Legacy 3:11. The Ecstacy, part 1
Monday, November 19, 2007

Niflheim is home to many who are desparate enough to do anything. When one of them comes into Legacy's path, the results prove to be catastrophic.


For some reason, this chapter got eaten and went bye-bye. Well, here it is again. I'll put up the next part of this whenever I find it. Probably tomorrow. Since this isn't even the third time I've put up the preamble for this chapter, I'm not going to go on at length about it again. Instead, I'm just going to warn you now: Things are going to get weird before they get sane. Niflheim is Mal4Prez's creation. The rest of the background is my own. Feedback got eaten, understandibly enough. Luckily, you won't need to wait as long to see the next few bits, but still every little bit is nice.

The Ecstasy, Part 1

George glanced around furtively as the dust started to settle. The enemy had finally given up the ghost, which was a good thing, because he was tired. Damned tired. Only Belle had any energy to her, and he wasn't willing to pay the price she'd paid to get it. So he did what he had to do, to protect his 'family'. “Is it over?” Junior asked, looking hopefully to his father. “Are they done?” “They're done, son,” George nodded slowly, slipping his old, failing handgun back into his pack. It had served him well for the entire Wither, so he couldn't just throw it away. Even if, as the situation was, he could replace it with something far superior. George reached down, relieving one of the corpses of the fancy, well-maintained rifle. A clipped scream sounded, ending wetly, not too far away. Probably Belle, he thought to himself. He'd long ago stopped caring about the brutality she showed to people, so long as they weren't his people. It was too much effort, and gorramit, she was just too useful to kick to the curb. He inspected the gun carefully, smiling, despite his face's protestations, at his sudden good fortune. There were plenty of people who'd pay a handsome sum for a weapon like this. He hadn't seen a weapon like this on Niflheim in a damn long spell. “What do we do with the bodies?” Junior asked, hooking his hands around the straps holding their own packs to their backs. George looped the gun's strap over his shoulder and turned to his son. “Strip 'em of anything of worth,” he said, turning to survey the rest of the warehouse. There'd been surprisingly little damage to the area. “Pass out what you can to the kids, then stash 'em somewhere out of the way.” “Will do, Pop,” Junior said, before dragging the body out of the clearing in the center and rifling through it's pack with a vengeance. George turned away from his son to the box which dominated the center of the room. He didn't know much about boxes, and even less about Core-tech, but he knew just by looking at this thing that it was worth a fortune. Whatever this box had been built to hold was probably worth a damn sight more. He ran his hands along the smooth metal, cool to the touch. Had it been on any other planet, or even here, back Before, he wagered it'd be covered in droplets of condensation. His roving hand reached the lock pad, and he experimentally pressed a button. A beep sounded, and he felt himself being pulled back harshly. “Don't touch it!” Belle shouted. Her grim face was streaked with dirt and blood. In other words, she looked like she always did. He could remember when that wasn't so. “It could be booby-trapped, for all you know.” “And why would they booby...” he asked, but she cut him off with a horrible scowl. “Cartel property. They don't like our kind gettin' our grubby little hands on it,” she snorted at the end, then grinned wide, showing her rotting teeth. “Makes it more fun that we did, eh?” “And when they come lookin' for it?” George asked. “Hell with 'em. We got their guns. We'll be fine,” she said, walking away. He tried to look away as she reached down and sliced off a corpse's finger with her long knife before she vanished into the structure. He'd made her promise to hide her... habits... from the kids. They couldn't afford to know Belle was going around doing things like that. They'd already been through too much. Hell, they all had, he considered as he took a seat on the edge of the pallet, next to the crate which was apparently the source of so much ado. It was hard to believe that it'd already been fifteen years. Fifteen years since the Wither began. He'd had a life, back then. They'd all had lives. He grew up next door to Belle, and the two of them had been close as children, closer as teenagers. Only his decision to go to that school, away from the city, split them. By the time he came back home, a year later, she'd already found herself a man and gotten hitched. A wistful smile came to his lips as he thought back on the way she looked in that wedding dress. She'd never been called skinny a day in her life, back then. But she was a cute plump, and she always had a way with people. He found himself a wife in a classmate when he went back. It felt like he finally had a life. Then the Wither hit. Junior was only three when the Save-Water order came down. A year later, the order had been changed to a global drought warning. He thought he could make things better, and tried to finish his stint at medical school. How naïve he'd been. He should have just put every cent he'd had into that transport and gotten the hell away. “Pop,” Junior announced, and George found something thrown at him. He looked at it for a moment. MRE. These people must be military, he considered. That put a new wrinkle in things. Even as he started digging into the relatively delicious standard issue military ration, he leaned down over the body his son'd picked clean. He ran his fingers along the sunburst patch sewn to the right arm. He'd never seen its like. “What'd'you make of this, son?” he asked, pointing out the patch. Junior just shook his head, slipping his arms through the holes in the now lightened pack he'd appropriated. “This weren't Cartel. Might want run tell Belle about that.” “Tell me what?” he could smell her fetid breath behind him. It stank of blood and less pleasant substances. He turned to her. “Do you ever make noise when you move?” he asked. To answer him, she gave her a flat, blank stare. He shook his head, then knocked the grit that fell out of his eyes. “This weren't Cartel, you realize?” Belle looked down at the bodies, then over to the crate, then back to him, with the same flat, emotionless stare. “Which means we might be in one holy hell of a nastier bit then I'd wagered for,” he finished when it became obvious that she wasn't in the mood to ask. “They have food, don't they?” Belle asked. George nodded. “Then give it to the kids.” “And when the rest of the Feds come to check up on these?” George gave one corpse a boot. Belle grinned her gruesome smile. “Let 'em come.” George shook his head. Belle used to be so different. They'd both lost their families to the Wither, but whereas George managed to keep moving, despite everything, Belle got twisted by it. Deranged. The only piece of clothing she still owned was her old wedding gown, now gone rust red or black-brown from years of being caked with blood and grit. He really wondered what it was that kept her going. Kept her upright. Turning back to the crate, he also wondered how in the hell he was going to move this thing. It had to weigh at least a tonne, and even all the kids together wouldn't be able to lift it, let alone carry it any distance. If he could open it up and just take whatever it was as was inside, he was sure he could make a solid fortune. Enough, maybe, to get Junior and the kids away. George turned, leveling his proffered rifle at a loud snap he heard. One of the kids picked himself up, ignoring the long splinters which lanced into his arms as he raced to George's foot. The kid had run right through a near-disintegrated crate. George leaned down. “What is it, child? What's wrong?” he asked, as the kid tried to catch his breath. Finally, he did, and he threw a blood-rivuleted arm whence he came. “Some'un's outside,” he warned. “An' they's armed.”

“The Imam wishes to thank you for your hospitality,” the dark-skinned man gave a nod, and Lex nodded in return. Monday watched from the far end of the room as the one identified as the Imam rose and turned toward the door. Lex didn't say a word, but cast her a look and nodded toward the seat beside his. Monday swallowed and moved toward her benefactor. “I'm sorry to hear that things went so badly for your most recent attempt,” Lex said, politically. “Although, I must say, it wasn't the best choice to try during a period of martial law.” “Martial law has not been announced,” the Imam's aide began. “The Kings Writ speaks differently,” Lex countered. The aide shrugged and continued. “It has not been... officially announced,” he amended. “Still, it was unexpected they would react so militantly to our presence.” Lex leaned back with a smirk, “Christianity and Buddhism are the state religions, Fahiir. Only on Boros is Islam even tolerated, and even here it's not exactly accepted with anything approaching fervor. In the Core it's considered a...” “Don't say it, Verajas,” Fahiir warned. “A cult,” Lex finished anyway. The Imam shook his head and opened the door, stepping out into the cold rain. “Ouendigo will protect you while you're on Boros, but don't expect us to send our Walkers to help you expand. That's not what their job is.” “You aren't endearing yourself to the Islamic nation, Verajas,” Fahiir warned. “And you wouldn't want to inspire our wrath.” With a motion so quick Monday almost missed it, despite being seated directly beside him, Lex pulled the hatchet from his belt and flung it forward, sending it spinning through the air and sinking deeply into wood of the doorframe, about two inches from Fahiir's face. As Fahiir's face turned red with rage, he calmly reached behind the sofa and pulled forth another axe, this one larger, and set it across his knees. “Never forget, Fahiir, that you are a guest in my home, and your religion is under the protection of the Creed of Ouendigo. Your rights under both,” he leaned forward, “can be ended at any time.” Fahiir scowled. “I'm not going to forget this, Alejandro Verajas.” The Imam, standing outside, looked to be shaking his head, but not in rage, but consternation. Monday looked to Lex, who only leaned back when the Muslims left his home and closed the door behind them. “And I just refinished that door,” he grumbled sourly. He turned to her, then. “You were silent throughout the entire meeting. I'd expected that you'd have some questions, or even a few acerbic comments.” “About what?” Monday asked. “I... I think I'm out of my depth, here.” Lex shrugged. “Ouendigo was not formed in a day. Things are complicated in the Creed. The Muslims aren't even the most troublesome to deal with, for all their pride. The druids bitch when we prepare for what's coming, because we cut down trees. The Wiccans bitch because in their minds, we're just mindless savages, despite the fact that we've saved their pacifistic asses more times then they like to mention. The Stoics bitch because our beliefs are so different from theirs.” “And the Muslim's bitch because you won't help them expand?” she finished. Lex sighed. “We don't help anybody expand. That's not our job. Hell, it's not even technically our job to protect them from their own stupidity and the 'Verses ignorance and cruelty. But we do it anyway, don't we?” A thought occurred to Monday. “What about the Jews? They're not exactly a common religion in the 'Verse.” Lex let out a loud, rowdy guffaw. “The Jews don't need our help,” he explained jovially. “And they don't want it. I have to say, they're the toughest bunch of bastards I've ever had the fortune of knowing, theologically,” He shook his head. “Ouendigo protects the religions of the 'Verse that have been predated upon and have no other means of protection. In recent years, that has expanded somewhat, in Boros' interests, to the blunting of La Tiempo de Congelación. If that means we have to blind the Core's intelligence agencies every chance we get, so much the better.” Monday shook her head in bewilderment. “You make it sound like it's a game... like it's fun?” “In some ways, it is,” he admitted, then he looked at her, his expression so earnest it made her lean back. “In other ways, it's anything but.” Monday wiped the sweat from her brow, staring at the huge fire burning in the hearth. “How much longer?” she asked quietly. Lex sighed. “The Sorcerer has claimed his victory, fully and definitively,” Lex answered. “The Upper Envelope is still locked down, though, so we won't be able to leave Boros until that opens up,” Verajas gave a grin. “Luckily for you, I have something in mind that'll pass the time rather quickly.” Monday recoiled a moment at his words, before remembering a very simple fact; this was Lex. He was harmless. Well, she amended, not entirely harmless, since he had strangled a man to death in front of her, and buried a hatchet an inch away from a man's face from the length of the room away. Harmless to her. That's the ticket. “What do you mean?” Lex leaned back. “You are going to meet the Oracle.” “What?!” Monday shouted, as Lex rose to his feet. “Last time I was anywhere near this... Oracle of yours... I got stabbed!” she held up her still-bandaged hand to him. “Right through my hand, in fact.” “That was a mistake,” he placated. “You shouldn't have come to the meeting place unbidden.” She stared at him a moment. “You're saying it was my fault?” “Mostly,” Lex replied. “You don't argue with women much, do you?” she asked. Lex shrugged. “I argued with you on a semi-daily basis for four months,” he offered. Monday shook her head to sift past his naivety. He was a man. Therefore, he was argumentatively inferior. “Why? Why does she want to see me, after almost killing me?” “She didn't hold the knife. An overprotective Walker did,” Lex corrected. “And she wants to see you for the same reason that the Triple 'S' and Gyr want to see you.” Monday's cheek twitched. “The only difference,” Lex continued, “is that we are going to ask for your assistance, instead of beating it out of you.” Monday swallowed past the lump in her throat. “When do we leave?” she asked, softly. Lex shook his head, nodding toward the rain-soaked woods beyond the glass. She looked to where he indicated, but couldn't see anything at first. After a moment, though, she could see red jackets, a veritable wall of them, stretching from one side of the window to the other from well behind the treeline. “We go nowhere,” Lex answered her. “She comes to us.” There was a knock at the door, and Lex was quick to answer it. Five figures, starkly contrasting the wood for their bright red cloaks, entered with barely a pause. The larger four pulled their cloaks off and set them on whatever was handy, turning to and exchanging subdued greetings with the master of this house. The last, the smallest, moved toward Monday. The latter rose to her feet, retreating slowly from the advance of the red cloak, until her shoulders bumped up against the back wall. The red cloak stopped, about three paces away, and threw back it's hood. Monday recognized her, and not from the fact that she'd seen the woman in the house some weeks earlier. She'd seen her in advertisements, for several years on a tri-vid show, and even in person, years earlier on Sihnon. “Teresa Perez,” Monday said, not quite believing her eyes. Perez smiled a bit at the fact she didn't have to introduce herself. “I've heard some interesting things about you, miss Yiao.” “How?” Monday asked. “You're a celebrity. I was there when L'Asca taught you how to sing mezzo-soprano.” “I suppose I am, and I suppose you were,” Perez admitted, flicking a beaded strand of hair over her shoulder. “I don't see how my duties to La Via and my life are mutually contradictory.” Monday just shook her head, dumbfounded. Perez let her cloak fall to the floor, where Lex quickly picked it up. She cast a glance over her shoulder. “You keep a fine house, Alejandro.” “It's always open to the Oracle,” he said, his voice more than a touch reverent. Monday looked from him, back to the impossible Oracle. “Of course it is,” she answered emptily. She turned back to Monday. “You seem to have recently acquired a knack for accumulating enemies,” she said with a slow, sultry smile. It was a smile which made her a favorite character for three years on her drama, and moved her from an ancillary to a primary character. Monday tried to school herself, but the surrealism of the situation shook her enough that a nervous chuckle escaped her. “It looks like Jacob really has rubbed off on me,” she muttered. Lex raised an eyebrow. “Jacob?” he asked. As he did, Perez' face took on a pained expression, and her hands closed into fists. Lex saw her condition and moved swiftly to her side with a shout of, “Oracle?!” “It's nothing. She must be referring to Jacob Greyson,” she answered, holding out an arm to keep him at bay, for the moment. Lex stared, agog. She gave him a level stare in response. “As in 'the' Jacob Greyson?” he asked. Monday glanced between the two of them. “Has he acquired some sort of celebrity I haven't yet heard about?” Monday asked peevishly. Perez smiled again, although her skin was a shade paler than it was before. “Indeed. He's recently become a person of great interest. How long did you spend in Heian Difeng?” Monday was caught off-guard by the sudden change in direction. “A few weeks, while the ship was repaired. After that, I came directly here.” “And did you every enter the depths of the complex?” Perez asked, her dark eyes boring into Monday's own. “The depths?” she shook her head. “No. No, I left the spelunking to more adventurous heads.” The Oracle turned to the four who had come with her, and began to rattle off in a language that sounded Spanish, but since Monday didn't know a word of it, it went right over her head. Lex moved around the group, to Monday's side. “She's not impressed,” Lex grumbled. “What did I do?” Monday complained. “Not with you,” Lex placated, as Perez turned back toward her. “Did Jacob enter the...” she trailed off for a moment as her face took up another pained wince, then continued with her voice a bit more shaky than before. “Did he enter the depths?” Monday nodded slowly. “He took several of the other crew with him. Why? What is so important about that place?” “It's not important to you, and it's beginning to look more and more like you're predicament is a horribly tragic mistake,” Perez offered with an apologetic smile. “You can't offer the information they want, because you don't have it.” “And it only took two months for people to realize that,” Monday growled. Inside, she could feel a seething anger burning merrily away. All of that. All of those things he did to her, and it was for nothing. Torture for the sake of torture. There was nothing she could do to protect herself. “Of course, our woman on the inside has informed us of the contents of the vaults, so it's understandable why the intelligence ministries are so desperate to get their hands on the information,” Perez continued. “The tech gap is pretty much all that the Confederates have, at the moment,” the Oracle shook her head sadly, her beads clacking together. “My shames are ever-mounting, it seems.” “Excuse me?” Lex asked, but the Oracle ignored him, staring at Monday. “If it pleases you, I can offer you the protection of La Via Wendigo,” Monday took in a breath to respond, but Perez beat her response by nodding. “There are a number of places we can practically guarantee your safety, but until we can get clearance to leave the atmosphere...” Monday swallowed. Her pride, as well. “I'll take whatever help I can get,” she whispered. Perez gave that sad little smile again. “We can leave for the tormenta fortaleza within the hour,” one of the four attendants offered. The Oracle nodded, then jerked her head to one side with a clipped yell. Her hands made fists in her hair, and a sickening rip sounded for several beaded braids coming out as her arms snapped straight. “What's happening?” Monday blurted, taking another step away from this odd... damned odd woman. “Vision,” Lex answered simply. “She does not need the flesh to see them.” Perez's head snapped back up, and framed now by rivulets of flowing blood, she seemed an entirely different person than the one which walked through that door mere minutes ago. “We need to leave,” she demanded, her voice cracking and weird, the voice of a crone. All of the men in the room looked amongst themselves in confusion, then the oldest looking one spoke up. “Whatever is coming, the Walkers will give us ample warning, if not butcher it in its boots,” he said with a nervous chuckle. The Oracle, and there was no question in Monday's mind as to the truth of that identity now, reached to him and dragged him down to her level. Her face contorted into a rictus of rage. “Don't... Question... Me...” she hissed, her eyes so wide Monday could see the whites all around them. “We need to leave. Now.” “Yes, Oracle,” he said, immediately and hastily moving toward the front door. Monday gave a look to Lex, but Lex just shook his head in disbelief. She guessed he'd never seen her in such a state, either. The Oracle looked to Monday, then. The blood, running slowly down the sides of her face, once beautiful and now terrifying, was beginning to turn her dress as red as the cloak she had discarded. She thrust a finger out. Once again, Monday couldn't help but compare her to the mythic crone. “You,” she cackled. “If you want to live. You will run. With us.” In a sweeping motion, the Oracle stripped the cloak from Lex's hand and threw it around herself, making uneven strides toward the door. Two of the others who had escorted her in followed her out, staying at least a step behind her. The last of them turned to Lex and Monday. “The wisdom of the Crone has spoken,” he solemnly declared. “Take what you cannot live without, and join us immediately.” Lex erupted into movement in an instant, leaving Monday standing shell-shocked in the middle of the suddenly empty room. For all the 'Verse, it seemed that nothing had happened here. Until one took into account the bloody droplets on the floor and the two hanks of hair lying near them. Monday felt something shoved into her chest, and she stared down at it in surprise. It was the book she'd been writing in for the last few weeks. Lex had a desperate look in his eye. “What are we running from, now?” Monday asked. Lex gave her a tug and started her moving again. It almost felt like she'd been ensorcelled to stand there; even now, she had an urge to just stop moving until the 'Verse made a bit more sense. Lex shook his head at her question, as he emerged into the deluge. “I don't know, and I don't want to,” he answered, and was caught short as he momentarily lost his footing, almost landing himself on the ground. He turned, and pointed. Monday stared at a tiny skin of ice over the walk-way tiles. In the middle of summer, only a few hundred miles from the equator, freezing rain was beginning to fall. Lex scowled, and continued. “Whatever it was that the Crone saw, it worries her.” “Who's the Crone?” Monday asked, already fairly sure of the answer. “No time,” Lex snapped. He scanned the treeline and finally spotting the only remaining red jacket standing in the woods. All of the rest had just disappeared as silently as they appeared. “But whatever has got the Crone worried, scares the hell out of me.”
Zane stared grimly at the empty, dust blown streets. He spat at the ground, and was surprised to see that it was drawn into the desperate soil nearly on the instant it struck. He'd seen drought and he'd seen drought, but this... this was a drought. “Reminds you of Paradise, doesn't it?” Elias piped up from his place, leaning against the side of the building. “In a lot of ways. I imagine the mortality rate's about the same,” Zane replied. He sighed. “I really should be paying attention to the job, instead of letting my mind wander.” “That's a real problem,” Elias nodded. “Of course, you haven't been able to get your sister off of your mind for the last few days. That is itself a hell of a distraction.” Zane sighed, leaning back in his seat. “When I was little, my brothers always said they'd protect her. She was so... vulnerable, you know?” Elias nodded. “Your thinking about your sister has gotten me to thinking about my own family,” he said, slowly. “I had one, you know. My mother and a whole passel of sisters that constantly made my life hell. I was the youngest, so they all felt it was their job to pick on me. It was all in good fun, I suppose,” he shrugged. “She never picked on me,” Zane muttered. “She never picked on anybody. I swear, if she'd ever looked down and realized she was stepping on ants, she'd never move again.” “A lot of them are still out there,” Elias continued. “They've got children of their own, now. I'm just a distant memory. A child that disappeared at the age of eight, a brother they never really got their whole jollies out of.” “I still remember the last thing she ever told me, back before I left Paradise,” Zane whispered. “I wonder if they even know that I'm dead?” Elias asked. “I'm not sure why, but it's a bit distressing to think that they don't know that. Maybe you should tell them. Tell them that I'm dead, I mean. Don't tell 'em how. Just make something up.” “She said 'I ain't your sister anymore, Zarathustra',” Zane whispered into the wind. “'I ain't kith nor kin to no-one'.” “They deserve to know that much,” Elias nodded. “Penny for a brick in the face?” The tiny, reedy voice snapped Zane back to attention. He'd gotten completely distracted, become oblivious to the world around him. He looked down from his seat in the Mule, looking at a rod-thin little girl, maybe eight years old, if that. Her stick-like arms were wrapped around a brick that she could barely hold. “What did you say?” Zane asked, leaning toward her. The girl got a really hopeful expression on her dirty face. “Copper penny for a brick in the face?” she offered again. Zane leaned back, his confusion plain on his face. “...No!” he responded, aghast. The girl put on a pout. “Then how about one for free?” Another voice piped up. Zane turned to the other side of the Mule just in time to see an older boy, perhaps sixteen years of age, throwing himself into the seat Zane was occupying, leading with a brick in his right hand. The resounding crack of brick into cranium was lost to Zane, for some reason. He coughed, sending swirls through the plume of dust his hard landing had caused. He tensed, reaching to his side for his sidearm. The Mule was right there, and the kid was sitting right in the driver's seat. Easy shot. “Hit him again!” the boy yelled. Crushing pain lanced up Zane's arm as the little girl let gravity do her job for her, bricking his gunhand quite unpleasantly. He scooted away until he reached a wall behind him, and began to drag himself up it, despite his spinning head, to his feet. “What's this?” the boy asked, and Zane felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. The sinking feeling went from his stomach to his intestines when the boy picked up the submachine gun that Zane had been carrying before his head's introduction with masonry. The feeling landed in his feet as the boy pointed the gun at Zane. In the instant before the cracking of the gun drowned out even the pounding of the blood in Zane's ears, Elias, still standing next to the Mule, offered one, final, sarcastic comment. “You know,” he pondered, “I think this is going to hurt.”
“Belle, what in the nine hells are you doing?” George whispered urgently as his eyes went back toward the maze of abandoned crates. Joey was slumped against one, seemingly uninterested in the long splinters in his arms and the new tatters in his clothing. In truth, the young boy looked absolutely and completely spent. Belle, on the other hand, had acquired an almost inhuman vigor the instant Joey delivered his grim news. “Setting up a little surprise,” she explained, not turning away from her tinkering. She thrust out a wiry arm toward him. “Grenade.” “Sheh muh?” George whispered. “Give me one of their grenades. Now would be better than later,” she said by way of explanation. He sighed and pulled one of the pilfered grenades to Belle, and she included it into whatever it was she was making. George leaned down and gave Joey's arm a shake. The boy didn't respond. “It's gonna be alright, li'l one,” George reassured. “You did your job. You did it well. Now, you rest up. We'll probably need to move fast when this is done. Can you do that?” Joey just stared dumbly. Utterly spent. He'd seen, in other kids in other years, that exact same look. Joey was empty. He'd been utterly used up, and had nothing left in him. George sighed again, and ruffled the lad's hair before scooping him up and moving him gently to one side. Hopefully, he'd be clear of what was coming. “We don't have time for games, George,” Belle whispered harshly as she silently scaled into the carcase of the crate Joey had bull-rushed through. “Let him lay, and get that pretty, new gun of yours loaded.” Inside his mind, George did as he always did before things got bloody. With an internal look of regret, he closed the door that separated the things he did from the parts of himself that could still be hurt by them. Every time he closed that door, trying to protect what was left of him, it felt a little bit harder to open the next time. He wondered if Belle had just forgotten how to open that door, and let the rest of her out. “Guang cai! That has to be it,” a voice exclaimed. George narrowed his eyes, casting a glance over his shoulder when he felt Junior's hand tap it. Junior nodded toward the figure who was facing away from their position, now. George nodded, and Junior understood. More folk were going to die this day. He just hoped that it weren't them. Part of him didn't hold that hope too tight. George's hands tightened around his rifle as the youth took another shuffling backward step toward where he saw a thin wire suspended just above the ground. Clever girl, Belle. A nice little booby trap. “Daniel, don't move. Not an inch,” an older voice ordered. The youth, Daniel if George heard it right, hesitated, his heel brushing against the tripwire. George winced. That would just be his luck, something like that turning against him, and setting them on their guard when all the kids were already tired. Some were nearly spent. Then there was Joey. “What?” Daniel asked, glancing to and fro, but not directly behind him. He made an impatient gesture and continued. “Call in Zane and let's get this thing moved.” George leaned to one side, toward where Belle was stationed, and he could see the other man who'd spoken, and see that he was making a placating motion. George guessed he was begging for Daniel not to take that one last step. Daniel turned, ignoring the older man and took it, the wire catching on his shin and following his solitary step. A sharp ping sounded, and George's face lost all expression. He leveled the gun to his shoulder, waiting for the bang. “GET DOWN!” A pair of hands from out of sight shoved the older man to the ground, and Daniel realized his fate as George braced himself for the blast. He thought he could figure how much bang that little thing had in it. It weren't a bit bigger than his fist, so it couldn't be that powerful. He was wrong about that. Dead wrong. The blast sent the youth, Daniel, straight toward the barricade that Joey was leaning against, and the force of his landing shattered the crate, sending down a rain of splinters. The crate opposite the bomb, which had obscured George's view, was sent spinning across the opening until it came to a rest near the east edge, and George caught a bare glimpse of blonde hair being catapulted out of sight. The older man managed to get to the ground before the blast, and showed little effect. The blast almost leveled George, despite his bracing and his position so careful a distance away. He had to grab Junior before he was sent sprawling, even that a floundering motion he could barely keep track of. He couldn't hear a damned thing; his head was spinning. What the hell was that thing? George tried to level his rifle again, and then realized he wasn't carrying it anymore. He scanned the ground and found it no small distance away. He quickly scurried to it and drew it up. He couldn't hear any gunshots, so the kids mustn't have yet recovered from the blast. His gaze went to Junior, and beyond him to the youth that had come. His face was torn by a jagged laceration and his leg was unrecognizable from below the knee. He was bleeding heavily. Still, despite all the pain George knew he had to be in, Daniel pulled the gun from his side and fired at the closest thing that wasn't him. Junior. George tackled his only son to the ground and winced as even more splinters rained down on him. He still couldn't hear anything. He raised his rifle, but hesitated when he saw that the youth had dragged himself to Joey, and was starting to drag him away. George scowled wrathfully. Nobody takes my kids hostage, the thought came. He forced himself unsteadily to his feet, then into a lurching pursuit. He caught up after only a few moments, but they were the longest he'd ever felt in his life. Turning the corner Daniel had dragged Joey behind, George felt a tearing pain in his leg, dropping him agonizingly to one knee. He didn't need to look to know he'd been shot. He'd felt pain of that like before. George raised his pilfered rifle to his shoulder. “Let him go!” He shouted. He couldn't hear it, only feeling it vaguely along his jaw to know he'd actually made a sound. “Let the kid go or I swear to God I will ventilate your ruttin' skull.” Daniel responded, but George couldn't make the slightest bit of anything from it. He moved toward Joey, and George's finger tightened on the trigger. He expected that pistol the kid was carrying to rest to the child's temple, but that didn't happen. Instead, Daniel tried to shield the kid with his battered body, as though George was the threat. George hesitated. This isn't right. The ringing started to settle in his ears to the point that he could hear clanging to his rear, and a spray of what sounded like gunfire that couldn't have come from within the building. He lowered his rifle with a placating gesture. “Don't hurt him,” George pleaded. “He's just a kid.” “...make me...” Daniel responded. Of course, George could tell it was part of a longer response, but he couldn't figure out any more than that. “Pa!” Junior's voice came again, and George turned a bit to face him. Junior sized up the situation in a heartbeat, raising his own pistol and firing. George shouted, but it went unheard over the gunplay which whizzed around him. He covered his head and ducked. It was a miracle nothing hit him. Junior let out a clipped scream, bringing George's attention immediately and completely to his child's aid. He turned his rifle back down the corridor of crates, but Daniel was gone. An unsettlingly thick trail of blood disappeared behind a corner. Joey was lying perfectly still, a scarlet circle marked on the skin at the front of his neck. George wanted to let out a sigh for the life so unfairly lost, but he didn't have time. His son needed him. George limped, so very painfully, to Junior's side, and cradled him until Junior's eyes popped open. “Pa!” He shouted. “He got me.” “Where'd he get ya, son?” George asked, desperate for any less than lethal area. Junior's hands relaxed, showing the wound just under his shoulder. George shook him a bit. “You're gon' be alright, y'hear?” “I hear, Pa,” Junior acceded. “I'm sorry about Joey.” George glanced about, shaking his head toward his son. “Don't worry on that. He was gone long before you pulled that trigger, son. Now, you just rest up, y'hear?” “I hear, Pa,” Junior nodded, painfully. George was back, painfully, on his feet, and moving. The other kids would be roaming by now, trying to bring them down. His rifle in front of him, he followed the clanging until it suddenly stopped. A moment later there was a crash. George limped around the next corner, finding Belle, a bit bloodier than she'd began, shaking her head, and staring balefully at a collapsed wall of crates that blocked her way. “Did you get him?” he asked. She stared at her long knife, only a little bloody, with a glare of frustration. She shook her head grimly. That set George on edge. He'd never seen anybody on Niflheim who was as good with a knife as Belle. To get away, keeping her knife that clean, whoever it was she went after would have to be every bit as good, if not better. “He dropped the crates on me,” she said, by way of explanation. A sour smile came to her face. “I guess he thought he could Wicked Witch me.” “Huh?” George didn't catch the reference. Belle waved it away, then leaned around George, her fist tightening around her blade. George turned, gun front and center, only to lower it when he recognized one of his kids. “Papa, papa!” Jillie said with great excitement. She threw her stick-like arm out behind her. “We stoled a floaty thing, papa.” “You stole a what?” George asked. His question was answered as a crash sounded near the expensive looking box. He went limping back to it, and saw the intimidating piece of technology hovering near it, half-way embedded into a stack of crates. “Did you get the pilot?” Belle asked, he knew for a reason other than thoroughness. “Hal shot him lots, but he run off,” Jillie said. A big grin opened up on her little face. “I bricked him good, papa. Am I a good girl?” George forced a smile onto his face and ruffled her shaggy hair. “Of course you are, Jillie.” Jillie beamed. “Where'd the other one go?” Hal asked as he unsteadily lowered himself from the floating thing. George's brows drew down. “I saw another one, a bit cut up, runnin' off as I come crashin' in.” “God damn it!” Belle exclaimed. She turned to George. “I'm going to get him. I'm going to eat his eyes for this.” “Belle!” He snapped, jerking his head toward Jillie. Belle glanced toward her, then snapped her mouth shut. He'd made her promise, and he'd see to it himself that she keep her ghoulish habits to herself. She didn't seem to like it, though. George placed his hand on Hal's shoulder. “Hal,” he said, his tone more normalized. “You remember where we stayed a few years back? Back when I'd just picked you up, during the Riots?” “The apartment or the fountain park?” Hal asked. “Fountain,” George answered. He drew the lad, perhaps 17 years of age, in close. Hal was the oldest in kid the 'family', besides Junior, one year his senior. George just prayed his trust was properly placed. “When we were there, I buried a few things I thought I might need again some day. A big bag. It'll be brown now, and have a cross with equal arms on the side of it. I need that bag.” “Why?” Hal asked, his nose scrunching his freckles together. “It's got things I suddenly need,” George snapped, suddenly losing his patience. “An' I ain't in the condition to go runnin' for it my self! It'll be under the concrete bench next to the fountain, on the west side. Now run to, boy. Run to!” At the second utterance, Hal did exactly as asked, sprinting away from the carnage. He turned to the little girl next to him. “Get the other kids here, double quick,” he said, placing a hand on her tiny shoulder. “We'll need to move as soon as Hal gets back. Can you spread the word?” Jillie nodded and skittered off, her torn dress dragging in the grit where it had ripped. He turned and saw Belle leaning toward something near the wreckage of the crates. “Belle?” he asked. “What'cha got there, Belle?” Belle cast a rotten-toothed grin over her shoulder. “Dinner,” she said, reaching forward with her knife. George limped forward and grabbed her arm, and she actually hissed at him before remembering who he was. There was a woman lying on the ground, the wreckage of the crate around her. She was in a bad way, he could tell that just by looking at her. He couldn't see anything obviously broken, but she'd taken a hell of a blast from that grenade-sized mining charge those soldiers were carrying, and she didn't look to be anything approaching conscious. “What are you doing?” Belle hissed. “We agreed. No kids, I can have my fill.” “She's worth more alive. Hostage, possibly ransom,” George whispered with equal verve, but less blood-thirst. “Failing those, there are still those who'll pay handsome for a woman what looks like her, whether she's breathing or not.” “Sick bastards,” Belle grunted. To him, it was the very definition of ashes calling the desert dry, irony in its purest. “Still, she's bleedin' on the inside,” George said. Belle cracked another grim grin. “I'll just add a hole so that blood can get out,” she said, moving forward her knife again. This time, George pulled the knife out of her hand, only possible because she hadn't expected him to. She stared at him with incredulity. “What the hell?” “No. She's worth more alive,” George said, pulling up everything he'd buried from his old life. Like the Hippocratic Oath. “And I intend to keep her that way.”
“There,” Anne said, staring ahead from her chair on the edge of the ramp. Fiona stared forward, but she couldn't see them. They were approaching carefully, only leaving cover when they thought she wasn't looking. But she was. They were close. Almost in position, in fact. “Where?” Fiona asked. Anne just nodded in their general direction. Fiona scowled. “And why aren't we flying away, then? If this planet is as dangerous as Jacob made it out to be, I mean?” “Because if we leave, then Jacob will be stranded here, not knowing where to go to meet us,” Anne explained. “I'm not about to abandon my husband on this shit-heel rock.” Of course, there was another reason, which was laying across Anne's lap, at this very moment. Jacob had stole this rifle from a Wap nearly a year ago, before she even got knocked up, in fact, and she'd been dying to test it out on somebody. She spent nearly two weeks on Shadow just playing with it, testing it on spoiled chunks of meat from Legacy's then ruined larder, finding just the right setting for it. “Couldn't we just close the ramp?” Fiona asked, worry plain in her voice. Anne shook her head. “They'll just climb up to the dorsal vent, or maybe even blow the ramp open with a Joybuzzer. Then, when they come aboard and find us, they'll have the added anger of having to deal with that little impediment before they could come aboard,” she shrugged, her voice becoming entirely monotonous. “They'd probably rape us before they killed us.” Fiona stared at Anne with a shocked expression. “You're a very up person, aren't you?” she asked. Anne just gave her a blank look, then turned her attention back out to the baked earth. “I'm surprised they're here so soon,” Anne continued, her tone flat. “I never thought the Cartels were so on-the-ball. They usually don't rat on the private interplanetaries until they're planetside for more than an hour and a half.” “And that's not on the ball?” Fiona asked. Anne moved the rifle to a more ready position. She had a bead on the one in charge. She knew knew he was in charge because she could see by the way he was crawling he had an armored vest on. If there was only one thing she could thank her father for, it was having eyes all the eagles of the 'Verse would envy. “You're going to want to find a nice, comfy place to hide,” Anne informed, nodding toward the nook next to the airlock for assistance. Fiona just looked confused, to Anne rolled her eyes. “If they have guns, they're probably going to fire them. And if they fire them, they're a hell of a lot more likely to hit you than they are me.” Fiona nodded for a moment, before getting an insulted look on her face. “Are you calling me fat?” “I'm calling you an easy target,” Anne chuckled darkly. “Now, get the hell out of the hold before somebody shoots you.” Anne's attention locked on the armored man who was now only an easy stone's throw away. She smirked at the fact that he probably still thought he was hiding in the cracked, broken ground. She lifted the rifle, easily as long as she was tall, up and laid it down her body. Supine as she was on the lounging chair, it supported the weapon perfectly. “You can stand up, now.” The Vest paused, then rose. “You can't stop all of us, bitch. Not with you one piddly little gun.” Anne opened her mouth to let out a pithy reply, but then shrugged and fired the laser. Normally, lasers were completely invisible, without some detritus to refract it en route. This one, though, was a faint blue that leaped instantly from the end of the laser pylon and passed through his right shoulder. When his shoulder instantly erupted into flame, a wide grin broke out on her face. She knew she could get this thing to ignite flesh instead of cauterizing it. The smile still wide on her face, she adjusted her aim and made his head ignite as thoroughly as his extremity had. From the cracks around the now steadily burning leader, a frankly startling number of dirty, gaunt, desperate looking people rose to a dead run, advancing quickly on Legacy. He was right. Even with a gun this fun, she couldn't have possibly taken them all down before they subdued her. Luckily, she'd spent a half hour rigging the land outside the ramp with mines. Casually, probably more casually than she had license to, she reached behind her and flicked over the switch on the box sitting next to the sandwich she'd whipped up to sate her appetite. She rose to her feet as the ripping blast tore through the air, buffeting her clothing her body to as she gathered up the chair and tried to keep the dust off of her food. Fiona stumblingly ran to the edge of the airlock staring off with something between relief and disgust. “They won't be a problem any more. We'd probably better move the ship about a hundred yards closer to the city, though. Don't need Jacob knowing about this mess,” Anne said, laying the chair in its usual spot, next to the fore stairs. Fiona just looked at her, aghast. “You... just killed all of those people?” she asked. Anne shrugged, leaning down and gathering up the laser rifle her husband had thoughtfully provided her with. “If I didn't, they'd have killed us in a rather horrible way, and done fairly unpleasant things to us before they did,” Anne explained. Fiona cut her off. “You can't rationalize what you just did,” Fiona stammered. “Those people could have...” “Could have, would have, should have,” she cradled the rifle across her body, turning away from the naïve pilot. “They didn't, so I did. And frankly, I don't give a damn whether they've had it hard or not. They come to my home, and try to take my life from me, they'll get what they deserve.” “I...” Fiona stammered. Anne shot her a look as she locked the rifle back up. The girl didn't know a damned thing. Spoiled little rich girl, nothing more. Worse, she had notions that she knew something about the universe, and how it was. If anybody knew about the 'Verse in all of its cruelty, it was Anne. “Enough,” Anne shouted. “It's done. Now I'm going back to look to Achilles. You keep to the helm in case we need to leave in a hurry.” Anne stared the girl down until she turned and headed up to the bow. Anne waited a minute to follow. She had no intention of letting that woman lead her anywhere. She had just reached the bend to the kitchen when the intercom squawked to life. “Fiona, Anne, are you there?” Zane's voice came through. “...Friday?” “I'm here,” Fiona answered, prompting Anne to join her in the cockpit. “What's wrong?” “We're humped. We're really, really humped,” the static crackling answer came. “Jacob?” “They've got the cargo,” Jacob responded. He sounded out of breath, but in a lot better condition than Zane was. “Tell Friday to be in that infirmary and ready for major surgery.” “Who?” Anne asked, a bit worried. Don't let it be Jacob. “Just tell her to be ready,” Jacob shouted. There was a sound of a struggle, then Zane's voice returned to the comms. “They got the Mule, too. Stole it right out from under me,” he sounded positively disgusted with himself. Anne snatched the com unit away from Fiona. “Jacob, where are you now?” she asked. “We're near the intersection of 43rd and Halicarnassus,” there was a pause. “No. You're not thinking of...” “Just keep your guns out and try not to bleed to much,” Anne asked, taking a step toward the chair Fiona was occupying. “We're coming to you.” She let the unit dangle from its cord, if only because she could never reach high enough to put it away, and squared off against the interloper. “Get out of my chair, rich girl,” she ordered. “I'm the pilot, now,” Fiona said, strapping herself in. “I'll take care of the flying.” Anne scowled, her hand on the gun at her hip. “The intersections are, by law, a square, exactly nine by nine yards in area. There might be a hair more if paint scraping isn't outside the realm of possibility. That's all I need to pick them up,” she scowled, leaning over the woman's shoulder. “I know you can't do the same.” “Don't count me out,” Fiona countered. “I'm sure I can...” Anne gripped the woman's shoulder strap and tugged it aside. Spinning the chair to face it flush, she braced herself to face the woman practically nose to nose. “Get. Out. Of. My. Chair.” Fiona hesitated. “NOW!” Anne roared, and Fiona slipped quickly away, looking even more shocked and unsettled than she was before. Anne didn't really care, though. She retook her proper place. Well, it would have been her proper place, if she didn't have to adjust the seat all the way forward just to reach the controls. “Hold on, bao bei,” she whispered into the empty cockpit. “I'm comin' to get you.”
“And she just screamed at me, like she was about to shoot me!” Fiona shook her head as she carefully manipulated the forceps currently deep inside a bullet hole in Zane's thigh. Zane shook his head, his teeth gritted against the pain but a sad look in his eyes nonetheless. “Did she have her gun out?” Zane asked. “No, no, to the left! Don't tweeze that!” “No,” Fiona answered. She quickly wiped her perspiration dotted brow before returning to her new task. Like almost everything else she attempted in life, Fiona was a passable nurse. It came in very handy at the moment, because Friday was up to her neck in trying to keep young Daniel alive. “And that was only a minute after... jeh shr shuh mah?” “That's it. Pull it out nice and slow,” Zane managed. As she worked the bullet back out of him, he took a breath in and continued. “Only a minute after what?” Fiona paused, pursing her lips. A final tug brought the bullet into the open air. She dropped it into the pan with the other five. “She killed some people, Zane. Blew them up with a spread of mines.” Zane scowled. “We have land mines?” he asked. “Apparently we did,” Fi muttered. “And she didn't even seem to care.” Zane seemed poised to let out a response, probably flippant from the look on his face, but was caught short by something. He glanced toward the door to the kitchen area, which stood open and vacant. He scowled, then turned back to Fiona. “That woman has a harm-hardened heart,” he whispered. “I've never seen the like in my life,” Fiona leaned close. “To tell the truth, that was the first time I thought somebody was specifically going to kill me.” “Specifically?” Zane asked. Fiona shrugged. “Political attempts on one's life is par for the course when your father is the Earl of Persephone. Even more, now that he's the Duke,” Fiona rolled her eyes. Zane got a somewhat pained look on his face. “What is it?” “Oh, nothing,” Zane lied. She was a decent enough judge of character, and for some reason, at the moment Zane was being as obvious as a kick in the face. She gave him her clearest 'I-know-you're-lying' look, and he shook his head. “Nothing important. Not at the moment, at least.” Fiona decided against following his thread of thought, since he'd probably just deflect her away anyhow. Instead, she picked up the bloody pan, with its half-dozen bullets rattling around the bottom. She let out a dry laugh. “Six bullets in one session,” she muttered to herself. “Yup,” Zane replied, a wide smile on his face. “I'm fairly sure that's a new personal record.” “Your last being?” “Five at once. I was a lot more hurt then, though;” he leaned closer, “that time, my attacker knew how to shoot.” Fiona gaped at him. “How can you be so cavalier about somebody almost killing you?” Zane scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I've been a lot closer to death than this, trust me,” his smile dropped off. “I never even saw it coming, though.” “The man who shot you?” “Man?” Zane asked. “What man? It was a boy, no older than I was when I fled Paradise. And that girl completely threw me,” he held up his wrapped hand, “and bunged up my good hand in the process.” “Children,” she whispered. “What sort of monster would make children do that?” Zane's expression became very hard. “Nobody made them do it, miss Harrow,” his voice seemed to rumble, in a different timbre, also. “They made the choice, the only choice they had, to survive.” Fiona saw a droplet of liquid splash into the blood inside the pan. She touched her cheek and realized its source. She took a calming breath to keep that tear from spawning more, but knew that it was a futile struggle. Zane stood, slowly, and took a seat beside her. “What's wrong?” he asked, sounding himself again. She shook her head, squeezing her eyes tight in a bid to keep the tears in. “I hate this place,” she whined. She hated that she whined, but she did it all the same. “I hate what these people have to do to survive. I hate that it's turned children into killers. I hate this planet and everything about it.” Zane's arm around her shoulders was an appreciated comfort. “I understand,” Zane whispered into her ear. “It's cruel, it's twisted.” Her eyes opened. Let the tears come. “That's not it,” she sobbed. “I want to make it stop. I want to, but I can't. Even Daddy couldn't. I'm powerless. I'm useless. I hate having to look at them, and know that I can't do anything to help them.” She sobbed weakly as Zane pulled her close. He sighed, unable to say anything that would help. But, she could tell by the way he was holding her, he wanted to. The two of them just sat there, in their wounded embrace, for as long as she couldn't control herself. She was startled into stopping as footfalls alerted her to an approaching presence. She looked up to see Jacob peek around the corner. Zane let out a chuckle. “You're losing your edge, boss,” he noted. “I heard you coming.” Jacob shrugged. “I wanted you to, so I didn't walk in on anything I'd have to bleach out my eyes for later.” Zane scowled, but not with any seriousness. “Did your wife stitch you up?” he asked, instead. “Pretty well,” he replied, holding up his right hand, with the long weal running from his knuckles to the middle of his forearm. Fiona could see another cut, only an inch long, on the front of his neck. Just another few more millimeters of penetration, and... “What the hell happened back there?” Zane asked, his voice serious. “I've never had my ass handed to me like that in all the years I've been working on your ships.” Jacob hung his head, shaking it slowly. “Somebody made us,” he growled. “They killed the guards and booby trapped the building. Somebody didn't want us getting that anti-matter.” “Are you sure it was about the antimatter?” Zane queried. Jacob arched an eyebrow. “We were dealing with dirty, malnourished children. Hardly the sort that those Onions would send to do their job. That's a risk that no Onion in its right mind would take.” “Which adds a wrinkle of complexity to an already over-complicated situation,” Jacob nodded. “If not the Waps, then who? Who would have interest in this sort of cargo?” he questioned, possibly only to himself. “Not our problem anymore,” Anne chimed in. “The box is gone.” “Sylvia's still down there, and they have our Mule,” Zane countered. Anne shot him a look that would have made Fiona wet herself. As it was, she still found herself pulling closer to Zane, as though he could protect her. Silly notion. “We can always replace the Mule,” Anne began, but Zane rose to his feet, drawing a glare from Jacob's wife as he did. “We can't afford to. A lot of our money is tied up in the repairs that thing needed after Heian Difeng; it's worth too much to abandon, and the box is a payday I'm sure you'd rather not do without,” he said. Fiona could tell there was something he was leaving unsaid, as he cast his glance to Jacob. Anne looked to her husband, then scowled bitterly. “Fine,” she muttered. “I'll get us back over that city.” “Um, I'm not sure if it's important, but how exactly are we going to find out where they are, now?” Fiona asked. All eyes turned back to her. She felt very on the spot. She wiped her puffy eyes and noted, “I don't know much about Niflheim, but it's still a huge place for somebody to hide. And with the length of time they've had our Mule, they could have traveled nearly a hundred miles by now.” “Exactly,” Jacob said, as if stating the obvious. Zane cracked a smirk, but she still was baffled. Zane leaned toward her. “That Mule ain't exactly of civilian manufacture,” Zane pointed out. “It's got a locater on-board that I've set Legacy's sensors to track,” she finally understood his smug smirk. “It doesn't matter how far they run with that monster in tow, we'll be able to track them to within three inches from a high orbit.” Jacob nodded slowly, then turned to Anne. “We're going to need some of that fancy flying to keep our presence under their radar. D'you feel up to the task?” Anne shot Fiona a smug look, then with a shit-eater smile, she nodded. Jacob only seemed to note the nod, then turned to Zane. “That settles it, then,” he declared. “Find my Mule, then meet me in the Bay with as many weapons as you can easily carry,” Zane took a deep breath, then strode out the door. Before he vanished around the corner, the captain caught his arm. “And Zane?” “Yeah, boss?” “This time, even if it's just a little girl, don't hesitate,” Jacob said, his tone... hollow. Zane moved off, and Jacob stared after him for a moment before he departed, his boots echoing up the stairs. Anne gave a final smug look before returning to the pilot's seat, leaving Fiona alone with her thoughts. “I'm going to lose my job,” she muttered to herself. “First time in my life I get a job that doesn't either insult my intelligence or is so easy I could do it asleep, and it gets yanked out from under me.” Fiona stood, picking up the pan containing Zane's bullets and strode out the door. As long as she could remember, Fiona had talked to herself. Cole called it vocalization, but she just knew he was spouting psychobabble to make himself seem intelligent. “Too bad he is that intelligent,” she admitted to herself quietly. “Leave it to him to be the first one to turn a half-conceived design theory into a Confederate secret weapon single handedly.” She peered into the engine room for a moment, and could see Zane rummaging around the upper level of it. From what Zane'd said, the engine room used to be just one level, with the engine core dominating most of it. Since the engine had to be completely replaced, they'd gotten a much smaller and much more powerful version which took up a fraction of the room the old one had. Apparently, this one was better on fuel, too. Zane claimed the extra room to rig himself up a machine shop. “I wonder who ponied up the lucre to socket that monster in there?” she muttered. “Those new Cappisan Deltas aren't cheap. Worth it, though.” “I heard that,” Zane piped up. Fiona started, and diverted down the stairs. For some reason that she didn't entirely understand, she hated other people knowing about her... proclivity. Only her brother knew for sure; she'd been able to keep it from her father, if only by chronic absence. And her mother was probably the source of it, were it genetic. She'd been talking to herself all her life. Her path into the belly of the ship deposited her directly beside her intended destination, the infirmary. She rapped on the curtained door, and was surprised when it opened immediately. “Oh,” Fiona stammered. “I thought you were...” “I was,” Friday nodded. She was quite the sight. Her robes, once purple, were now black, and rivulets of blood dribbled off of her elbows. Her hair was disarrayed and hanging at random; her spectacles had a reddish fingerprint on them. She looked as tired as Fiona had ever seen the woman. “Um...” Fiona asked, trying to look past her. “Is he...?” Fiona nodded, loosing a long sigh. “He'll live,” she affirmed. “It wasn't easy, but he'll live. But there was nothing I could do for his leg.” “That's... Oh, my god,” she whispered, Friday moved past Fiona and began to pull off her gloves, almost taking a seat on the couch before realizing she was fairly covered in young Daniel's blood. She rolled her eyes. “Just... Just give me a moment, alright?” Friday asked, and she didn't wait for Fiona's response before heading back into the infirmary and closing the door. Feeling a bit snubbed, Fi took a seat and let the pan fall to the table. Several minutes later, Friday, still disheveled but no longer bloody, returned to the commons. “He's still unconscious,” she said, taking a seat on the far end of the couch, “but I'm certain he won't have any other health concerns,” she leaned toward Fi, “He's going to be... unhappy... about what happened to him, when he comes awake. I need everybody on board to be aware of that. Amputation is never an easy thing.” “I imagine not,” Fiona replied, her voice confoundedly flat. She gave the pan with the bullets inside a rap, and drew the doctor's attention to it. “I have all of them. Six, like he said.” Friday's lips pulled into a smile. “That's a new record.” “How?” Fiona blurted, her eyes wide. “How do you people do this every day?” “Fiona...” “Zane just got shot a half dozen times, and he's walking around like nothing happened! Daniel got blown up by a Walling Charge, and he's still alive, if even minus a leg... And Jacob is still going to go back there, and face all of that happening again...” “Fiona.” “...Because they have the cargo. And antimatter isn't that important a substance, to tell the god's honest truth. It is and always will be a scientific curiosity. Is it because the stole the Mule? No, it's because of Sylvia isn't it?” “Fiona, shut up,” Friday cut her off smoothly, despite her choice in words. Fiona found herself stumbling to a verbal stop. Friday pulled her spectacles off and slid them into the a pocket on the side of her new robe. “We do this, every day, because it's what we do. It's who we are. Zane's tougher than any man I've ever known. You'd never know that just about two years ago, his spine was shattered into splinters on Paquin. Jacob... well, I guess you'd call him a 'shit-disturber'. He certainly has a talent for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong, and stirring up all incredible manner of havoc in the process. As for me?” Friday gave a shrug. “This is my home. Some time in the past four years, this ship has become my home, and I'm willing to do what I can to see that it stays safe, and stays flying.” Friday leaned toward Fiona. “Some day, you'll find your own home, and you'll feel the same way.” Fi shook her head. “I just don't understand that, I guess,” the silence between the two stretched out for a long minute. “Say,” she finally piped up. “You seem a lot calmer than the last time I talked to you.” A frown fell onto the doctor's features. “If there's one thing surgery has always been able to do for me, it's help me center my mind and my thinking. I needed that, since my... discovery.” “Have you thought of a name, yet?” Fiona asked. Friday shot her a light scowl. “I'm only a month along, girl,” she countered. “I have plenty of time to do that later,” when she finished, she nodded to herself, as though she just made a point. “And I do... I have time.” “Excuse me?” Friday carefully pulled an errant strand of hair over her ear, settling down further, before she continued. “Eleven years ago, now,” she narrated, “when I was both young and foolish, I decided to abandon my training with House Celeste, rather than have to deal with some unpleasant decisions I'd made. Decisions which would have cost a very dear friend of mine greatly. I ran away. It was sheer luck that my problems dissolved in my absence,” she shook her head slowly. “It was during that period between leaving the Companion House, and when I bought my way into the Madrid Academy of Medical Sciences, that I lost what most would call my virginity.” “Um,” Fiona muttered, but the doctor cut her off. “No, this is relevant. I was young and stupid and the only understanding I had about the female reproductive tract was how to prevent something from lodging itself in it, and who to contact to dig that something out before it became two decades worth of responsibility. When my period didn't come in, I was terrified, I didn't know what I was going to do. Mother was a cruel bitch who turned her back on me long before, and my sister wouldn't give me the time of day. I was alone, and afraid. It was because of the doctor who calmed me down and explained that I just had an erratic cycle that I chose this field.” “That doesn't explain,” Fiona began, but Friday talked right over her. “I guess, when I got that result back... I just sort of felt everything I felt back then. When I was a scared little eighteen year old girl, with no renewable money, no livelihood, and no place to rest her head. But, now that I've had some time to think... I think I'm going to be alright. I wish that... No, it doesn't matter what I wish.” Fiona schooled herself very hard to keep from blurting out the word 'Casher'. Friday nodded. “I'm going to be alright. I can be a better mother than I had. Mai was a selfish bitch who spent every possible moment away from us. I can be a better mother than that,” she let out a slightly wild laugh, “I mean... how can I not?” she sighed. “I'll give it a home, with a mother that cares for it. That's all that matters.” Fiona smiled, and set her hand on Friday's knee. “I'm glad that you're alright. We were all worried,” Friday arched an eyebrow, “well, I was worried about you, at least. I know what it's like to be alone in the 'Verse.” Friday let out a soft laugh, slowly shaking her head. “If there's one thing I've learned on this ship, it's that you're never truly alone.” “Friday,” Jacob said, leaning his upper body through the door to the cargo bay, “I'm going to need you handy. I've got a feeling that we're going to be coming in hot and bloody.” “I'll be ready, Jacob,” she said, rising to her feet. Her hands twitched at her sides for a moment, but she brought them under control as she moved back into the infirmary. Most likely to clean it, Fiona pondered. “What do I do?” Fiona asked. Greyson cocked an eyebrow. “You stay out of the crossfire and be prepared to fly this thing of something happens to Anne,” he said. He scowled for a moment. “Where'd Zane get to, anyway?” “He was up in the machine shop, last time I saw him,” she answered, but she was interrupted as the man in question came stampeding down the stairs, a long, smooth metal rod in his hands. Her expression bunched up in confusion, and she had to ask. “What the hell is that thing?” Zane shot her a grin, so wide and goofy that it was like he'd reverted into an excited five year old. “Something I've wanted to test out for the longest damn time,” Zane responded. Without another word, he joined the captain in the cargo bay, leaving Fiona alone and unneeded in the maelstrom of what was to come.
“Seriously, Zane, what is that thing?” Jacob asked in a whisper as he crept up to the mostly destroyed building that the Mule was currently parked in. It used to be a civic building of some sort, and stood four stories tall. Much of its structure had collapsed, including the entire north wall, making it more like a lean-to than a building. “I call it the Popper,” Zane replied, trying to be as silent as the captain. He never would be, but he put up a valiant effort. “You ever see a Stun Bomb go off?” “Vaguely. I'd just lost a fight to a Parliamentary Operative at the time,” Jacob muttered. “The problem with those is that they only work once, then are inactive. And if they don't hit you square in the face, they're wasted and you've got a bunch of pissed off people who all know you were trying to gack them.” “And the Popper does what, exactly?” Jacob asked. Zane grinned. “What else? Bigger boom.” Jacob shook his head at the insanity of all mechanics and was caught short when he heard something drifting on the wind. He held out a ceasing hand, and Zane settled back onto his haunches. Jacob flattened himself against the wall and crept along it. He could have sworn he heard... Yes. Humming. He peeked around the corner to the north, having to shield one eye from the wind-driven grit. He could see the tiny shape of a child bobbing to and fro in front of a dim fire. He counted the mounds that the child sat in the middle of, and reached a dozen entirely too quickly. He leaned out a little more, and near the back of the room, he could see the proffered box sitting at an angle, like it'd been set down on something that couldn't quite support its weight. He couldn't see Sylvia, though, nor the crazy bitch what took a knife to him. She was good. He could tell from the way she fought that her skill was entirely learned by trial and error, and that she had to have survived hundreds of knife-fights to reach that sort of rapport with her weapon. He couldn't keep up with her, at least, not with a knife. That was why he'd made sure to arm himself accordingly, this time. Of course, if he hadn't lost his favorite gun on Hera, he'd have been able to just shoot her dead. Pity. The fact that he couldn't see Sylvia was vexing. He knew she was alive. If she wasn't, he wouldn't be either. If he had to stay behind to search for her... that wouldn't easy, and it wouldn't look good with Anne. He grit his teeth. If it came to that, he'd do it. He had to. She was part of his crew, and a friend, and he wasn't in the habit of abandoning friends. “What's the situation?” Zane asked when Jacob returned. Jacob immediately made a shushing motion, even though Zane had no doubt been sufficiently quiet already. “Fourteen, asleep, one sentry. All of them have weapons close at hand. Submachine guns and assault rifles, don't ask me where they got them.” “They're just children, though,” Zane asked. “Aren't they?” “They're about that size,” Jacob nodded. Zane looked pensive for a moment, then that big, familiar, idiot grin came back onto his face. “Leave it to me, boss,” Zane said. “Zane, don't you do...” Jacob began. “I said, leave it to me,” he repeated in full voice. Jacob winced. The mechanic strode to the corner and hurled the Popper into the air, practically straight up, and let out a bellow of, “Rise and shine, kids!” Had Jacob enough time, he would have rolled his eyes. Instead, he barely noted Zane diving back behind the corner as the corner was almost torn off a moment later by automatic fire. The Popper rose high into the air, until it reached its zenith. At that moment, it split into three fragments, each heading toward the ground in a slightly different direction. A barest instant after they disappeared behind the crumbled wall, a succession of three deep thumps sounded, and all of the gunfire ceased. Zane grinned like an idiot. “Popper?” Jacob asked. “Bigger boom,” Zane replied. Jacob shook his head as he moved carefully to the corner. Another peek around it confirmed what Zane had claimed. Fourteen little bodies lying on the ground. He motioned the mechanic forward, and in passing, pressed his fingers to the neck of a tiny girl with stick like arms. Her pulse was steady. Zane gave him a scowl. “Bigger boom, no collateral harm.” Jacob felt a tug at his belt, and heard something clatter to the ground. He looked down and noticed both the rifle he'd shouldered and the pistol at his side were on the grit, next to the bodies. He turned back to Zane, who was now panning about over his own firearm in a near panic. “Did you see her?” Jacob asked, reaching for his other sidearm. This one was a revolver. Zane hissed, but didn't speak. A flicker of movement at the edge of his vision drew his eyes to the platform which hung now between first story and second, crumbling down and frozen in place by circumstance. He barely got a glimpse of fluttering fabric before he felt a lance of pain in his left shoulder. He took a step back and pulled the knife from his flesh. It was wickedly sharp, but hadn't penetrated very deep. She was a long way off. “Where is she, boss?” Zane's voice took on even more panic. “I can't see her.” Jacob grunted, trying to work some of the pain out of his arm as he moved to stand back to back with the mechanic. She was like a fart in a gale; impossible to pin down to any one place. The two men circled, trying to watch every direction, so that she wouldn't sneak up on them. Despite their best efforts, she obviously did. A gunshot sounded, but by the time Jacob turned, the ghoulish woman had already flipped Zane to the ground and drove a long knife through his shoulder. Zane roared in pain, but was unable to move. Jacob put his pistol to her head. “Where's the blond woman?” he roared. She faced him, baring her rotting teeth. Her hand lashed out, knocking the gun away the instant his finger tightened on the trigger. The gunshot went harmlessly off into the night, and her surprisingly strong hands clamped around his gun, twisting him about until she had painful leverage on him. She pulled another knife from her gown, and brought it down toward the hand. Jacob let his hand slip off the gun, and snatched for the hilt of his sword in its stead. It'd been a long time since he'd drawn Sylvia's wedding gift. He hoped he was still as good as he used to be with it. The ghoul grinned at him, flipping the gun to a proper position in her hand and pointing it now at him. He ducked under her aim and brought his blade in an upward sweep that would take off her leg if he was lucky, and her arm if he was not. Even as the blade arced up, she was moving away, letting the gun fall from her grasp, until the sharpened steel touched no flesh, and only succeeded in putting a gouge into the falling pistol. She spun with a wild laugh. “You're good,” she hissed, before moving forward in her own onslaught. Even with his slightly longer reach, it was hard to keep her blade from kissing his skin. Finally, her harsh cackle sounded again, and she somehow slipped out of sight in the darkness and driven sand. Greyson glanced about, turning this way and that trying to get a bead on the slippery woman. “Where is she?” Zane asked. “I don't know,” Jacob muttered darkly. A frightful idea occurred to him, and he turned directly into the driving grit, vainly shielding his eyes from the biting winds. He couldn't see a damned thing. He heard her footfalls before he caught sight of her. A dark form flit past him, its lusterless blade sweeping toward him at cheek level. He jerked his head to one side, but that only served to give her attack a new target; Zane. Jacob heard the mechanic's yelp of pain, and felt the spray of his blood against his neck. Only a few droplets. She hadn't hit anything important, and now she was within grabbing distance. He tried to snatch her over-extended arm, but he caught only the gown, which tore off like gossamer. Thunderous gunblasts sounded from directly behind Jacob, most likely Zane venting his pain and anger. He might as well have been aiming at a ghost. Jacob cast a glance to Zane, who had one hand clasped to his face to hold the dribbling blood, and the other held a white-knuckle grip on the pistol. “Are you alright?” “Ain't dead,” Zane grunted. “How the hell does she do that?” “I can't tell you,” Jacob responded sharply, turning back to back with the mechanic again. As soon as he did, he was confronted with a rotting grin. His eyes went wide as he tried to pull his sword into a close, razor sweep. She moved faster, deflecting his left hand up with her own, then pulled him even further off balance and powered past him. Jacob's legs tangled in the prone and supine bodies on the floor, and his jaw was swiftly reintroduced to the end result of gravity. He flipped quickly, if only to keep a protective line of steel between himself and that indefatigable woman. She had tackled the off-balance Zane, and bull rushed him face-first into the wooden wall not far away. A loud crack sounded as she buried her blade into the back of his left shoulder, and snapped the blade off. Zane's inarticulate howl of pain was all the more shocking, because he never had uttered its like before, as long as Jacob had known him. The ghoul turned slowly to him, confident that Zane was pinned. And he was, Jacob could see. The dagger she'd used had snapped off only at the handle, the hilt was still pressing hard into Zane's back and preventing easy escape. From within her gown... a bridal gown, Jacob noticed through his stunned fog, she produced an even longer, more cruelly hooked blade. It was that blade which damn near gave him a combat tracheotomy. “You're good, but I'm better,” she hissed, taking a long, confident stride toward him. Jacob grinned, bloodily. A loud bang filled the air, and the ghoul halted, confused. She stared down at the new hole in the front of her gown, at the quickening wetness spreading down beneath it. “That's why I always carry another gun,” Jacob quipped. He pushed himself to his feet as the woman dropped to her knees. Disbelief was plain on her features as he moved toward her. As he raised the small revolver to her face, her wide eyes began to emit tears. Jacob hesitated. “I...” she whispered, a tear streaming down her face. She seemed about to say more, but gave a wet cough, blood oozing over her pitted teeth and down her chin. Her head slowly dropped to the dirty floor, and her blood made a pool underneath her. After a long moment, her breathing ceased. “Is she dead?” Zane shouted, panting for his pain. Jacob inhaled to answer, then decided actions spoke louder, and squeezed an additional round into the woman's back. No point being anything less than completely thorough. He scooped up his blade and moved to Zane's back. “Just grit your teeth a second, kid,” Jacob muttered. “This is gonna hurt like hell.” Wriggling the blade out of Zane's shoulder blade took far longer than Jacob would have hoped, but still not as long as he'd feared. At long last, he held the blood-coated implement, gave it a scowl, and tossed it into the dirt. Zane breathed deep, his eyes wide and his cheek twitching. “Do you think you can deal with the Mule?” Jacob asked quietly. Zane gave a tight smile. “Does the Pope shit on a solid gold toilet?” he responded. Jacob rolled his eyes, and gave the mechanic a pat on the back. Only after Zane's grunt of agony did he realize he'd done so on exactly the wrong shoulder. Jacob moved to the closed door at the far end of the open room with no small amount of trepidation. He couldn't feel her, but he knew she was alive. She could be here. Why they'd keep her alive, he didn't know... Well, that wasn't true. There were all manner of reasons to keep a person like her alive, ranging from torture to ransom, and hitting all points between. He didn't even realize that his jaw had tightened so viciously at the thought. He kicked the door, and fell flat on his ass. This door, of all those on the planet, was still whole and intact. Dusting himself off, he tried the handle. It opened with a loud hiss as the air inside rushed out. Still hermetically sealed? Or perhaps recently sealed. “For the last time, Belle,” a man's voice called from within, “close the God-damned door.” Jacob, not saying a word, ducked in and closed the door behind him. “I've had too gorram much trouble sterilizin' this room to have you cocking it up every few minutes,” he muttered. There was a snap, followed by a reddened glove being tossed onto the ground beside a brown bag with a black cross on the side. As his eyes adjusted to the steady light, he realized it wasn't that the bag was supposed to be white, and was browned by the dirt. He took another silent step forward. “She's gonna live,” the man muttered. He nodded, as though to himself. “Took everything I knew, but the bleedin's been stemmed and the rib shard's been pulled from her lung.” Another snap, and another glove joined the first. He turned slowly, “I swear, if I thought I'd be doin' this I'd have...” He stopped dead when he realized he wasn't with 'Belle'. The man let out a deep sigh as Jacob sighted along his gun. “Who?” Jacob asked. “Who, who?” the man answered. His eyes widened a moment. “Oh, the blonde, you mean?” he nodded slowly. “What did you do to her?” Jacob demanded, taking another step forward. He didn't retreat. “Besides stoppin' some damn unpleasant internal bleeding and inflating a deflated lung?” he replied. “If you hurt her in any way,” Jacob threatened, but the man shook his head, his expression almost condescending. “You'll kill me?” he scoffed. “You should by now've figured out that as threats go, that particular one don't hold much terror to folks around here, at least, not any more.” Jacob grasped a fistful of shirt-collar and moved the surprisingly light man to one side. He almost laughed with relief when he saw Sylvia, her chest wound about with pristine white gauze – where in the hell a body'd find white gauze nowadays, Jacob could never guess – breathing steadily. Her eyes were still shut and her face expressionless. “My name's George, by the by,” the man in Jacob's grip offered, his tone still dry. “George Tryggvassen” “Well, George,” Jacob turned back to the man, “you made a severe error in the choice of your companions.” George just nodded slowly. “I've made a lot of mistakes in my life,” he murmured. His bleak eyes rose to Jacob's own. “I got a feeling you have, too. Just... No, I can't ask it.” “Ask what?” Jacob demanded. “I really don't care if you kill me,” George said, his face utterly devoid of guile. “Just... Take my boy,” he jerked his head toward another supine body, this one in the shadows, “and get him away from Niflheim. All I've ever wanted was him to be some place better than here. I just... I let it all drift away.” Jacob felt his anger ebbing away. How could he hate this man? Wouldn't he, if the situations were reversed, have done the exact same things, to keep those he cared about safe from harm? He removed the gun from George's head. “I can't take the boy, George.” George looked absolutely crestfallen. Bleak. Empty. “He'd raise all manner of holy hell if he woke up alone on my boat,” Jacob continued. “And I figure he'll be sore and mopey if he thinks we gave him preferential treatment. 'Sides, I don't like the idea of leaving children to suffer.” The look of hope in George's eyes almost broke Jacob's heart. “You mean...?” “You'll be locked up in the passenger dorm for the entire trip, and the only planet we can drop you on is Ezra, which ain't any particular slice of paradise...” “Anywhere but here is paradise,” George whispered. Jacob took a calming breath, then with a growl, pushed the man toward the door. “Fine. Gather them,” Jacob held up a cautioning finger. “But know this, George. You are operating on the very fuckin' precipice of your last chance, and the only reason you've got even that precarious perch is 'cause of what you did to help Sylvia,” George glanced around Jacob, then nodded, mute. “If I so much as smell a waft of trouble, I swear to whatever God you hold dear I will not hesitate to make your departure occur premature to our landing on Ezra, dohn luh muh?” George nodded slowly. “You won't hear a peep. My word to God.” Jacob snarled as he moved back to scoop up Sylvia's bandaged and bruised body. “God ain't listening, George,” he growled. “And he ain't been for a long time.”
Eli took in a deep breath of the air streaming through the vehicle's open window. Most people of anything approaching his level of wealth preferred to use conditioned air, but he still liked the air from without. However sterile it was, he admitted. Again, he swirled the bourbon glass in his hand. For some reason, he found himself incapable of finishing the modest quantity he'd poured himself. Sighing, he reached out the window and dumped it onto the pavement as it sped past. “Mister Greyson?” Trahn piped up from the driver's seat. “What is it, Trahn?” Greyson queried. Trahn held a communicator toward him, keeping his eyes on the road. Eli took the receiver and switched it on. Philip White's aged face appeared on it, looking more harried than the man usually allowed it to show. “Agent White,” Eli said neutrally. “Mister Greyson,” White cast a glance over his shoulder before looming on the tiny screen. “Is this line secure?” “Not very,” Eli quipped. “What is it, White?” “We've got problems,” White answered. Greyson waited a long moment, until he remembered exactly how reticent White was on all matters. “What kind of problems?” he said, his impatience beginning to show. White chewed his words for a moment before replying. “I think Baern got the Coordinator,” White got out, then shrugged. “He's torpid, like Smitty back home.” “Comatose?” Eli asked. “Why do you think Baern did this?” White frowned for a moment. “Baern likes gettin' folk while they're asleep. Likes to keep 'em that way.” “Why?” Greyson asked. “Hell if I know,” White muttered. Greyson rolled his eyes. “Look, I'm about a minute away from my home. We'll complete this there, where less people will be able to listen in,” Greyson said. White nodded. “I'll wait for your call.” Eli shut the receiver off and leaned forward. “Trahn, drop me at the front door,” he ordered. “Yes, mister Greyson.” Things were spiraling rapidly out of hand. With a scowl on his face, Eli suddenly remembered somebody he was trying to call. He glanced down at the receiver in his hand and dialed in Johner Marshal's number. After a long moment, the number came back invalid. Greyson scoffed. Of course that paranoid bastard would have his number changed. The vehicle came to a stop, and Eli let himself out. He wasn't so old or infirm that he couldn't operate a door handle, after all. Trahn gave him a hurt look. Of course he would. Eli tended to fly in the face of the service Trahn tried to offer. It was only due to his retainership with the Corporation that Eli even bothered with him. “That will be all,” Greyson dismissed the chauffeur and opened the doors to his house. Around him, mansions dominated the landscape, thrusting themselves into the sky with as much arrogance as each could muster. Greyson's own was a direct opposition of that, with only a single story above the dirt, a lawn consisting of several dozen different types of grass and weeds that were trimmed only sparingly, and a forest in the development blocking off the view from the back. In truth, it wasn't that the building he was entering was that much smaller than those around it. In fact, it was every bit as large. He'd simply paid a handsome sum of money to bury the three bottom stories into the dirt. If people though the was a crazy old miser, well, it worked to his benefit. He pulled the door closed behind himself and descended the spiraling stairway to his study on the third floor, which was now the first basement. He strode to his desk and picked up the Secure Line before he realized he wasn't alone. He turned to the bookshelves by the now dirt-choked window. A man was reading something, leaning against the window frame. “Get the hell out of my home, Whapsep,” Greyson threatened. The Whapsep just looked up with a smirk. “Did you know I was coming, or was it a lucky guess?” he asked. “Your gun,” Greyson replied, reaching into the drawer behind him. It opened with absolute silence, as he'd intended, and he slid its contents into his hand. “A laser like that only finds its way into two sets of hands; high priced mafia hitmen, and the Union Intelligence Agencies' better collectors.” “Flattered,” he replied, thumbing a page over. “Don't be. Your posture places you as Whapsep,” Greyson took a seat on the edge of his desk, his hands behind his back. He leaned forward with a vicious smile. “Does that gash on your chest still hurt when you try to straighten your back?” The man scowled a moment, before looking up. When he did, a cool smile was back on his face. “You may call me Tobin, mister Greyson.” “I'll call you a trespassing asshole, asshole,” Greyson countered. “And you should be more humble, considering I have no compunction about killing you for your trespass, and I easily have enough cash and pull to make it seem as though you never existed, let alone wonder where you vanished to.” “I think you have the situation somewhat backward, mister Greyson,” Tobin said, his voice still calm and composed. “In fact, I dare say entirely backward,” Tobin flicked a portion of what he was reading toward Greyson, and it settled askew on the desk next to him. He picked it up. “Why have you contacted Johner Marshal?” “I couldn't get ahold of him,” Elias answered, truthfully. Tobin shook his finger condescendingly. “Don't take me for a fool, mister... Greyson...” he took a step forward. “I know you contacted him, and spoke for a not inconsiderable amount of time.” “I never contacted him, and it will say so right,” he stammered to a stop, his eyes widening when he did, in fact, behold a sixteen minute conversation with Johner Marshal listed in his office calls. Ordinarily, he'd be furious that Whapsep would have the audacity to think it could steal the Corporations records, however innocuous the records may be. This wasn't ordinary. He didn't have any recollection of that call, which came from his office, while he was within it. He glanced up to Tobin. “We try to keep track of who talks to Johner Marshal, because those that do usually have some sort of... unbalancing agenda,” Tobin explained, his smile now dark. “What were you talking to Marshal about, mister... Greyson?” “I don't know what you're talking about,” Eli responded with utter honesty. Tobin scoffed. “I must applaud your acting ability, Eli,” Tobin muttered. “But I will know about that call, and about the recent money transfers between the accounts you've set up over the last twenty years.” “I don't see how that's any of your business,” Greyson snapped. He pulled his hand up in front of himself to make a point, punctuated by the end of a metal barrel. “In fact, I think you've overstayed your welcome. Leave; under your own power or dragged by my gardener, your choice.” Tobin did something unexpected. He laughed. He reached into a pocket casually and pulled out a tiny ball of metal with blinking lights on the outside. Eli raised an eyebrow at it. “Any weapon in a one hundred yard area is locked down,” Tobin said confidently. “You can put that away, now.” Greyson let out a sigh, then pulled the trigger. The gun, which he'd picked up thirty years ago on Jiangyin, had nothing electronic to interfere with, only a series of moving parts connecting the trigger to the firing pin, which descended beautifully and resulted in a resounding bang was music to Eli's ears. The shot took Tobin in the left shoulder, which was both high and off center from where Greyson intended it. In panic, Tobin pulled his laser and tried to fire it, but true to form, the little orb prevented it. Without pausing to contemplate his doom, Tobin flung the useless firearm at Greyson. Pain shot through his nose when the gun struck it, sending the next shot, more sure to kill the Whapsep agent, into the bookcase. When he regained his focus, he saw the agent pulling down a gun that Greyson had put there in case of an emergency. Perhaps he should have been more careful about where he put them. A hail of gunfire exchanged between the two men, until both ran out. As the noise dimmed, Greyson found himself slumping to the floor, in terrible pain. His hands migrated to his abdomen, and came back up red and slick. He found himself laughing. He laughed until the the 'Verse collapsed into darkness.

To Be Continued



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Legacy 3:13. Among the Ashes of Gahaan
At the farthest fringes of the system lies the Veldt. What secrets lie within its murky mass? What devils call it home?

Legacy 3:12. The Ecstacy, part 2
The crew of Legacy faces further dire straits in its bid to complete its mission. On Londinum, Eli comes to a hard decision.

Legacy 3:11. The Ecstacy, part 1
Niflheim is home to many who are desparate enough to do anything. When one of them comes into Legacy's path, the results prove to be catastrophic.

Legacy 3:10, The Agony
Niflheim. The world collapsed into anarchy as nature betrayed it. Today, it gets more visitors than it knows what to do with, with a cargo-drop on one hand, and a desperate and dangerous fugitive on the other. Something is going to have to give, and the 'Verse help whoever it is that's to do the giving.

Legacy 3:09, Quiet Emptiness
A new job for Legacy means that it must stop off in Three Hills, where Sylvia suddenly finds herself confronting her past.

Legacy 3:08, Running Away
On Boros, Monday begins to see the unpleasant truth that stalks her, while King Benjamin finds his breaking point on Londinum. In the end, they're just running from their problems.

Legacy 3:07, Confederation, Part 3
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.

Legacy 3:06, Confederation, Part 2
Legacy's crew is scattered across a city soon to be embroiled in a full-scale war, and time is running out before the bombs fall. In the sky, two of the greatest military minds clash, while on the ground, the best the crew can hope for is to not be crushed under foot.

Legacy 3:05, Confederation, Part 1
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.

Legacy 3:04, Definition of a Hero
With mere hours to go before Confederation, Jacob catches wind of a travesty taking place, perpetrated by his supposed allies. Will he jeopardize the conference for the sake of his principles?