement by shoving Bosch a bit with his foot, "could hope to accumulate. And, as Acting Coordinator, I've decided that all of you are a damaging influence on the workings and future of this Corporation. Therefore, you are fired. Now, get out of this office, and this building. If I see you again, I'll have you arrested. And not," he added, with a wagged finger, "by the police." A horde of white faces took no further convincing than his brutal glare to scramble away, sometimes on hands and knees, and clear out of the room. One of them stood out, though. Just before that man made it through the door, Blue pointed him out. "Not you," Blue called out. Stanley Garret turned, and Blue rose from his feet. The people trying to escape were stalled, torn between wanting to escape and wanting to see what new terrible thing this man was about to suffer. "What do you want now?" Garret demanded. His voice was hoarse, but not for cries of fear or denial. His was anger. Even through the physical barricade inside the man's skull, Blue could feel that trademark righteous anger. "You," Blue said, standing up, "are the only one in this group who hasn't attempted to milk this Corporation for anything you could. Indeed, you are the only one of this entire lot who isn't a sick, twisted, blindly idiotic degenerate. Moreover, you're reason for wanting me evicted from Acting Coordinatorship was the only one which was even remotely valid." "Your point being?" Garret asked. Blue could tell the man's patience had already been strained too far. Blue knew when not to push his luck. "You are the only one not warrenting imprisonment, let alone execution, and moreover, you're an asset to this orginization. You're going to be given a raise and a promotion, if you wish to remain." "You're not firing me?" he asked. "Why would I?" Blue asked. "Now, please, go home and take the day off. You, alone, deserve it, having to witness..." Blue cast around his hands with a shrug. Garret seethed a moment, then left, and the horde followed him. Blue turned his chair around, looking up at the massive Blue Sun emblem dug into the wall, also in lapis lazuli. So ingrossed in it was he, that he didn't hear the approaching footsteps until they were nearly upon him. Not impressed to be snuck up upon, Blue slammed the interloper to the wall, then turned, noticing Eli, wincing in pain from his undoubtably uncomfortable position. Blue released him. "I thought you were going home?" he asked. Eli smirked in that way he did. "And miss watchin' those pantywaist idjits scurry out of here like the pack of rats that they are? Not in your lifetime, Nick, and certainly not in mine." "What are you doing here, really?" Blue asked. Eli answered by smiling. "There exists a job opening," Blue gave a pointed glance to Bosch. Eli shrugged. "I think you'd be perfect for it." "Much appreciated," Eli chuckled. "Oh, and have you ever heard of subtlety? That door's never goin' to look right, after what they're going to have to do to restore it." "I was quite impressed with the effect, and so were they." Eli shrugged. "Be as it may, Nick. Be as it may. I'd have to say, that has to rank in the top ten entrances." "Not top five?" Blue asked, and Eli let out a quick laugh. "I've seen some damn fine entrances in my days," he replied. He knuckled his back, letting out a loud crack. "Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a sofa in the second floor break room with my name on it." As Eli half-limped out of the room, Blue found something odd. He rose to his feet, and called out to the old man. "Wait," he waited until Eli turned back to him. "How did you get by the guards. I specified that they were to allow no one in." Eli laughed for a short while, then calmed, turned those eyes back to Blue, shrugged, and disappeared beyond the shattered edge of the doorframe. Blue settled back into his seat, steepling his dark fingers. "That man," he muttered to himself, "is going to be a serious problem, one day." <> Lex rapped his knuckles again on the door, waiting as the echo died in the hall. It was the middle of the day, and the building was practically abandoned for the Carnivale going on outside. He shifted his weight as the silence stretched out. "La maldición de Wendigo sobre todo..." he muttered, checking his watch. Late. Very, very late. He turned his back to the door again, pulling the hot air into his lungs as he stared down the cutaway into the lower section of the hall, then up through the next cutaway into the higher, and at the grey sky above. Not the most festive weather for Carnivale, but it would have to do, he supposed. He turned to the door again, and rapped again, this time testing the knob. It turned easily in his hand, and the door swung open, exposing the dark apartment. For a moment, he hesitated, staring at the darkness. This was odd. He didn't like oddity unless he was himself perpetrating it. He took a step into the room, and was fetched as he felt strands of silk pulling at his vest. Lex took a step backward, plucking the thing off of his chest, staring at it in consternation. Almost by rote, he stared up at the ceiling, and his jaw dropped when he saw the tiny spider remaining perfectly still on the cieling above him. Experimentally, he brought the web to his tongue, tasting the fibers. Sour and bitter. Synthetic. "Monday!" he shouted, slamming the door as he forced his way into the room. So heedless was he in his entrance that he tripped over something and fell. Glass shattered, and hot pain ran up his arm. Cursing himself for his stupidity, he retreated to the crack of light and sought out a switch for the room. Finding none, he tried something else. "Lights on." The lights blinked into function, exposing the glass-topped coffee table that he'd stumbled onto, shattering in the process. He shook his head, and looked away, but his gaze was dragged back to the chair next to it. It was overturned, as if something had been propelled away from it. "Monday, are you here?" Lex asked, pulling a pot-handler from the counter and wrapping it around his lacerated forearm. "You missed our scheduled meeting, and I thought..." He was arrested again as he crossed the space toward the bedroom. His eyes focused on the robe, laying on the carpet. She wasn't one to leave such things lying about; then, he noticed the disorder of the carpet itself. It hadn't been cleaned, and was disarrayed. From what he knew of Monday, she'd never have let that stand, especially with a stain of that size and magnitude. It reeked of urine, besides. She didn't have a pet... "Monday, where are you?" he shouted again. He practically kicked down her bedroom door, but found it vacant, dark. Lex took another deep breath. There must be an explaination that didn't invoke the worst possible explaination, he thought. Something that was sane and safe and simple. Occam's Razor. That's the ticket. "Monday?" he asked. Then he heard a creaking from the bathroom, connected to the room. He moved slowly toward it, wishing that he had a proper gun. He slowly pushed open the bathroom door, and saw her there. For an instant, he felt extremely silly, for barging into her house assuming the worst. Then, he felt embarrassed for spying her whilst she squatted on the john. He pulled back with a squawk. "I'm terribly sorry. I didn't know you were here. You didn't..." he paused. She didn't make a sound. He turned back, looking at her again. It was then that he realized she was stark naked. "Monday...Cólera del caníbal... What happened to you?" he asked, slowly reaching out for her. She recoiled just as his fingertips were about to contact her shoulder, sending her skittering across the damp, tiled floor. Away from him. "Monday," he attempted, but she threw a bar of soap at him for his trouble. She didn't say a word, but her eyes spoke for her, screaming in terror and rage. "Monday calm down. It's me... It's Lex." He moved to her again, and this time she backed away only a bit before slowing, recognition slowly dawning in her dark eyes, which then began to brim with tears. He offered his hand toward her, a calming gesture. She pushed past it and threw herself at his chest, weeping, leaving Lex bewildered, confused, and more than a little angry. For what felt like a long time, he just squatted there, Monday just cried there, as if releasing a lifetime's worth of demons. "Monday," he asked as the sobbing slowed and ceased, "what happened to you?" He would have kicked himself, and probably should have, because it was painfully and abundantly obvious what had happened to her. Her clothing in one room, her in another, and her own urine on the floor. What a stupid question. "Whapsep..." she said. Lex felt his blood go cold. "El Humano-Comedor protege a esta mujer," Lex whispered in fear. After a moment, he thought better of his mutterance, and revised it. "El Humano-Comedor nos protege todos..." "He came to me," she whispered, her voice ragged and hoarse. She'd done a lot of screaming, he could tell. "He made me... tell... him things..." Her eyes rose up to his, and he wished, with all his being, that he could take away the suffering behind them. "I tried to protect him. I really did," she whispered. "I'm sure you did," Lex said. "I'm sure you..." "I lied. At first, I lied. The way she taught me... But he knew. Tobin knew..." she continued. "And he... did things... to me..." She pulled away from him, shifting back onto the toilet, staring at the wall. "And... I told him. Everything. I... I'm so weak..." "Monday," Lex said, if only to fill the silence." "Why?" she asked, her voice pleading. "What makes him so... so... fucking special?!" "Who?" Lex asked, and regretted it when her glare, rife with suspicion, landed on him again. "No, I don't need to know. Come on. Let's get you to one of your chairs. It's got to be more comfortable then that toilet." "This is the only place it doesn't hurt to sit," Monday responded, her voice flat and dead. It took a long moment for Lex to understand what that meant; when he did understand, he felt the rabia loca rising in his stomach, the bile rising in his throat. "I'm... I'm going to get you something to wear," Lex said. "Just stay here... what am I saying? Of course you're... never mind." Lex vaulted her bed, and spent only a few moments rummaging through her things before finding a surprisingly plain robe, devoid of any color or ornamentation. Drab enough to vanish, especially now... He turned and vaulted the bed again, skidding to a halt in the bathroom. He held out the robe. "We need to leave. Now." "Just leave me alone," Monday said, her heart a light-year away, let alone not in it. With a grumble that would have done the Ice Father proud, he hoisted her up and forced her into her clothing, possibly with all the alacrity that she had been forced out of her last outfit. "Look at me, Monday," he said. "Look at me!" he shouted, finally getting her attention. "You just had... horrible things happen to you, and if you don't want even more horrible things to happen to you, you're going to have to come with me. This place, it isn't safe anymore. If Whapsep got any information out of you, the other agencies are going to know you're viable, and they'll come knocking in no time. If you think sodomy by the Whapsep was bad, wait until the Operatives show up. Or the Gyrs. Or the Triple 'S'. Whatever you told Whapsep will be pulled out of you, one hair-follicle at a time." "What are you saying?" Monday asked. "He knows everything. Why would he come back?" "It'll be new horrors for you, I'm afraid," Lex said, pulling her out of the bathroom. "At least three courses of them unless..." he trailed off when he opened the door, and a dark skinned man stared back at him, his hand hovering where the doorknob would have been. The man stared at Lex for a moment in surprise, then to Monday. After registering Monday, the man's hand leapt to his side. But this man had a gun. Lex didn't need one. With a roar for the blessing of Wendigo, Lex's body moved with the lethal grace of the Ice Father, slamming the intruder to the ground with a gout of adrenaline-fueled strength. Even as he felt the gun sliding free of its holster, next to Lex's knee, he slammed his forehead down at the man. Again. Again. A fourth time, and he viewed the world through the crimson sheet of blood. He wasn't sure who's it was, and he didn't particularly care. He grabbed for the robe that lay in the pool of drying urine, and looped it, quick as a blink, around the man's neck. From a rage of noise and bedlam, silence descended, as the intruder struggled at first, then became weaker. There was a final twitch, and the man fell still, and Lex let his grip drop from his impromptu garrote. He shivered as the rabia loca left him, and with a sneer, he spit into the unblinking eye of his adversary. "Wh... who was that?" Monday asked from where he'd left her, standing next to her own bedroom door. Lex breathed deeply, trying to catch his breath in the heat, and wiped his sweat onto her soiled robe. His hands dug into the corpse's pocket, and pulled out a leather wallet. He flipped it open, and grunted at the discovery. "This would be a Gyr," Lex muttered, tossing it to her. "That means you've less time than I ever suspected. Whatever you know must be of gargantuan interest to those who sent..." he trailed off. "Did you hear that?" "Hear what?" Monday asked. Lex listened for another moment, then, grabbed her hand and dragged her through her apartment, pausing only to hurl a iron-leg from the demolished coffee table through the window before vaulting through. He dragged Monday fairly roughly through after him, then dragged her down below the sill, and pressed his hand over her mouth. He'd no sooner done so when the door exploded into the room, and it filled with the noises of footsteps and people. With a silencing gesture, Lex pointed downward. He drew her down the fire-escape to the alley below, and without a spoken word, into the crowds of Carnivale. Lex shivered, despite the heat. With the adrenaline streaming away, he felt suddenly weak, and the situation did nothing for his normally care-free and gregarious disposition. When they'd gone a respectable distance by any measure through the anonymous merriment, Monday's hand jerked free of his, and he turned, seeing her standing in a pool of stillness around which the throngs of people seemed to unconsciously stream by. "What... the hell... is going on?" she asked, her voice pleading. "Some dangerous people want you," Lex said. For some reason, she laughed, if mirthlessly at that. "Is something funny about this?" "As funny as a joke repeated once too often," Monday muttered. "I know of a place where you might be safe," Lex said, trying to gather her hand again, but she pulled it back. "What is it?" "Why are you doing this?" she demanded, some of her old fire restored. Lex sighed, shrugging. "I am Ouendigo," he said, by way of explaination. "Now, we've got to go, before they figure out how we gave them the slip." And as he pulled her through the crowds, he tried to think of what would be so important that both the Empress and the puppet-King on Londinum would try to collect it. And he wondered if he wasn't doing the exact same thing, himself. So he pressed through the crowd, and he hoped. When all else failed, only hope and faith remained. History taught that. And now, he pondered, he might just be changing history. Well, wasn't that just something? <> "Hey, careful with those," Mal shouted as Jayne was once again none-too-gentle with the cargo. "D'you have any damn idea how much I had to pay for them?" "Weren't you what paid for 'em," Jayne muttered, damn near pouting at being surrounded by alcohol and not being allowed to touch the leanest drop of it. "Just paid to move it. 'Sides, y'ain't got such a call to be tetchy. 'S not like I busted 'em or nothin'..." "And be sure that you don't," Mal affirmed. "We break a single lonely bottle, it's comin' out of your pay." Jayne muttered something as he continued his hauling, something which Mal was fairly sure he was neither intended to, nor would be appreciated, had he heard. Mal took another step off of the ramp, feeling the soil under his boots, as he stared out onto the city of Serenity, the town which had sprung up in the last three years, born just before the Miranda Wave, and growing like mad since. And every time he looked at them, he could smell that awful stench, an aroma he'd been subjected to for two weeks. The smell of good people dying for no reason at all. Pointedly, he didn't look down into the valley. He couldn't bear it. "I still can't believe she shot me," Dell muttered as he plunked a keg into the back of the mule. Mal smirked at the grousing workers. "Of course she did," Mal chuckled. "She's a good woman." Dell favored the captain with a very flat look. "She shot me in the head," he stated, pointed to his own be-bandaged pate. "And, 'cause of that, you're not dead. So you should grin, accept Simon's morphine, and get back to work," Mal ordered. "'Sides, how long are you going to hold a grudge on that? It's already been a week." "I'm not holding a grudge against her," Dell muttered as he moved to the next box of liquors. "I'm holding a grudge against you." "And that's breakin' my heart," Mal said sarcastically. "Zoe knew that if they didn't think we wanted you dead, they'd've killed you. Thus, you get shot." "I'm still scratchin' my head as to why y'all's just talkin' and not actually doin' nothin'," Jayne interrupted, dropping a box of bottles so loudly that Mal could almost hear the glass crunching. The noise set his teeth to a steady grind. "I ain't loading because I'm the captain. Captains don't load. They get the crew to load." "He's just tetchy 'cause he ain't gettin' laid," Jayne intimated to Fredesa, who shook his head with a rolling of the eyes. "Hey! That ain't any of your business," Mal shouted, but Jayne and Dell were already back to work. "Yeah. Keep loading. Don't make me have to take you t'task again," he trailed off as three of the ladies of the ship came into view. His eyes followed them as they exited Inara's shuttle, bound, no doubt, for the kitchen. He loped up the stairs, trying to intercept them, and Inara pulled her charge to a stop before she collided with him. "So, are you still looking to leave?" Mal asked simply. Regina cast a glance upward to Inara, and River rolled her eyes. "I can think of a few locations we would be better served to leave than on Hera," Inara said. Gina frowned at the older woman. "Sounds to me like you're makin' excuses to stay on my ship," Mal said with a smirk. "You should remember your place, mister Reynolds," Gina snapped, and River giggled for a moment before she could restrain herself. "Oh, really?" Mal said, in tones of mock-interest. "Remember my place, is it? It seems to me like you two are intercalatin' on my place. So, if you have anything to say about it, feel free to excersize my complaints department." "You got a complaints department?" Jayne called from the floor. "Stay out of this, Jayne," Inara said, not entirely unkindly. Jayne sighed, belied by his well hidden smirk of enjoying the show Mal and Inara inevitably put on. Mal heard footsteps behind him, and turned just in time to see Simon noticing him, and turning back around. Come to think of it, there was a distinctively unsettling amount of crying coming from above decks. Raina must have been putting up a storm for both Simon and Kaylee to drop everything in an attempt to avoid her. Simon was, of course, much less successful in his attempts. Now that he thought about it, Mal hadn't seen Kaylee since they'd taken off from that Drift where they'd gotten the liquor. "Seriously. Are you leaving? You made plenty of noise to that effect on Shadow," Malcolm pressured. Inara pursed her lips for a moment, then turned to River. "River, sweetie, take Gina down into the commons." "But mistress..." Gina complained. "No, not now," Inara cut them off. River took the initiate's hand and led her toward the rear of the ship, leaving only the ex-soldier and the ex-Companion standing on the catwalks. As Mal stared into her dark eyes, he, for the most recent of dozens of times that he could remember, wished that things could be simple for just a little while. So he could look into those eyes the way he had before Aleksandr Niska'd gotten ahold of her, back a year ago. Back when everything shut down and they'd drifted apart and things got all complicated again. Pulling himself out of that fairly painful line of thought, he asked, "What have you been doing with River, these last few weeks?" Her eyes twitched just a hair; she was caught off guard by his first question, being one she'd probably never expected him to ask. "She is an excellent teacher," Inara said, somehow not missing her verbal footing. Of course she didn't miss it. She had all that fanciful Companion training specifically so's she wouldn't. "She is a better practitioner in many of the Companion arts than I am," she admitted. "Is that so?" "It is," she said. "She agreed to help educate my pupil, and I'm honored to have her assistance. With her aid, I don't doubt that Regina will recieve the very finest education possible outside the Core." "And, in exchange for the honor of teachin' your pipsqueak? What does she get?" Mal asked. "She is being paid, an appropriate sum for her services," Inara answered. Mal pounded his fist against the rail. "You tryin' to filch my pilot?" he demanded. "Trying to filch your... Have you lost your mind?" she asked. "Just about!" he yelled in response. "I ain't havin' you pull apart my crew." "She came to me, Mal," Inara didn't give an inch. "She wanted to be a part of Regina's education, and she even turned down payment the first time I offered it. Things are simpler this way, Mal. Everything is accounted for." "Like hell she is," Mal said, pushing past her. "Aren't you going to ask me... damn it," she had to move fast to catch up with him as he stalked toward the stairs down. "You're not going to ask me about my destination?" "We both know you're gonna drag your heels for weeks, maybe even months. Like last time, when you got off on Bena," Mal barked over his shoulder. He could hear a little voice screaming at him to shut up and cut his losses before it was too late, but his pride, loudmouth that it was, didn't let it have an uncontested word. "Mal," she said, her voice trailing off. He glanced down, noticing Zoe handing Hoban to Dell before she got onto the now loaded Mule. Even as the thing took off, he scowled, noticing Jayne had suddenly vanished. "This isn't..." "You're damn right, it isn't," Mal snapped, turning his back as he came off the stairs and backpedalled toward the commons room door. "Last time, you'd done everything in your power to make it drawn out and painful." "Painful? No, Mal, I didn't want it to be painful," she said, her voice rising now, as if either insulted or simply tired of being on the defensive. "Well, you're pretty good at gettin' what you don't want, then," he snapped as he beheld River and Gina bowed over a sketch which was taking shape very quickly. It was, if his first impression was correct, he and Inara shouting at each other. River looked up and gave that ethereal smile she tended toward, turning it, after a moment, to Jayne, who was leaning against the infirmery doors. "Fine, let's just get this all out into the open. Mal, do you want me to leave?" she practically yelled. "Go, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out," Mal snapped in response, and even his pride recoiled in confusion, leaving that little voice to shake its head in dismay. "I mean, it's not like you've threatened to do it all manner of times. And you've proven y'self not entirely unable to go through with your threat." "So, you want me off?" she asked. "Would you leave like last time, heels dug in like a mule? Why did you leave like that?" Mal asked. "Why didn't you ask me to stay?" she almost whispered. A cavernous silence filled the commons, which even Jayne had the common sense not to shatter. It was somewhat surprising, then who's voice did breach that pristine moment. River turned to her young charge, with a smile and conversational tone. "Don't mind the cap'n none, he just gets tetchy when he ain't gettin' laid," she explained, pulling off a perfect imitation of Jayne's tone and cadence, despite the fact that her voice sounded nothing like his. Gina recoiled a bit in surprise, but Jayne's eyes were now wide open. Without a word, he moved to River's side, and scooped her up and draped her over his shoulder. "Jayne?" Mal warned, "there's still work to be..." River, draped over her beau's shoulder like a side of beef, gave the captain a look of utter gravitas. "I'll be in my bunk," she explained, then fell into laughter and playfull strugglings as Jayne carried her up the stairs, as effortlessly as he would a bag of wheat. The two remaining adults watched as the couple vanished up the stairs. "Those two are so weird," Gina said, shaking her head and closing the artbook. "Are we done for the morning, mistress?" "Yes, honey, your time is your own until two," Inara answered, not taking her eyes off of the stairs. Gina vanished silently from the room, and Mal found himself staring at Inara again. If only things could be simple again... "Do you want me to leave," she asked, one last time. He could tell, this was the last time she was going to ask. He took a deep breath, and made sure his pride was locked in a very small room, with that little voice doing hourly patrols and feeding it once every couple of days. "If you feel you have to leave, it's not my place to stop you," he said. "But I can't tell you to stay, either." She nodded. "Nothing has changed, then?" she asked. Mal didn't say a word, and she turned, leaving him alone in the commons. "Stay," he whispered when she'd left. He threw himself onto the sofa, staring at the door. "I want you to stay." <> "I suppose this is where we part company," Jacob said, standing at the door of his shuttle. William smiled for a moment, then frowned as he beheld the congregation before him. Zane shifted in his seat, trying to count the boxes of men arranged outside the building, the sheer amount of anti-orbital and anti-aircraft ordnance arrayed in protection of the Confederation signing ceremony. "How many do you suppose that is?" Zane asked. "About a hundred," Jessica Kell answered, adjusting the clothing on her toddler. "That ain't too many," Jacob muttered, but then again, he wasn't in a spot that he could see them. "Thousand," William finished. "Of course," Jessica shrugged, "the better part of them are former guerillas and partisans, scantly trained at best. We ain't sure how they're going to react come a pitched battle. And whatever battle they see, it is going to be pitched." "Infantry sergeant?" Zane asked William. William smirked, and the light reflected off his burnished gold eyes as he turned back to the field. "That there's one of the reason's I married her," Kell chuckled. "I don't like that we have our whole military here. It ain't safe." "Nothing we're about to do is safe, dear," Jessica said. She stood, taking the toddler by the hand, and led the little one off the shuttle. William waited a moment, turning to Jacob. "Your payment will be handed to you at the south barracks. They've been told you're coming," Kell said. Jacob and Kell shook hands. "It is no magic which tells me we will meet again, you and I." "Until next time, Kell," Jacob responded. Kell loped off the ship and the doors hissed closed. Jacob levered himself back into the pilots seat. "We should get this done quickly," Jacob muttered, as if to himself. "Yes, you had better," Elias agreed. "Something's not right." "You've been saying that for days, now," Zane snapped silently. Elias frowned at him as the ship popped back off of the ground and turned toward the south. "Because something's not been right for the last few days," Elias clarified. "Jesus, son, do I have to write you a memo?" "If you don't have something worthwhile to say, just don't say anything," Zane ordered. Elias scowled. "Are you sure?" Elias asked, and as the last word hit the ethereal air, he vanished. The flight to the other location was short, and Jacob set the shuttle down between two other skiffs. "You stay with the ship until I get back," Jacob said as he shut off the engines, letting the warm wind swirl around the interior as the door swung open. "I've got some cashy money to collect." Jacob slipped out of the craft, but Zane managed to catch him before he vanished through the door. "One second, boss," Zane interrupted. Jacob frowned for a moment. "Has Anne talked to you at all, since we got off the Rachel Wall?" "That was about half an hour ago, Zane, durin' which she landed the ship," Jacob pointed out. Zane sighed, and released the captain. "Why?" "No, nothing. Go get the money," Zane said, waving the shorter man away. Jacob scowled for a moment, then shook his head, wandering toward the barracks which looked to have been cut into the soil maybe three months ago at the most. Zane leaned against the still-damp exterior of the shuttle. "Well?" Zane finally asked. "I didn't say anything," Elias responded from his seat on a skiff's mag-lev pylon. "Although, I think Anne might be somewhat inamiable to reason or common sense." "That's a bit harsh, don't you think?" Zane queried. Elias smirked at the mechanic. "That's based on the best information that I have, which, as I recall, is the best information you have. Good God, I wish I'd ended up in a telepath..." "Quit yer bitchin'," Zane snapped. "Just be glad you found yourself somewhere to hole up at all." "Zane?" a familiar voice came. "Is that you?" Zane turned to the voice just in time to have a very happy Kaylee pounce onto him with a spider-hug he couldn't extricate himself from. Not that he was trying too bloody hard, to be truthful... "Kaylee! How long has it been? Two years?" "Hell no," she responded, taking a step back, as if to get a better look at him. "Just been about a year." "Fei hua, it's been," Zane retorted. "Well," she said, rolling her eyes, "last time I saw you, you were in a coma." Zane snapped his fingers. "Yup, that would about explain it," he draped an arm over her shoulder as he paced away from the shuttle and the barracks. "So, how's that marriage of yours doin'?" "Oh, it's just great," she said, her tone a bit... off. Zane frowned down at Serenity's mechanic. "What aren't you tellin' me, sweetheart?" he prodded. "Well, is' just that ever since Raina was born..." she began. "Who's Raina?" Zane interrupted. "My daughter," she said, as if restating the obvious. Then, her hand flew to her mouth, and she gave an 'oh nuts' expression. "Oh, sorry. I forgot, you didn't see me when I was all pregnant and bloaty." Zane just stared at her for a moment. "You had a daughter?" "Yeah, an' she's just the sweetest little thing," Kaylee gushed. "If she's so sweet," Zane pointed out, "why exactly ain't she here?" Kaylee's smile faltered a second, and when it shored up, it wasn't nearly as genuine as it had been before. "She's... well, she's a handful." "Infants usually are," Zane said with a shrug. Something wasn't right about that child, he guessed, but he knew better than to pursue the point. "How old is she?" "She turned one a couple a' months ago ago," she said with a beaming smile. Beaming, and a bit hollow. Zane offered her a smile, and even a one armed hug, which she accepted, her smile sliding away. "It's not easy being a mother, is it?" Zane asked quietly. "No. No it ain't," she responded, her eyes downcast. "I just thought... Y'know..." "Yeah," Zane cut her off. "This's just a rough patch. It'll get better." "Are you sure?" she asked. Zane forced a smile onto his own face. "Of course I am," he spotted a bar he'd visited last time he'd been on Hera, about two weeks ago, and steered the two of them toward it. "So, what else have I missed whilst comatose?" "Well," she said, regaining some of her usual vigor. "Jayne and River are having sex..." "What?" Zane interrupted. "Talk about your all time bombshells; when did this start happening?" "About the same time as last I saw you," she answered. "At first, nobody liked them doin' stuff, but eventually even Simon came around on it. An' there's a new face on Serenity, a little girl named Regina." "Really?" Zane asked as he held the door open for the smaller lady. "Who's relation is she?" "Nobody's, really. She's Inara's student, near as such can be called," She leaned up, adding in a whisper: "She's a spoiled brat, but y'didn't hear it from me." "My lips are sealed, mei-mei," Zane said with a smirk. He flagged down the bartender and pointed to his table. The barkeep, knowing now Zane's regular order, shook his head as he went into the back and put on a new pot of coffee. "And what about the Captain?" "Oh, he's all crotchety, as per the usual," she responded. "He and 'Nara have been really digging into each other the last little while." Zane let out a laugh. "I'll bet cashy money the two of them'll be goin' at it like rabbits inside a month," he chuckled. "How d'you figure?" "There's only one person who can get under a man's skin the way Inara does with Mal, and those types usually find themselves gettin' under a man's covers in short order," he said. "Ah, and here I thought you were getting wise," Fiona's voice came, bringing his attention to the approaching figure as she entered. "Just dispensing my sagely wisdom," he said with a flourish toward the empty chair. "Please, have a seat." "Hi, I'm Kaylee," the mechanic piped up, leaning over the table to give Fiona an obviously unexpected hug. Still, the hacker-savant took it in stride. "Fiona," came the response. "I thought you'd be moving out?" Zane said, glancing around her. "Where's your stuff?" "You think I'd just move my things out without getting an apartment first?" Fi asked, shaking her hair. At that moment, he realized what color her hair was, a bright, radioactive pink that had him shocked, both that he hadn't realized its color, and that she'd somehow altered its hue in the scant half hour since she'd moved her things onto Legacy. "What?" "Pink!" Zane blurted out. "God damn..." "I felt like a change was in order," she said with a close lipped smile. She turned to the barkeep as he approached, pouring cream-paled coffee into his cup. "Oh, and could you get me some bourbon?" "Certainly," the barkeep said, shooting Zane a sour look. Zane shrugged. Had the man met Zane before Elias showed up, he'd likely have a similar look, but for a different reason. In the old days, Zane would have paid the 'keep's kids through collage. Zane raised an eyebrow to Fiona, who sat with a wide, tight lipped smile. "What?" she finally asked. "Bourbon?" he asked. "What, did you think I was some delicate little princess, who shivers when she walks down dark alleys and needs men to drape their coats over puddles?" Fi asked, immediately knocking back the shot, before it had even left the bartender's hand, in point of fact. "Another." "Starting early?" Zane asked, taking a sip of his coffee. "So, who is she?" Kaylee asked. "A passenger we picked up in orbit," Zane explained. "Come to think of it, I don't know much about you, do I?" "No, you don't," Fiona nodded. Suddenly, she smiled, wide enough so that her teeth showed for once. "I have an idea." "Does it involve drinking?" Zane asked dryly. "A bit," she shrugged. "It's called 'The Truth'. I say something I've done, and if you've done it too, you take a shot. If nobody's done it, I take the shot." "I could get some of that action," Casher interrupted. "Hey, Zane." "Casher? Where's the lovesick puppy what follows you around?" Zane asked. He waved between Casher and Kaylee. "This is Casher. Don't be scared of him. He's just a big ruttin' puppy." "We've met," she said, then stared down at the increasingly insufficient table. "I think we're gonna need a bigger table." "We might," Zane said as a shot glass was pushed in his direction. The barkeep was now bearing a shiteater grin and focused his attention on their one lonely table. "Alright... I got myself married once," he said, cupping the glass. Kaylee knocked hers back, and suprisingly, so did Fiona. Zane, already knowing the particulars of Kaylee's matrimony, turned to Fi. "Explain." "Why do you think I ran off with Colton to Ion?" she asked. "I was getting away from the arranged marriage my father set up for me." "Did you go through with the marriage?" Casher asked. "No." "Then it doesn't count." Jacob sauntered through the door, then, taking them in sitting around the table. "Are we drinkin' on the job, then?" "Job's done, boss," Zane said, kicking out the one remaining chair for the captain to seat himself on. It was only empty by virtue of Casher and Friday sharing one. "Join in, if you feel like it." Jacob shrugged. "We'll be here for another week, at least. Get me a glass." "I have a tattoo," Fiona said. Only Casher responded with that one. "Only you? Where?" Casher rolled up his sleeve, exposing the inside of his formidable bicep. Crudely inked there were several simple letters and numbers. "I don't remember getting it, and I'm not exactly sure what it means." "That's the way most tattoos work," Sylvia said, pulling a chair from another table as she bellied up to the game. She turned to Jacob, "Anne's stayin' near the ship for the time being." Jacob smiled for a second. "That's good," he muttered. He held up his own shot. "I've been nekkid in crowded public places more than once." Zane and Casher knocked back their shots. Zane shook his head at the familiar taste moving down his throat, and then realized Friday hadn't touched hers. "Not you?" Zane asked. "Sex in public does not equate to nude in public," she pointed out. Casher gave her a slanted look, but didn't comment. He knew how colorful his woman's history was. Or at least, Zane thought he did. "What about you, Syl?" Casher asked. The telepath screwed up her brow for a moment. "I can't think of anything risque or informative," she muttered. "Oh, I can think of a few," Zane muttered. She sighed, and held up her glass. "I personally know some telepaths..." she offered, and everybody but Fiona knocked back their shots. She glanced around the table in confusion. "Telepaths?" she asked. "Will you promise not to scream?" Jacob asked. "I promise nothing." "Let's just leave that be," Sylvia said, shooting her captain a look. The game went on, and Zane found himself both highly informed and more than a little drunk by the time the sun began to creep down past the horizon. The bar had filled with patrons, and the Cortex screen over the end of the bar had gone through the long signing ceremony, as dozens of representatives signed for dozens of Border and Rim worlds, throughout all of the sectors of the 'Verse. When the finished document was held aloft, the bar burst into cheer, interrupting Friday's most recent entry. "A toast!" a man shouted. "To the Confederation of Independant Planets!" "I'll drink to that!" another responded. "To the Confederation!" A cheer rose again, and throughout the bar, people knocked back their drinks. "What was that?" Fiona asked, being she was the least fazed by the amount of alcohol in her bloodstream. "I," Friday said with gusto, then faltered, seemed to lose her train of thought, and had to start over. "I have seen all of Anne's mythical peircings." Zane knocked back the shot before he even realized he shouldn't, and as the glass was slammed back onto the table, he could feel Jacob's gaze, hot and harsh, on him. Whatever inebriation the captain had achieved seemed to have been boiled away in a flaming instant. "You never did..." he whispered. "You're just drunk." "Anne hasn't talked to you, has she?" Zane said, mustering up whatever sobriety he had left in him. He leaned down onto the table. "No, she hasn't said a word." "And I doubt she will. God, but she can be spineless sometimes," Zane muttered. Jacob's gaze got a bit more dangerous. "You didn't see her peircings, because if you did, I'd have an urge to shoot you," Jacob pressed. "She isn't going to tell you, and you deserve to know," Zane muttered. He took a deep breath. "Two up, one down." There was a moment of relative quiet. Then Jacob threw the table at Zane. Shoving it away from him, he toppled back from his chair, almost dragging Kaylee down with him. Jacob launched himself, after the table was deflected away, onto Zane's supine body, throwing powerful if sloppy blows. "You," Jacob screamed, punctuating his words with fists. "Had. Sex. With. My. WIFE!?" Zane was about to say something when Jacob was hefted bodily off of him by two large men and thrown out the door. Zane began to grin, feeling for wether his teeth were still all there, and made to rise. Before he'd even got all the way up, the same two burly men grabbed his shoulders, and quick as a whip, he found himself flying through the air, out the door and onto the cooling asphalt. About two feet away from Jacob. The two shared a moment, and a glance. Then Jacob scrambled for his holster. Without waiting another second, Zane scuttled away as fast as his long limbs would take him, throwing himself around the corner of the bar just as gunblasts sounded and shards of concrete jabbed him as the burst out from impact sites. "How could you have sex with my wife?!" Jacob roared as the bullets finally stopped with the resounding clicking of an empty firearm. "The same way you do!" Zane shouted back. "Very carefully!" The gun clattered into the alley next as Jacob threw it at Zane, who rolled his eyes. "What the hell is going on?" Fiona's voice came from outside the alley where Zane was taking refuge. "Casher," Zane shouted as Jacob stalked into view, "get them back to the shi..." Which was about as far as he got when Jacob punched him. At about this point, though, Zane had gotten tired of being a punching bag, and threw his own punch, knocking his captain back several steps. "And how is what she and I did any worse than what you did with Sylvia?" Zane asked. Jacob growled, moving forward with violent intention. "Mistakes were made by all." "I'm going to kill..." Jacob said, and was cut off when Zane punched him in the jaw. Zane wagged his hand in pain; punching people was a lot more painful than Elias' memories seemed to indicate. It was probably because Elias had fists like rocks. "She's guilty, Jacob," Zane shouted. "She had sex with another man." "Yeah, you!" Jacob spat back. "How does that make you feel?" Zane said, half taunting. "How does it make you feel that she couldn't keep her pants on for four hours where she didn't know who she was?" "I'm not going to shoot you anymore," Jacob offered, "but I am going to beat the shit out of you." "How does it make you feel?" Zane shouted again. "Pissed!" Jacob said, dropping his hands. "And... betrayed..." Zane dropped his own fists. "You know how she feels, don't you?" Jacob plopped down onto his ass onto the cobbles of the alley. "How could you do that...?" "She was alone," Zane said, squatting onto his heels. "She was alone and afraid and I wanted to help her." "That's a hell of a way to help somebody," Jacob snapped. "Do I need to invoke Sylvia?" Zane pointed out. "That was a screwed up incident, one that ain't going to be repeated. Sure, weird shit happened, and now we've got to live with the fall out. You had sex with Sylvia, and I did likewise with Anne." "I'm still wondering how you had sex with a pregnant woman," Jacob murmured darkly. "And I'm still saying the same way you did every night for the last eight months: very carefully," Zane answered. "Are you going to shoot me in my sleep?" Jacob just stared at his mechanic for a long moment. "No... I think I can see clear again..." "I've seen a lot of different sides to you," Zane said, offering Jacob his hand, "but jealous has never been among 'em." Jacob smirked for a second. "I never said I didn't feel like punching you," he warned. "Taken. Now, we'd better get out of here before the police show up," Zane said. Of course, it was at that exact moment that they did. <> "What did I miss?" Daniel said from his seat next to the gun locker. He had a number of the ship's weapons out and one of them disassembled whilst he cleaned it. Casher and Friday were, as a matter of course, practically bound together at the hip, and that passenger Fiona was helping a more-than-slightly drunk Sylvia onto the ship. All told, it was a quite impressive grouping that he wished he'd been a part of. "Drinking," Fiona summed up quickly. "Oh, well damn." He slid the pieces of the gun back together and set it back into its place as Friday disengaged from Casher and stalked into the ship. Daniel shot Casher a look, but the giant just shrugged, so the junior of the two slid from his seat, and followed the slightly inebriated Asian as she stormed through the ship. "Anne!" Friday shouted. "Get your bloated ass out here, now!" Anne descended from the stairs, looking at Friday like the doctor had lost her precious little mind. "What did you call me?" she asked, only half joking. "You..." she said, somewhat slurringly. "You get so damned high and mighty..." "Are you drunk?" Anne asked. "An' t'think, I was feelin' so gorramn sorry for you," Friday slurred as she took another step toward the pregnant woman. "Sorry for you, 'cause you'd been cuckolded by... Jacob..." "What are you talking about?" Anne asked carefully. "You did it. You shout at him f'r bein' unfaithful, whilst you'd done fucked the mechanic while he was proddin' the blonde," Friday shouted. "Come again?" Daniel asked, but neither of the women turned to him. "You're mouth is talkin', Friday," Anne said, her tone probably capable of freezing a river a mile away. "You might want to look to that." "You screwed Zane, so you ain't got no right t'my sympathy or my... Whatever it was I was about t'say, y'ain't got right to it," she blurted out. "She had sex with Zane?" Dan asked. "Didn't you hear? It's the news story of the evening," Fiona said as she pushed past him, headed to her rooms. "I don't need to stand here and listen to this," Anne said, turning and walking away. Friday just watched her leave, and when the diminutive woman vanished into the kitchen, Friday stumblingly stalked into her own domain: the infirmery. "Well," Daniel muttered. "I'm lost." "You're not alone, kid," Casher said. "Come to think on it, Zane and the captain are still probably back there, beating the hell out of each other." Daniel let out a strangled growl. "Gorram it, I just miss every-damn-thing what goes on around here, don't I?" Casher shrugged, and Daniel took his stewing with him as he headed for the bridge. He threw himself into the copilot's seat before even realizing that Anne had taken up her own seat, hugging her arms around her middle, staring downwardly. "Are you going to take a shot at me, too?" she asked raggedly, without looking at him. "Eh, ain't my problem, nor my business," Dan dismissed. "I'm just sick of missing all the fun." "Fun?" she muttered. "Is that what this is?" "If y'ain't tied up in it," Dan pointed out. He turned to the coming darkness. "It's going to be a clear night. Perfect for the fireworks they got planned." "You just ain't got a care in the ruttin' 'Verse, do you?" Anne asked, her tone surprisingly soft. "Nope," he responded, staring at the stars as they seemed to wink on, one at a time. "If I did, I reckon I'd have lost my mind, such as it is, last year." She just huddled up with her belly, staring at the stars. "I wish everything was the way it was," she whispered. "It ain't too late, y'know," Daniel pointed out. "If you're afraid of Jacob bein' skittish, trust me, he ain't." She didn't answer him, just staring at the stars as the first firework went off, rusty brown against the night. Zane smirked, deciding to get a better view of the display through the ship's sensors. He pulled up the display, and noted that a lot of the military ships were either lifting off or already airborne, but shrugged. Another explosion of color lit the sky, and the sensors netted out every luminous particle, alien and beautiful in its own, entirely different way. Daniel fiddled with the focus a bit, trying to chase another colorful rocket as it sped toward the heavens, but found himself overshooting it. "Oh, wuh de mah, ha tah duh, feng kuang duh... Anne!" he shouted, startling the woman into attention. "We need to get off the ground, now!" "What? Why?" she asked. Daniel turned on her feed, and showed him exactly what he was looking at. "There's a gorram battle happenin' right over our ruttin' heads, is why!" he shouted, and she reacted almost without hesitation, powering up the engines and pulling back on the controls the very instant the ship was willing to listen to her commands. "Where's Jacob?" she asked, when they'd gotten airborne. "I don't know," Daniel said. He pulled down the intercomm. "Jacob, can you read me?" There was a long moment of silence on the other end before it opened up there. "This is Officer Greene of the Serenity Municipal Police. Who is this?" "Why do you have the captain's comm?" Daniel demanded. "Where is Jacob." "He's in a holding cell, for disorderly conduct and drunkedness," came the response. "We can't leave without him. I'm headed..." she trailed off with a shocked look on her face. She glanced down. Straight down. "What is it?" "Oh, God, not now..." she whined. Then she grunted in pain. "I need to go!" she shouted. "What? But you're flyin' the ship!" Daniel protested, but she'd already unbuckled herself and moved off, leaving Daniel to grasp her controls and keep the ship level as it sped away from the conflict. "Why's Anne in such a hurry to..." Fiona asked, peeking into the cockpit. When she saw Daniel struggling with the controls, she actually stepped past the threshold. "Do you know what you're doing?" "Not a clue," he shouted in fear and confusion. "Do you know how to fly one of these things?" he begged. "Well enough," she said, throwing herself into Anne's seat. "Yech, what the hell is this?" she asked as she bucked her bum off of the wet seat. "It's why Anne had to leave in such a hurry," Dan said. Fiona stared at the wetness, then shivvered and sat herself back into it. "Now, please, God, fly this thing." Daniel plunked himself back into the gunner's seat, staring at the display. Well above them, thousands of ships danced a damn deadly dance, and one singular contrail slowly dipped down into the atmosphere. No... He checked the signal for the one thing he desparately hoped it wasn't. To his infinite dismay, it was exactly what he feared. "Shit, they're dropping a nuke over Serenity!" he shouted to Fiona, as she pulled the craft under a rising gunship. "We need to get away. How far can you take us?" "How's the far side of the valley sound?" she asked. "As good a place as any," he answered. "Does this thing have EMPC's, or Icewalls?" Fiona asked through gritted teeth as she dodged around the panicked air traffick which had sprung up over the signant city of the Confederation. Only an hour old, and already it was involved in a war. "What do they do?" "They protect against electromagnetic pulse," she answered, not taking her eyes off the bedlam before her for a heartbeat. "I guess we'll find out soon," he muttered. Daniel got out of his seat, lurching down into the bowels of the ship as the craft twisted this way and that. He didn't manage to reach the bottom of the stairs before another course correction sent him arse-over-kettle down the flight, landing in a painful pile right outside the infirmery, which was currently being employed by Anne and the doctor, who popped back a powerful anti-intoxicant before heaving Anne into a position where Daniel could see one of her legendary peircings. He averted his eyes and got to his feet. "What the hell's going on?" Anne asked through her heavy breaths. "Fi's getting us to a safer spot, and you're appearantly having a baby. Which is the extent of my knowledge at the moment," Daniel responded. Friday shivered as the powerful drug snatched all of the alcohol out of her system, then leaned over her own bedpan and vomited the remains of her binge into it. Barely taking a moment to wipe her mouth, she moved to the sink and began to cleanse herself. "What do I do?" Daniel asked. "Stay out of the way," Friday ordered. She turned back to Anne as she pulled on her gloves, "Don't you worry one bit, Anne. I've delivered babies before." "How many?" Anne asked. "Alright, babies was an exaggeration." "HOW MANY?" she screamed. "One. In a fully stocked hospital on Boros," she admitted. "But we have everything we need unless your baby comes out backwards and hanging itself by its own... You'll be fine." "You don't inspire me with..." she cut off with a scream and a look of terror on her face, her fist bunched in Friday's robe in a near death grip. The scream died down, leaving the expectant mother panting. "What the hell?" Anne asked through the pants. "Contractions," Friday explained. "You really don't know a thing about childbirth, do you?" "Um... how does this thing work?" Fiona's voice filled the room. "Ah... no, that's not... Oh, there we go. I'm setting us down on the far side of the valley. That way, we'll be clear of whatever happens in Serenity." "She should keep going," Anne said. "Until we're back on..." she trailed off as she grunted again, sweat pouring off of her in sheets. "That will be far enough," Friday said. "Casher, could you get me the... Casher?" Daniel turned to the corner which Casher had been occupying. The giant man was quivering, his green eyes bloodshot and staring at nothing, his hands clamped over his ears. His lips writhed as though in continuous litany. Daniel took a step forward, almost staggering again as the ship lurched a bit under his feet. This time, being the ship settling onto its new landing spot. "Casher, are you alright?" Daniel asked, waving his hand in front of the giant's face. Daniel frowned, leaning down to the man. "don't want to listen don't want to listen don't want to listen don't want to listen don't want to listen don't want to..." Casher whispered without pause for breath nor verbal slip up. "Casher, what the hell's wrong with you?" Daniel said, giving the large man a shake. Casher's eyes focused on his, then, and Daniel felt a shard of terror lodge in his spine. It was terror, because Casher's eyes were practically glassy, devoid of even the slightest gleaming of recognition. Daniel tried to pull back, but Casher was faster, slamming his massive fist around Dan's neck and lifting him like he was a very small dog. Friday and Anne watched in horror as Casher twisted his body and flung Daniel through the door. Daniel's back connected with the sofa, which was probably the only thing which prevented his back from being broken in a manner most heinous. The sofa, it seemed, sacrificed itself on his behalf, caving under the momentum of the youth being thrown by the giant. Casher leapt through the infirmery door, his hair whipping about as he glanced in every direction; he looked every inch of him a wild animal, trying desparately to find a way out of a complicated cage. Seeing the bay, he bolted toward it, covering the distance to the airlock in three bounding steps. Friday ran past Daniel, who pulled himself slowly, painfully to his feet. After the second it took Daniel to regain himself, he went up into the bay himself, and was greeted by a sight he thought was physically impossible for any human being. Casher was forcing the inner airlock door open with his bare hands. Friday tried to grab his arm, but his offhanded swing tossed her into the crates just to Daniel's left. This was despite the fact that he was less than half way into the bay. He paused to help her up as Casher forced the doors to his utmost, a full arm-spread apart, and moved further, and began pressuring the ramp. "He's going to tear this ship apart!" Dan shouted, running to the controls. In desparation, he pounded on the ramp release, and the thing released its pressure, opening quickly with Casher's added assistance. The moment the ramp was half open, he vaulted through the opening, with Friday only a step behind him. Dan limpingly ran to the door as Friday caught up with Casher. "Casher, honey," she pleaded. "I'm here. You're alright. Everything's al..." she was cut off when his massive fist closed now around her throat. He lifted her up, giving her a short, almost dismissive glance. Without a second thought, he tossed her aside, a casual motion to him, which catapulted the not-insubstantial woman nearly twenty feet through the air before she landed in a heap. Only the softness of the rain-moistened earth and the fullness of the grasses prevented her landing from being fatal. Dan ran to the doctor, pulling her up and edging back toward the ship as Casher looked first one direction, then another. He gave Daniel one last glance, then vaulted down the walls of the valley. Within moments, he was lost to the darkness. "Friday," Dan said, practically dragging her back onto the ship. She muttered something which was not only insane, but impossible. "Friday, listen to me." "He's... We have to go after him," she attempted again. This time, Dan slapped her, bringing her attention singularly on him. "Whatever the hell just happened don't matter right now. You have a job to do," he said, pointing back to the infirmery. "Anne's gonna have tha baby, and she needs you to help her. So go in there and do your gorram job." She looked at the door to the commons, then back at Dan, her eyes brimming with tears. With a growl of pain and frustration, she began to limp toward the rear of her ship, where a woman was trying to bear new life into the 'Verse. Dan panted. The pain was just getting worse. He pounded on the ramp control again, and the thing began to slide up. As it did so, he fell to his hands and knees onto the floor. His questing fingers found pain all up his back, and his breath shortened as he did so. Something was broken, but she didn't have time for him. So he waited, listening to another woman scream in pain, as he ground his teeth and fought a losing battle against his own. To Be Continued

. . All our lives We've been waiting For someone to call our leader. All these lies, I'm not believing; Heaven shine a light down on me... Stay tuned for Confedration, Part 2.

COMMENTS

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 7:18 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Damn...this chapter was the fucking bomb, JamesTheDark!! There was almost no let up from the amount of action and brilliant dialogue that went on here...and the Zane/Jacob fight? Sheer genius!

Really can't wait to see what you come up with for part 2...cuz you've potentially nuked Zane, Jacob and whoever else was on the ground:O

BEB


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