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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
With the Battle for Hera coming to a climax outside, Anne find's her child's birth beset by soldiers, storming the ship. Jacob and those in the city must somehow find a way through the war-zone before they get killed, either by the Alliance, or by the Confederates.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 845 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
As a bit of a departure, most of my notes will be after the story, rather than before.
Serenity, Mal, and the rest, are all property of Joss. Everything else belongs to me.
Feedback: Please. Please feedback me.
Confedration, Part 3
"Hold off a minute," Mal muttered, giving himself a bodily shake which actually sprung him free of Inara's grasp and dropped him onto the tarmac. He rubbed his shoulder, glancing around as he tried to force some air into his lungs. It felt like he'd been running for hours. "What'n the hell just happened?"
"We're almost there, Mal," Inara's response was distant, as though she were barely keeping her feet.
"There was a bomb, I was hit bad..." Mal stared up at her. "Real bad. What happened?"
"A little miracle; please, Mal, just get up. We're so close," she grabbed his arm and hauled him back onto his feet.
"So," Mal said with a wheezing chuckle. "It's 'we' again, is it?"
"You know what I meant, Mal..." She hissed, her voice quiet and her face focused on the dark shape at the far end of the docks. Malcolm pulled her to a stop.
"Let's pretend for a moment that I don't," he posited.
"Mal, we need to..." she gave him a tug, but by now, Reynolds had regained his equilibrium, and there was no power in the 'Verse could move him. She tried to grab his other sleeve, but he caught her hand first, so she was locked, staring up into his eyes.
"We need to what?" Mal asked. Ai ya, it felt like he was standing on the edge of a real damn high cliff. She shook her head, the light glinting off of her cheeks for some reason.
"Hera's not safe," she said, her voice mastered. A new explosion from Mal's five-o'clock illuminated her in flickering orange light. Her cheeks were damp, and not from the perspiration that dotted her brow. He leaned closer. He remembered that smell, of heat and desparation. So long...
"No, no it ain't," Mal said. Tearing his eyes away from her's was about as easy as surgically removing one's own heart, but he managed to, regardless. He took an unsteady step toward his ship, letting Inara go as he advanced beyond her. It took him a moment to realize she'd stopped, and wasn't following him. He turned, letting the light from the burning buildings illuminate her.
Her lips quivered, her eyes watering and her fists clenched at her sides. "Why can't anything be simple with you?" he heard her whispered. Then, eyes down, she marched up to him. When she was several feet away, she stopped, staring up at him. "Why did you come with me?"
"Besides the fact that you needed somebody dignified on your arm for the celebrations?" Mal offered with a smirk. She didn't say a thing, just stared at him with those dark, damp eyes. Mal took a restoring breath and scowled. "I wanted to... make sure you'd be alright. After what happened last time, I'd never forgive myself if you got hurt."
"Mal..." she whispered. "I can look after myself..."
The way her voice sounded, he figured she was trying to convince herself more than him. And the fact that it was that obvious enough for Reynolds to figure it out was a signal bearing its own ignominity. She moved past him, and strode through the darkness toward his ship.
"Inara, I..." Mal stuttered, his eyes locked on where she'd been standing. Somehow, without even looking, he knew that she'd paused. "I want you to stay."
The stretching silence, interrupted only by the sounds of battle, could have enveloped the 'Verse.
"You want me to..." her whisper reached him, dragging his focus to her. She looked at him with those bottomless eyes.
"And, I don't want you stayin' 'cause I asked you. I want you to stay, because you want to stay," Reynolds ammended. "I don't want there to be any doubts or complications."
Without waiting for her answer, he took the lead again, moving toward the ship. It was then, though, that he heard the rapid stuccato rap of gunfire from far too close a position for comfort. When he realized the only thing which was close enough to block line of sight to where that sound was coming from was Serenity, his blood went cold.
Malcolm leapt into an awkward sprint without so much as a word, covering the distance quickly as he rounded the engines of the ship, and practically tripped his way onto the ramp. The hold was illuminated only by the muzzle-flares of weapons discharging from the floor and catwalks. Mal tried to add his own addition to the battle, but didn't know at whom to shoot. After a long moment, though, the choice was taken away from him, as the flares stopped popping into existence from the floor, and the sounds of people moving with great haste filled the room. He limped into his ship, gun before him, waiting for his eyes to adjust.
His foot collided with something hard, and he tried to see what it was. In that moment his gaze was turned down, he felt a large, calloused hand grab his shirt and pitch him back, sending him sprawling to the floor. He beheld a massive shape standing over him, pointing a very unpleasant implement toward him. "Say y'r prayers, Wap."
The voice was unmistakably Jayne's.
"Jayne, what the hell are you playin' at?" Mal demanded. "An' why the hell are all the lights out?"
"Cap'n?" Jayne asked. Mal felt himself hoisted back to his feet. "Thought you was one of them."
"Well, I ain't," the captain pointed out. "Where are the rest of them?"
"Ow..." Dell's voice came from the far end of the hold.
"I told you to get down, honey," Zoe muttered flatly. Dell, still invisible in the darkness, gave a grunt to announce his opinion. "The Doc is with Raina, and Kaylee's restarting the system. She was almost done when the Unioners came on board."
Dell piped up in the darkness, his voice oddly hollow. "She said she'd be done any minute..." the lights snapped on, temporarily blinding Reynolds. "...now."
"Mal, why did you... oh, my god!" Inara shouted from the ramp. Jayne's laughter echoed in the hold, before Mal managed to turn himself around, and be confronted with the large man's naked ass. Cobb, all six foot four of him, was standing buck naked in the airlock. Well, practically naked, considering most of his arsenal was hanging off of him, but naked enough to offend, which he delighted in.
"Jayne?" Mal asked.
"Yeah, Mal?" Jayne asked, still staring into the twilight.
"Why are you naked?" Mal asked. Inara inched around him, her expression one of shock bordering on hilarity.
"Didn't have time for gettin' dressed," Jayne said, by way of explaination.
"What could you have been doin' that didn't give you time to get dressed?" Mal demanded. As if in response, River appeared from the shuttle, a bedsheet wrapped around her like a toga, with one of Jayne's weapons in each hand. Mal wouldn't bet a penny against her being as unattired as her other half, underneath that sheet.
"I'm sorry, cap'n," she said. She really was starting to sound like him, sometimes... "I didn't notice what was going on outside."
"Yeah," Mal snarked, his eyes rolling. "And you're going to blame that on Jayne, I suspect?"
Jayne's smirk, cast over his bare shoulder, coupled with the dreamy expression on the young woman's face, answered the question to such a degree that Mal felt himself gag.
"Ye su, why do I ask these questions?" Mal asked himself. Kaylee appeared from above, bumping into River before skirting around her.
"I've got the ship working again!" she exclaimed with great glee. Of course, Serenity was the only ship Mal could see, past the unimaginable horror of Jayne standing guard, which had any power at all. He strode over the bodies of fallen Unioners, their black armor unable to protect themselves from fire coming in four directions at once, and moved to his first mate. She was slouched against the doorframe, picking a bullet out of her vest.
"Best investment I ever made, sir," she commented, then coughed. Her cheek was bleeding, though, as though she'd been nicked during the maelstrom.
"You might want the doc to look at that," Mal pointed out. He gave a nod toward Dell, who was also slumped against the bulkheads, but his expression was one of bewilderment, and the gun was empty in his hands. "He do you any good?"
"He's new at this," Zoe pointed out. "He's good at starting wars, not fighting in them."
Mal nodded for a moment. "Is everybody on board?"
"Gina hasn't left Inara's shuttle. We were waiting on you two," she responded, forcing herself to her feet. She moved to Dell, next, having ousted the captain entirely from her mind. Reynolds shook his head, then pointed at River, above. He made sure his eyes were pointed at the deck, though. To gaze upward was a vantage he didn't particularly want to view.
"River, find us a patch of sky not gettin' fought over, and fly us through it. I want to get off this rock," he ordered.
"As you wish," she responded, and the soft patter of her feet ascending into the upper level gave him reassurance enough that he could avert his eyes from the floor. He did so just in time to recieve a flying hug-tackle from Kaylee, who clutched him for a long moment.
"Yeah, I'm here, actual and whole," Mal said, leaning down to plant a kiss on her crown. She beamed up at him. "Now, you got to look after your twenty-four hundred tonne baby-girl for me, alright?"
"I love my captain," she remarked.
"No you don't. You just think you do 'cause you don't know enough about him," Mal countered. She gleefully separated from him, practically skipping away into the commons. Jayne came sauntering up next, cock-sure as though he owned everything in eyeshot.
"I don't gotta hug ye, do I?" Jayne asked.
"Oh, please don't," Mal said. Jayne smirked, opening his arms wide. Only a screaming of 'Jayne!' by both Mal and Inara sent the once-mercenary on his laughing way. Mal looked to Inara, standing just on his side of the lake of dead bodies and blood. "You know, you'd never think this here was a warzone."
"I'm staying, Mal."
"Seriously. There's dead folk in the hold, and any damn second now, we could be hit by a mortar shell and that'll be the end of us, and they're just carrying on like there ain't a problem in the world," Mal continued, walking toward the commons.
"Did you hear me?"
"I've got to instigate a rule 'bout bein' naked on this ship. This is my ship. I'm the only one who should be allowed to go about naked on it," Mal rambled.
"Mal, listen to me," Reynolds paused, finally. She looked him square in the eye. "I am staying on this ship. Because I want to. Does that clarify things?"
Mal's jaw worked for a long moment. "No, no it really doesn't. Why?"
"Why?" Inara let out a laugh with a bit of an edge of wildness to it. "Why? Even now, you'd ask me why?"
Mal shrugged as he backed down the short stairway. "I've been called a master of misinterpreting the obvious before. By you, if memory serves."
"Fine," she said, her voice steadying. "You want to know why I'm staying?"
"Yes. Yes I would," Mal said. In response, she grabbed his hair, pulling him down into the kind of toe-curling kiss he remembered. For a long time, if it really was a long time, he felt himself melting into a soft, slightly aromatic pudding, and far too soon, she broke the connection, staring at him resolutely.
"There's your answer," she said, stalking away up the stairs.
"What was the question?" Mal asked. He shook his head, turning to follow the former Companion as she turned into the kitchen.
"Jayne," Simon called from above, his voice decidedly harried, "in the name God and my sanity, please put some pants on!"
"Are you out of your puny mind?" the Sorceror demanded. The Archadmiral scowled across the Wave-link between the two ships, not even bothering to hide his scorn for the lesser rank, even though Harris was by far the better between them.
"You would do well not to address me thus, Zhao," the Archadmiral noted. "And I fully intend to press the attack."
"We are being torn apart, Trent," Harris yelled. "Any time we close distance with those ships, they fire those... things at us and we lose ships and people."
"We outnumber them," Trent began, but the Sorceror cut him off.
"And they outgun us," he snapped. "We can't engage at range the way they can, and closing to spitting range would be suicide for these paper-ships."
"Spitting range?" Trent arched an eyebrow at the term, but Harris continued.
"Mark my words, if you press that attack, a lot of good people are going to die, and to no good end."
"When I give the order, Zhao, you will follow it. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Zhao's superior warned. Harris ground his teeth, not uttering a word. With a smirk, the Archadmiral terminated the communication.
"Damn his eyes," Zhao hissed. "What is our status?"
"The EMP damage has been reset," Jaime answered. "We're ready to get back into the fight."
"Good. Take us close," Harris ordered.
"Didn't you just say?" Jaime stammered. He turned to the young man.
"I did. And while the Burning Dawn is criminally undergunned, there's so much structure to her that God Almighty couldn't strike her down without a week's worth of effort. Now, move us in," Harris ordered.
He waited for his XO to make her way to his side. "I assume there's some insane, barely probable plan in the works, sir?" she asked.
"We read a power spike on the Haephestus a few seconds before it fired that... cannon... on several occasions. If my notion strikes me with correctness, that would be the weapon powering up," he explained.
"And if you strike it right there," she continued, "it might cause the entire system to spontaneously explode?"
"That's my hope," the Sorceror said. He scowled at the line as it moved heedlessly toward the entrenched Confederate position, and as they began to swirl back in near disarray after a pelting by those devastating ballistics. The Confederate line surged forward, only retreating when the Sorceror's trained ASF screen took its first pot-shots at the ships.
"Prepare missile batteries one through twelve," Colonel Vela ordered, but Zhao shook his head. She scowled at him.
"Belay that, and spin up the ventral autocannons," he countermanded. She gave him a look. "Their ASF screen is quite definitely better trained than ours is. Any missiles we fire will be shot down. They cannot, however, shoot down a bullet."
"Ventral autocannons ready. Awaiting fire-order," Jaime intoned.
"Good. Now, wait for my mark," Harris whispered.
"Sir, I really don't think this is going to..." Vela was interrupted when the entire ship lurched startlingly, throwing everybody not seated into the air. Harris landed fairly painfully on his spine, and struggled against his pain for a moment before Vela, obviously a bit quicker on her feet, helped him back to his feet.
"What the hell happened? Status report?" Harris demanded.
"Direct hit from one of their HaVoC's. Damage is... minimal," Jaime seemed surprised at that.
"What did I say about my lady?" Harris smirked. "Toughest ship left in the 'Verse."
"There's the Haephestus," his XO pointed out, as the massive ship began to slide under the Burning Dawn's keel. "Sir?"
"Open fire," Harris barked. Disciplined to a fault, Jaime began to fire. A dull thrum sounded from well beneath the Sorceror's feet, and he watched the monitors as tens of thousands of high-explosive shells bridged the two ships, stripping away armor and structure from the commandeered Alliance ship. Finally, the shells punctured the decks and hit something, something volatile. He knew it was volatile, because it obediantly exploded, ripping the Haephestus to shreds and throwing the bridge crew back into the air once more as the shockwave tossed the Burning Dawn. This time, though, Harris took the time to grab hold of something, and he didn't find his way to the floor.
"Damage report?" he demanded.
"Minor damage to our keel," came the report. "We're out of formation, though. Direly."
"That's obvious," the Sorceror muttered. He stared at the line of his own ships, staying daintily away. "Why aren't they following?"
"Sir, we've got breaches in our outermost hull. I think they're trying to board us," Vela reported.
"Their funeral," Harris dismissed. He snarled then looked to Vela. "Fine. Get us back on the line. Damn it all, Trent, first those Nukes, now this? Why is it assholes always get promoted?"
"Were you asking me?" Vela asked. He shrugged. "He's a noble. You're a dirty commoner. Thus, he gets the cushy jobs."
"This makes me wish for a meritocracy in the military," Harris grumbled. He looked around the floor for his spectacles, and found them broken near where he'd fallen the first time. He put them back on, anyway, though. One lens was better than none. "Everybody, brace for impacts."
And the impacts did come. Three in rapid succession, nearly popping the Admiral's arm from its socket, before the ship reached its previous position.
"How is she?" Vela asked, when they turned back about.
"Our engines took a hit, and our armor is all but gone," the officer reported. "Two, maybe three more shots, maximum."
"And most ships can't even take one," Harris said with a note of pride. The pride sapped away as he watched the other Alliance ships swirl in panic as another of their number succumbed to the Confederate's high velocity cannons. "This is madness. We're losing."
"That's a bit of an underconfident assumption to make, isn't it?" Vela asked, her face unreadable in the way it sometimes got when she was annoyed.
"It's accurate. Every order I make is countermanded by Trent, and every order he makes costs a ship or two," Harris pulled off his wounded spectacles and rubbed his eyes. "Pao ying zai ni. Set up a linkup with the other captains and Colonels."
"Do it, and do it now," he ordered. Vela shrugged, but did her duty. In seconds, the face of Colonel Easter was displayed on the screen.
"You contacted me?" Easter asked. Harris nodded.
"I did," Zhao acknowledged. "We have a bit of a problem."
Friday bit back a curse as the flickering light cast a shadow as she worked. Had she been doing something more delicate than trying to keep him from dying of internal bleeding, that momentary obfuscation would have been lethal.
"Are you forgetting about something?" Anne demanded from Friday's back. Friday didn't look to the woman, though, as her attention was rightly square upon Daniel, and the grievous wounds he'd suffered.
"I'll be with you when I'm done," Friday muttered absently. "Damn it..."
"Nothing," Friday snapped, adjusting one of the candles to provide something like decent lighting. "Nothing you need to worry about."
She worked in silence for a good while before she heard the slab creak again. "How is he?" Anne asked. Friday was actually surprised to hear that particular sentence.
"I've dealt with the worst of it," the doctor said, her eyes trying to find every minute detail that she could easily have missed in the piss-poor lighting. "It's just dealin' with the things I can't that's the problem."
"Are the lights working now?" Fiona called from above.
"Not so much," Friday shouted in return. Fiona let out a string of her own profanities, and the sound of her retreating to the engines faded quickly away as the doctor went back to her task. She cast a glance to the woman sweating on the slab. "Do you have a name picked out?"
"Chloe," Anne replied, her dark eyes locked on the ceiling, and her fists clutching the edges of the bed such that her knuckles practically glowed white.
"That's a nice name," Friday said, extracting her tools and reaching for her suture. "And what if it's a boy?"
"Ain't gonna be a boy," she responded resolutely. Friday gave her a look.
"And if it is?"
"Ain't gonna be..." she repeated, but cut off with a rictus as another contraction took her. Friday glanced at her watch.
"Everything's alright, Anne. Just a few hours left," Friday placated; Anne, though was having none of it.
"A few more hours..." she muttered, making the words sound like a blasphemy against god.
"How about now?" Fiona called again. This time, the lights in the commons flickered on.
"Almost," Friday called in response. "The infirmery's on circuit fifty seven."
"You're gonna be alright, Dan," Friday whispered to the youth. "You're all dealt with and fixed as I can get you."
Dan didn't say a word, but then again, he had taken a holy hell of a beating. She, too, had undergone her fair share of torment these last few hours. Well, it was shiny in the beginning, but at the end... It still burned a bit to breath, and she could feel the puffy tenderness of the skin around her neck. Casher's grip could be compared favorably to that of a vice, and he'd thrown her aside like an empty bottle of sake. Forcibly, she shoved all thought of Casher to the back of her mind. She couldn't afford to break down weeping right now. She had a job to do.
The lights blinked on, one by one, in the infirmery, allowing Friday to blow out the candles which had been her inconstant illuminators the last few hours. "So... he's going to be alright?"
Friday nodded, pulling off her gloves and throwing them into the garbage. "He's going to be laid up for a while, but barrin' a catastrophe, he's going to make it," she spoke as she grabbed another pair of gloves, pulling them on with a crisp crack.
"Unfortunately, there one comes," Anne said with a vicious hiss. Friday turned to the door.
"Oh, now that ain't even fair," she muttered, beholding the black-armored figures sweeping the commons, and moving throughout the ship.
"Keep your hands where we can see them," the soldier ordered, his voice calmer than anybody elses' in the room at the moment. Of course, he probably hadn't been up for the last thirty odd hours, either.
"Not going to happen," Friday said, moving to Anne's side. The soldier lowered his rifle a bit, and tilted his head to the side like a confused dog.
"And why not?"
"You may not have noticed, but these people have been through a meatgrinder because of that gorram war y'all figured on fighting," Friday stated, never looking directly at the soldier, nor ceasing in her movement as she tried to catch up to where she'd planned on being by this point in Anne's labor.
"I'm going to have to ask you to stop," he said. "How many more on this ship?"
"Friday..." Anne muttered, but the doctor didn't heed her.
"There ought be two more. A blond woman and a pretty lass with pink hair. Besides us three and them, that'd be all of us on the ship, at the moment," she said. The soldier cocked his head to one side, as if listening to something, then pointed to Friday.
"We found the pink one. No sign of the blonde. Where would she hide?" he demanded. Another soldier joined him, forcing Fiona into the now cramped infirmery.
"I don't know, and at the moment, I don't really care," Friday snapped, turning back to her patient.
"I told you to stop that," the first soldier said, but the second cuffed him in the back of the shoulder.
"She's giving birth, you idiot," the second said, voice decidedly female.
"We have orders to..."
"Detain an infant? Are you that afraid of bawling children, Syler?" Friday could almost see the sardonic look the woman was giving to her male counterpart. "No, we're here to sweep for Confederates."
"And these people aren't?" Syler asked.
"We don't have any evidence that they are."
"There was that reading we got..." Syler began, but was interrupted by Anne's cry of pain. The female soldier grabbed Syler and led him aside, leaving the four of them in the infirmery, with a couple of other, more stoic forms standing in the commons. Well, they weren't standing, exaclty; they were making the best of the situation and lounging on the sofa.
"Fiona," Friday said, her voice low. The woman, her fair eyes twitching, didn't seem to register it the first time, so Friday gave her a nudge and tried again. "Fiona, how many of them are there?"
"What?" she asked, seeming befuddled. "Oh... Seven... maybe eight? I don't know."
"You don't know how many you saw?" Anne asked in incredulity.
"She ain't got the experience you have when it comes to keeping her head about her," Friday offered.
"Even you would have done better," Anne snarked. Friday shot her a look, but Anne was already back busy with her own biological business.
"Do you know how to handle a gun?" Friday asked. Fiona looked around, then pointed to herself.
"No, the pink haired jian fu behind you," Friday snapped.
"I... ah... know which end to hold..." she offered, and both Friday and Anne rolled their eyes. "And who are you calling jian fu? I've heard stories..."
"Great," Friday muttered. "Of the people who know how to use a gun, in this room, one of them's giving birth and the other one's unconscious."
"So," Fiona said, her eyes still panning about as though expecting dark-armored figures to leap out of every cravasse, "what do we do?"
"You wait," Friday responded. "And stay out of my way. I have a baby to deliver."
"Boss?" Zane panted, looking back at the flagging captain. "You're not keeping up too damn well."
"I'm tired," Jacob rasped as he slowly drew close with them again. "I ain't slept for nearly two days, and I think I might have gotten shot at some point."
"He hasn't," Sylvia intimated. She was keeping up fairly well with Zane, despite the fact that she'd slept less and drank more than either one of them. Of course, she always was healthier than a horse...
"Just give me a second," Jacob wheezed as he stumbled up next to them. He leaned against a building, trying to catch his breath. It wasn't easy, with every muscle he'd used in the hours-long trek through the war-torn city burning, much like the city itself. If they'd been able to take a direct course to where the shuttle had landed, they'd have reached it at least an hour ago.
After a long period, Jacob finally caught his wind, and looked back up. The day had risen not too long ago, and would be reaching noon in short order. Despite the season, the wind that raced through the streets was hot, driven and fueled by the flames of war. He gave a glance to Sylvia, who was looking all manner of distracted.
"What is it?" he queried.
"I'm not sure," she responded, staring hard at the warren of buildings around her. "There's a lot of chatter out there."
"Yeah, we've got the only girl who don't need a radio to check the chatter," Zane chuckled. He glanced to the side for a moment, but didn't say anything more.
"Bi zwai," Sylvia said. "Fear. A lot of fear. And something about... a demon?"
"That doesn't bode too well for us, I figure," Jacob muttered. "Might be we should leave?"
"Actually, we might want to stay right here for a spell," Sylvia offered. Both the captain and Zane shot her a scowl at that.
"And why would we want to do that?" Zane asked.
"Just trust me, alright," she responded, then moved into an inset doorframe. Jacob and Zane shared a look, and then a shrug, and went to their own places, Zane across the narrow street, and Jacob tucked in close to Sylvia.
"What exactly are we waiting for?" Jacob asked in a whisper. Sylvia shushed him, pointing toward where the street lay. Jacob took the hint, and became mum.
From the shadows, up the street, shapes began to coalesce and move into the avenue proper. Soldiers, most likely Unioners by their armor, and the fact that they lacked the distinctive brown duster still worn by the Confederates. Jacob raised his proffered rifle, but Sylvia shook her head. He shot her a look, but she pointed again. More soldiers appeared, until there were a solid dozen.
"There's just too many," Sylvia's voice came to him, although, he knew, not by means of her mouth. She hadn't often spoken to him in this manner since the cave on Saint Albans; it seemed to be something she only did in dire straits.
We could surround them, Jacob thought. Instantly, Sylvia began to shake her head. Right, bad idea, he pondered. We could just wait until they go past us.
"Not going to happen," her whisper had an edge of bitterness to it. Now, the first of the soldiers were even with the two of them. Jacob held his breath, willing himself to be absolutely silent, absolutely still.
"Hold on, we have somebody here," a voice cut through the din of war. Jacob released his breath.
"Bugger," he whispered. The black figures began to form a wall, weapons pointed inward, at the two huddled in the doorway. Not for the first time, today, Jacob regretted wearing his favorite coat. He held up his hands, letting the rifle swing to the ground from its strap.
"Our orders?" another soldier asked. Jacob could see Zane making to move, but Sylvia must have told him something, because he scowled and retreated a moment later.
"We aren't here to take prisoners," the first responded.
"Son of a bitch," Jacob muttered.
"So, we're just going to shoot them?" another asked.
"Do you feel like leading them through the city we haven't taken yet?" the first responded. "Do your duty, and shoo..." he trailed off as he turned back down the road. He let out a yelp of unbridled fear, and many of the soldiers turned with him toward whatever it was approaching them. Gunshots rang out, all of them screaming down the street, and soon Jacob and Sylvia were completely forgotten.
"I can't hit it!"
"It's moving too fast!"
"It's a ghost!"
"Sir, the wall..."
The pandemonium came to a head when the wall directly opposite the street from Jacob collapsed outward, and Casher powered his way into the troops, throwing large chunks of heavy concrete as if they were pebbles at the black armored men. The Unioners didn't even bother fighting, at this point. They simply broke and ran. When they vanished down another street, Jacob strode out to Casher.
"Now that is what I hired you for," Jacob said with a hearty laugh. He clapped the giant on the arm, and gave him a smirk. "Although, I did sort of order you to go back to my shi..."
Jacob found himself interrupted when Casher's gigantic fist closed around his neck, hefting him from the ground. Zane leapt from his hiding place, making as though he were going to attack Casher, but the giant gave him an offhand blow which sent Zane flying through the air. He landed awkwardly on the rubble.
"Casher, what's going on?" Sylvia shouted, her shotgun leveled at him. Casher just looked at Jacob, though. Casher's eyes might as well have been glass; they didn't register the slightest glimmer of recognition. Hell, they didn't even seem to be the eyes of a human being. "Casher, put him down or I will shoot you."
Casher didn't say a word. He just twisted his wrist, flinging Jacob directly into Sylvia, landing both of them in a heap. Before Jacob even had a chance to register pain from the landing, Casher's huge hand was pressing him down, his other raised as though to strike and dash his brains against the pavement.
"No!" another voice shouted. Jacob shook his head to clear his vision, and saw a white hand had caught Casher's, preventing it's introduction with the innards of Jacob's skull. A tall albino woman stood at Casher's rear, and restrained him with both of her hands on his. She waited until his emerald eyes locked with her red, then shook her head. She shouted something that Jacob didn't understand, and the pressure lifted from Jacob as Casher stood. He replied, likewise in jibberish, then the two of them ran off, he as fast as Jacob'd ever seen Casher move, and she, almost at a blur.
"What the hell just happened?" Sylvia asked, picking up her weapon. She gasped as she saw Zane, struggling to right himself after his short but eventful flight.
"Help me get him up," Jacob muttered, fairly pointlessly because she already was. He got to his feet slowly, and they'd taken him half a block before he even seemed to realize where he was.
"Boss?" he muttered mushily.
"What is it, Zane?" Jacob asked.
"I think he broke m'jaw..." Zane slurred.
"We'll deal with that later, Zane," Sylvia muttered. "How much further?"
"It's not far from the southern barracks," Jacob answered. "And we've nearly reached that, so..."
Sylvia scowled, and again when Zane shrugged them off and tried to move on his own power. He did so, if not well. She turned to Jacob. "Hell of a party, isn't it?"
"Fan-ruttin'-tastic," he answered. "There. That's our shuttle."
"I see it," Zane mushed. "Have it runnin' in no time."
Jacob nodded, staring at the fires in the city, and the people he could, on occasion, see milling about. "See that you do."
"So," Fiona summed up. "That's the plan?"
"Yup," Friday answered. "The injectors are in the second drawer. Don't get them until the last minute. When you do, you'll have to get both of the couchers at the same time, or one of them will shoot you."
"I don't like this plan," Fiona pointed out again. Anne let out another scream, this time one which ended a bit weakly. Friday leaned down, checking her nethers.
"That's because you're afraid of death," Anne rasped quietly after her scream ended.
"You're fully dilated," Friday announced.
"And what does that mean?" Anne asked.
"It means you're ready to give birth," Friday responded.
"And that last twenty hours were just fuckin' practice?!" she roared.
"You're not the first woman to go into labor," Fiona pointed out. Anne gave her a look so dirty it would require an environmental assesment before it could be allowed on any Core planet. "Now, after the first two..."
"After the first two," Friday continued, "you deal with anyone outside the engine-side accessway. That gives you control of the engine room."
"And, I do what there?"
Friday just looked at her. "You don't know what to do there?"
"You thought I did?" Fiona asked.
"I sort of assumed," Friday hissed.
"I'm a hacker, not a ruttin' engineer!" she snipped.
"So, the plan's going nowhere, I take it?" Anne asked derisively.
"No... We got nothing," Friday said. "Alright, you should start to feel an uncontrollable urge to push."
"What, right now?" Anne asked.
"...and I'm telling you, there's nothing here," the woman Wap snapped as she came back into view, her helmet tucked under her arm. Syler left his on.
"This ship just happened to be on the outskirts of the conflict," Syler began, but she cut him off.
"The outskirts, Syler. The ship is unarmed," which it wasn't, but luckily, they didn't know that, "it's carrying nobody who could be called combatants even by the widest interpretation. This is a ship of people trying to dodge a possible death in a crossfire, nothing more."
"Still, this ship..."
"Is not part of our job. We're here to secure this side of the valley, not strip-search any random boat we find. This place is a waste of our time," she shouted, forcing Syler a step back. She turned to the group inside the infirmery, her tone becoming almost jarringly sugary. "You're not going to cause any trouble, are you?"
"Wouldn't if we could," Fiona said, without a trace of falsehood. The Wap nodded, and put her helmet back on.
"Rally at the ramp," she ordered, "we're moving east."
Fiona watched silently as the procession of black armored figures streamed past the infirmery door, the couch-dwellers rising last, as they'd found a comfortable place and were understandably unwilling to relinquish it. Finally, though, they were all gone, and Fiona dared pop her head out of the door. They gathered on the ramp for a moment, then dispersed into the late afternoon. She sighed with relief, turning back to the group within.
"What are you waiting for?" Friday asked, casting a glance over her shoulder. "Close the ramp before somebody else decides to come calling!"
Fiona lept to the task before even realizing she was doing as someone ordered, something she pointedly avoided doing, ever. Still, she rationalized, these were trying times, and trying times made for great mitigating circumstances. She pounded on the big red button, and the ramp began to slide up, finally closing with a great clang. She ran back to the infirmery.
"Push, do you feel it?" Friday prompted.
"I gorram feel it," Anne whined, her body arched forward and her face practically dripping, from sweat or tears it was hard to say.
"Keep pushing," Friday ordered, returning to her place between Anne's legs. "You're doing great, just keep going."
"Great?" Anne asked. "I feel like I'm about to die, here..."
"You're screaming like a banshee and you practically punched out my assistant a couple of times, so you're doing great," Friday muttered absently. "Alright, push."
Anne screamed again as she put her effort forth. "God..." she whispered.
"I can see the crown. It's a brunette," Friday noted. "Keep going."
Another scream, leaving Fiona standing at the door feeling decidedly useless, and Friday let out a laugh. "What's happening?" Anne asked.
"You're almost through. Just one more push, and it'll be out. Fiona, the blanket?"
"What blanket?" Fiona asked. Friday shot her a look.
"The one I sanitized for this very ruttin' occassion. That one," she pointed to it, sitting next to the autoclave. Fiona quickly grabbed it and brought it to Friday.
"What now?" she asked. Anne let out one more grunt of exersion, and Friday grabbed the towel away from Fiona, moving it under Anne's clothing. She pulled it away from the woman, handing it to Fiona. She stared in wonder at the baby contained within, twitching and flailing, its umbellicus still trailing away from its belly.
"Oh... my god," Fiona said, a smile coming onto her face. "It's beautiful."
Anne didn't respond, just laying against the slab, breathing deep, staring at the cieling. Fiona took a step toward her, but Friday interrupted her for a moment, touching something to the cord. The smell of seared flesh filled the room, then faded quickly. Friday looked at the infant, then placed her ear against its tiny chest.
"It's not crying," Friday stated. That was fairly obvious. She scowled. "It's breathing, and well, but it's not crying..."
"Is that bad?" Fiona asked.
"Not bad," Friday said, shaking her head. "Just weird."
Friday gathered up the infant from Fiona, who was grateful to pass off the responsibility. She looked down at the baby smiling a bit, and moved to its mother. She leaned down, holding the baby out. Anne didn't react, though; she just kept staring up at the ceiling, breathing deep.
"Don't you want to see your baby?" Friday asked.
"Is it over?" Anne asked, her voice weak.
"For all intents and purposes," Friday answered. Anne turned to her. "Here he is. This is your son."
"It was a boy?" she asked, trying to lean up, but not getting far. Friday helped her by angling the slab a bit for her. Anne held the tiny life to her breast, staring down at it with an unreadable expression. It wasn't exactly what Fiona would consider motherly. Or even exultant. More like... confused.
"Ten fingers, ten toes, and a penis," Friday responded. "You have a healthy, strangely quiet, baby boy."
Anne looked up, and when she spoke, her voice was distant, "I guess that means we're not calling him Chloe."
The Wolf stared up at the tank as the forms of the Union navy swirled about once more as they heedlessly pressed toward the Independant lines, and were forced back by Gauss fire.
"Whoever's driving that force isn't that bright," Kell grunted. "Which makes it painfully obvious that the Sorceror's not in charge."
"What are our orders?" Georgia asked.
"The New Shadow's ASF screen is down to a dozen fighters," Kell mumbled, rubbing his left arm. It still tingled, but he didn't have anything he could do about it for the time being. "And, technological advantage or not, they still outnumber us. Attrition will bring us down, eventually slaughter us."
Kell paced to the back of the bridge, then turned, pointing at the display. "We need to do something drastic."
"And that would be?" Barclay's voice came over the comms. "The Burning Dawn took out the Haephestus, and it had the heaviest Gauss cannon in the fleet. Without that, we won't be able to one-shot their Tohoku's. There's no one place we can attack that they can't repel us."
"That's a problem," Kell admitted. He was about to begin issuing orders when the Union line began to swirl again. He shook his head for a moment, but then noted that the Burning Dawn, and indeed most of the enemy forces were drawing back, leaving only a few ships in the gap between them. "Well... hello, opportunity. Mind if I knock?"
"Logan, we have a positive lock on the Invincible," Barclay noted. "Do we fire?"
"At will," Kell nodded. With a smirk on his face, he watched as dozens of ultra-high velocity metal slugs slammed into the Alliance flagship, tearing it apart in seconds. Other ships, in other places, brought down the other Alliance ships which hadn't drawn back, until there was nothing but a growing gap between the two forces.
"What just happened?" Georgia asked.
"I think they're reteating," Barclay offered.
"They are. The question is, why would they withdraw?" Kell murmured. To answer him, one of the screens flickered over to the bespectacled face of Zhao Harris.
"It seems you've taken this battle," Harris said with a nod. "Our forces are withdrawing, after the loss of the local Archadmiral."
"I'm sure you'll be crying yourself to sleep tonight," Kell said flatly. Harris betrayed no amusement at that.
"Next time, perhaps, when we meet, it will be on more equal footing," Harris offered. He then laughed. "You pulled a hell of a surprise on us."
"And that ain't the only one we got," Kell said, a smile on his face. "Next time, Zhao."
The image flicked off, and Kell looked around his command deck. "What are you standing around for? We have a land war to win!"
As the bridge crew went back to their business, Kell strode out of the deck. When the door slid closed behind him, he leaned against the wall, letting out a long hiss of repressed agony. That was the second time this year. He couldn't afford to let this thing happen at a critical moment. Not like it did today. He pushed off of the wall, moving down the hallways at a lurch.
He forgot where he was for a moment, then remembered where he had to go, and stumbled down several flights of stairs. He'd almost made it to the bottom when the alarms screamed and the ship careened to a stop, its powerful Gauss cannons halting its velocity in seconds. This threw him down the stairs, tumbling him arse-over-kettle to the bottom. With a wince, he forced himself back up, staring down the crew who cast glances his way.
"What the hell are you looking at? Get the hell back to work," he ordered, and the groups dispersed. He had that effect on people. Forcing himself to his feet despite his lightheadedness, he forged on. The decks had taken to spinning by the time he'd reached the red door, and he practically fell through.
"Son of a bitch," the doctor muttered. Kell felt himself hoisted up and set onto the bed. "What did I tell you about ignoring your heart?"
"Don't?" Kell muttered.
"You're ruttin' hi-larious. One of these days, you're going to ignore it, and you'll drop dead on the bridge."
"Not in my life time," Kell muttered. The room had become fuzzy, and he couldn't raise his head anymore.
"Which would be extremely short. You haven't been taking your medication. Swallow," Kell did as the doctor commanded. "And drink this. You're not immortal, Kell. You're made of flesh and blood, just like all the rest of us."
"So you say, Peter. So you say..."
"That should be taking effect shortly," Peter grumbled. "If you didn't wait until the last rutting second every damned time, maybe you wouldn't have needed those three bypass surguries."
"That don't say much to your skill, doc," Kell laughed, if painfully.
"You've got a bum ticker, Logan," Peter reiterated. "And if you don't look after it, it's going to kill you. There's no two ways about that."
"You just keep me on my feet, and I'll look out for the rest," Kell answered. He opened his eyes, swinging his legs off of the table. Peter forstalled him, shoving him back onto the bed.
"Not so fast, Kell. You're staying right here until I'm convinced that the arhythmia is no longer a concern."
"You can't keep me here." Kell said, staring at the doctor. Peter didn't flinch an inch, though, crossing his tree-trunk sized arms over his similarly bulky chest. Kell nodded slantedly. "Or... maybe you could, but you should keep in mind..."
"I don't follow your orders, Kell," Peter said simply. "I'm not in the military, and I ain't part of your crew. More'n that, I'm your doctor, and as your doctor I'm telling you that if you keep this up, I'm going to force your medication down your throat, chain you to your bed, and not let you out there until your heart has a chance to heal."
"You can't be serious," Logan muttered.
"Try me," Peter challenged. He smirked, turning away. "And for the love of God, get a night's rest, for once. Don't make me hunt you down."
Zane grunted as the loud clank of the ship settling into its lock drew him out of sleep. He blinked away the few minutes he had of rest, leaning up from the cot, and glanced around the interior of the shuttle. Sylvia, exhausted from her task of dealing, at least partially, with Zane's jaw, had collapsed into torpidity at some point. She was still completely unconscious.
Zane forced himself to his feet, aching from his still injured ribs. "Come on, boss. Anne's gonna be glad to see you."
"Boss, come on."
Zane turned the pilot's seat around, and goggled at the sight of Jacob passed out in it. He was as dead to the 'Verse as Sylvia. Zane looked at the side of the ship. "Well," he muttered. "Lucky he lasted as long as he did."
"He was awake for fourty hours," Elias noted from the copilot's seat. "It's a miracle he made it as far as he did."
"He's a tough bastard," Zane offered, pulling his captain from the chair, and dragging him away from the shuttle.
"What are you doing?" Elias asked.
"Anne's going to want to see him, and if she sees him motionless sitting in a pilot's seat, she's likely to go into labor out of shock," Zane said, trying to ignore his pain.
"Do you really think she'll be happier to see him like this?" the specter taunted. Zane scowled, but didn't bother responding.
The trip down the stairs was particularly arduous, but he managed to get Jacob into the commons with a relatively minor amount of personal pain and profanity. In the end, he dropped Jacob face down on the sofa, and turned to enter the infirmery. He was taken momentarily aback at how crowded it was.
On one cabinet, Daniel was laid out, a tube in his arm. The slab was occupied by Anne, and Friday was asleep in a chair near the door. Zane gave the latter woman a nudge.
"Huh? What?" Friday jerked awake. She turned to Zane, and a look of disappointment went across her features. "Oh. It's good to see you're alright."
"You don't seem particularly happy," Zane said, his jaw still hurting like hell. "Do you have any pop? I've got a few ribs which took toward breaking..."
"Completely out," Friday said. "I can give you a wrap, but that's the best I can manage."
Anne leaned up from her place on the slab, and turned to Zane. Her eyes went wide. "Is he here? Is he alright?"
"He's fine," Zane said, with a placating hand. "He's on the couch."
"Oh, god, what's wrong with him?" she asked, her voice reaching into panic. Friday rose to her feet, and grasped the woman's shoulder, and a bundle of blanket at her side.
"Calm down," Friday warned.
"He's just asleep," Zane calmed. "He's been up longer than any of us. He'll be fine."
Anne still stared, but she didn't tense against Friday any longer. She leaned back for a moment, then turned and lowered herself off of the table. Friday let out a yelp, but Anne silenced her with a look.
"Hold this," Anne ordered, holding the bundle out to Zane. Friday's eyes bugged when he took it, and his did likewise when he recognized it as a squirming infant. He opened his mouth, but Anne had already left the infirmery and moved to her husband.
"Is this...?" Zane asked, cradling the infant more carefully.
"Their son," Friday said, her voice with a definite edge. Zane stared at her.
"She had the baby?" Zane said, a grin growing on his face. "Well, that's great? What did she name him?"
"You're failing to see the problem," Friday whispered. She nodded toward Anne, who was spreading herself prone upon her unconscious husband's back. Zane looked from her back to her son, then back to her.
"She just gave me her..." Zane muttered. He looked up at Friday. "Huh?"
Friday pulled out her wrapping roll, but found it lacking. "It might be PPD, but..." she trailed off. She gave him a pat on the knee. "I'll go find my backup roll."
Zane shook his head as she moved out of the door, and he cradled his friend's infant as she clung to her husband. Finally, Jacob stirred, looking back at her as she stared at the infimery's outer wall.
"Is there a small woman lyin' on my back?" Jacob asked, his words a bit mushed from his fatigue.
"Maybe," Anne responded. Jacob turned over, leaving her stradling his hips.
"What does this mean?" he asked. She looked down at him, her eyes flashing with a number of emotions which flit by too quickly for him to gauge. She responded by punching him in the ribs. He grunted in pain, and gave her a look of utter sadness, but she had barely even delivered the blow before she reached down, grabbing his face and kissing him, deeply and passionately. Zane rose to his feet, carrying the infant.
"Is that?" Jacob asked, seeing Zane's approach.
"It's a boy," Zane said, kneeling down next to them, much despite the protestations of his ribs. The infant opened his eyes, looking at them both without uttering so much as a squeek. Jacob began to grin, then laugh, full and hearty. The smile spread to Anne, who began to smile from her place, pressed against Jacob's chest.
"It's a boy," Jacob repeated. He smoothed his wife's hair, then tipped her chin up. He tipped down his forhead to rest against hers.
Zane nodded, his own face aching from his grin. "What are you going to call him?
Jacob laughed, giving his wife a devilish look. "We're not calling him Ajax."
Well, that's the end of this one. I really thought, in the beginning, that I could pull that off in one episode, but I ended up having to trisect it. This one is the end of the 'The War' storyline for this part of the story. Now, the two crews are free of Hera, clear of the actual fighting for the time being, and loose to their own devices.
The moment, right at the end of this one, where Anne gives Jacob her partial-forgiveness, was a moment I had planned from before I'd finished the second season. I say partial, because she's lost a lot of trust, and this isn't the last time their indiscretions are going to pop up. Also, figuring out the proper time to have the child born was always a hard decision. It worked best to have him born right near the end.
In case you hadn't noticed, she comes off as caring very little for the child at the moment. This was intentional. You'll figure out why later.
It's always a balancing act with Serenity's crew. They're not easy for me to write for, because I don't have complete control of them the way I do with Legacy. Sure, I can do a pretty good job, but it takes time and several tries. And yes, River is sounding a lot like Jayne. Also intentional.
I'm pretty sure I'll not have another chapter complete until the new year, so have a happy holiday, be it Christmas, Hanukhah, Kwanza, or whatever.
And, finally, because I don't feel like keeping my doting fan waiting, I'll tell you the little one's name.
Jacob named him Achilles.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006 6:00 PM
Wednesday, December 6, 2006 8:11 PM
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