BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 3:13. Among the Ashes of Gahaan
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

At the farthest fringes of the system lies the Veldt. What secrets lie within its murky mass? What devils call it home?


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1234    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

This should have been posted about two months ago. However, as I've been pretty much unable to write anything for myself in that stretch, it's had to be on the back burner until I could get around to it. While techinically, I still don't really have time for it even now, I felt it should go up. This one finally introduces a long mentioned character, who you'll hear from again before the season's out. A lot of difficulties are about to befall Reynolds and his crew, and Monday is going bye-bye for a while. Finally, the overarching thread of this and the next season is finally tied off. In the end, it's all about the... Anywhoo. Whatever writing I'm going to do next will be slow in coming, so just bide until I can get Hostile Environments finished. You know this doesn't belong to me. I just play with it. Feedback, if you would, would be appreciated. Might even spur me on to getting the next one done faster... nudge nudge wink wink.

Among the Ashes of Gahaan

“You're staying behind, and that's final,” Eli said, staring Von Pinn in the eye as he strode away from her and into the park where he'd met Mai, those however many years ago. Von Pinn kept pace, though. “If it's that important that you talk to him, I see no reason...” she began, but was brought to a stop when he grasped her shoulders and gave her a sideways glance. “Johner Marshal expects to see me, alone. If he sees you with me, he'll assume something's wrong and bolt. We'll never see him,” Eli explained impatiently. “Then I'll enter from a different....” “You don't get it,” Eli said with a chuckle. “This is Johner Marshal. The UIA are terrified of him, and what he represents. A wildcard, somebody that can beat them at their game enough to be a hazard, one that cannot be locked down or bought or killed. Johner isn't even his real name. I don't think anybody knows his real identity. And this guy is as good as they get. He'll know, Franci, if we try to pull anything on him. He'll know, he'll bolt,and he might even be offended enough to take the first contract he finds against me in repayment.” “You make him sound like the Wolf,” Von Pinn muttered. “Trust me,” Eli said, taking a step away from the intransigent woman. “Logan Kell knows well enough not to trifle with Johner Marshal. Just stay here. If it makes you feel any better, I'll tell you what happened when I get back.” Von Pinn sighed, adopting a nearly petulant expression. “I don't like it.” Eli growled. “Look, Franci, you don't know Johner Marshal like I do. I met him near thirty years ago, when he was new to the game. I stumbled onto him after he'd made his first, and possibly last, mistake. He was lung-shot, Franci. Bleeding into his chest and drowning of it. Of course, the guy who did it was dead, shot up the scope of his gun by a dying man, so I knew that Johner was something unique. You remember that Triple 'S' guy, Meria?” Von Pinn nodded. “Johner was... more. More of everything. And, since I'd done him a solid, he owes me a favor.” Von Pinn scratched at the scar near on the edge of her left eye. “He can't be that good. Nobody is. Hell, give me a day and I know a guy who'll unbury his mother's maiden name and his IDent code from when he was twelve.” Eli tsked loudly. “You don't get it. Johner isn't even his real name. It's just what he gave me. I don't think anybody knows his real name, either the one he talks to himself in, or the one he was born with. There's only reason he's willing to talk to a guy in my position. He owes me a favor.” “You and your favors,” Von Pinn muttered. Finally, she rolled her eye and turned. “I'll be scrounging up that other ship of yours.” That favor was the only advantage that Eli had. The park opened up around him, modified cherry trees blossoming year round and never producing fruit. It was a beautiful venue, artificial even in it's attempts at naturalism. He saw others along the path, talking to each other under the blossoms, or having a late picnic together. They paid him, an older man, alone, no attention, due or undue. The path through the cherry trees came at last to the lake which had been cut into the surface as the city expanded, it's shape carefully calculated for maximum visual effect. It was lovely. And fake, just like the trees, like the grass, and like ninety percent of the people enjoying both. The lake glowed slightly, the bioluminescent algae unable to perform as brilliantly here as they were on Ariel. They also made the water taste a bit like very mild cheese. Eli took a seat on the bench that he'd found Mai, those years past. He knew he had arrived in time, if only just. Von Pinn had been as good as her word, even though she'd burned out the engines trying to slow down in the atmosphere after the breakneck transit, and ended up ditching the ship to crash as it would into the mountains. Eli had another ship not far away, but he knew he couldn't keep using ships up like that. He quickly ran the tally through his head, then realized he could destroy a ship a day for the rest of his life, and still have more money than he started. Wealth was getting boring. “Pretty lady, you came with,” a man's voice said from beside him. “I was wondering about her.” Eli glanced to his side, and gave a start when he saw Johner. The man was utterly nondescript; he could have vanished in a crowd of three. His voice could have been the voice of anybody, his clothes could have come from any place. He could disappear in an instant. It was his gift. “I told her not to come,” Eli said. “Don't worry, Elijah,” Johner shushed, closing the hard covered book on his lap. Just then, Eli had realized that Johner had been sitting here all along, and Eli hadn't eve noticed him. “I know that she's not a concern of mine.” “Elijah died forty five years ago,” Eli said carefully, and Johner gave him a slanted look. Johner waved the topic away. “Suit yourself, then,” he muttered. “It's been a long time...” “You know what I go by, now,” Eli muttered peevishly. He didn't like that Johner knew so much, and felt the need to dangle it about. “Elias Greyson,” Johner replied, slipping the book into his case. “A fairly wealthy man, I hear. I was surprised to get your message. More so, that you had a job for me. I'm busy these days, you know? Consider yourself privileged that I had the time to see you.” “I saved your life.” “I'd probably have gotten out of it somehow,” Johner mused. Eli didn't think so, but nobody would dare accuse Marshal of arrogance. Johner faced Eli square. “I assume this has something to do with Nicodemus Blue's taking over the Corporation.” “No,” Eli responded, and Johner actually looked surprised. “If not that, then what in the Worlds could it be?” he asked. “It's about my son,” Eli answered. “Immanuel is dead,” Johner whispered. “I know that. I was talking about Jacob,” Eli countered. His elder son's death was still heavy on his mind. He'd long ago accepted that he would never have any children by his son; his injuries had rendered him a eunuch, to the fullest extent of the term, and he had little interest in such things at all, even before the fire. Still, hearing that he had been consigned to the Black was heartbreaking to his fatherly soul. Johner chuckled. “I've heard about his exploits,” Johner nodded slowly. “He's recently come to the attention of Whapsep and the POC, and I understand that Gyr has started taking interest, in the last week or so, in Legacy.” “There's a lot of shit thats going to rain down on my son,” Eli whispered. “A lot of shit,” Johner agreed. “That's why I need you to be a shit-umbrella.” Johner turned to him, a befuddled look on his face. “Excuse me?” “I can't protect my children. Hell, I'm fairly certain Jacob doesn't even know that I'm alive. Still, there's nothing I wouldn't give to know that he'll be safe from their insidious machinations.” Johner shook his head, with a grunt. “What you're describing is a full time job. I'm not going to hold your son's hand, Greyson. I have better things to do with my time.” “I'm not asking you to pull my son out of every difficulty he finds himself in,” Eli stressed. “I just want you to keep the UIA's away from him. By whatever means you see fit.” “So, you just want me to keep the vultures away?” Johner shook his head. “That, too, is a full time job. And I doubt you'd be willing to pay what it'd take for exclusivity...” “Five million,” Eli offered. Johner laughed. “That's not nearly enough for the services I offer,” he pointed out, but Eli halted him with a gesture, and continued. “Every three months, until further notice,” Eli finished. Johner leaned back, a surprised look on his face. For a moment, he stared off into space, probably calculating the money versus all other offers he could entertain. After that consideration, he looked back to Eli and gave a single nod. “I'll head out to him immediately. I believe he was last headed to Paradise. He can't get into much trouble there.” Eli stood, cracking the aching joints in his back as he stared out over the lake. “You'd better keep your word,” he said. “If you don't hold true to my trust, believe me, your gift won't protect you from me.” He heard no reply. He turned back to the bench, but it was no longer occupied by anybody. In fact, there was no sign at all that Johner had ever sat there. Eli faced the lake again. “That's all I can do for you, kid,” he spoke to the empty air. “I just hope it's enough.


“Where did that little demon get to?” Zoe muttered angrily as she stormed into the cockpit. Mal cast a glance over his shoulder to her, then turned, leaning against the controls. The look on the dark woman's face would have frightened a storm cloud back over the horizon, so needless to say, it drew a chuckle from the captain. River barely spared a moment to glance over her shoulder before she returned to her thousand-mile-stare into the murk ahead. “He get into the bulkheads again?” Mal asked, trying hard to muster himself from picking at his wound. Zoe replied by giving a look which eloquently said 'If-you-make-one-more-joke-I-will-eviscerate-you...again', and growling such that a tiger would have crapped itself and hid under a rock. “I'm never going to forgive Kaylee for showing him the way into the access ways,” Zoe muttered. She glanced around, then settled on one of the lower gratings that let smaller framed people get into the space under the floor. “Hoban, honey? Could you come out?” “I'm fairly sure...” River began without turning, but Mal shushed her. She gave him a glance. “I want to see where he turns up,” Mal intimated mischievously. “I don't want him popping out when Dell and I are sharing a moment in the shower,” Zoe grumbled in irritation. “Again,” Malcolm noted. Zoe's look was very clear. Last warning. “Hi Mama!” Hoban's tiny voice finally called out. Zoe glanced about, trying to find its origin. “Hoban, honey, where are you?” she asked. “Up, Mama!” his enthused cry came. “I can't pick you up, baby,” Zoe explained, the strain in keeping her tone pleasant evident. “I don't know where you are.” “No, up Mama!” the voice came again. Everybody's gaze rose until it rested upon the panel in the ceiling, wedged betwixt the pipes. A tiny face was barely visible through the slats. With a loud ping, the thing swung free and Hoban waved his tiny hand down at them. “Hi, Mama!” “Hoban, get out of there before you get hurt!” “Mama?” “This instant, young man!” Zoe shouted. Hoban gave a hurt expression, then withdrew from sight. “Hoban? Baby? Damn it!” “It's going to be a while, isn't it?” Kaylee's voice came from the kitchen, amidst a frenzy of tiny 'no!'s. It was Raina's first word, and she got a lot of use out of it. “I will murder you, young lady,” Zoe answered, her voice sotto. “Later,” Mal interrupted. “While he extricates himself, would you mind finally explaining to me why I'm getting paid to float around literally the emptiest, most ass-end point of the 'Verse?” Zoe let out a long breath to get some composure, then she lowered herself into the copilot's seat. “It's been a while since I was out here,” she said, her voice suddenly nothing like Mal had ever heard it, in all the years he'd known the capable woman. It was nostalgic in a way she never was when the two of them tossed about stories about the war. It was almost unnerving to hear. “River, hit the external lights,” Zoe said softly. River looked suspicious, but flicked the lights on. The darkness outside suddenly became awash in startling, variegated blue-green, an opaque, swirling wall which they drifted silently through. Mal took a subconscious step backward. “That,” Zoe explained, “is the Veldt.” “I've never seen it before,” River said, fairly obviously. “A flattened, quarter-AU deep disk of volatile gases at the outermost edge of the system. The most fertile mining ground for reaction mass catalysts in the known 'Verse,” Zoe said. “Literally, the most isolated point in the universe. My grandparents were Veldtsmen, you know? They lived every one of their seventy odd years on a little, nowhere drift, surrounded by the fog, and three other folk. They'd go for months, only three other people to talk to, between the freighter runs,” Zoe gave a light chuckle. “I really can't reckon how they didn't go moon-brained, out there that long.” “Maybe they liked the solitude,” River whispered, her words slow and drawling. “My mother couldn't take it, so she hooked up with a worker on the freighter when she was sixteen. She ended up marrying the foreman, about a year later, and I came along a couple years after that. I was raised on that big old Sihnon-class ship, ferrying slowly 'tween somewhere and nowhere. I didn't know the Veldt half as well as my mother did, and she didn't know it half as well as her parents did, but of all the people not flying those freighters, I'm fairly sure I'm one of the best educated about the Veldt who's still flying.” Mal waited a long moment, as his tough-as-nails first mate store wistfully into the swirling fluff. “And...?” he prompted. “Barclay didn't have a clue who to talk to. I was the only person he knew of who even knew what the Veldt was. It's not very well known, despite the fact that it's the reason we can't see Sol or any of a couple thousand stars in the sky. Most people don't bother learning where their fuel comes from, so long as it keeps comin',” she rubbed her hand across her face as she gathered herself. “He needed somebody who could read the Veldt. I've probably forgotten enough about that stuff that Grampie would spit in disgust, but I know the way the Veldt moves when things pass through it. That should be enough for what Barclay wants to do.” “Which is?” Mal asked. “We're looking for the Ashes of Gahaan.” There was a long moment of silence as Mal graced Zoe with a confounded look. “So many pretty colors...” River whispered. “The... We're looking for the Ashes of Gahaan?” Mal asked, by way of confirmation. “The Veldt is the only place that something as gargantuan as the Ashes could be hidden,” Zoe pointed out, her more usual, brook-no-nonsense tones now firmly back in place. “And the fact that the Templars are breathing down our backs can't be a good sign.” “I was wondering about that,” Mal muttered. The whole Templar fleet was parked just outside what he assumed was the border of the Veldt. They hadn't said a word to Serenity as it silently glided past, and River hadn't said anything about the chatter, so it couldn't have been important. “Barclay would be about a few hours in. I don't know why he picked this spot. We're in Richo quadrant, for God's sake. All I see now is a couple of year old trails from scoopers,” Zoe muttered in exasperation. She leaned over to River. “You can take a break. There won't be any fancy flying for a while.” “Mama?” Hoban's tiny voice caused Mal to turn about, to see the small boy fidgeting in the threshold. “Is you mad?” “No, baby. I'm not mad,” Zoe said, voice tired. “Come on over here.” Hoban carefully made his way over to his mother, then was gratefully plucked up and deposited in Zoe's lap. River rose from her own seat, her eyes locked on the swirling, gassy spectacle outside, her fingers scratching at the kerchief holding the dozens of thin braids out of her face. “It's pretty, Mama,” Hoban noted. “The albatross thinks so, too,” Mal noted as he ducked out the door just in front of the pilot's backward retreat. As much as Zoe had the right to find work when he was out of commission, and he was certainly that, after the last job, it had irked him to find himself at the corner of no and where, without any explanation or recollection of how he arrived. He shuddered as he ran his hand along the long scar that now ran from just below his neck to just even with his navel. He'd never, in his entire life, been so close to a Reaver. If it wasn't for Jayne's quick hand with Celeste, or whatever the hell that cannon was called, Mal would probably have been Reaver jerky. Of course, he deserved it; damned fool he was, he let her walk right up to him before splitting him from arsehole to appetite. Reavers on Silverhold. The very notion of them that far away from Miranda shook him to his very core. Even as much as it hurt, his skin crawled when he recalled what he saw, what happened to that old, deaf guy's ranch. At least some of them got out, old deaf guy inclusive. The universe seemed a much smaller, more dangerous place than it was a few days before. He stomped into the kitchen, pausing at the counter just long enough to grab a mug and pour something into it before carefully pulling out his chair and lowering himself into it. He looked up as he heard paper rustling. Regina was seated in Kaylee's seat, furiously scribbling into that book she kept with her almost all the time. She muttered quietly to herself as she worked on whatever it was she was doing, but Malcolm could neither hear, nor had he any inclination to try to. “No, no no no no!” Raina's repeated protestations followed her as she ran through the room, holding a large wooden spoon and bearing a soup pot as a helmet. Kaylee, exasperated, but in much better humor than she had been in earlier months, finally managed to catch her, and scoop her up. The mother let out a triumphant laugh, while the toddler pouted. Raina's entire vocabulary pretty much consisted of two words, one being 'no', and the other being 'yay'.” “It's really a sight, isn't it?” Kaylee asked, plunking herself down in one of the room's other chairs, easily restraining the squirming Raina on her lap. Eventually, the toddler understood she was, for the moment, trapped, and decided to bide her time, a heavy pout on her little face. Malcolm nodded. “I've never been out to the Veldt before,” Malcolm admitted. “I ain't afraid of admitting I didn't even know what it was,” Kaylee admitted. She shifted a moment. “The thought of bein' this far away from everybody, well, it's a mite uncomfortable...” “Believe it or not, I know what you mean,” Mal grunted. “You ever think on why I didn't come out here when things started going sideways? This place is too damned empty.” “There's always a market for wide, wild places,” Simon's voice preceded him into the room. He entered with a ham about the size of a brain in his hands, probably pilfered from what Mal had intended to sell on Silverhold. He figured somebody ought get some use of it, at least. “Just look back, on Earth-that-was, to the colonization of the New World, or the American West.” “There ain't much gold out here,” Mal pointed out. Simon just gave him a flat look, then thunked the block of meat down and began slicing it thin. “I won't be baited, captain,” Simon answered evenly. After his fourth slice, he paused, looking up from his work. “How is your wound healing?” “My innards are back where they belong, and they haven't moved since you put 'em there, so I'd say I'm shiny,” Mal nodded. Simon cracked a small smile. “If Edward Kinsey knew the repertoire he could have garnered by joining this crew, he would simply die of apoplexy. Braggart he is, he can't ever claim to have undone an evisceration on the back of a speeding hovercraft.” “Kinsey being who again?” Mal's face scrunched up. “A particularly arrogant student I went to MedAcad with. Recently wrote his 'memoirs' about practicing surgery in the wild frontier,” Simon clucked his tongue. “I wouldn't be too surprised if it were utter fabrication.” “Say,” Kaylee interrupted playfully, turning her chair to face her husband. “You're all educated, right?” “So he continually claims,” Regina muttered, not looking up from her frenetic scribbling. Mal almost laughed at that, even the little girl getting a shot at the doc. Too bad laughing hurt like hell. “What exactly is this soup we're flying in?” “The Veldt?” Simon asked. “I'm no expert, but I think they've decided it's a proto-star which was torn apart about half a billion years ago by the gravity of Ra moving too close to another super-heavy celestial phenomenon during stellar formation. It's the reason finding Ra was so difficult from Earth; the cloud is pretty much solid to visible light and radio waves. Of course, they haven't come to any concrete conclusions. Many experts disagree. And I've never paid too much attention to it; the sky was always one of River's interests, when we were young...” “So we're blind and mute?” Mal asked. “Oh, no,” Kaylee shook her head. “Even if it is a solid wall to light and radio, there's no power in the 'Verse that can stop a Wave transmit. Heck, those things go through planets like they're nothing, so why would some fog stop 'em?” “How long do you think we're going to be out here, captain?” Simon asked as he started frying the ham. “I can't say for sure. You'd have to talk to Zoe about that; she's the one who spent a goodly chunk of her life here,” Malcolm replied. The smell of the sizzling meat began to drift to his nostrils, and he found himself a bit queasy. “Am I supposed to be this nauseous?” “Loss of appetite would hardly be the worst thing, considering rebuilding you needed,” Simon responded. Another smirk came to his face. “Besides, that just means the rest of us get your dinner.” “You're spending entirely too much time with Jayne.” “Not like I have much choice,” Simon grumbled. The smell was starting to twist Malcolm's guts by the time he rose to his feet and turned to the exit. “I'm just going to walk a spell,” he announced. Simon seemed poised to say something, then thought better of it and returned to cooking dinner. Mal didn't have time for the doctor's admonishments. Well, he actually did, for the first time in about a year, but he didn't feel like putting up with them. Besides, he had to check up on somebody. The walk to the shuttle felt longer than ever. He wasn't sure why it would. He'd gotten the worst of that encounter, by far, and he was fine. Well, as fine as somebody who got a firsthand look at his own intestinal tract could be, he meant. They hadn't even touched her. Not physically, at least. He slid the outer doors open and hesitated before rapping on the inner. Usually, he would have cavalierly barged in; it was his style. Now, though, he was nervous. She hadn't slept for the entire time he was under, or so River said. Gritting his teeth, he rapped on the door. There was no answer. With a grumble like a bear coming out of hibernation, he slowly, silently slid the door open. The room was brightly lit with the shuttle's natural lights, a stark change from how she usually lit it, with smaller, softer lights. The harsh shadows thrown onto the floor made the room seem an entirely different entity from the room he'd come to know and enjoy from time to time. Now, it looked like somebody had decorated a prison cell just a little too ornately. Of course, the centerpiece of the room was the former Companion spread across the bed. It was sad to see her like this. Thinking back, even when she had been battered and bruised on Mister Universe's moon, she'd never lost that evanescent glow, that perfume of bearing and elegance. Unflappable and indomitable, she'd stared the worst down, and was none the worse for it. Not any more. Now, she was sallow and pale, her eyes practically cavernous. Her hair was as raggedy as River's used to be, hanging across her face in twisting streamers. Sweat, probably cold, covered her pallid form in a grim sheen. “Inara?” he spoke. She didn't respond. He moved closer, squatting carefully by the side of the bed. She murmured something in her sleep, something that didn't seem very happy. He reached over and gave her shoulder a nudge. “Inara, are you alright?” He got his answer when he had to jerk back to avoid having his arm slit open by a knife. Her wild swing missed and she flattened her back to the wall behind the bed for a moment, before her eyes focused on the room and took in Malcolm on his ass, holding his horribly painful wound. She slumped down, the blade sliding from her hand and her chin dropping to her chest. “I didn't...” she muttered, her eyes dipping closed. The moment the were shut, they snapped back open, almost as though she were afraid of what lie behind her lids. Ignoring the tearing sensation in his guts, he moved to the edge of the bed, resting a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to him, then glanced away. “You don't need to be gettin' all upset on my account,” Mal chirped, assuming his most insolent 'annoy-Inara' grin. “I've had plenty worse, between Niska and having a sword put through me...” “Just shut up,” Inara whispered, slowly leaning against him. “Just be quiet and... and don't leave me for a while.” Even as she tucked up under his arm, he tried the joke again. “Seriously, 'Nara. I'll be fine. There's no need to...” “I know that,” her voice would have been harsh hadn't it been so distant. “Just... be quiet.” Malcolm sighed, and obeyed. As her fist tightened in his shirt to a white-knuckle grip, he wondered exactly what happened to her on Silverhold. Zoe said that they found her, wandering the badlands, almost a day after Malcolm's call with that Reaver bitch. Zoe hadn't said anything about it, other than when they found her, she was almost dead of thirst. “What happened to you?” he whispered. If she heard, she didn't answer.
The air was warm, here. Relatively warm, at least, which was surprising, considering they were on the side of a mountain. The dry air didn't give so much as a hint of the catastrophe taking place outside the hard wall of stone that surrounded the tiny valley. “It's beautiful, isn't it?” Lex said, sitting on the edge of the platform. “It's a lot warmer than I expected it to be. We're so high in the mountains, still,” Monday noted, leaning over the railing. The sight was simply vertigo-inducing in its scope. “Looks can be deceiving,” Lex chuckled. “We're actually about a kilometer below sea-level, and the ground is further down still. The mountains shield the valley from the cold air and feed it with fresh water, and the massive air pressure holds in the heat. The Abyss will be the last place on Boros that freezes.” “That's an ominous name,” Monday muttered as she turned away from the sheer drop. “How many places like this are there?” “There's no place in the 'Verse like the Abyss,” The other red-coated gentleman answered. “It is a truly unique geological construct with a valley in the depths of the world, and mountains surrounding that thrust almost out of the atmosphere.” Lex rose from his place and moved to Monday's side. “It's early, yet,” he whispered. “I thought you'd still be abed.” “I... couldn't sleep,” she admitted. “This place has me restless. I feel like every moment I spend here lets those people get a little bit closer.” Lex shrugged, then gave a nod to the Walker by the door. The Walker returned the nod and departed, leaving her alone for the first time that morning. “I understand your impatience. It's proved harder than we'd thought to locate a ship small enough to avoid attention.” “Weeks, now,” Monday muttered. “I'm beginning to think I'm never going to get off of this planet.” “You will,” Lex reassured, but his face was set in a frown. “It's not going to be any safer out there, though. They can run you down just as easily in the black as they can on the ground, and they have even more power out there, because nobody would question a ship simply 'vanishing'. Hell, if they wanted to, they could blame it on the Reavers, and nobody would raise an eyebrow, let alone a hue and cry.” Monday sighed, staring up at the stars. It was well into the morning, and the sun should have been up hours ago, but the mountains made for very short days. She felt his arm circle her shoulders, and she let herself be drawn into his warmth. “Have you thought about what the Oracle talked about?” “She should let somebody better do it,” Monday complained. “Who am I? I don't want to have anything to do with this, and even if I did, I wouldn't know where to begin.” Lex sighed. “That's your choice. We're stretched thin, you know. We'll take help from wherever we find it.” “I'm sorry, but I can't help you,” Monday stressed. “That's a lie,” Lex retorted gently. “You just don't know how to, yet.” Monday slipped free of his arm and moved back into the complex, moving through hallways hewn from the solid rock. The majority of the people she encountered were wearing red, if not coats, then at least some piece of apparel. It seemed to be the uniting symbol of these people. She'd asked about it, earlier. The reason they gave was because red was very visible through a blizzard. The men and women in red were not alone, though. Every now and again, she past a file of tattered looking men and women being escorted to the lifts. Refugees from the far north, where the winter had taken hold in earnest. When she arrived, they were sorting through a group of them. All but two were let through. Nobody explained why those two, a young man and older woman, were barred entry. In all, this place scared the hell out of Monday. And, strangely enough, she was here of her own free will. They'd promised her a place on the next ship they found that was outbound, but that was almost a week ago that they made the claim. Were they stringing her along? Were they manipulating her to some Machiavellian ends that she couldn't see? Questions followed her no matter where she went, consumed her restless hours, and plagued her in her fitful dreams. Only Lex, careful, kind Lex, gave her any relief. His company was a balm for this place. It was a pity that he had to spend so much time away. “Where are you going?” Lex asked as he wove his way back to her side. “Where else?” she answered. “All I have to do around here is sit and wait for a ship to arrive.” “It shouldn't be long, now,” Lex shrugged. “Boros has been open to trade for the last few days. Now, it's just a matter of when one of ours from off-world checks in.” Monday nodded, absently. It didn't really matter to her any more. All she had to do was wait, while the others manipulated her fate. It was the story of her life. When she tried to affect her own life, she received nothing but torment and torture and pain. When she lay back and let the world slide past her, it was numbing, but at least it wasn't painful. It wasn't much of a life, though. She realized that Lex had said something to her that she hadn't caught, and asked him to repeat it. “I just was saying,” Lex repeated, “that things aren't looking good for the Confederates. The Sorcerer just scattered Kell's fleet in RC-Santo 141. If the Sorcerer keeps this up, the fleet will be crippled and the Confederation will be dead before it really got started.” “I guess this gives an answer to who was the greater admiral,” Monday chuckled, mirthlessly. She didn't much care one way or another about what was now becoming known as the Outworlds Rebellion. For all its failings, the Alliance still did more good than harm. Most of the time, it did, anyway. Lex was shaking his head, though. “I know Kell. I met him once when I was younger,” he explained. “The Sorcerer is an expert at strategy, Kell, at tactics. The way they look at combat is diametrically opposite. Sooner or later, Zhao is going to be in a situation where Kell finds the one thing he didn't plan for, and it'll spell his doom.” “Is that a note of hero-worship I detect?” Monday asked, with a sideways glance. Lex scowled at her. “If you'd ever met Logan Kell, you'd understand.” “Oh, I did,” she muttered. “Hairy, wolf-eyed brute, foul-mouthed and impatient to a fault.” Lex laughed. “That's one way to describe him. When did you meet him?” “Heian Difeng.” “Verajas!” a woman's voice called out. Monday turned to face the source, and was confronted by the Oracle and her cadre of red-coated fellows. Perez gave Monday a nod before facing Lex square. “Are you sure about this?” “I am, Oracle.” Perez gauged Lex for a moment, before nodding. “Another will shoulder your burden. Perhaps we can call back your brother.” “Slim chance of that,” the old one to Perez's left rumbled. “He'll not abandon his wife on Ariel to slog through the snow here. Besides, Cesar never took to the faith.” Perez shook her head, the rattle of her beaded hair almost sliding under the cacophony. “Then we will find another. As for you,” she continued, turning to Monday, “your day has come.” “A ship?” Monday asked. Perez nodded. “It's not big, and it's not pretty, but it will get you off of Boros.” “I've become acclimated to poor accommodations,” Monday muttered wryly. “At least you'll have good company,” Lex offered with a grin. Monday favored him with a suspicious look. “I'll be going with you.” “Why?” Lex gave Perez a glance, which the Oracle returned evenly. “As you said,” Lex began carefully, his eyes still on Perez, “leaving Boros won't be a sure solution. And let's face facts, you can always use a beefy man to haul your luggage around.” “Really?” Monday asked. “Why would I lie?” he retorted flatly. Monday rolled her eyes as Perez showed them the right direction. She even kept pace with them as they began on their way. She pulled Lex's attention back to her as they rounded a corner and began to speak in that language they so often lapsed into, a conversation deep, intense, and utterly incomprehensible to Monday. From the way they constantly seemed to glance toward her or even so far as motion at her, she knew that the conversation was one she wished she could overhear. Pity. “Enough!” Perez snapped. “It's too important, Alejandro.” “Teresa...” the old man to her left spoke, his tone warning. She gave him a glance, then composed herself. “Your ship is there,” she said, pointing to a bulkhead not far away. She gave another nod, and one of the red-jackets to her right surged forward to open it. Monday's heart rose in her chest as she practically floated through the opening door and onto the cramped landing pad. The floating sensation crashed to the ground when she saw the ship. “Are you kidding me?” Monday stared blankly. “This piece of muyi di nao tan kah?” “You asked for a ship. This was the only one we could divert from more important tasks,” Perez stressed. She gave Monday a level glare. “You should be thankful we've even been able to give you this much. Most of the ships that the Walkers have gotten control of are big, bulk freighters. They attract a lot more attention from the dog upstairs.” Monday gave a confused glance to Lex. “The UIA's” he offered. She nodded, understanding. “But... This piece of junk?” she whined. “It looks like it'll fall apart before we clear the treeline.” “Looks can be deceiving,” Lex chuckled. “So I keep hearing.” “This is where our path forks in twain,” Perez spoke. Both turned back to her, and Monday found a small crest being held toward her. “Take this, Monday. When your path crosses with that of Logan Kell, give this to him. He will understand its meaning, that our debt is still owed.” Monday couldn't restrain the nervous chuckle. “I don't really think I'm going to come upon the Wolf in my travels.” “You will,” Perez said, a confident smirk on her face. “The Crone always tells of things one would rather not hear.” “O...kay...” Monday muttered. “It's a religious thing,” Lex offered. Monday nodded, even if she didn't understand. “She also said that you and I will meet again,” Perez continued, pressing the crest into Monday's hand. “And that day is not too many turns of the world away.” “No offense, but at this point, if I never see Boros again, it'll be too soon,” Monday responded. She turned to Lex. “You were saying about carrying my luggage?” Lex stared a moment, before starting with the realization and ducking back through the bulkhead. “You don't believe,” Perez said, arms crossed under her breasts. “Trust me, though: you will.” “I wouldn't put too much faith into a claim like that,” she answered, moving a bit closer to the ship to inspect it in all it's decrepit glory. “Interesting that you say faith, Monday. I would say...” she trailed off, staring at the people about the unpleasant ship. “Father?” she asked. The old one to her left gave a grunt. “Who is that man?” The old man skirted around his daughter and moved toward the ship. “You there. English? Español? Who are you?” The man indicated responded by diving away from the ship, digging furiously through a duffel near the edge of the platform. In the sudden cacophony, the man drew out a hand-sized pad. Perez uttered a terrified scream and dived behind Monday, through the bulkhead, as the stranger stabbed his finger onto the pad. Her head hurt. As the ringing in her ears died down, she could comprehend that much. It hurt, a lot. There was a lot of heat, and she felt wet. She tried to force herself off of her back, but she found a hand pressing her down. “Don't move,” Perez's voice was ragged, as though she'd spent an hour screaming. “You were just blown up.” “I was what?” she asked. At least, that's what she thought she asked. “Things are more desperate than I would have possibly believed,” Perez leaned very close, dropping her voice to a hoarse whisper. “I need everyone. I need you. I need you to do something. When you get off of Boros, and you will get off of Boros, make no mistake, you are going to have to do something for me. It is without a doubt the most important thing you will ever be a part of in your entire life,” Perez leaned even closer, her face vanishing and her beaded, bloodied hair draping across Monday's nose. “This is about the Terraformers...”
“This is bullshit,” Jayne complained weakly as he was plunked into his seat. The huge gunhand looked absolutely wretched, his skin so pale and clammy it looked like it belonged to a corpse. “I ain't going to eat that crap.” “It's good for you,” River ordered. “You're sick, so you get soup. If you don't eat it of your own accord, Zoe and I will hold you down and pour it down your throat.” “You wouldn't dare,” Jayne snarled, failing his bravado by coughing so hard he damn near brought up a lung. River was about as swayed as Mal was, and leaned in close, a condescending smile on her face. “I wouldn't dare?” she asked. The look on her face set Jayne to grumbling weakly, but he obediently starting eating the soup. “That's my boy.” “Are you sure he can be up and around?” Mal asked to the doctor, who was leaning against the wall on the other side of the doorframe. “He looks mighty contagious.” “I'm fairly certain he's not. Not any more at least,” Simon answered. “He must have caught whatever strain this is when he was on Silverhold.” “That was more than a week ago,” Mal pointed out, skeptically. “Diseases can have a long dormancy. Like HIV or Gwill's Anemia, to name a few,” Simon answered. “I'm more concerned about Inara, though.” “Don't say it, doc.” “I think we need to get her to a hospital,” he stressed. Simon rounded on the captain, facing him square. “You know she's getting worse with every day we spend out here. I can only do so much. I'm not a diagnostician, captain. I don't know what's wrong with her. I don't know why she's so hard to wake up every morning, why she keeps nodding off in the day. All I know is that even a partially stocked hospital, like the Saint Frederick's in Vena, or Herbert Calvin's on Beaumonde, would be better than here.” “Preaching to the converted, doc,” Mal muttered, running his hands up and down the long wound on his chest. It didn't hurt nearly as much as it did two days ago, another testament to the doc's skill, but it was still a painful reminder of Silverhold. Simon nodded. “That's not the most worrying thing, though.” Mal gave a questioning grunt, and Simon pointed to Gina. She was sitting in the corner of the mess, furiously scribbling away at the pad, like she'd been doing pretty much every waking moment that Mal spied her. “Her behavior started as we approached the Veldt. That makes three people on this ship who started presenting symptoms of one descriptor or another around the same time that we left Silverhold. One is unpleasant. Two, is suspicious. Three... well, I don't believe in coincidences.” “What happened on Silverhold?” Mal asked. The two shared a look. “Besides the obvious,” he amended. Simon pondered a moment, then began his tone slow, “Have you seen what she draws?” “The li'l one?” Mal queried. Simon nodded. “Nah, she won't let me come close to them.” “I got my hands on one yesterday,” Simon intimated, pulling out the folded paper and spreading it open. The subject matter was almost impossible to discern, as though it were an impressionist painting. Only one thing was relatively clear, and it was the intricately detailed, lopsided shapes of Reaver ships in the background. “She's been drawing things like this for days,” Simon murmured. “I showed it to River, thinking maybe she would have some sort of insight.” “What'd the albatross have to say?” “She pointed out that Regina was overusing the blue palette, and that if she ran out, she'd have to make do without until we reach civilization again,” Simon ended with a chuckle. “Sometimes, she's such a brat.” “No help, though?” Mal asked. Simon shook his head. Mal clucked his annoyance. “Figures. You keep an eye on the diseased one and the art critic. I think Zoe could use some company.” Without looking back, Mal made his way toward the cockpit. He shouted ahead of him as he left the kitchen: “Are you alone up there? I don't want to see anything needing the old eye-bleach treatment. Again.” “Not a problem right now, sir,” Zoe replied. She leaned around the edge of the chair for a moment before returning her attention go the swirling blue fog outside. “If you'd come five minutes earlier, though...” “I hope you're joking,” Mal muttered. “I've spent the last two days staring so hard at this fluff that my eyes feel about ready to drop out of my head,” Zoe muttered, tweezing the bridge of her nose. “I have a headache which threatens to do bloody murder unto me. I have a three year old who can't stay out of the bulkheads for any sane duration. My hair smells like day-old soup since I haven't had time to take a shower. Forgive me if my sense of humor is somewhat lacking.” Mal released a long breath. “Any progress?” he asked. “Not much,” Zoe muttered. “I can't differentiate the ones I see. It could be a half-rotation away for all I can discern. It doesn't help that Barclay's pretty much staying glued to our hip instead of actually looking for a new trail.” “Maybe you should take a break,” Malcolm offered. “The Ashes aren't going to get any more lost if you take an hour to get some of that soup out of your hair,” Mal paused as he poked the stiff stain plastered to the back of her head. “How did this happen anyway?” “Long story, sir.” “What about that one?” he asked, pointing at a weird shape off the bow. “That's a bunny, sir,” Zoe said. “A bunny?” “Fluffy and cuddly. Doesn't mean a whole lot of anything,” she explained. She pointed now to a shape near the side of the view-port. “That's what we're looking fore. Wake and disruption. This one's far too small for what we're looking for.” Mal sighed, lowering himself into the copilot's seat. “How long do you think this could take?” “To search the entire Veldt? That would take more than a lifetime,” she chuckled mirthlessly. “Luckily, we've got a general idea of where it would be,” she paused, staring into the murk. “Still could take a while, though.” The two of them stared off into the swirling mist for a long moment, one in pain, the other dead tired. Finally, Zoe leaned over, her gaze not lighting on the folded page protruding from Malcolm's pocket. “What is that?” “This?” he said, pulling it out and spreading it. “The li'l one drew this when we reached the Veldt. Why d'you ask?” Zoe pulled it from his grasp and held it up in front of her. “Well...” she muttered. “That's... creepy.” “What do you mean?” “You remember that six months after boot when you and I went our different ways?” Mal nodded. “I spent that stretch as part of the marine contingent on the Redemption at Heliopolis,” she held the page up and swiveled the light to its back. Now, he could make out a looming, intimidating shape against the swirling blue. “Your point? It's not like it's news to me that you served on the Redemption,” he pointed out. “We called her Lizzie,” Zoe muttered, flattening out the paper on the console, displacing several plastic dinosaurs in the process. She indicated the black shape. “This is her bow. I remember it like it was yesterday. I don't think I could ever forget that ship, even if I wanted to.” “Really?” Mal asked, glancing up to the fog. Something almost caught his eye before the 'Verse shifted and it was obscured again. “Why was it drawn as if it was in the Veldt? I thought that ship capsized and was scuttled at Sturges.” “It wasn't at Sturges when we were on that job four years back,” she pointed out emphatically. “It's a shame. There has never been a ship like that before, and there never will again. I just wish I could see her again, someday.” The 'Verse shifted again, and this time, before it could move back to its obscured state, he pulled the picture away from Zoe and her side of the console, holding it up before him as he stared into the blue-green swirling murk. “Really?” he chuckled. “You might want to look up, then.” “Don't be an ass, sir,” Zoe grumbled, knuckling her eyes. Mal gave her an urgent nudge before sawing back on the yoke and causing the ship to lurch to an untidy halt. Jayne bellowed his dismay weakly from the mess, and Zoe now focused squarely on her captain. “What the hell was that about?” Malcolm just pointed. “Oh... my... God,” she whispered, slowly panning the powerful lights up the side of the behemoth they'd nearly plowed headlong into. “Is that?” he asked. “That's her,” she replied, amazement on her face. “Why... How is it even out here?” “I'll get on the horn with Barclay so he doesn't slam into us,” Mal muttered as he began to flip on the external feed. He noticed the page being pulled up once more, this time Zoe was staring past it, near where the Reaver ships were illustrated. “Sir, I think we've found it,” she murmured, eyes wide. “I think we've rediscovered the Ashes of Gahaan.” “Barclay, can you hear me?” Reynolds broadcasted. The signal didn't take long before a reply landed. “Loud and clear,” Barclay's voice came through. “We're reading you at full stop. Is Zoe calling it for the night?” “No,” Mal cut in quickly. “We've found it. We've found the Ashes.” The lights panned up the framework that was so massive that it dwarfed the gigantic Redemption at Heliopolis easily, even as the Heliopolis was as a whale to Serenity's black fly. Suddenly, hiding it in the Veldt made a whole universe of sense to Reynolds. “That makes the ship and the Ashes,” Zoe said, her expression slipped into worry. “That leaves one thing.” “What are you talking about, Zoe?” Mal asked. He got his response when he noted that she'd gone grey. He followed her gaze, from the picture to the space beyond the ship. In almost the exact same position as Gina had rendered it, a jagged craft skulked in the sky. “Ta mah duh...,” Malcolm whispered. “The Reavers have the Ashes of Gahaan,” Zoe finished.
“They've stopped, sir,” the unshaven man at the comms announced. Barclay ground his teeth as he stared at the indecipherable morass that pressed in from all sides. The Veldt was starting to grate on him. Weeks now, he'd been flying blindly through it; he'd hoped, by bringing in somebody who knew the warp and woof of this maddening place, he could find the damned thing and be back home. That dream was growing ever more remote. “Open a line,” Barclay ordered. This wasn't his usual crew. Comprised of a mishmash of dozens of volunteers from Kell's fleet, this crew was nothing like what he'd been groomed to work with. Foul talking, unkempt, unshaven and in several cases frequently unwashed to a man, they sometimes even broke into fist fights during their off hours. That said, he'd seen them work almost as by a single mind when Kell was holding their leash. They were disciplined in battle. Out of battle, they were chaotic almost to the point of anarchy. The unshaven man spat some black substance onto the deck by his boot as he routed the signal to the currently useless holotank in the center of the command deck. Barclay frowned at that; the spit landed in a dried puddle of its like. Shaking his head, he turned to the projected image of his guide staring beyond at something the camera couldn't see. He was about to speak when a man's voice crowded him out. “Barclay, can you hear me?” Barclay shook his head a moment, before answering. “Loud and clear. We're reading you at a full stop,” he paused, a frown on his face. “Is Zoe calling it for the night?” Another night in this blinding hell. Just what he needed. “No.” Barclay's brow rose at the breathlessly uttered word. “We've found it.” “You've found it?” he whispered, an odd smothering relief draping onto him. “We've found the Ashes of Gahaan.” The bridge erupted into celebration as Barclay ran his fingers along the short-cropped, greying hair on his scalp. Ever since he'd made his choice, he'd been getting greyer every day. Treason had a way of doing that to a person. That it was the only option that he could have lived with himself having taken was a small comfort indeed. It didn't matter, though. His family was safe on Belerophone. For the first time in his career, he didn't have to worry about some pig-headed admiral telling him to do the unthinkable. It was a freedom he never thought he would live to enjoy. “Send a Wave to Kell and whatever is left of his fleet,” Barclay ordered. “Tell them to converge on our location. The Ashes have been found.” “That makes the ship and the Ashes,” the guide's voice continued amidst the tumult, and Barclay could only hear her for his place directly beside the speaker. The way she was staring off of camera stripped that comfortable warmth of relief from is place on his shoulders and plunged him head-first into the icy sea of worry. “Ta mah duh...,” a whisper barely in the realm of hearing touched him. “The Reavers have the Ashes of Gahaan,” the woman stated, her face empty of anything resembling human. Barclay shouted for silence. So quickly that he almost thought the previous din was a figment, the crew dropped into silence. “I didn't read that part,” Barclay stressed urgently. “Could you repeat that?” “Get River up here now!” the man's voice ordered, and the guide bolted from her seat. The scene changed to another seat, this one with a man sitting in it. That would be Reynolds, Barclay thought. “I repeat, the Reavers have the Ashes. May your god have mercy on your soul.” Barclay took a step back, leaning against the railing that demarcated the command tank from the auxiliary functions. This couldn't be. The Reavers were over Miranda. How could they be in the Veldt? Why would they be in the Veldt. The answer to that second question came to him in a sickening flash. They were after the Ashes, too. Their losses over Boros and their casualties on Persephone had to be replaced somehow. This was how. “Sir?” a woman, hair cut shorter than Barclay's own, asked. “What are your orders?” “Did you send the message?” he asked, pointing at the bearded man, who nodded in reply. “Then you'd better add that he should be prepared for a fight when he gets here.” “And the Reavers?” “If you see any, shoot at them,” Barclay shouted. He shook his head as he turned to the comms officer. “What happened to our guide? “Bolted,” came the response. The man squinted at his display. “I think they were pursued. Do we break off?” Barclay scowled. “No, we have to secure the Ashes,” he answered. He leaned forward, his voice dropping for a moment. “I hope to God this works. Target grid 110-54-40k, arm the nuke and fire when ready. Hold on tight.”
“Are we being followed?” Mal shouted as River leaned forward over the controls. “Fairly definitely,” she responded absently. Her tongue quested along her lips as she spun and dove through the mess. “Can you find the way out?” Mal asked. “Easily,” she answered. “It's the dogs on our heels I'm worried about.” “Can you shake them?” “I can't see them,” she pointed out harshly. The ship lurched suddenly, and her expression became grim. “But I can hear them.” “They's comin' in the hold!” Jayne's wet, ragged voice called from the stairwell. “Close it off!” Zoe ordered as she bolted toward the back of the ship. Reynolds waited, his body tenser than an average compression coil as the seconds stretched out. Too soon, everybody dies. Too late, everybody dies. Vacuum dessication, or worse. As if in grim answer to his worst fears, Malcolm began to hear the pounding of feet up the stairs that terminated at the back of the crew quarters. Malcolm stepped away from the helm and snagged an assault rifle as he moved to the fastened door, beside a sallow-looking Jayne who looked barely able to stand, let alone fight. “We're sealed,” River announced. “Opening bay doors.” The ship lurched again, this time as the air from the cargo bay was explosively decompressed. The ravaged and mutilated faces of those beyond the port hole were blown off of the catwalks and probably out into the black of space. Where they belong. “We're not gonna be able t'pull that trick more'n once,” Jayne rasped. “Let's hope we don't have to,” Malcolm muttered. “Zoe?” “Sir?” she answered, emerging from the back of the ship. “Nobody was down there when we vented. Still, we've got another problem, sir.” “What now?” Reynolds muttered. Zoe answered by turning on the small monitor that hung next to the kitchen. She flipped through the cameras until it showed the one installed on the tail of the ship. Contrasted against the blue of the Veldt, four red and orange Reaver ships were in pursuit, and were closing distance very quickly. “That's at least twenty,” Zoe whispered. Malcolm recognized the haunted look in her eyes. The last time they were running away, Reavers at their backs, it cost Zoe the love of her life. She still had the scars to remind her of the tragedy. “We can't hold against twenty.” Reynolds stared at the screen as another Reaver ship emerged from the murk, this one much larger. Hopeless. Utterly hopeless. Something clicked in Malcolm, as he marched back to the front of the ship. If death is inevitable, inescapable, then it is all the more important to fight. To the very last breath, if needs be. He only felt sorrow for Raina and Hoban. They would never have a life beyond this day. Reynolds shouldered his rifle as he moved toward the crew bunks. Two steps closer to hell, but then again, Malcolm had already traveled far enough down that road for two more steps not to matter a whole hell of a lot. He was about to take a step off the ladder when every light went out on the ship, plunging it into utter blackness. The gravity generators were a split second behind, and he floated away from the decks. “What just happened?” Simon asked from the back of the galley. Kaylee's answer was obscured by various crashing and banging, coming to a close when the lights blinked back on. Still floating, Malcolm pushed off toward the front of the craft. River was sawing at the controls to no avail. “The gravity drive must be down,” she muttered angrily. “We're dead in the gorramn water.” “What did that?” Malcolm asked. River shrugged as she reached up and toggled a few switches. “Nuke, maybe? Lights... Jing tsai!” the external lights came up, showing the expanse outside. Now it wasn't an encroaching fog; it was almost as if the fog had been blasted away by a strong wind. In some places, like the lee of the massive Reaver ship that was askew in space outside the view-screen, it remained in uneven tufts. Everywhere else, it had been forced into a huge, uneven sphere. In the distance, Barclay's ship was moving slowly through the fleet of Reaver ships that were slowly coming back to life. Reynolds watched as the Reavers piled onto the Rachel Wall, as the warship's firing at the usurpers of the Ashes faltered, then halted. Within minutes the ship was being torn apart by the overwhelming force of their combined firepower. “Any love with the engines?” River shouted behind her. Kaylee's response was a flurry of inarticulate grunting and metal banging as she struck something with a wrench. In space outside, the massive Reaver ship and its many little minions were returning to life, and slowly chugging toward Serenity. “I never thought it'd be this slow,” Reynolds whispered. He watched as the biggest of the ships grew until it dominated the view. He watched it as it turned aside slightly. He watched it as it exploded for no adequately explained reason. Captain and pilot exchanged a confused glance. What the hell? “Captain,” River stammered. “I'm getting readings of dozens of ships coming from the edge of the bubble.” “What colors are they showing?” Malcolm asked. “...I don't know this one,” River admitted slowly. Another loud thump sounded directly over their heads, and they recoiled as one as a metal object bobbed into view beyond the view-port. The two exchanged another glance. Had he gone crazy in the last five minutes? He especially thought so when the thing produced an arm which flattened against the transparent metal. “We are Templar,” a human voice sounded from the glass. River looked a touch surprised. “How's he..?” Malcolm asked. “Vibrations against the glass. He's turning it into a speaker,” she explained, her attention locked on the thing on the outside of the ship. “You have been deemed clear of Reaver infestation. Therefore, you are under the protection of the Templars,” the voice continued. “Leave the area as soon as possible.” “Easier said, without working engines,” Malcolm muttered. “Torchwood can haul you away if you cannot fix your engines on your own,” the voice offered. Mal was agape. “How did you hear that?” he demanded. “I'd be a damn poor Jaeger if I didn't know how to work my armor,” the voice answered with a chuckle. It returned to seriousness after that. “Hold tight while we crush these animals. I'll leave some Jaegers to keep the Reavers away.” The edge of the bubble seethed as dozens of smooth-lined ships burst into the melee, sending out spreads of missiles almost as soon as there was an enemy to target. Those closest to the massive shape of the Ashes of Gahaan broke off from their feeding frenzy on the corpse of the Rachel Wall as a legitimate threat came crashing down on them. The battle hit a frenzied pitch as other tiny figures, Jaegers if Mal heard correctly, zipped past Serenity on their way to the Reaver ships nearby. “Is everybody alright?” Mal asked. A chorus of yeses sounded from his rear, but one was notably absent. He turned and did a head count. Zoe and child. Fredesa. Kaylee, Simon and child. Gina. River. Contagious Jayne. One was missing. “Where's Inara?” The crew cast nervous glances to each other. He waited a long moment. “Where's Inara?” he repeated more forcefully. Zoe glanced at the locked door to the bay, and Mal's blood ran cold. In his life, he'd never pulled on that Vacc-suit so fast as he did just then. Even so, it wasn't nearly fast enough. The rational part of his brain knew that he was already four minutes two late, but it didn't stop him. Neither did anybody else. They just floated there, watching him. When he moved to the door, casting a wrathful glare at River until she sighed and opened the door. He was blown a goodly distance down the stairway, before the bulkhead was slid back into place and sealed. He didn't descend far before having to vault over a flash-frozen Reaver corpse. Ignoring the hideous proboscis that jutted into the hold, he moved to the shuttle's door and gave it a tug. Nothing. He punched in the code out of rote, and the door opened silently, but the inner door was likewise shut. As it opened, it emitted a loud hiss, and for the first time Mal had an instant of hope. She'd locked herself in. Smart woman. Brilliant woman. He pulled off his helmet and shouted her name, his feet returning to the floor in the shuttles independently operating gravity. It echoed in the well-furnished space. He flipped the sheets off her bed, before he realized what an ass he was being for thinking she'd hide under the covers. She was a stronger woman than that. Again, he shouted her name. Nothing. Why wasn't she answering him? His search quickly exhausted all hiding places in her living area, so he swept aside the curtain. There she was. Her hair was spread out like wings along the back of the chair, and she was sitting calmly, her gaze forward. He almost grinned with relief as he moved to her side. “You're alright now. There's no need to...” he trailed off. She hadn't moved in the slightest since he arrived. Just kept staring ahead. “Inara?” He turned her chair toward him. Her eyes were glazed and focused on nothing. He pressed his fingers to her pasty neck. Her skin was cool, her pulse weak. She barely seemed to be breathing. He gave her a gentle shake, and her head lolled about without restraint. Panic welled up. He shouted her name. Nothing. He slammed his fist onto the comms button. “Get the doc in here NOW!!”
Von Pinn grinned around her cigar as she made an obscene gesture at the back of the driver's head. Eli rolled his eyes. “Not professional.” “You knew that when you hired an ex-pirate,” Von Pinn replied. She took a deep puff then leaned toward her employer. “That really wasn't so hard, now was it?” “With Johner?” she nodded. “Johner's... tricky. If you don't handle him right, he'll turn against you. He's like a angry viper. He can turn on you in an instant. I just had to be sure he wouldn't turn.” Von Pinn chuckled. “You worry too much.” Eli shrugged, and his response was interrupted by a call coming in. He picked up his receiver, and White's face came up on the screen. White was sporting a new bruise on his chin, and he was caked with grit. “What is it, Phillip?” “We got 'im,” White rasped. The old man sounded like he'd just run a marathon. “We've got Baern.” “And what are you going to do with him?” Eli asked. Von Pinn tried to peek around his shoulder, but a hard look from the old man set her back to fixing her one good eye on a particularly interesting piece of upholstery. White chewed his words for a long moment, and Eli got impatient. “Is he still dangerous?” “Probably more so,” White answered quickly. Eli scowled a moment before fixing his agent on Niflheim with a serious glare. “Then you know what to do,” Eli ordered. White nodded once, then pulled a slim blade from the cuff of his useless left arm and disappeared from sight. A few moments later, the connection ended, but not before Eli heard White asking for a private moment with the prisoner. Eli sighed. He was glad Mai wasn't here to see this. Sometimes he had to do some damn dirty things sometimes. That Baern was a sociopath offered little solace. Von Pinn kicked up her heels, a pensive look on her face. “You look rough, boss,” she noted. Eli grimaced as he faced his underling. “See how you look when you've made the decisions I have.”
The air stank of fire. As far as she could see, the city was burning. Ironically, it was their side who set the fires, hoping it would slow down their enemy, but it didn't. Nothing would. She leaned forward through the empty windowframe as she watched the men below stack bodies. The stacks in some places she'd been to were as tall as smaller buildings. Hardly unexpected. They numbered in the billions, and outnumbered the largest army assembled by all of mankind by at least four to one. Worse, they were losing. The girl's gambit had been for naught. He'd seen it coming. Now she was dead. So was the man-ape-gone-wrong. She watched over the carnage as the day turned into the night. The last night. After this, there was no recourse but flight. Zane shook his head as he watched at her side. “We did all we could,” he muttered. She shook her head. “Didn't matter,” she whispered. She looked at him in his finery again before turning to the people approaching from the stairwell which had its outer wall cave away. She glanced to her old friend a moment. “There's been no word?” Zane shook his head. It was then that he heard the people approaching. When the first one appeared, he nearly fainted in relief. “Lord Harrow!” the man exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” “Nothing,” Zane answered, glancing at her. “Not anymore.” “Come, quickly,” the aide begged. “Agatha will have our heads if we let you be killed by the Reavers.” Zane sighed, and began to follow them. At the stairwell, he turned to her. “You can still come with us, you know? There's nothing holding you here. He's probably not even alive.” Sylvia turned back to the window overlooking the ruins of Hera's last city, “He's alive,” she explained. “And I'll wait for him. Right... here.”

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