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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The Magnificent Seven Plus Two are finding the trip to Demeter to be no Caribbean-That-Was Cruise, and someone else recognizes Nitro.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1976 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Firefly is the property of Joss Whedon, blah blah blah. You know the drill.
Thanks to Jebbypal and Apollo for beta reading. Feedback will of course be appreciated.
Note to those who have been following this story from the beginning: I've made significant revisions to Chapter One to correct some dodgy bits. You may want to reread it.
We Have the Technology: Prologue
We Have the Technology: Chapter One
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mal and Jayne responded to the unreasonable demand by ducking out while each fired a shot. Their efforts were rewarded by two cries of pain as well as another spray of automatic fire.
Zoë considered their situation, which was bleak to say the least. Mal and Jayne only had their revolvers and Zoë hadn't bothered to strap on one on her way out. Meanwhile, the opposition was equipped with automatics and probably had plentiful ammunition. They were also outnumbered, as Zoë had counted ten before diving for cover (eight, if those shots Mal and Jayne had fired had hit something vital). While the Mule offered cover, one of them might have something that could punch through it. Even if that wasn't the case, all that lead in the air meant that some were bound to pose a threat when ricocheting and hit them in that manner. They could try making a dash for Serenity but, even if they didn't get cut down, that would mean abandoning the cargo. With more moths in their pockets than coin, that was not an option to be considered.
Then it struck her. Nitro had been carrying a sub-machine gun. Well, she thought, you really don't need good aim to make them duck. Even if he didn't get a couple of lucky hits, it might be enough for Mal and Jayne to take the rest out. Hoping he had come down from the galley, she shouted, "Hey Nitro! Get your pee goo out here and give us some suppressive fire!"
* * * * *
Nitro heard Zoë's call for assistance, but he wasn't sure suppressive fire was a good option. Though they weren't fighting like it, those might be Chi'ang Sh'ich pretending to be ordinary gunmen, trying to catch him unawares. He'd have to give them a surprise of his own. For that, the targeting system wouldn't be enough. Much as he'd hate to, it would be necessary to use the overrides. Knowing the pain he would experience later, he cut on the needed systems. Instantly, the shakes stopped, the crosshairs appeared, and he had the disturbing sensation that someone else controlled his body movements. Now all he needed to do was draw their attention to him. He ran out and gave a Browncoat Yell. It certainly made them hesitate. One of them even ran away in fear. Still left seven, but it was looking like it would be a cakewalk.
In the back of his head, he heard Zoë shriek, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" and an unfamiliar voice shout, "Gorram idjit's gonna get hisself killed!" But they couldn't see from his point of view, how everything seemed to move slowly while he was like the Fly, but with a deadlier sting. With the boosters pushed as far as he dared and the overrides compensating for his erratic movement, it was a simple matter to shoot the first gunman between the eyes. Six more bursts resulted in six more dead gunmen, all with pretty red dots between their eyes.
Well, thought Jayne, that's probably the most eerie ass gunfight I ever did see. The way he charged into the line of fire without becoming a bloody smear, he must have the Devil's own on call. Of course that scream he gave off unsettled them right well.
While Kaylee worked on patching up the Mule's tires, Jayne examined the dead gunmen to see if they had any hardware worth keeping. As he bent down over the one he had managed to shoot in the gut and tossed aside his cheaply made assault rifle, Jayne heard a burst fired right next to him and saw a red stain suddenly appear on the corpse's forehead. Looking over at the guy Zoë had called Nitro, who had fired the shot, he asked, "What the hell did you do that for? He'd been plenty dead already."
In a slightly creepifying manner, he replied, "He coulda been fakin' it. They can do that, you know." Then he went over to the one Mal had shot and shouted at it, "Hey, are you fakin' it?" He fired a burst at the head and said, "He ain't fakin' it no more," and shambled off.
Watching Nitro head back to Serenity, Jayne thought, just what this ship needs, another scrawny, crazy ass shiong-muh duh duang-ren.
Back on the ship, the systems shut down and the euphoria left. With it came a semblance of clear thought and a realization of the foolhardiness of his actions. The seemingly impossible stunt he did was bound to raise questions which he wasn't sure how to answer. What made it worse was that it hadn't been truly necessary. If it had really been Chi'ang Sh'ich playing at being gunmen, they would have dropped the pretense when faced with a real danger. And certainly none of them would have turned tail at the sound of a Browncoat Yell. They didn't feel fear, they made others feel fear. But Nitro had gotten so caught up in the euphoria that he hadn't truly noticed.
Of more immediate concern was the buildup of neural waste that resulted from using the boosters and the overrides so extensively. If he held it too long, he might wind up being a vegetable. Forcing himself to walk so as to not attract attention, he headed to the cabin Zoë had let him stow his gear in and shut the door.
"Just in time," said Clarence as he locked the door. "If you release the waste in the next few minutes, the damage to your nervous system should be minimal." Settling down, Nitro released the neural waste, thinking of how this way, he was punishing himself far better than Clarence ever could.
Jed Boswell was not a brave man by any standard. When he was conscripted in the Alliance army twelve years ago, he deserted shortly after first seeing action. After that, he went out to the Rim and made his living by robbing those who couldn't defend themselves. Others of his profession sometimes took on superior targets, either because they were fong luh, liked a challenge, or believed that bigger risks yielded a bigger payoff. Jed never cottoned to that way of thinking and, when taking on someone who could fight back, he preferred to have overwhelming firepower on his side.
Like with this job. It should have been a simple matter to waylay those two before they got to their ship. This was the seedy part of the docks where the Feds rarely came. Since the crews of the others ships likely wouldn't stick their noses in the affairs of others, there was little chance of interference. Sure, things had gone a bit off plan when they refused to surrender and actually managed to shoot a couple of the gang before getting pinned down. Since Jed wasn't one of those who was shot, it didn't bother him since it would mean a bigger cut for himself. It was just a matter of banking a few shots off the Spitfire at the right angle before it was all over.
But that was when he heard the Yell. Last time he had heard it was twelve years ago outside New Melbourne, when those crazy Browncoats charged his unit, causing them to scatter. Hearing it again set off an irrational fear, causing him to hightail it. Looking back from a safe distance, he saw that it had been a smart move as he watched the Browncoat slaughter the rest of the gang with frightening ease.
Jed's day only got worse as he hurried out of the docks and was accosted by two sinister-looking men in black suits and blue gloves. While they questioned him, he seemed to pique their interest when he made mention of the Browncoat.
"This Browncoat," asked the balding one, "what sort of build did he have?"
Jed thought carefully on this one. "Well," he replied, "I weren't real close, but I'd say he was kinda scrawny."
"And the ship he came out of," asked the redhead, "do you know anything of it?"
"Yeah," he answered, "it was the one we were plannin' to rob. The cargo we'd aimed to take was supposed to go to Demeter. The ship was a Firefly, but it didn't have the name written on it."
"Very good," said the balding one as he pulled a small metal rod out of his pocket. "We have no more questions for you."
The last thing Jed thought as he choked on his own blood was how he wished he had stuck with defenseless targets.
"So he likes shootin' 'em in the brainpan. Ain't nothin' wrong with that," said Jayne. "Course, he likes doin' it to the stiffs too, but that seems to be on account of his wantin' to make sure they're dead. How'd you lose the war anyway when you had someone who could do such fancy shootin'?"
Slamming down the last box, Mal resisted the urge to punch out Jayne's lights for his tactless remark. "Because," he answered, "Nitro Jackson was a demolitionist and the worst shot in the brigade to boot."
"I can attest to that," added Zoë. "The only time we ran into purplebellies together, he nearly shot me. At least it encouraged him to work on his stealth."
"Now Jayne," Mal stated, "you tell me he managed to shoot all those gunmen between the eyes. We're talking about someone with a naturally bad aim and Bowden's. By rights, he shouldn't be able to hit the broadside of a barn even while in it. He might have got one through pure luck, but not seven. And not getting hit with all that lead flying just ain't natural."
Pondering the impossibility of what had happened earlier, Mal went over to the intercom and told Wash that they were ready to go. As he put back the mike, Mal heard a scream come from the passenger cabins. Since it wasn't high-pitched enough to be River, there was only one other possible source he could think of.
Rushing to the back of the ship, Mal found Simon already at the cabin from which the screaming came from, attempting to force open the apparently locked door. He went over and gave the doctor a hand.
As he watched the lock strain under the constant abuse, Clarence instructed Nitro on what to say. "Now remember, neither of us wants them to know what's really happened to you. So when Sergeant Reynolds asks, you'll say that you had a flashback of the camps. If the matter should be pressed further, just follow my lead." Though he was still a bit muddled after the neural waste discharge, Nitro nodded that he understood.
The door finally came open and Reynolds stuck his head in, asking, "You all right, Nitro? What happened there?"
"Fine, S-S-Sarge," Nitro stuttered with effort. "Flashback of the P.O.W. camp- be okay in a few minutes."
"You sure?" Reynolds asked. "Might want to have the doctor take a look at you." At that point, a well-dressed, overly pretty man stepped forward.
That would certainly not do, thought Clarence, as even a cursory examination would raise some awkward questions. Reaching into Nitro's brain, Clarence touched a part where a fear of doctors had developed ever since he was assigned to Nitro. It had almost immediate results, as Nitro's shaking hand brought up his sub-machine gun and he shrieked, "No doctors!" in an almost hysterical tone.
"Doc," said Reynolds, "I think you might want to step away slowly. He seems a mite agitated." The doctor complied, carefully backing away. He continued, saying, "Now Nitro, put the gun down. Ain't no need for it." Seeming to have calmed down, Nitro lowered his sub-machine gun and Captain Reynolds closed the door.
"That seems to have put them off for now. But try to refrain from inciting any more incidents," said Clarence, thinking of how, at this rate, it would be a very long trip to Demeter.
The man in the blue gloves looked up from the dead gunman and watched the Firefly transport launch into orbit. Though Subject #158 had temporarily evaded capture, it would actually be a simpler matter to detain the escapee out in the Black, where the likelihood of witnesses was greatly reduced. Considering the vessel 158 had left in, he wondered if it might be the same Firefly associated with Subject #172 of Project Delphi.
His partner wasn't very optimistic about such a line of thought. "There are thousands of Fireflies operating out there. The odds that both of them are on the same one are slim to say the least."
"Perhaps. But the 'Verse has the tendency to offer such unusual opportunities when least expected."
With Serenity nearly a full day from Boros, Inara sat in her shuttle practicing her calligraphy. Hearing a knock at the door, she looked up and said, "Come in." Kaylee entered and sat down without saying a word.
A bit surprised by the silence from the normally loquacious mechanic, she started off by saying, "We missed you at supper last night. Our passenger had several interesting stories about life on Hephaestus." Though Inara could have done without the rendition of "Mommas, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Spacers", with everyone singing in their own key. It got much worse when they started forgetting the words and made up their own lines instead. "Why the sudden attack of shyness?"
"Well, this'll probably sound kinda silly, but..." and she told Inara of what happened when Nitro had first arrived. "It's just that when I saw his eyes, I thought of every zombie story my brothers had told and also what happened on that Halloween when I was nine."
Well, it explained why he kept those dark glasses on, thought Inara, wondering what caused his eyes to look like that. "From what you said, it sounds like he regretted frightening you. He's really quite pleasant, though a bit odd." Which was something of an understatment, since on her way back to her shuttle last night, she had seen Nitro arguing with a wall. Mal and Simon had also seemed a bit tense early on.
"Well," said Kaylee, "I guess it's a mite foolish of me to get all worked up just 'cuz he's got creepifyin' eyes. So,"" she continued, "what sort of stories did he tell?"
River listened outside the shuttle and decided that she must face her fear. Like Kaylee, the passenger had frightened her, though for different reasons, and she had avoided him. His presence had somehow felt familiar, though she wasn't sure why. But a Darkness clung to him like a leech that reminded her of Them. Now she understood that he couldn't truly be one of Them. If that were the case, he would have simply killed the crew and taken what he wanted. She decided that she must learn why he seemed familiar and what the nature of the Darkness was.
River climbed down from the catwalk, sensing that the passenger was in the common area among the passenger cabins. As she approached the door, he came out into the cargo bay. Though his eyes were disguised with dark glasses, she recognized his face and his build. The memories came flooding back.
Fifteen months earlier
The door opened and River saw the Chi'ang Sh'ich with his soulless eyes indicate that she should come. She immediately obeyed, knowing that to do otherwise would be foolish. Like the other Chi'ang Sh'ich, he was clad in a worn brown uniform and trenchcoat. On it, there was a faded nametag that said Herzog. She feared this one in particular because earlier that week, one of the students tried to escape once too often and this one had literally ripped him apart. The instructors made sure that all the students had seen the surveillance camera footage of it as an example.
Meekly letting herself be led by the Chi'ang Sh'ich, River was taken to the Special Classroom. Since the lessons here were extra painful, this classroom was soundproofed so that the screams wouldn't interrupt the other lessons.The Chi'ang Sh'ich placed her in the chair and left as the instructors arrived. They took out their needles and the lesson began.
As the needles came closer, the door unexpectedly opened and a Chi'ang Sh'ich entered. It was odd since the Chi'ang Sh'ich never interrupted lessons. As he approached, River saw that it was the Little One. He looked as though he didn't understand what he was doing. The head instructor was non-plussed and demanded, "158, what are you doing here? Remove yourself immed-" but he was cut off by the Little One, who shot him between the eyes. Before the other instructors could react, he shot at them too, until they all had pretty red dots between their eyes.
As the Little One came to River, she wondered if he would give her a pretty red dot too. Instead, he removed the restraints from the chair and led her out of the classroom. No one paid them mind as there was nothing unusual about a Chi'ang Sh'ich leading a student. As he took her through unfamiliar corridors, she heard him mutter to himself. This too was odd, since the Chi'ang Sh'ich never spoke.
They finally came to a small door that led outside, where two men were waiting. One of them took River and said, "No need to be scared, little girl. Your big brother has paid a lot of money to get you out of here."
"Better get going," said the other one. "The minder could come to any time and-" but then the Little One shot him in the knee.
Both men looked scared as the Little One spoke. "Now I ain't objectin' to freein' that girl. Didn't like what I saw. But you ain't gonna have me stay here. Now you can see that I can resist them puppet strings you've got on me. But however you're doing it, I want it stopped NOW! In return, I'll just go off and pretend I never saw you. Dong ma?"
Both men nodded. The second man took a memory tab from his pocket and handed it to the first man, who placed it on the side of the Little One's head. After a few seconds, he removed the tab and the Little One said, "So long," and disappeared into the streets.
As the two men led her to an aircar, the first one asked, "I thought you said that the original personalities of those Chi'ang Sh'ich were destroyed."
Perplexed, the second one replied, "Well, that's what it looked like happened."
Nitro couldn't believe it. She was aboard the ship. What was the likelihood that they would cross paths again?
"Highly improbable to say the least," replied Clarence. "You'd probably have better odds at breaking the bank at New Reno. The 'Verse doesn't present opportunities like this every day. You should snatch them up immediately."
"What are you talkin' about?" asked Nitro.
"You know They will get you eventually," Clarence replied. "If you come to Them with her in tow, They will be much more gracious. At the very least, They won't have me dominate you again."
"After I had gotten her outta there, you really think I'd return her?"
"Oh, come now, Nitro. You didn't release her. An infiltrator used your overrides to make you do so. I can testify to Them that this was the case. Anyway, why should you care about what happens to the girl?"
The callousness of that remark caused Nitro's temper to snap. Yelling, "Ain't no one but my friends call me Nitro!" he grabbed Clarence, flung him against the wall and head-butted him. He got in a few more before Clarence's arms turned into tentacles and wrapped round him. He tried breaking away, but everytime he freed himself from one, another took its place. He heard a hornet buzz closer and he tried to swat it before it stung him. He managed to strike it, but it came back and stung him, causing him to fall into oblivion.
Mal stood on the catwalk, wondering how to approach Nitro about the strange happenings at the docks yesterday. He had procrastinated on it, fearing he might somehow set off Nitro. If there was one thing he didn't care to happen, it was being shot by someone he considered a friend.
Mal looked down in the cargo bay when he heard the shouting, where he saw River and Nitro. While it was Nitro who was doing the shouting, he directed it to the empty air. Worry turned to alarm when he started banging his head against the wall. Turning to the passage that led to the galley where most of the crew was, he shouted, "Doc, better go and grab a sedative. The rest of you, get to the cargo bay and give me a hand."
Mal hurried down and pulled Nitro away from the wall. Almost immediately, he was flung aside with absurd ease. Fortunately, Book and Jayne were there to take his place in restraining Nitro. As Simon approached with a sedative ready to inject, one of Nitro's arms got loose and he punched the doctor in the face. Book and Jayne readjusted themselves to get a better hold as Simon tried again. This time he succeeded and Nitro dropped like a ton of bricks.
As he looked down at Nitro's inert form, Mal Wondered, "Now what was that all about?"
"Clarence made him an offer he couldn't accept," replied River, who had apparently been standing there the whole time.
Mal shook his head, wondering who Clarence was.
The man in the blue gloves looked out at the Firefly, just out of its sensor range, before turning towards the four Chi'ang Sh'ich. These were newer subjects, with improved systems over the earlier subjects that had survived. He proceeded to brief them. "Now everyone on board is to be killed. However, Subject #158 of Project Chi'ang Sh'ich and, if she's there, Subject #172 of Project Delphi are to be taken alive. Injure them if necessary, but avoid fatal wounds at all costs." They then went off to carry out their orders.
"I think he's dead."
Simon tried to ignore Jayne's statement. With the dark glasses having fallen off, Nitro's eyes were revealed to be open yet appearing disturbingly lifeless. By now, everyone had come to see what had happened. Frantically, he took Nitro left hand and gave a sigh of relief when he felt a pulse.
"Well, he has a pulse and... er," he also felt something just beyond Nitro's wrist. Rolling back the sleeve a bit Simon looked and cried out, "Tah mah de!" Everyone got closer, assuming he had spotted someing interesting since he rarely used strong language. Rolling back the sleeve further revealed what looked like the great-granddaddy of all cysts covering the top of Nitro's forearm.
"What exactly is that?" asked Mal.
"I'm not sure," replied Simon. "I can probably examine it more thoroughly in the infirmary."
He then examined the head for any bumps that might indicate a concussion. A glint caught his eye and he carefully lifted a piece of hair and almost immediately covered it up. It had looked suspiciously like a memory tab port.
This can't be real, thought Simon. Dr. Schell was just a crackpot blowing hot air. But it would explain the eyes. Taking a penlight from his pocket, he played the light over Nitro's eyes and noted the way it reflected. He then brushed his thumbs across the eyes. The tops of the eyes flipped over to reveal a mass of wires underneath. Everyone, who had been leaning over to get a better look, jumped back almost as one.
"Is he some kinda robot?" asked Kaylee, sounding disturbed.
"No," replied Simon. "Though his eyes are clearly artificial, the rest appears to be flesh and blood."
"Yeah, I think there are laws that keep robots from hurting people anyway," quipped Wash.
"They're coming!" blurted River. "Wake up!" As if on command, Nitro sat up, apparently fully awake. Before anyone had a chance to react, there was a thump and the ship shuddered. There was a moment of confusion as someone asked what that was. "An unburied coffin," replied River, "and night has come."
Know it couldn't be anything good, Mal rushed up to the bridge along with Wash, Zoë, Jayne, and Book.
"Yeah, it was a magnetic grapple," said Wash. "It's reeling itself in, kinda small. It's... uh, what is that?"
"It's a breeching pod," replied Book. "Used for small scale boarding actions. One that size can hold upwards of six. Not a long-range craft, so a mothership would be nearby."
Mal wondered how a preacher knew so much about military vehicles. He was pretty sure it hadn't been as a regimental chaplain. "Well, Reavers ain't likely to use such a craft, so it's probably not them."
"Don't see any Alliance markings on it," added Zoë.
"Well, who have we pissed off recently that could get their mitts on something like this?" asked Jayne.
"Not rightly sure," said Mal. "Whoever it is, we'd better be ready to greet them with lead."
"Okay people," said Mal as the breeching pod cut through the ship's ramp. "We have no idea what sort of ugly is on the other side, so be ready for anything. Doc, you, your sis', and Kaylee will lock yourselves with Inara in her shuttle. If we survive, we'll need you in one piece to patch us up. If we get killed, you're to launch and head to Demeter. Try to conserve fuel as much as you can."
Everyone got into position as the breeching pod finished cutting through and the doors opened. Four people stepped through, curiously not carrying guns. This only served to make Mal worry. They appeared to be wearing old Independent uniforms, with the sleeves rolled up slightly to reveal cysts similar to the one Nitro had. Wondering if this was some sick joke, Mal took a more careful look. Though three of them were unfamiliar, he recognized the fourth. Despite the corpse eyes and the facial scarring, he knew it was Sergeant Earl Herzog of Bravo Platoon, the whole of which had gone MIA at Serenity Valley.
Onward to Chapter Three
Pee goo: Rear end
Chi'ang Sh'ich: A form of undead from Chinese folklore. It results from a corpse being left unburied after nightfall which allows an evil spirit to enter it. The result is the Chi'ang Sh'ich, which has big, nasty claws, poisonous breath, and a bad attitude. The only defense against it is to run like hell until daybreak, when the spirit leaves the corpse. And it moves a lot faster than your typical B movie zombies.
Shiong-muh duh duang-ren: Violent lunatic
Fong luh: Crazy
Dong Ma: Do you understand
Tah mah de: Mother fucker
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 8:58 AM
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 9:28 AM
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