BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 3:12. The Ecstacy, part 2
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The crew of Legacy faces further dire straits in its bid to complete its mission. On Londinum, Eli comes to a hard decision.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1418    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

Preamble preamble. Yadda yadda yadda. I've edited this a touch since I put it up initially, but it won't be anything major. A few tweaks here and there. Notable is the new ending, to let you know that yes, Jacob did deliver the package. The implications are startling. Also, tomorrow, I'll be putting up the new chapter, so keep your eyes peeled for juicy new stuff, plenty of Reavers, and the last time you'll hear from Monday in a long while. Niflheim=Mal4Prez, the rest be mine. Feedback me. It's just the polite thing to do.

The Ecstasy, Part 2

The soft squeak of the brakes engaging on her primitive conveyance dragged her out of her distraction. She never understood why Eli loved these old 'cars' so much. They were noisy, they were about as maneuverable as a saddled, drunken priest, and they belched out fetid pollution wherever they went. Eli always favored their use, though. She reached over and took Adam's hand, causing him to look up and realize where he was. The two of them shared a smile before she opened the door and stepped onto the over-grown path that lead to the 'front door' of the eccentric house. “Adam, come along,” she called as she moved, skirting the puddles that had formed from the early evening rain. Eli could easily afford weather mitigation, so there wouldn't be any puddles at all, but instead he let the rain fall as it would. Ever the oddity, Eli Greyson was. “I'm coming, Mama,” Adam replied, gathering his things. It had been a long trip, but at least a happy one. Adam was fine. For once, in her life, she could think of her child without fear or worry, or in previous instances, hate. She couldn't hide the smile that had been wormed inside her all day. Adam was going to be alright. Years of worry, evaporated into a cloud of giddiness. She felt like leaping about and squealing with joy. Indoors, though. Out here, she could fall and hurt herself. And people could see her. Not even trying to cloud her grin, she opened the door. “Eli?” she called. “Elias, I've got great news!” She paused for a moment, to catch his doubtlessly smart-assed reply, but it didn't come. Perhaps he hadn't heard her. She moved toward the circular stairwell which dropped directly into his study, rather than the massive edifice which lead to the rest of the building. “Come on, Eli. I'm not going to yell a...” she trailed off at the sight of blood. A lot of blood. She turned, running back to the front door, barely catching Adam by his narrow shoulders before he made it in. She forced her smile back onto her face, a difficult task, now. “Adam, why don't you head over to the Marsters' house?” “Mama?” Adam asked, a bit confused. “You always wanted to stay over there,” she rationalized, “and seeing how now you're so tough and healthy, I can't think of a better time, can you?” Adam looked skeptical, but nodded. “I guess so, Mama,” he then shrugged and cast up his little arms, and she clutched him tight into a hug. “I'll see you tomorrow, Mama. I promise I'll be good.” She stifled herself before she started to cry. “That's my good boy,” she whispered. “I'll see you in the morning.” Adam then turned, and full of the confidence that only the blessed ignorance of youth could bestow, moved back down the path to where the driver was trying to scrape mud off his shoes onto a rock. She waited until Adam started to talk to the man before she pulled the door closed and rushed back to the room with the stairwell, with blood leading away toward the window. Carefully, she edged up, peering outside. The trail ended at the sill. Likely, any trail that had been left outside had been obliterated by the rain. Just as quiet, just as afraid, she turned and crept, step by step, down the stairs. The room below was dark, no sources of light filling the naturally black chamber. Buried underground, only the scant light from above could be seen, casting a pool around the foot of the stairs. Other than that, there was nothing her eyes could discern. She could hear something though. Like a rasping of breath, but unsteady and thin. With silent steps, she moved to the reading lamp Eli kept next to the bookcase, and flicked it on. It took her eyes a moment to adjust back to the light, and when she did, she had to bite her thumb to keep from screaming. Eli was slumped against a wall, a crimson pool around him, his head hanging low. The wheezing sound emanated from him, and as she rushed toward him, she realized that in his delirium, he was laughing. “Eli!” she gave him a hard shake, trying to bring him back into coherence. “Eli, please, are you alright?” “heh...” Eli trailed off. Finally, he spat, a gobbet of blood landing on his leg. “I got him, Soyi. I got the bastard good.” She hesitated a moment at the name. “Of course you did, Eli, of course you did,” She carefully prodded him, seeing where he hurt. “When did this happen?” “Get'm back on the boat,” Eli murmured. “The riots are comin'...” “Eli, there's no boat,” she began, “And my name is...” “Tell... Zhuge... that nephew of yours... doesn't get here, were leavin' him...” Eli continued, completely heedless of reality. “Eli...” she whispered. She shook him again, he didn't respond, he just kept laughing. “Eli, my name is Mai. Mai Yiao. Soyi's gone. Eli? Eli!” He didn't even notice her. She glanced around the room before settling on his computer. She flicked it on and waited a moment while it readied itself for her. “That's not the first time I've heard that name,” she whispered to herself as she waited for the screen to coalesce. Finally, she located the receiver she'd sought, lying next to Eli in his blood. She plucked it up in hesitant fingers, unwilling to sully herself, as she hit the emergency button. Nothing happened. She pressed it again, turning to the screen next to her, but still, there was nothing. “Fine,” she said, turning to wipe the blood onto his chair, “I'll do it the old-fashioned way.” When she turned back, to key in the ambulance, a chuckling man's face appeared on the screen, still smiling from some unheard utterance. The man was in his thirties, and had a distinct Asian look about him. When he saw her, his smile vanished, and a suspicious look lit upon his features. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded. “Since you're not E.M.T.'s, I could ask the same of you,” she pointed out. “I asked first,” the man countered, leaning in. “Who are you, and why are you calling me from Uncle Eli's private line?” She gave a glance to Eli, laying next to her, then with a scowl, lifted up the screen and pointed it at her delirious benefactor. After a moment, she pulled it back. His suspicion had turned to hard focus. “I see. And I'm not going to ask why you're there. Not my business. Apply pressure to any wounds you can see, and don't panic. I'll be there in four minutes,” he rose from his seat, and vanished from the screen. After a second, he leaned back over, into frame. “Oh, and I'm Zhuge Baihu. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Baihu. She remembered, when Eli was waxing historical, that he'd spent a good chunk of his life working for a bear of a man named Yang Baihu, before he'd struck onto his incredible wealth. What manner of fate was it that his family was on Londinum, and so close at hand? It didn't bear thinking on. She knelt down, her knees displacing nearly coagulating blood. When she began to press hard on the bloody wound, Eli's eyes snapped open, and he stared about in panic. His arm reached for something, but she couldn't see what it was in the uneven illumination, and his reflex aborted a soon as he realized who it was. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he let out a wet laugh. “Are you out of your mind?” she asked. “What's so funny?” “Regretting your choice to live under my roof?” he countered, a bloody smile on his lips. A very near miss that had grazed his scalp sent a cascade of scarlet down his face, making him seem a very savage figure. She knew him to be anything but. “Strangely enough, I still don't,” she admitted. She favored him with a mock-stern look. “But you owe me a new dress and an explanation.” Eli's smile grew as his head leaned back, until it had transformed into a rictus of agony. After a moment, he wiped some of the blood from his forehead with a sanguinary hand, only resulting in spreading the mess across his face. “And here I thought,” he whispered, “that my gettin' shot days were over.” “Eli?” she asked, drawing his eyes up to hers. “Who did this?” Eli's chuckle raised the hairs on her neck. “A snake,” he whispered, “run amok in the Garden.”


“How is she?” Jacob asked, still smarting from the weals that psychopath had bestowed him with. The cuts themselves hadn't hurt much, but Friday's over-vigorous scouring of them for grit almost made him take to drink to ignore it. Zane, as normal, scoffed at the notion of having somebody else clean his wounds and sauntered off to the engine room to deal with it his own way, which used to be pouring engine-distilled rotgut over the wounds to kill the infection, and pouring an equal measure into himself to kill the pain. Sometimes, Jacob noted, that lad was just too damned tough to be human. “There's no change,” Friday responded, looking over the scan she'd done of Sylvia the moment she had an open medical table. “You should be thankful that George is as good a doctor as he is, or she likely wouldn't have lived two hours, considering she took a walling-charge in the chest, as I hear it.” “If she hadn't knocked me down...” Jacob muttered, staring at the brutalized looking woman, laying still on the table. He forced a smile onto his lips to dispel the unpleasant thought. “I guess I'll have to wait a few extra minutes to drop Tryggvassen and his unholy brood off.” Friday favored him with a flat look. “You weren't really going to open the airlock on them, were you?” she asked. Jacob puffed out a sigh. “If I had to, I would have,” he answered. “Don't give me that look. You've seen what happened when those kids got the drop on us last time. As I recall, Zane set a new record. I ain't losing this ship to a bunch of pissants from a Grey Rock, and I ain't putting this crew in any unnecessary harm, especially,” he cast his thumb over his shoulder, “if I could avoid it by introducing them to the Black.” Friday shook her head. “Sometimes I wonder what the hell happened to you,” she whispered. Jacob smirked. “I've had to make some tough calls in my life. When you've made as many, you'll probably have to explain yourself to somebody else, in a manner which you'll find startlingly reminiscent of a previous conversation.” Friday shook her head, as if disbelieving. It was entirely possible she was. “Still, I could have told you it wasn't a good idea to go after Syl,” she noted. “It was entirely possible that you could have gone down there, and found her cold and stiff.” Unlikely. He knew the rules, rules that none but he and Syl had ever spoken of; if she dies, he dies. And if he, then so shall she. In a way, it made her the most important person in the 'Verse for Jacob; his existence was inextricably linked to hers. And it made him damned uncomfortable sometimes. “Why isn't she awake?” Jacob asked, deflecting the unpleasant notion. Friday favored him with a fairly condescending glance. “She got blown up, Jacob,” Friday replied, matter-of-factly. “She suffered severe internal bleeding with only rudimentary surgery to keep her stable. It's a miracle she isn't a vegetable, or at the least, comatose.” “She's not?” he asked. Friday shook her head, changing the screen's display and pointing out a spiky line which crossed from left to right, before returning left. “Do you see this?” he nodded. “That's a simplification of her brain activity.” “I thought this thing couldn't pick up brain stuff,” he pointed out, giving the scanner she'd stolen a nudge. She quickly snatched it up and moved it to a safer position, one out of his reach. “Nothing detailed, but picking up sleep signals is 20th century tech, and easily managed,” she pointed to the line again. “That isn't the signal of a comatose person. Her brain is active. I dare say, hyper-active. Look at her eyes!” He did, leaning in for a closer look. The seemed to shift under their lids from time to time, as though she were glancing about at random. “REM?” he asked. Friday nodded. “She shouldn't be, but she is. Common sense and all medical practice tells me I should just dump a bucket of cold water on her and send her on her way, but she's in a torpid state with extreme REM signs,” she shook her head. “I'm not a neurosurgeon. I can't make heads or tails of these symptoms. It just doesn't make any gorramn sense.” Jacob sighed. Syl had gone through too much already. While Friday was unwinding Tryggvassen's windings, he'd seen again the patchwork of scars the Reavers had given her, all the way from the back of her neck to her ankles. He clutched his right fist as the thought that they were almost as extensive as his own came to his mind. “Boss?” Zane's voice encroached onto his bitterness, drawing his attention out of the infirmary. Zane, arm in a sling and bruised besides, still had a bit of a a smirk on his face. “We'll be on the ground in a matter of about ten minutes,” he informed his captain. The smirk vanished as he took a step toward the bay, leaning to catch a glimpse of Sylvia. His gaze returned to Jacob. “Are we letting them off early, or not?” “Not,” Jacob ordered, emphatically. “One of them, at least, has earned it.” Zane rolled his eyes and stomped off into the cargo bay. A few minutes, then they would be clear of the complication, and on with their job. Casting a lingering glance back to the unconscious woman in the Infirmary, Jacob went into the hold, casually clapping a hand onto the mechanic's uninjured shoulder. “Seals are locked, all's well,” Zane said absently as he fiddled with the knobs of a blow torch. He cast the captain a glance during the pause. “I don't like this part of the plan.” “Neither do I,” Jacob acknowledged. “But Ezra's the only planet close enough to drop them before we go to sleep. I don't like the prospect of sleeping with a bunch of admittedly homicidal children in my airlock.” “The prospect of a homicidal maniac outside your airlock should give you at least a moment's pause,” Zane said lightly. “Aleksandr never did forgive you for your imagined transgressions against his father.” “Some people just refuse to listen to reason,” Jacob grunted. With a shake of his head, Zane retorted, “Fanatic belief need no root in reality to grow a strong, though twisted, tree.” Jacob stared hard at the mechanic, who was now testing his adjustments with flame. The old Zane never waxed philosophical. The old Zane would have just shrugged, grunted, then gotten back to work. As interesting a perspective as this 'new' Zane had, he was still disquieting, by times. “We're not going to be on that planet any longer than it takes to open the ramp, dump them all off, and leave. Aleksandr's not his father, and he doesn't even know we're coming. Hell, ten hours ago, I didn't know we were coming,” the notion didn't calm him as much as he would have liked. “It's always the things you don't know which hurt you,” Zane said, casting a glance over his shoulder and snuffing the flame to punctuate. “This new Niska, doubly so.” Jacob sighed, and turned to the box collecting condensation, thoroughly chained against the fuel tank against unwanted motion. He cast his thumb at it, with a grunt to catch Zane's attention. “What about the box?” “Same as the airlock,” Zane said, putting his toys away. “Strangely, there's not a lot of shielding around that box, considering what's inside it.” “You scanned it?” Jacob asked. “I thought we didn't have a...” “I can improvise,” Zane interrupted. “The temperature's about a picodegree off of Zero Kelvins, so that might do the trick, but if I, personally, was storing something with the kaboom potential of antimatter, I'd sure as hell put a lot more failsafes on it than stuffing it in a goddamn thermos.” Jacob's gaze grew narrow. “Are you saying they skimped on protection? And they failed to warn us?” “Possibly,” he shrugged. “Shouldn't be an issue, though, unless we try flying through a tornado without our Grav-Engine.” “Are you sure?” Jacob asked, suddenly seeing the box as a bomb, with the clock ticking. “Redundancies being what they are, I'm almost perfectly confident that we won't all be blown to bits. And if we are, well, I guess you can say 'I told you so'.” Jacob shared a very flat look with his mechanic, which slid off the younger man as he ambled out. He had just turned back toward the stairs leading to his quarters when footfalls from behind caught his attention. He turned to spot Fiona. And then he spotted Fiona's hair. Rather than the bright, near radioactive pink she'd donned for weeks, this was a fresh-blood red, with a thick, white stripe running down it in a spiral. He frowned a moment as she approached. “Starting up a barber shop?” he asked. She frowned, confused, then looked up and blushed furiously. “And weren't you a pink when I came back aboard?” “I got bored,” Fiona said by way of explanation, then plucked up a long strand of scarlet and white hair. “And seeings as it's almost December, I figured why not get into the holiday spirit?” “By turning your head into a barber pole? ,” he finished. He shrugged. “But hell, it ain't my hair. What's on your mind?” “There's something I want to give George,” she said, handing over an IDent card. He looked it over. It looked utterly authentic, but then again, so did the last one she'd done, for him, no less. He wondered exactly how he was going to explain how Colonel Northcutt didn't get killed in battle by now. “What is this?” he asked. “Well, I know you don't like the idea of me talking to the prisoners...” “They ain't prisoners, they're just confined passengers,” he pointed out. “But from what I gathered from Friday, and what I heard from George and the kids, I figured everything he went through on Niflheim should amount to something. I've never heard of a man in that kind of situation look to any skin but his own, and he did save Syl, spooky though she may be...” “You're rambling,” Jacob interrupted. She gave him a chagrined look, then tried again. “Simply put, it says he's a licensed medical practitioner. The fifteen years on Niflheim were 'volunteer work' for the 'Society for Niflheim Children',” she finished with a flourish of her hands. Jacob smirked. “Do you think people will buy it?” She shook her head with a condescending smile. “Poor, poor, silly, stupid captain,” she muttered, snatching the IDent card back with two fingers. “I just spent an hour creating a charitable organization ex nihilo, and tying it to enough just-believable accomplishments over the last decade to make it plausible enough that nobody but the UIA's would be able to see it doesn't exist. And the UIA's have more important things to worry about, with a war on, than the credentials of a fifty year old general practitioner.” Jacob stared for a moment before remembering to blink. “Well, if you say so,” he grunted. She gave him a smug smile and moved to the doors. Then, a thought occurred to Jacob. He turned back to Fiona and cast a finger toward her. “Ain't you supposed to be landing my ship?” he asked. A conflicted look crossed her face for a moment, and she tried to hide it by shaking her head. She was hiding something, but it probably wasn't his business. “No,” she said in answer, “Anne's pretty much booted me out of 'her' cockpit.” “Really?” “Which means I'm going to have to start paying you again, soon,” she gave a sheepish look. “Right?” Jacob rolled his eyes and let her carry on with her insane altruism. There was a dull thud as the craft settled onto its legs, but not so much as a shudder crept up from below. That, more than anything, told him it was Anne at the helm. She could land this twenty-five hundred tonne monster as lightly as a feather, when it suited her. The light on the panel announced that she'd opened up the ramp, and Fiona wasted no time opening the inner doors and following the crowd as it departed onto the relatively fertile soils of Ezra. Relatively was the word; sparse, mostly brown grass clung to the ground here, and the wind only carried the hint of rain if you squinted really damn hard, but still, it was heaven compared to Niflheim. He could have picked a better spot, but most of those were directly under Niska's eye. Jacob sauntered slowly to the ramp, noticing Fiona catching up with the old man, handing over her precious gift. Another figure was striding backward toward Legacy, eyes locked on the huddled crowd departing their elders in an attempt to find some semblance of cover. When the spun-gold hair flicked back, and a familiar half smile lit up the face of the one now making good pace on long legs toward Legacy, Jacob almost swallowed his tongue. Most who saw Silke Niska had the exact same reaction. “Silke?” he asked, not exactly sure to believe his eyes. “You seem surprised to see me here?” she asked, that half smile still on her face. She looked at the group, now clustering against a sheer wall, cut into the hill side to make a never-produced mag-lev rail level. “Are you now picking up strays?” Jacob took a deep breath, moving to the statuesque woman's side. “You see the old one?” he asked. She nodded. “He saved the life of one of mine. I figured I ought square up sooner than later.” “That's a great many to travel on a ship that puny,” she said, her tone sapping the mockery out of her words. “Hardly. You can pack 'em all in the airlock, if you're not too concerned about the smell,” he countered. “Why are you here?” “You kept them in the airlock?” Silke asked, scanning his face for a joke. There was none. “You imprisoned a dozen innocent children in your airlock for days...” “Hours, only,” Jacob snapped, cutting her off. He cast a finger back toward them. “And only after one of those innocent children put six bullets into Zane, so he should be thankful I didn't feel like using him as a hood-ornament.” Silke looked gobsmacked. “They're from Niflheim,” he said. She went a bit pale at the word, then nodded. She turned back toward the children. “Why were you on Niflheim?” she asked. “That's not any of your business, Silke,” he answered softly. “Why are you on Ezra?” she tried. “Nowhere else was close enough. Even weighed against the possible castration I'd face at the hands of...” he was cut off when the taller woman shot him a look. “What?” “Aleksandr has some of his father's... more grim vices. His obsession with reputation was carried forward in whole cloth, but after Heinlein dropped the decomposing corpse of the man who actually killed that black-hearted old son of a whore and the devil onto his table, he felt no need to seek redress for that death at your cost,” she gave him a smile. “I guess you could say that whatever hooks he has, and I know he has many, one is no longer reserved for you.” “That's... well, something of a relief,” he said with a happy breath. In the distance, Fiona got swept up by the old man and thoroughly hugged. He frowned, turning to the blonde. “Why are you here, knowing your brother better even than I do?” She spat onto the dirt. “That, my old friend, is not any of your business,” she answered. Suddenly, she swept an arm around his shoulder and walked him off his ramp. Her fingers dug into a gouge the psychopath had put into his shoulder, but he bit his tongue while she leaned in and pointed to her ship, and more specifically, two people talking near it. “Jacob, my old friend, I need a favor of you.” “I'm kind of on a deadline, here,” Jacob muttered. She gave him a scowl and he rolled his eyes. “How much is this going to cost me?” He felt something hit his chest, and looked down to see she'd slammed a half-full purse into it. He opened it between two fingers. “If this is silver, it ain't enough for passage,” he said, ticking off figures in his head. “And if it's platinum, there's likely too much trouble involved to risk it.” She released him and turned to the two. She waved vigorously, and the two of them slowly gathered their meager possessions and approached. “I picked them up on Ariel,” she explained quickly, “and now my task takes me back there. They don't yet wish to return, so I told them I'd wait until I could find a convenient ship to transfer them to,” she gave another half-smile. “Who know just how convenient it would be?” “This better not go pear shaped, old friend,” Jacob whispered through a forced smile. The two of them came to a stop about three yards away. One was a woman, just shy of Jacob's height, with a cap of tight, ebon curls. The other was a man, shorter than she but so powerfully built that he looked to be straining the seams of his shirt. His neck would have put a bull's to shame. And there was something very familiar about him. “This,” Silke introduced, “is Maeve Cromwell, and Benjamin.” “Benjamin?” Jacob asked. Maeve smiled. “Just Benjamin,” she responded. “Although he answers to Ben.” “Whenever you let me answer to it,” Ben muttered. Maeve shot him a look, but he was already glancing around innocently and whistling a merry tune. “Forgive my servant,” Maeve said incisively toward the wide-shouldered man. “His arms are big, but his brain is not.” “As you say, madam,” Ben replied lightly. “What are you running from?” Jacob demanded immediately. Even Silke seemed surprised by his question. “Because I'll have no part in hiding you from criminal overlords from the Core. Hell, if the price is right, I might even turn you over to them.” A lie, but he was tired of surprises. Cromwell put on a smoky smile and took a step forward. He answered by taking a step back, and she stopped. “Captain, I can assure you, we are not 'fleeing for our lives from an unspeakable evil',” she assured. “I simply don't wish to be on Ariel right now. My father has some... Unpleasant things planned for me for the next few months.” “Marriage?” Fiona's voice asked. Maeve turned to the young woman and her eyebrow rose. “I know exactly how that goes.” Ben thumbed over his shoulder at the woman, after facing Jacob again. “Does that mean I can get my hair cut on this ship?” Fiona's growl of 'It's a candy cane' was buried under Cromwell's uttering the slave's name in a rising tone. He raised his hands innocently, with a perfectly open expression, and Maeve promised words, later. Jacob had seen that expression before. “For now,” Jacob said, holding up the purse, “your fare has been paid, and I can take you wherever you need to go. When that's no longer the case, I leave you on the docks. If you think to bring harm to this ship, or anybody dwelling aboard her, you'll be leaving before we reach the docks. On this ship, I am the law, so you will obey the rules as they are explained to you, or reap the consequences of your intransigence. Do you understand?” Cromwell gave another of those sultry smiles. “Perfectly well, captain...?” “Greyson,” he said. She nodded and directed Ben to pick up all of her things. He turned to Silke. “Do I have to wish you luck?” “You don't have to,” she replied, “but I'd appreciate it.” “Good luck, then,” he offered. “And one of these days, I'd like to see the innards of that new ship of yours. If I recall, you've upgraded since I graced your deck-plating last?” “I'll consider that a dinner reservation,” Silke said, slugging Jacob on a sore, bruised shoulder. “Fair travels, old friend.” Jacob just nodded, so the sore inflection on his voice wouldn't betray him. As he turned, rubbing his aching arm, he suddenly recalled exactly where he'd seen this Ben before. “I know you!” he called, and Ben locked up, as if missing a step. “You must be mistaken, Captain Greyson,” Cromwell said in an offhand tone. Ben was still locked still. Jacob strode up the ramp, which closed as he entered the airlock. Anne would be taking them up and away, soon. “Oh, I'm not mistaken. It's been a few years, and a couple of planets, but I remember you,” Jacob said, the tone crossing over to caustic. Ben turned to face him, and Jacob stood with one hand out, pointing at the young man. Ben swallowed. “Four years ago, you kicked me in the head,” Jacob accused. Cromwell seemed to shrug, for some reason, but Ben smirked. He smirked! “That's it?” he asked. “I've kicked a lot of people in the head, Greyson. Where was it?” “Persephone, you were having a game against the Persopine Myrmidons.” Ben laughed. “I remember now. Yes, I did give you a kick to the head. But I had a good reason. You wouldn't give me back the Game Ball.” “Because you'd just hit me in the head with it!” he shouted. “Seemed the proper thing to do at the time,” he replied, a grin on his face. Jacob was overtaken with a long laugh, and he held his hand out. Ben enveloped it with his massive mitt. “Small worlds, aren't they?” Jacob chuckled. “Small worlds,” Ben agreed. He leaned in close, a conspirator. “That pretty little girl you were with... Is she still around?” “She is,” he answered. Before he could elaborate, Ben continued. “Well, today's just my luckiest day ever, isn't it?” he let out a guffaw. “Is she single? She was really pretty, in her way. If you were into girls with boyish hair, anyway.” “She's my wife,” Jacob said. Ben tensed up again, not sure if he was on unsteady ground. “If you like, you can attempt to woo her away from me and my son, but I don't think that's likely to happen.” Ben shrugged. “Worth a shot.” “Ben,” the lady Cromwell snapped. “Take my things to the agreed upon room. Now.” “Yes. Madam.” Ben had Fiona show him to their new room, but Cromwell remained behind a moment, giving Greyson an apologetic look. “I'm so sorry about Ben's past and current behavior. He can be quite uncouth, sometimes. If it is any consolation to you, I intend to discipline him,” she informed. “Were we're going, people don't know the meaning of uncouth,” Jacob pointed out. “And I don't say that meaning that they are perfect gentlemen, anything but. They literally don't know what that word means. It might be for the best for you to act a bit uncouth yourself,” he leaned forward, intimating. “Most folk in the Rim square Core types as easy targets. Do yourself a favor and don't paint a target on your back.” She took a breath and nodded. “I shall take that into consideration.”
Maeve pulled the doors closed with a measure of haste and faced him with a righteous indignation that Ben couldn't exactly place. Her fists, squared on her hips, gave her an image of somebody about to dispense harsh, and in this case unwarranted, discipline. Ben wasn't much one for discipline. “What did I tell you?” she asked quietly. “I believe it went something to the chord of 'keep your damned-fool mouth shut and hope to God they don't feel like shooting you'?” he replied blithely. Of course, she had to pack enough clothes and frippery to last for a lifetime, whereas he'd only been allowed to bring along two sets of pants besides the ones he wore right now. Of course, it was her plan. “If you talk to people like that, somebody is going to recognize you,” Maeve hissed urgently. Ben let out a laugh. “Right. They're going to point out a low-tongued brute in a 'Verse full of low-tongued brutes and instantly realize that I'm Benjamin T...” “Silence!” her whisper was desperate, as were her eyes. In a more level tone, she continued. “Saying that name could be etching your name into a Gyr's bullet. You're Ben, just Ben. And I am Mistress Cromwell. Remember that, if you want to continue breathing.” “As you command,” he smirked. “Mistress Cromwell.” There was silence for a long moment, as Ben mindlessly continued his task of unpacking his mistress' belongings into the small room. Finally, she sat on the bed, tugging on his shoulder for his attention. “Did you really do that?” “Do what now?” he asked. “Kick Captain Greyson in the head?” Ben shrugged. “He was being an ass, so I hurt him. If I hadn't, Beul would have, and let me tell you, Greyson would not have wanted Beul kicking him in the head,” Ben chuckled at the memory. “I swear, that man's real father must have been a Grizzly.” “I'm surprised he was as willing to forgive. I'm not sure I would have been.” Ben shrugged. “Fundamental differences between genders, I guess,” he muttered. “Men aren't very good at holding grudges. That's why we get into fist-fights,” he leaned back a moment, looking Maeve in the eye. “The name strikes me though. It's... familiar.” “Greyson, you mean?” Maeve asked. Ben nodded. “From what Gyr's been able to dig up, he's a spacer by birth. Raised on a ship, hight Maria Mundus, from the time he was born until he was seventeen. Then, the Maria Mundus was scrapped and he disappeared for a few years. He resurfaced in the employ of Dmitri Niska.” “So, he's a mobster, then?” Ben asked, sitting on the far edge of the bed. Maeve gave him a look, but didn't ask him to move, so he stayed put. She did shake her head, though. “Not so simple. Dmitri Niska, like his sister Silke, was not on the best of terms with his father. Some falling out, years before, I hear. Calling Greyson a mobster because of his association with Niska is like calling you Kinslayer because you're the grandson of Koster. Ben's jaw tightened. “Don't you talk about my family like that,” he growled. Maeve just stared back with impassive eyes. “Remember who has power, here,” Maeve replied. “So, don't you dare threaten me. If I want, I can get Captain Greyson to joyously throw you out of that airlock as soon as we clear the atmosphere. Don't doubt that I can, child.” Ben took rein of his anger, if with difficulty and forced a smirk onto his face. “So, what is Greyson, if not a mobster?” “He traffics heavily with soldiers of the former Independents. It wouldn't be a stretch to say he has Confederate leanings. I believe they made a movie about him, a few years ago.” “Really?” Ben asked with a laugh. “It's not very good,” she continued, a smile on her own face. The smile quickly vanished, though. “Personally, I'm worried about this ship. The coincidence of us appearing on this particular ship, on an unplanned transfer. Worse, the condition of the people on this... Legacy. Did you see them?” “I didn't see much of anything, your mountain of bags obscuring my vision as it was.” Maeve's face took on a hard set. “Something nasty happened to these people, and in the last twenty four hours, no more. One of their crew is comatose in the infirmary, with life-threatening injuries. The mechanic of this craft has one arm in a sling, and I heard from the woman who's head looks like a barber pole that she had to pull six bullets out of him not even a day ago.” “Six,” Ben repeated. “Yes. The doctor confirmed it. She was considering mounting them as some sort of bizarre trophy to the man's resilience,” she shook her head. “I fear we may have boarded this ship at the worst possible time.” “Or the best,” Ben offered. She gave him 'the look'. “Come on, if they're so busy lickin' their own wounds, chances are they aren't going to dig to hard at other people's. Then, it'll just be a hop, skip, and a jump until we're on another ship, bound somewhere that isn't in the path of the War.” “Rebellion,” Maeve amended. “Name a rebellion that resulted in defeat for an entire Battle Fleet?” Maeve smiled. “The Georgetown Rebellion. And before that, the Dissolution Wars, and before that, the Terraformer's Crisis. This little rebellion will be crushed, like all the rest, and just as quickly.” Ben grunted his acknowledgment. “Don't get me wrong, though,” She shot him another look. “Whatever it takes to keep me alive, I'm going to do it. To hell with the politics. I can't stomach them.” Maeve rose, moving to the door. “I'm going to speak to some of the other crew members. Try to mind your tongue.” Ben had a remark on it, but managed to hold it in check. Maeve did have the power, just as she said. He'd do well to hold his temper and remember that. He'd almost finished socking away Maeve's things when he heard a loud moan issue from one of the rooms nearby. He halted, then leaned out the door. Just his imagination? Another came, and he followed it to its source, a room with door closed shut. The lights inside were off, and more sounds, besides the moaning, emanated from within. Glancing about, he cracked open the door and peered inside. The light fell upon a lad, probably not older than Ben himself, his hands clawed into talons upon the spread. Something wasn't right about the shape of him under his covers. Dark eyes, in sunken, dark sockets swung to him. “Get... Friday...” a hoarse whisper came. Ben leaned back. Get Friday? Wasn't Friday yesterday? The boy's wheezy breathing seemed to be holding back agony, and the way his fists were knotted into the blankets reinforced that point practically until it stung the eyes. “Get... Friday!” the boy demanded again, his voice near to breaking. Ben then understood what was so wrong about the boy's profile under the sheets. One leg extended all the way to the of the bed. The other didn't. It didn't come close. Something nasty, indeed. Ben retreated, leaving the door open in his haste. He turned to the infirmary, but found it occupied only by the comatose blonde. His gaze paused on her a moment. Even bound up as she was, he could tell she had damn fine muscle tone. Pity she was on her back; she could probably teach him a thing or two. He turned then to the stairs and saw an Asian woman descending them, talking to the girl with the ridiculous hair. He gave a whistle, which drew their attention to him. He pointed toward the room the one-legged kid was groaning in. “The kid's awake,” he said. The two joined him at the stairs' foot, and he turned to Fiona. “He keeps telling me to find something called Friday.” “How was he?” the Asian woman inquired. Damn, she was pretty. It would be a dead heat if she and Maeve were to get into a head-turning contest. “Missing a leg, from what I could tell,” he answered. The Asian rolled her eyes. “Besides that.” “Sounds like he's in a lot of pain,” he clarified. “Fi, could you get me the pack I prepared?” the Asian asked. Fiona nodded and headed into the infirmary. “And what about that whole Friday thing?” Ben asked. “I don't believe we've been introduced,” the Asian smiled. It was similar in a lot of ways to when Maeve smiled, sultry, languorous, seductive without implication. She extended her hand. “My name is Friday Yiao. I deal with people getting shot, stabbed, slashed, lacerated, and blown up.” “Nice to meet you?” he said, cautiously shaking her hand. She had a damn queer smirk on her face. “Wow,” Fiona exclaimed as she peeked into the satchel. “There's got to be, like, two thousand in drugs in here!” “And worth every penny, if it helps Daniel recover,” Friday said as she took the pack away. “Now, attend, and you might learn something new.” “But I'll miss dinner!” Fiona whined. “Zane said he'd...” “Medicine knows no timetable,” Friday cut her off, and then dragged the woman into the room. Ben shook his head, then made his way up the stairs. When he emerged into the kitchen, he beheld a small figure retreating into the fore of the ship, with the mechanic at the kitchen counter and Maeve looking a little bewildered. A tentative sniff of the air produced a smile on Ben's face. This Zane seemed to know his craft well. Hopefully, he was as good with the ship as he was with a skillet. As Ben took a seat in the big, comfortably overstuffed chair near the table, waiting for dinner to finish, Maeve spotted him and leaned toward him. Her voice was low, pitched so that it wouldn't even reach the cook at the far end of the room. “Ben, I'm beginning to think that my reservations about this ship were well warranted.” “How so?” he asked, equally quiet. Maeve's bewildered look grew even more scattered. “I think... I just got threatened by a very small woman,” she explained. For some reason, Ben couldn't resist the chuckle. He leaned back into the chair, savoring both the smell in the air and the expression on his benefactor. “I think I'm going to like this ship,” he muttered through a grin.
The sound of the door slamming upstairs brought Mai back to her senses. She'd eventually just taken to leaning against Eli in an effort to slow the bleeding. He had precious little left to lose. The ceiling thumped with heavy footfalls as whomever it was navigated with great haste through the house, until he reached the spiral stairwell leading to this isolated chamber. “Is he still bleeding?” Baihu demanded as he descended into view. As soon as he'd made it half way down, he ducked under the railing and dropped himself to the floor, reaching up to pull a very heavy bag after him. “Um, yes,” she answered. “That means he isn't dead yet,” Baihu explained, moving with surprising quickness through the dark room. When he reached the area illuminated faintly by the screen, he gave Mai a slight shove to move her aside. “Would it have killed you to turn on the lights in the interim, though?” Mai was suddenly glad for the darkness, for it hid her shamed flush. She moved slowly, blindly, along the walls until she found one of the old-fashioned light switches. Leave it to Eli to not have Vocalization in a half-billion-C house. When she flicked it on, she was aghast at the level of destruction. Bullet holes covered a significant portion of both the wall Eli was slumped against, and the one boasting the soil-clogged windows at the far side. Several books looked like they'd exploded, showering the floor with paper. The window, bullet and pressure proof only from without, had given way, dumping a large mound of dark soil into the corner of the room. And, from the look of the wall behind Eli, it was a stark miracle he hadn't been shot more often, or in a more important place than the one he'd already had. “Ai ya hua lei, bai fu, how did this happen?” Baihu asked. “I don't know,” Mai answered. “I came home with my son, and I found him like this. I sent Adam away before he stumbled onto the blood.” “You didn't see this happen?” Baihu let out a frustrated grunt. “How long do you think you were, between when this happened and when you arrived. Were you two supposed to meet at an appointed time?” “His blood was tacky,” she offered. Baihu snapped his fingers with a nod. “Why did he call you 'bai fu'?” “Because he is my uncle,” Baihu muttered distractedly as he set about getting to work. “He married my father's sister. How that wouldn't make him my uncle is beyond my reckoning.” Mai reached out for him, noticing when she did so that her hands were slick with Eli's blood from fingertips to half way up her bicep. She must look ghastly. She pulled her hand back to her breast. “Can you help him?” “I can, if you give me some peace,” Baihu responded. He turned a moment. “I suggest you wash up. You look like you just swam in a butcher shop's sluice pile.” Mai nodded dumbly and made her slow way up the stairs. How had her life gotten to this point? That thought rotated in her head over and over again as she made her way to the room Eli's largess had bestowed on her. She let her clothes drop into a pile on the already full garbage bin. Another eccentricity of Eli's. No on-site compactors or incinerators. The only furnace on the property was a quarter mile away. She moved directly to the shower, clad in naught but air, letting the hot water scour her as she pondered. Even as she felt the congealed blood flaking or sluicing off of her, she thought back, to her childhood. She hadn't been rich, by any stretch of the imagination. Her parents worked hard to make their wage, and always came home tired. People often thought that everybody on Sihnon was rich and happy. It was a blatant misconception. Her mother was a factory worker, constructing machines she'd never make enough money to own. Her father was a construction worker, building the massive structures that made Sihnon's capitol city appear always as a sea of light. Often when she was young, she would leap at him as he came in the doors, wrapping his waist with her arms. She couldn't reach all the way 'round him, though. He was a big man. At least, he was in her memory. One day, he didn't come home. Accident, they said, claiming dozens of lives. A project would be set back weeks. The people who told her mother that had the most regret about the latter point, and nearly none to the former. Mai had been almost twelve, then. She remembered how she cried herself to sleep for days. She drifted away from her mother, who didn't seem to mourn her husband, or at least, not the way Mai thought she should. Her grades slipped, and there were threats of suspension or worse. Her mother did the only thing she could think of; she used the money from her late-husband's insurance to enroll Mai in Luo Yang's famed Madrassa Academy. The Companion Academy. She was too old. That's what many said. Too old to be taught all that she was expected to know. Still, her mother, for all her peccadilloes, had an indomitable force of personality. Mai never learned what her mother had told those administrators to make them accept her. She could only imagine. Her new life as a Companion-in-training was as hard as her previous life, and harsher. Most of the other students were cruel to her, because she came from a 'nothing family'. Many of those she shared her life with were either children of Companions, or children of rich aristocrats being sent to learn from their famed teachers. She received mercy from neither. She could count the number of friends she'd ever had during that difficult period on one hand without moving past the middle finger. So many times, she considered simply walking away, but it wasn't her choice. Mother had put all of her hopes onto her only child. Mai didn't feel right letting it all burn down like that. She survived. She learned the lessons they taught, and the skills they provided. She didn't excel, but neither did she falter. When she was sixteen years old, though, she was taught what all Companions must do to afford their lifestyles. The act of physical love was something she was afraid of, at the time. She feared the pain, and the complications. She was right to. The boy she was paired with was one of the cruelest to her. She could still remember his eyes, dark and heartless, his sadistic smirk when he saw his name next to hers. It was the most traumatic experience of her life. She might have agreed to it, but to her, it was still rape. It was a month later that the full betrayal was given to her. He'd sabotaged his 'protection', in a bid to make her leave in disgrace, and his conspiracy had brought fruit. Twins, to be precise. She continued learning, despite the steadily growing pregnancy. In the end, it was he who was cast out, for the direct violation of the rules, which was small solace; he'd later become a vice-president at the Blue Sun Corporation. Birth was every bit as painful as she'd feared it would be, and worse. The first one was born after what felt like an eternity of pain, and the second didn't come. Only after two more entire days of fear and discomfort did they remove her from Mai's womb. At first, Mai had been happy, as her mother hadn't been much older when Mai was born. She could raise them as well. Then she saw their eyes. His eyes. They both had them, their father's eyes. Every time she saw Monday and Friday, she could barely restrain her vitriol. It took every bit of effort not to wring their tiny necks each morning. She knew she was a horrible person for thinking that, but she couldn't stop feeling like he'd managed to find just one more way to torment her. One more way, that would last her the eternity. When she became a full Companion a year later, she spent as much time away from them as she could. She couldn't stand their presence. Something that was supposed to be so beautiful, tainted the way that they were, sickened her to her core. When they'd reached the appropriate age, she enrolled them in another Academy, on Ariel, so she wouldn't have to deal with them any longer. She couldn't even remember which one it was, now. And still, after they were gone, she felt empty. It was as though her hatred of her own daughters had sustained her, kept her going, for years. She had a nervous breakdown, in the middle of a session with a client. The House Priestess recommended Mai take a sabbatical. She was one of the many who felt Mai was inferior because of where she'd come from, so the sabbatical was a politic way of asking her to leave, and never return. She lost track of the years she spent, derelict and despondent. Part of her wanted to see her daughters again, even if she knew it would end in bile and rage. Part of her wanted to leap off of a tall building, to see if she could fly. She went to the same park, every day, and just stared at the lake until hunger or thirst drove her back to her room. Until she met him. Adam's father was a meek man, who seemed horrified that he'd taken her bench, apologizing profusely at the thought of offending her. The first day, she just waved him off, and took her spot. When she came back the next day, he was there again. He asked her if she wanted company, in that shy way he did. The way he talked, it was as though he would be struck down from above for daring to speak. At first, she accepted only his silent presence. In time, they began to talk. About her life. About her parents, and her childhood. About the cruelties of her youth. About the children she would never see again, and never wanted to, either. Her story complete, he talked about his. Eternally the wallflower, he watched as life passed him by. Even as he was stricken with degenerative disease, nothing could break his shell of social fear. And then he met her. The way he spoke, it was as though she was the first person he'd ever told his story to. It was entirely possible she was. As she came to know him better, an unlikely friendship bloomed. The friendship slowly turned to something else. Two years after they met, she had Adam. A year after that, she held her gentle lover's hand as he fell asleep for the last time. She wasn't bitter at his loss. She knew that she'd given him something that he would always cherish, and he, in turn, had given her something she would. Adam. He, too, had his father's eyes. Gentle, kind, and infinitely, quietly curious. The next few years were hard. She knew the odds of Adam having his father's illness. She dreaded when they would begin to show themselves. And they did. She knew it was repayment for the treatment of her first children that God would smite her second so, and so young. Having no real source of money, she was forced to watch as Adam slipped from being a active child, to one barely able to walk, to one barely able to breathe. Then she met Eli. Or rather, Eli met her. She was at the same park, sitting on the same bench, staring at the same lake she had those years before. She looked up, and saw the older man, his face flush with tears, staring at her in complete disbelief. He moved to her so slowly, as though in a dream, and placed his hand on her cheek. Then, the spell was shattered, and he pulled back, apologetic. He told her how his wife had died a few hours earlier, and his children were scattered to the stars. She told him how her son was slowly dying of the same disease that claimed his father. Before she even told him her name, Eli wiped his face and pronounced that he was going to find a cure for Adam's disease. The audacity of it left her laughing. 'Surely,' she'd said, 'it'll take more than you have to find a cure to something as rare as that'. She could still remember the smirk on his face as he replied 'Just trust me, my friend, I'll find a way.' And he did. They relocated to Londinum to be close to the hospitals and to Eli's place of work. Within months, Adam was off of his respirator and learning to walk again. The next four years saw him stronger and tougher, until he was back in regular schools with healthy children. Then came the last visit, just this morning. The disease was gone, as though it had never been. No relapses, no future threat. Eli had kept his word. She twisted the faucet off, and the deluge of hot water cut off, leaving her shaking in the hot-damp air. She stared at her heat-pinkened hands. She always thought that the last thirty years should have twisted them, wrinkled them more. She'd had her forty-fifth birthday only a month earlier. She felt older than that. Much older. And conversely, while Eli was well into his eighties, he looked and behaved not a day over fifty. She wiped a hand across her face, then pulled on the thick bath robe. The situation with Eli was strange. She thought, in the darkest days of her melancholy, that she would be paying rent on her back. This turned out to be the farthest thing from the truth. More often than not, all Eli wanted was to have an intelligent conversation and somebody to share time and space with. She could tell he missed his wife desperately, and she filled a gaping hole in his life, somewhat. When they did make love, it wasn't out of debt or repayment, but because it felt right. That was something she'd never been trained for. Outside of the bathroom, the air seemed frigid, by comparison. Shivering now for being both wet and cold, she made haste to make up for her earlier sloth, throwing a robe around herself as she strode back into the halls. Her bare feet padded carefully around the blood in the room at the top of the spiral stairs, and were almost silent as she descended. She watched as Baihu sat in a chair, cigarillo in hand, watching the machine that was hooked up to Eli's still, though breathing, form. “What is it doing?” she asked. “And should you be smoking next to it?” Baihu smiled around the stem, nodding toward the machine. “It's reconfiguring blood to his type. He's lost a lot of it, but the bullets didn't seem to have hit anything important. He'll be awake in a few hours, and up and about in a matter of days.” “I'm glad to hear it,” she said, genuinely. “Uncle Eli's far too lucky for his own good,” Baihu chuckled. He extracted the cigarillo's stem from his teeth and pointed at her. “You must be Mai. How's Adam doing?” “He's perfectly healthy,” she answered carefully. No telling how much this nephew of Greyson's knew. “So it worked?” he asked, taking a puff. “Good to hear it. I hate seeing children suffering like that,” he frowned a moment, then reached into his pocket. “I found this on Eli, while I was hooking him up. Does it mean anything to you?” Mai took the piece of paper from him. Marshal, 1840, Maispark. A date, a few days from now. She shook her head, handing it back to Baihu, who slipped it into a pocket. “It doesn't mean anything to me.” “A pity,” he said, tapping the ash onto a tray he'd placed onto the chair's ample armrest. “Eli always had a talent for stirring up trouble. I've always wondered how he survived so long with that gift for accumulating enemies. Knowing who this particular one was might... well, it'd be something.” Mai took a seat on the arm of the bullet-holed sofa where Baihu had placed Greyson. Running a careful hand down his hair, she glanced up at the younger of the two men. “Why did he have you,” she asked, “instead of a hospital on his dialer?” Baihu grinned, gesturing with his cigarillo. “He has a tendency to get hurt, and he doesn't like having to explain himself to the people with the pretty white smocks. Besides, I owe that man a lot,” Baihu's expression lapsed into something dark and haunted. “Niflheim springs to mind, a bit too fast...” With a wave to dismiss the notion from his mind, he leaned back again, taking a long puff, and settling the stem betwixt his teeth. “Now, though, it's just a matter of waiting until he comes to. I figure he's got a hell of a story to tell us.”
Fiona watched as Zane once more attempted to cook. With one arm in a sling, and the other bearing many bandaged fingers, it was an exercise, if not in futility, then in masochism. He let out another growl as a waft of burn-smell lifted around him, and she shook her head. “No,” he warned her off, his bandaged hand waving her aside as he tried to keep up with his work. “I can do this.” “You should be in bed, resting,” Fiona countered. “I can cook dinner. Really, I can. I'm not just saying that.” “I don't doubt it, but it's my turn,” Zane said, patiently. “People expect a certain amount of... goddamn it... quality when it's my turn.” “I doubt they're likely to get it,” she gave a laugh, glancing down at the burnt offering he was attempting to flip over with little success. “Personally, I wouldn't mind the lady's cooking,” the new passenger piped up from the seat near the door. He was a short man, so much that he could only just look her square in the eye, but he weighed as much as two of her, and not one ounce of that weight was fat. “Ignore the peanut gallery,” Zane growled lightly, at last managing to flip over most of the mostly-black barely-recognizable meal. The rest of it would likely remain chemically bonded to that pan for the rest of time. Ben leaned forward, a smirk on his face. “Weren't you supposed to be helping the doc downstairs?” Fiona gave him a haughty glance, “She said I was annoying her, so she told me to leave.” Ben just rolled his eyes, as Fiona refocused her attention to the crippled cook. “Bear in mind that I say this with all possible kindness,” Fiona said, carefully pulling him away from the burner. “Just what in God's name is that supposed to be?” “Chicken breasts in a herb-garlic sauce,” Zane replied. Both looked down at the pan in unison, expressions less than hopeful. “Fine, deep fried brick, all the soot you can eat, if you can stomach it.” “Even I'm not touching that one,” Ben muttered loudly. Both shot him a look, but he was content looking smug from the sidelines. “Just let me try something. I swear, you'll like it,” Fiona said, finally nudging the direly wounded mechanic out of the kitchen space. “And... throw this out an airlock, I guess. There's no getting that clean without some of my brother's Universal Solvent, and that might be overkill. You just rest yourself.” When she looked at Zane's face, he had the oddest expression. “I'll rest when I'm dead.” “You might die, if you don't rest,” Ben observed for her. Both shot him looks, anyway. “What, you look like hell, man. The one time I looked that bad, I pretty much slept for a week.” “Waste of perfectly good hours,” Zane groused, taking his seat at the back of the table, near where Ben was sitting. “I sleep three hours a day, and I need no more. You wouldn't imagine what I can get done in the time most people spend drooling into their pillows.” “Three hours?” Ben asked. “Bullshit. You'd be a zombie.” “Ask anybody on this ship,” Zane pointed out. “Ask them if they ever see me sleep. You'll get the same answer. The trick is to catch hour-long naps throughout. Keeps you sharp. If I ever really get tired, I can have a good ten-hour night, but that doesn't happen more than once or twice a year.” “Lunacy,” Ben just shook his head. “Madness.” “Madness?” Zane shook his head with a grin. “This is Legacy. Madness is par for the course.” The lights flickered, then shut off completely, leaving only the pilot light from the stove before Fiona to provide light. There was a long moment of silence. The lights came back on, and three very confused people exchanged glances. “Does that usually happen?” Ben asked. Zane's expression turned from confused to concerned. “No,” he answered simply. He took a stride toward the front of the ship, and fell as the entire ship lurched. Fiona pulled back in pain as she felt the hot metal brand her forearm, biting back tears. She looked up as Ben hauled Zane up to his feet by the back of his shirt. “Anne?” Zane bellowed. “What the hell's going on?” Fiona skirted the counter and made her way to Zane's side. The door to the cockpit was closed, which was odd. It was usually open. “What does that...?” she began but was cut off as the ship lurched again, and she fell into Zane. He landed back on the floor with a howl of agony that seared at her ears. She pulled back as fast as she could, unable to glance at his pained rictus for more than a moment, even as she chanted 'I'm so sorry', trying to soothe him. She glanced up again as the lights dimmed. The hair on her head, neck and arms seemed to be trying to raise right off of her. “What's going on?” Ben demanded. “We're... being attacked,” Zane said, panting. His face had gone into a pale sweat, and he struggled to his feet. “I know only one thing that uses that sort of weapon.” “Who? Pirates?” Fiona asked. “Worse. Much worse,” Zane replied. “Reavers.” Ben shook his head. “I don't understand. I thought the Templars kept the Reavers out in the fringes?” “The Reavers pretty much go where they please,” Zane answered, “and they please to go a lot of places. They like to use weapons that lock ships down. Attacking at range really isn't their thing, you see. They like the up-close kill. They want to be looking into our eyes when they assault in earnest.” “What do we do?” Ben asked. Zane tugged his sling a bit higher, and moved to a cabinet at the far end of the kitchen. He reached inside and pulled out a long knife, tossing it to the table in front of Ben. The younger man frowned at it. “We stab them?” “No,” Zane answered, his tone flat. “You take that knife, and you cut out your own heart, or your throat. But only after doing the exact same to her and to me. If they take this ship, the condition we're in right now, worse, with Syl completely unable to help, it'll be beyond a bloodbath. They'll rape you into madness, carve off your flesh with jagged knives, and add it to their attire. Then, they'll start to eat you. I hear they start at your feet, working their way up. Of course, you'll feel every moment of it, because they don't bother killing you until they reach your ribcage, and your arms are gone.” “Jesus...” Ben muttered, his face like a sheet. “That's not even the worst of it,” Zane's voice was now of a completely different tone, as though another person had taken over and was narrating. “They might have an Eye with them. If you see a woman in pale leather armor coming, what the horde do to you would be an hour in paradise compared to what they have in store. The Eyes are much better at torturing. They can keep people alive for days, rather than mere hours. Syl has a suit from one of those monsters. Pray you never see one coming toward you, my boy.” “How do you know so much about Reavers?” Ben asked, his hand's shaking around the knife's handle. Zane's eye's seemed to flash for a moment as he turned. “I've had some long, disturbing conversations with Sylvia. And Sylvia knows more about the Reavers than any woman alive,” he whispered, his altered voice near to breaking. A klaxon sounded, and a computerized voice began to shout threats of decompression. Fiona turned with alarm as the door to the front of the ship slammed shut, and hissed as it was sealed. A moment later, the same happened with the door at the far side, to the engines. Zane caught Ben's shoulder in his bandaged hand. “Promise me, my boy, that you'll do what you need to,” Ben looked at Zane in disbelief, bordering horror. “That you'll spare Fiona the horror of what comes next. Do you understand me? Swear it!” Ben nodded, dumbly. His eyes were locked on the doors. Zane let out a slow sigh. “You know,” he muttered, resting his hand on Fiona's wrist, “I've done a lot of things I've regretted in my life. Most recent among them, is that I never got to know you better.” “I'm touched,” Ben muttered, and both shot him a look. “I wish I had, too,” Fiona murmured, pulling close to Zane's bandaged form. He was warm, and comforting, even now. The only lights illuminating the kitchen were the lamp in the middle of the table and an emergency light near the engine room. Fiona looked down as she felt the keen edge of the knife press against the front of her neck. Zane let out a growl. “You're not holding it right,” He snapped. With his better hand, he moved the point from the front of her throat to a point just under her ear, next to the jaw. “Just push in there, and she'll be gone in seconds. That's the Carotid. Remember that.” As Ben started to mutter to himself out of sheer panic, Zane looped his one good arm around her and pulled her close. “I'm so sorry,” he whispered into her hair. “It's not your fault,” she replied. “Small solace.”
Baihu was on his seventh cigarillo when Eli let out a rattling cough and began to grumble a long string of fairly potent profanities. She rose from her seat, but Baihu raised a restraining hand as he moved to Eli's side. “How many fingers?” Baihu asked. “On your hand or up your ass?” Eli replied, giving Baihu a weak shove so he could sit normally. “What the hell happened?” “You've lost a lot of blood, Uncle,” Baihu explained slowly. “You were on death's door for a while, there.” “I've had worse,” Eli grumbled. Running a hand through his grey hair, he took a stabilizing breath, then tried to rise to his feet. He was forestalled by the snarl of pipes running off of him to the device beside the couch. He looked at it a moment, then back to Baihu. “Seriously, Zhuge, don't you think that's a little much? I can take pretty much any type of blood.” “I don't exactly stockpile Rh Negative blood in my garage, Uncle,” Baihu pointed out. Greyson waved away the smoke. “Be that as it may,” he muttered, then gave Baihu an accusatory glare. “You really shouldn't smoke. It's bad for you.” “Debating the medical merits of smoking with an neurosurgeon, now?” Baihu chuckled. “I'm old, so I know better,” he muttered, then pulling out a cigar. “Got a light?” “Enough!” Mai shouted in impatience. Both of them turned toward her, seemingly shocked that she intruded. “Who did this?” Greyson turned to his nephew with a shrug. “She doesn't know any better. Would you mind?” he asked, pointing to the snarl of pipes. “You're still short a few liters,” Baihu cautioned, but Eli's glare stirred him to start unhooking the machine. “I'll survive,” he muttered. “Have you ever heard of Whapsep?” Mai shook her head, but Baihu halted in his process for a moment. “Who are they?” she asked, when it became apparent that the doctor was unwilling to. “Whapsep is one of the Union's four major intelligence agencies. They report only to the Empress on Sihnon. Besides them, there are House Triari's Gyr, the Triple 'S' of the Osirian Freehold, and the Parliamentary Operatives.” “Your point,” Mai asked, trying to hasten him toward something that made sense in the context of explanation. “For the last fifteen years, Whapsep has been playing very fast and loose with the Union's Constitution. Twenty years ago, they would never have gotten away with something like this. They make the most radical of Parliamentarians look like staunch Spartans. Sometimes, they act on what they think their mistress wants, taking an implication of her desire to be justification enough for whatever they do,” Eli took a puff from his cigar. “But still, I'm surprised as hell that one of them would think he'd survive crossing me.” “Pretty confident,” Baihu noted. “I'm the second richest man in the universe,” Eli pointed out acerbically. “And I have a lot of friends that take great interest in protecting me. Tobin didn't ask many questions by the time I decided to shoot him, but something tells me my immunity to that bullshit has suddenly run out.” “I suppose these are his?” Baihu asked, pulling out a round device with blinking lights and a very spindly firearm. Eli nodded, taking both and pocketing them. “Is that wise? They could be tracked.” “I'm counting on that,” Eli muttered. “Something he said, doesn't sit well with me, though. He said I contacted somebody I'm sure I didn't. Worse, he had proof of it.” “Who?” Mai asked. “Johner Marshal. No, you wouldn't know him,” he added, but she reached for the scrap of paper Baihu had set aside. “Eli, this is your script,” she said, handing the note to its originator. He scanned it for a moment, his face pale. “What does it mean?” “I'm afraid I don't have a pleasant answer for that,” Baihu muttered slowly. “Do you often find yourself forgetting things, Uncle?” “Of course not,” he bit back with offense. “My memory is every bit as good as it always was.” “Alright, but do you ever find yourself repeating activities?” Baihu asked, this time more politic in his tone. “I have no idea what you're...” the old man shook his head, but Mai took his hand and shook her head. “What?” “You do it all the time,” she explained delicately. “Fei hua!” he rejected. “Three days ago, you made yourself breakfast, took a shower, came back, and prepared yourself the exact same breakfast all over again,” she pressured. “I must have been hungry,” he rationalized. “You were surprised when you were full less than half way through.” Eli waved his hand. Baihu leaned closer. “Mai, does he ever talk about people that are dead as though they're still alive?” “He calls me Soyi from time to time,” she admitted. “Never,” Greyson said, his tone becoming desperate. “Uncle,” Baihu licked his lips, crushing out his cigarillo. “Name everybody in your immediate family.” “My late wife Soyi, former Baihu,” he ticked each name off of a finger. “Imanuel Tucker Greyson, my first son, Jacob Leoda Greyson, my younger. Daniel Raphael Baihu Greyson, my only grandson.” “Any more?” Zhuge pressured. Eli's brow drew down. “I think I'd remember the names of my own children, Zhuge,” he responded, understandably offended. But even Mai knew what was coming next. She watched as Baihu held up a capture of the entire Baihu-Greyson clan, probably taken decades ago. She watched as Baihu tapped on a spindly girl with short, black hair struggled lamely to get out of the shot, restrained by a woman who had a more-than-passing resemblance to Mai herself. “You're saying you don't remember who this is?” Baihu demanded. Concern knotted the old man's brow, and confusion. “...Who?” “She is Julia. You're oldest child, your only daughter, and mother to your grandson, however inadvisably young she was at the time,” Mai explained carefully. “You've told me about her, before.” “I don't understand,” Eli whispered. “I recognize her to see her, but her name...” “When I was checking for the damage the bullets may have caused, I found something very bad in your brain,” Baihu explained, letting Eli keep the capture. “I found a large mass of Alzheiretic Plaques.” “He has...?” Mai asked, shocked. “Alzheimer's Disease,” Zhuge confirmed. “And from the development of the plaques and the apparent corruption of your memory, I'd say you've been living with it for years. How you continue to function at the level you do is a mystery.” “I don't have it,” Eli shook his head. “I'm perfectly well. So what if I repeat myself. That doesn't mean I'm sick.” “The plaques don't lie, Uncle,” Baihu said gently. “The only thing that comes close is what you see in prize fighters who are punch drunk. As far as I know, you haven't taken up pugilism at your age. Alzheimer's is a progressive illness, which explains why you don't remember Julia right now, but you did before.” “I can take the treatments,” he said, perking up. “The plaques are fully formed,” Baihu rejected. “They won't do you any good.” Eli hung his head, the cigar burning slowly between his fingers. After a minute, he looked up at the doctor. “You've just put a ticking clock over my head, you realize?” “I didn't put it there, Uncle. I just let you know it was there all along,” Zhuge patted the old man's arm. “All my plans seem kinda pointless, right about now. How long?” he asked, then shook his head and waved the question away. “You know what, don't tell me. I don't want to know.” “We're here for you,” Mai said, and Zhuge nodded slowly. “Glad to hear it,” he said. With a sigh, he rose to his feet, to the doctor's dismay. “You shouldn't be going about. You're body only has just enough blood to survive.” “Like I said, I'll live. Besides, I need to get to Sihnon in two days,” he said, making his unsteady way to the stairwell. Both Mai and Zhuge tried to restrain him but his glare pushed them back a pace. “In two days? It's too far at this time of year.” “I'll make it,” Greyson retorted. “I've got Von Pinn flying me.” “Why?” Mai asked. Greyson paused, on foot on the stairs, and chewed his words for a moment. “Have you ever heard the curse 'may you live in interesting times, and be known by important people'?” “That's a curse?” Baihu asked. “I fear young Jacob is doing exactly that. It turns out I've managed to contact Johner Marshal after all, so this is an opportunity I can't afford to waste.” “What exactly are you going to do?” Baihu asked. Eli answered with a smirk as he began his slow ascent. “I'm going to buy Jacob some obscurity.”
Ben thought he would be facing this moment differently. At the worst, the expected he'd probably piss himself and let the terror wash over him. At the best, he expected to face it with a grim determination. Instead, he got this. He didn't feel a damn thing. All he could see was the glint of the knife, pressed against the girl's neck, the cold fire of the mechanic's gaze, and his own shaking hand. All he could hear was the sound of the blood pounding in his ears. He could smell, though. He could smell the sweat pouring off of his brow, and that of the other two. He could smell the burnt food still hanging in the air. And most of all, he could smell the panic. Reavers. I can do this, he thought to himself. I have to do this. They're depending on me. Such thoughts bolstered him not a whit. A spike of self reproach tore through him, chiding what matter of King could he possibly claim to have been, that he hadn't even the resolve for something as simple as this. Simple as this. He'd never have thought that euthanasia would be a simple situation. He'd heard of the Reavers, where they came from, what they were, what they used to be. He'd heard the rumors about them, before the Miranda Wave. Then, he learned that the rumors were only the shallowest of the Reavers' capabilities. Persopine had taught him that. He never told anybody, but he'd been there. When the Reavers performed their daring raid into the heart of Persephone's planetary capitol, he had been with the Myrmidons, scouting for some talent for his own team. He was well away from the path the monstrous creatures took to the opera house, but close enough to stumble onto their destruction. He never saw them, directly, but like beholding the power of an angry God, he didn't have to. What they wrought was enough to paint them as everything he'd ever heard, and worse. He felt no shame in running away from the carnage. It was on a scope he'd never before beheld in his life. Christ, was that only a year ago? It seemed so much longer. Gritting his jaw, he tightened his grip on the knife, ceasing its shaking for a moment. An instant of pressure saw it dip, just the slightest bit, into the side of the girl's neck. She let out the slightest peep of pain, but the mechanic soothed her, whispering into her hair as he held her close. Then Ben saw the blood. “I can't do this,” he whispered, his eyes tracking the crimson stream as it dribbled from the point, down her ivory skin, and began to stain her blouse. He shook his head, dropping the blade and backing away, face in his hands. “I can't do this. I'm sorry, but I can't do this.” Ben heard Zane's sigh, then as he glanced up from his place, sitting with his back to the side of the overstuffed chair, watched as the mechanic disengaged himself from the lily-white girl with the barber-pole hairdo and slowly, painfully gathered up the knife. “It's alright,” Zane muttered. Then, glaring away from either of the two in the room, he murmured again, as though only to himself. “Why is it I'm always the only one...?” Ben's body went slack and he sprawled in his place, unable even to summon the effort to face his death on his feet. Zane stood before Fiona, and leaned his brow down to touch hers. Tears ran freely from her eyes. A loud clank drew all of their attention to the door at the head of the table. Ben finally found the strength, by terror alone, to drag himself to his feet. They all knew what it meant, even if none of the three would say it. Their lives were over. “Drop your weapons and you will not be harmed!” a loud voice came from the far side of the door. The three stared at each other in utter confusion. Then, Zane started doing something that took the situation from fatal to bizarre. He started to laugh. The laughter continued for at least a minute and a half, ending with the mechanic, holding his sides in pain as he chuckled. “Thank God!” he exclaimed. “Just pirates.” Both stared at him. “Just pirates?” they asked in unison. Zane nodded, holding the blade up before him, then tossing it onto far end of the table. “The worst a pirate'll do is rough you up a bit, maybe kill you if he doesn't like the way you cower. They want plunder, not succulent man-flesh.” “I'd have to say,” Ben said, a relieved chuckle not far restrained from his own voice, “that's about the best thing I've heard in a while, now.” “Really?” Zane asked. “You must be having a shittier week than we are.” The doors were pried open, and two figures, one tall and beefy, the other shorter and willowy, ducked through, each proceeded by a fairly businessly looking firearm, which would probably be illegal on sixty eight of the seventy three planets in the System. Each wore a mask. “Come with us, and we may let you live,” the large one demanded, directing them out the door. As the willowy one forced Zane and the girl down the stairs into the cargo hold, the large one paused, giving a shout to another pair, dragging at the cockpit door to no avail. “What's the problem there?” he demanded. A cat-mask turned to him. “Bugger welded the gorramned door shut,” he answered, his accent placing him as an emigrant of the Dyton colonies. “Don't worry, I'll cut 'er free in no time.” “Get Geller, he's got the torch,” the large one ordered, then continued shoving Ben into the bay. Zane and Fiona were already kneeling, surrounded by other mask-wearing figures. Even as he descended to their level, he did a quick tally of masks. Crocodile, hawk, ibis, snake, the motif became very clear. The blank yellow disc of the one directly to Ben's rear marked him as the leader. Who else would be Ra? Even as Ben was lowered to his knees, he saw Fiona and Maeve being shoved into the bay from the other entrance. As the pair were shoved to the floor, he shot to his feet, his fists cracking in anticipation of action. Hurting women couldn't be condoned. “I wouldn't do it, child,” Ra warned, and Ben felt the barrel of that massive weapon levied directly behind his ear. “We don't need anybody doing anything heroic.” “There's two more in the back,” the one masked as Thoth piped up. Ra let out an impatient sigh. “And why haven't you brought him out?” he demanded. Thoth seemed at a loss for words. “Well?” Thoth vaulted back into the belly of the ship, emerging about a minute later with the pale and extremely unbalanced young man Ben had seen earlier. A shove landed the youth onto the deck, and a boot on his spine kept him there. Ra shoved Ben back down and moved closer to Daniel and leaned down. “What happened to your leg?” Daniel forced an obviously false smile. “I got a nasty splinter in my heel,” he growled. His voice was still strained, but better than it had been. “Doc decided she needed to amputate.” Ra pointed out Thoth. “You said there were two. Where is the other?” “Lashed down on the operating table, in a coma. She's fair messed up. Like, nearly dead, messed up.” Ra leaned back. “What the hell happened to these people?” he muttered in incredulity. “You son-of-a-bitch!” Jacob's exclamation tore through the hold as he was rudely shoved into the hold, his son squirming in his arms. “What the hell are you doing to my ship?” “I take it you're the Captain?” Ra asked, waiting for Jacob to be brought before him. Jacob nodded. “This ship is to be considered lost to the Black, and up for salvage.” “You whore-son bastard...” Jacob snarled. The baby, immune to the tension in the room, let out an infant laugh as he watched the drama around him. “I'm a reasonable man,” Ra placated. “You will all be loaded into your shuttle, and you can easily make it back to Ezra with the fuel and air you currently possess. You might make it a bit further if you show the one on the slab to the airlock...” “I will destroy you,” Jacob growled. “Rip you limb. From. Limb.” “No? Well,” Ra lifted his gun toward Jacob. “If you chose not to take my generous offer, of your lives, no less, then I'll put a very large bullet through your head, and make the same offer to somebody a bit more reasonable.” Jacob grit his teeth, but didn't say another word. Good choice, Ben silently commended. The were a swarm of people milling about the hold, now, wearing simple cloth veils to cover their faces as they pilfered everything they could find and began to move it to their own ship. Ra pulled a communicator from his belt and turned it on. Friday motioned toward the infant, and Jacob handed him over. “Bast, have you reached the cockpit yet?” he asked. Answering him were the sounds of a scuffle, punctuated by a pair of gunshots. Jacob, eyes glossed over in hate, surged forward, but Sabek was faster than he, braining him with his massive gun. Jacob landed roughly at Ra's feet. “Is that a yes?” Ra asked, taking a step back. Friday scowled at him, and Achilles waved petulantly, a surprisingly serious look in his little face. “Situation is under control,” Bast's Dyton accent sounded. “Just had a little spitfire to deal with.” “Alive?” “Miraculously.” Bast confirmed. Ra leaned down to Jacob. “See?” he asked. “I'm a peaceful man. I could have had your pilot killed, but I didn't. Am I not kind?” Jacob obviously wasn't in a condition to respond. Ben's attention was dragged back up to the catwalks as three men, two in fancy masks, one in a veil, barely managed to transport one of the smallest grown women he'd seen in his life, outside of the royal Jester, and that, only because she was a dwarf. The three relieved themselves gratefully of their burden, and Bast moved to Ra's side. “The ship is ours, Ra.” Ra wasn't listening to his subordinate, however. He was staring at the diminutive woman who was trying to get Jacob to say something. His slurred mutterings obviously weren't enough. Still, after a moment, she turned to Ra, and cast out a finger. “How... DARE YOU!” she screamed. Ra took two steps back, his hand quickly snatching off his sun-disk mask. His expression was one of utter terror. Bast glanced between his leader and the tiny woman. “What'n the hell is going on?!” he asked. Ra responded by giving the shorter man a powerful backhand, sending the smaller man to the deck, and halting the activity of everybody in the hold. “Do you know who that is?” Ra asked, pointing at Anne, standing in fury. Bast adjusted his mask back into place, but didn't respond. “Do you have any goddamn idea who the hell that is?!” “You've made a fatal mistake, Raymond,” Anne snarled, absolutely in a taking. How she had the lady-balls to pull that off, surrounded by heavily armed pirates, Ben couldn't imagine. “I'm terribly sorry, Annie,” Ra begged, dropping to one knee and bowing his head. “We didn't know this was your ship.” “You should have been more careful,” Anne pointed out, taking a step toward him. Horus leveled a weapon at her, but Ra's eyes shot up. “Don't you dare!” he ordered, and hesitantly, Horus let his weapon fall. Ra turned back to Anne, desperation plain on his features. “I swear, if I'd known, I would have never chosen you as a target. You have to believe me.” “Easy enough to believe. You never were very bright,” Anne growled. She leaned forward, her pixie-like face drawing even with his lantern-jawed mug. “When my father hears of this...” “Please, mercy,” Ra begged. Anne grit her teeth. “Get everybody off of my ship. And then, return everything you stole, and... empty your coffers into my hold,” she ordered. “But,” Ra stammered. “You will do this, as a recompense for the damage... and insult... of what you've just done, or you will face my father's wrath. Even you can't be stupid enough to think you can escape the Wolf once he has your scent.” “Yes, Annie,” Ra said, bobbing his head. “Thank you, Annie,” he turned then to those around the group. “You heard the Princess, get to work. Now!!” Anne pointed out Ben. “You, Muscles. Help me with my husband.” At the woman's direction, Ben hefted the thoroughly concussed captain into the commons and set him on the long sofa. As Jacob was finally settled, she let out a chuckle. “Thank God that man is so criminally stupid.” “How did you do that?” Ben asked, no longer able to restrain his tongue. The woman grew a smirk which could only have come from the most devilish of pixies. “Every pirate in the 'Verse is terrified of my father,” she answered. “That's why they all work for him.” Ben just stood, jaw slack, trying to figure out what had just happened. On the one hand, the functioning part of his brain told him, as long as things like this happen frequently, nobody'll ever think to ask who he really was. On the other, if things like this happen frequently, nobody'll ever get the chance too, because he'll probably be killed. “What do we do now?” Zane asked as he carefully handed the child to its mother. Anne tucked it in her arms and then appeared to promptly ignore its pained cries. “What do you mean?” the pilot asked. “We can either stay on this course,” Zane explained, his impatience starting to show, “or we can take the Hawker's Trail.” “The Trail will add a week to the journey,” she pointed out. “And keep us away from anyone or anything. And, we'll be perfectly within our rights to...” he glanced to Ben, then significantly back to Anne, “deal with anybody we find out there.” Anne glared a moment, then nodded. “I'll set the course,” she muttered, then headed up the stairs, sparing a moment to gaze down on her husband before she disappeared out of sight. Zane took Ben's shoulder and pointed him back into the hold, which was rapidly refilling with stuff he'd seen earlier, and other things he could only assume were the pirates' offerings. He looked down at Dan, still on the floor, and knew his task. With Friday's help, he guided the youth back into the infirmary. “Thank you,” Friday said, as they got Daniel up onto the cabinet at one side of the room. Ben shrugged. “It's what I'm good for.” “No,” she shook her head. “For what you tried to do for Fi and Zane. If it had been Reavers, it would have been the greatest mercy available.” Ben sighed, leaning against the wall. “I couldn't do it, though.” “You tried. That's worth something,” she muttered, her attention on the screen hanging over the blonde. She let out a long sigh. “What is it?” “Perfect end to the day,” the doctor replied. “Sylvia's in a coma.”
The dim but pervasive hum of the lights overhead, coupled with the harsh, unseemly light made this room hardly a comfortable place to stay for any length of time. Still, two people stood mute over the box as the locks slowly disengaged, one at a time. His man inside the Templars had been excessively careful when it came to packaging this, which, considering exactly how dangerous it was, he could see the reasoning. “It certainly took long enough,” Haymer groused. He halted in his pacing a moment, and ran a hand down his unshaven chin. “I thought you said she would be here a week ago?” “She's here now,” he snapped, pressing down his artificial right hand onto the casing. “That's all that matters.” “I should have expected better of the deliveryman,” Haymer continued. “He managed to deliver Matilda with minimal fuss. This one wasn't even awake.” “That's not your problem,” he pressed again, clenching his fingers shut. As he did, the shriek of metal gouging metal sounded. He glanced down, realizing he'd pulled several shallow scars into the surface. He relaxed his hand, letting it fall open. Sometimes, he forgot that his right hand wasn't human, anymore. He had his brother to thank for that. “Why is it taking so long?” Haymer asked. “You bring me all the way from my home for this, and I end up waiting for the sunset on Qartuph while the box opens.” He experimentally clenched and opened his fist as he ignored the other man's blathering. It had been more than a decade ago, but he could still remember it as though it was yesterday. The riots that lead to the Unification war were burning bright, and he'd had to leave Shadow to fulfill his duties, at his father's behest. He'd entrusted his family's wellbeing to his younger brother, foolishly believing that the whelp would have the wherewithal to protect them. He'd been more than wrong. A loud hiss sounded, and the top began to slide back, pulling back into the body of the container. Haymer leaned forward, trying to waft away the billowing mist that the refrigerated box threw out as it opened. “And she is still alive, Casimir?” Haymer asked, leaning down close. “She is,” Casimir confirmed. “That's why she was so difficult to obtain.” Haymer let out a single, barking laugh. He gave a sly look to Casimir as he leaned closer, resting his hands on the far sides of the box. “I'm surprised that General Burgg would allow this,” he intimated. Casimir's face went flat. “McDonald Burgg is dead,” he stated. Haymer's brow rose in alarm. “I'm sorry to hear that.” “He was an old man,” Casimir said, waving away the question before Haymer got diverted too far. “Can you isolate it from her?” Haymer smiled down at the contents of the box, then reached in. Casimir heard a slap as the older man clapped a hand onto her naked buttock. “I'm sure of it. If she is one of them, I'll have the agent isolated in a matter of a few weeks.” “That's good to hear, Haymer. We're certainly paying you enough,” Casimir said, staring down at the nude, sandy-haired woman curled fetal in the box. “It's hard to believe that this woman could be as dangerous as the Templars seem to think she is.” Haymer's chuckle would have sent a lesser man's skin to crawling. “If they're the least bit honest, then she is, and more.” “And how could you be so sure of that?” Casimir Burgg asked. Durran Haymer's slanted grin grew dark. “She is a Reaver, isn't she?”

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