The Bouncing Ball Ch 15
Friday, December 17, 2010

Jane and I continue on following the bouncing ball. Thanks for joining us. Special thanks to all who read and comment... you all are awesome. Cat get dirty...



River quickly checked her bandoleers were full, then dipped her head under each, left then right, settling them across her chest. She'd known the instant something had gone wrong at Badger's, and while Hank and Simon had to stay with the ship to protect it, and Kaylee had never been happy using any kind of firearm, she knew the rest of her family needed her right now. She reached for her guns, but Hank's voice interrupted her over the com. "River ... uh ... we've got company." Immediately she tensed, pulling her mind back from the danger to her surrogate mother and father, and concentrating much closer to home. Five men, one in charge, four subordinates. She could take them all, but it would be messy. Her eyebrow twitched as she Read their intentions. Interesting. She shrugged out of the bandoleers but picked up little Victor, tucking it into her thigh holster. ==== Cat started down the stairs, her enhanced senses switched to full, letting the air tell her what was going on further down. It wasn't enough, though, for her to predict the step beneath her foot giving way, pitching her forwards. Rough hands grabbed her, pulling her back to relative safety. She looked over her shoulder, ready to thank Mal, but her eyes widened as she realised it was Declan, and for a moment she could clearly make out the slight Indian heritage from his mother's side. "Uh .. thanks." "My pleasure." He smiled, and just that simple action made her belly clench with desire, but not for the son before her. She shook herself. "Get your head in the game." He looked surprised. "Who, me?" "No. Me. Not like this." He watched as she changed, just a little, and something his father had said all at once made sense. 'She'll take your breath away, first time you see her for who she really is, and that moment will tell you whether you can handle being with her or piss your pants running the other way.' His blood raced. "Cat ..." "Better," she growled. "Damn." Mal, a couple of steps higher, glared at them. "Ladies, if you're quite finished ..." Cat rolled her eyes, but said, "I'll take that as a compliment, although you might want to save the smart ass remarks for when you're not being hunted by high price mercs. Frey ..." "Yes?" "Can you get a Read on the men hunting us?" She stepped closer, Declan moving out of the way for her. "Out there or in here?" "Either. Both." Freya closed her eyes, her forehead screwing up. "Half a dozen coming up ... I think." She leaned on the wall then looked at Cat. "Sorry. I'm fuzzy." Cat could see a bruise forming just under her hairline, obviously from where she'd hit her head when the grenade went off. "That's okay." "Is there another way out of here?" Mal asked, his hand coming up automatically to brush her hair away so he could examine the small wound. As mad as he was at her, he couldn't help worrying. She luxuriated in his touch, glad he was at least talking to her. "No. It's worse on the other stairs." "Then we don't have a choice. Can you walk?" "I'm fine," she assured him, then pushed him out of the way, her gun coming up and firing in one movement, taking the lead merc who'd just appeared around the corner of the stairwell in the throat. He staggered back, red pumping from the wound, his mouth moving but no words able to force their way past the blood drowning him. He slid down the wall, leaving nothing but a smear to bear testimony to his death. "Good job," Mal said. "No problem," she said, smiling just a little. He nodded then turned. "Cat ..." The redhead nodded. "Time to do what needs doing." Her eyes narrowed as she caught an unfamiliar scent. "Stay here." She leaped over the broken stairs, touching down on the landing on silent feet, then vanished around the turn. "Gorramit," Mal muttered. "That wasn't what I meant." Declan grinned. "Then why are we waiting?" he asked, jumping across the gap much less elegantly than Cat. ==== "Can I help you?" Lt Coleman stared at the young woman walking - no, gliding down the ramp of the Firefly, despite the combat boots on her feet. "Captain Reynolds," he demanded. He hadn't had a good day so far, having had his initial intentions of checking up on this boat first thing derailed slightly by having to deal with an irate old woman wanting to know why they allowed the bar/diner next to her apartment block to operate all night, and what were they going to do about all the people throwing up against her front door? It had taken over an hour to take her statement and make her go away. Still, maybe now things were looking up. "He's not here." She smiled, her slightly ethereal beauty making him think things he shouldn't. His voice softened a little. "Where is he?" "He's gone to see Mr Badger." She put her head on one side. "He had an appointment." Coleman nodded slightly. He knew he'd be late, but not this late. "So I understand." He looked her up and down. "And you are?" "Rayne." "That's ... an unusual name." "I'm an unusual girl." "Right." "Isn't Mr Badger your boss?" Coleman sighed, glancing down at his chest. A white faced animal, rampant. His eyes closed briefly as he wondered, yet again, why he hadn't gone into his father's night soil business. Stinking it might be, but at least it wasn't quite as embarrassing. "Yes. Yes, he is. And I was supposed to make sure Captain Reynolds is who he claims to be." "Oh, I can assure you of that." She started to sway, her shoulders moving in a circle, her dress wrapping and rewrapping around her thin but lithe frame. She looked so young, but there was something in her dark eyes, like bottomless pools of ... He shook himself. "As much as I'd like to take your word for it, I still have to see some identification." Her dark hair moved across her face. "But Captain Reynolds isn't here." As pretty as she was, he still had a job to do. "Then we have to search. Make sure you don't have any contraband on board." "We haven't taken on a job from Mr Badger yet." He had to suppress the smile. "Be that as it may, miss, we have the right to search any vessel that lands here at Eavesdown." She pouted, but stepped to one side. "As you wish." Coleman nodded at his men, who marched past him into the shadows of the cargo bay. "Don't damage anything," he warned, then wondered why. Rayne/River smiled at him. "Would you like some tea?" ==== Cat had already dispatched two of the other men coming for them, the remaining three dropping back to more secure positions where they could fire up the stairwell from the relative safety of a door onto the sixth floor. They kept up a constant spray of attack, causing Cat to say to Mal, "Dodge bullets, don't get hit by them." He glared at her. "I ain't that bad." "No?" If looks could kill Cat might not actually have expired, but it would have been a close run thing, particuarly when she smiled at him, showing an elongated pair of fangs. "Cat, don't," Freya said, sounding bone weary. "Just saying ..." Mal ducked, successfully, as another bullet hit the wall behind him. "Jayne?" he asked. "You got any?" "Nope. Nary a one." "Why not?" "'Cause you told me not to." "Since when do you do what I tell you?" "Hell, had to be one time." "Did it have to be now?" Cat sighed. "They can't kill me," she said, ready to pounce. "Just distract 'em, Red," Declan said. "I'll do the rest." "You know how to handle yourself, boy?" Jayne asked, ratchetting a slug into Vera. "I mean, you know how to kill a man?" "My parents taught me two things. One ... my mother told me to stay calm, no matter what." "And the other?" Cat jumped, taking the mercs by surprise so much they stopped firing for a moment. "Not to hesitate." Declan followed, rolling forwards and shooting the first man between the eyes. "Right." Jayne grinned ferally, and Vera spoke. Cat's claws swiped, and there was blessed silence. Declan got to his feet. "Any questions?" "At the moment?" Mal said. "Nary a one. Just a suggestion. Can we get the cao out of here now?" ==== The rest of the levels were clear, but as they reached the ground floor they knew their troubles weren't over. The bodies of Badger's own men were scattered around like so many rag dolls, not one of them moving, and Mal had to duck back as a whole slew of bullets perforated the wall around the doorway. "Shit." "I thought you weren't going to get shot?" Freya asked, seeing a scrape of blood on his cheek where one had come just a little close as the others fired back. "I didn't intend it!" "Really?" "Why break the habit of a lifetime, sir?" Zoe asked, reloading her Mare's Leg. "That's it." Mal went down onto one knee and leaned out into the doorway, taking aim and firing in a split. One of the mercs, not careful enough, screamed and fell. "Now I'm pissed." Cat slid up to him. "You keep doing the angry thing," she murmured to him, licking a fang with a red, sinuous tongue. "I'm going to get to know these people." Declan watched her slip away, then said, "I've got an idea." He disappeared back up the stairs. In the time it took him to run up to where they'd dispatched the men above, search them for a usable grenade and get back to the ground floor, they'd each managed to take down another bad guy while Cat played pat-a-cake with the others, but more were arriving. "What the hell did they do?" Mal asked of no-one in particular. "Put an ad on the Cortex? Good pay, all the perks, only getting shot at once in a while?" "I'd take that job," Jayne said, then grunted in surprise as Declan dropped the grenade in his lap. The big man grinned, his eyes glittering. "I like this guy." "Can you get it amongst 'em without hitting Cat?" "You don't have to worry 'bout Cat," Declan insisted. "What about us, sir?" Zoe had been taking note of the damage already done to the building. "I'm not sure this place can take another hit." Freya raised her head sharply. "I don't think we have a choice." She glanced upwards. "They outflanked us." "One minute." Declan held up a finger then grabbed a shotgun. "Cat!" he yelled. "I need you to make me some room!" "Paving the road, Boss," came her voice from somewhere near the remains of the concierge's desk, and a body came flying towards them, landing in the middle of the marble floor and spattering red blood across the black and white tiles. ==== There was a distinctive beauty behind how well Cat could handle herself. Over the years, she had basically perfected being a dangerous weapon, but the true testament to her success was the way she almost made it artistic. Her long sheer form followed her every command effortlessly, the long claws finding hold on any body that came near enough as the powerful legs drove ribs into lungs and shattered arms like toothpicks. The bar fight played back in her mind, though she never killed any one there, but here ... this brought back memories of something even more primal where her back up toted a high powered sawed off and let fly more curse words than a Browncoat on U day.

His voice caught her off guard as a knife entered her gut, fire exploding from the stab wound. Sharp claws pierced his stomach and her other hand punched through his rib cage, the merc's heart beating once before squishing like a ripe fruit in her clenched fist. "Cat. I need you to make me some room."

Watching the dead man's eyes cloud as his life flowed out of him across her fingers, Cat couldn't help but smile, licking the splatter of blood from her lips as she yelled back, "Paving the road, Boss." With a dramatic heave she rolled, throwing the body over her head and toward the sounds of her charges before turning on the horde approaching. Cracking the joints in her neck, she run a tongue over her fangs and smiled. "Oh, ya, it's gonna be a helluva day." ==== "I'm down to dregs," Jayne said, having exhausted Vera and now using Betsey and Maud, firing up the stairwell to keep the men above them pinned down. "Not much better off myself," Freya said, loading her last magazine. Mal glanced at her, seeing the same thought on her face as was in his mind. If this was it, if this was the end ... "Frey, I -" Declan appeared, genie in a bottle style, at the side wall. He was grinning. "Missed me?" he asked, then fired the shotgun in his hands at the wall. The high-power load, having been 'borrowed' at the same time as the grenade, blasted through, lethal shards flying outwards. "Alright, everyone use the exit in an orderly fashion. Jayne, close the hole once we're done, will you?" Jayne grinned again, his teeth white in his dirt-grimed face. "No problem." They hurried over, keeping low. "What about Cat?" Freya asked. "I think she'd going to make her own way out," Declan said. Batha's voice echoed in their heads. 'Says Lady Captain needs to worry about self and unborn cubs - not her.' Jayne looked sharply at Freya. "Cubs?" "Just get ready to throw the damn grenade, dong mah?" Mal said resignedly. They ducked through the opening, but as they reached the other side Freya caught Mal around his waist and pushed him to the ground as a gun blast went through the hole right where he'd been standing. "There are more out here, Mal," she said pointedly. Gunfire shredded the wall above them. "A lot more." Jayne rolled the grenade around his hand. "This ain't gonna be enough." "We're screwed," Declan added. 'No. Not.' Cat leaped through the hole, a mesh bag of grenades in her hand. "You looking for me?" Jayne shook his head. "Girl, if I weren't married ..." "I'd kill you the first night." "What a way to go." "And you think I'm not going to tell River about this little conversation?" Mal asked, raising an eyebrow. "Sir ... the bad guys?" Zoe looked as stoic as ever, but they could see she was beginning to get annoyed. "She does have a point," Cat said. Someone screamed, ending in a sort of bubbling sound. 'Have them occupied.' Cat winked at Jayne. "Want her too?" 'Not that desperate.' Jayne shuddered. "You know, I really wanna go kill something right about now ..." Mal sighed. Even under threat of imminent death it was like dealing with a bunch of five year olds on a school outing. "Shiny. Jayne, Declan, go left. Zoe, you and Frey take the right. I'll ... stand here and draw their attention." "And me?" Cat asked. "You ... go do whatever you want." She smiled, fangs glowing wetly in the dull morning rain. "I thought you'd never ask." ==== Coleman sat in the surprisingly comfortable kitchen and nibbled a cookie. "I really should go and help my men," he said, not moving an inch. "I'm sure they're being very efficient," River/Rayne said to him, her hand close to his. He could almost feel her heat. "That's as may be, but ..." "Don't you like the tea?" "No, no, I do. It's really nice." He squirmed inside at using such a ... minor word. He wanted to say it was the most delicious drink he'd ever had, and if she wanted he'd go to the highest tops of the mountains to pick more, just so she would make him another cup. He opened his mouth, about to say something he knew he would regret ... One of his men stomped unevenly into the room. "Sir." Coleman gathered his scattered wits. "Anything?" "No, sir." "Why are you limping?" "One of the children, sir. Kicked me." "Did you deserve it?" When the man didn't respond, Coleman sighed. "Fine. Take the others and head back to the station." "Sir, there are a lot of weapons lying about ... how about we confiscate them?" Coleman looked at the young woman sitting next to him, warring opinions in his head. Confiscated weapons would be sold off, the money divided up between those who'd done the confiscating, but somehow he couldn't get the enthusiasm together. "No. Folks need to be able to defend themselves." "Sir?" "You've had your orders." The man looked about to argue, but one glance from his superior had him snapping to attention and saluting. "Sir!" He turned and limped out. Coleman turned back to Rayne/River. "I'm sorry about all this." He stood up. "So am I." He couldn't get over the possibility that maybe she meant she was sorry he was leaving ... "Perhaps we'll meet again." "Perhaps." "Right." He span on his heel and headed back for the bay, knowing she was drifting behind him. At the ramp he turned back, nodded firmly. "Miss." "Goodbye." "Yes." After one last, long, lingering look he strode away, disappearing into the rain. Hank and Simon stepped quietly up behind her. "Were you flirting with him?" her brother asked. "A little," she admitted. "Making him see what he wanted to see." "But what was all that about?" Hank wanted to know. "Badger wanted to confirm we were who we say we are." River's forehead furrowed. "He didn't believe us." "That doesn't make sense." "Turn and turn about." She glanced at Simon. "Are the children safe?" He nodded. "One of them kicked Fiddler so Bethie did the same to him, but that's about it." "Then I have to ..." She lifted her head, sniffing the air. "If I'm not too late ..." ==== Finally they were able to run. No more men were actively arriving, although quite a number still survived, and one by one Serenity's crew slipped into the shadows, meeting up by common consent at the edge of the docks. "Everyone accounted for?" Mal looked around counting as Jayne slid up beside him, Batha at his heels. "All but Badger," the big man said quietly, his eyes darting about. "Looks like maybe he didn't make it out after all." Mal shook his head. "Ain't one of mine anyway. Can't risk anyone going back in there. I wouldn't put it past those paid mercs to've rigged another blast." He looked at Frey. She nodded, even though it pained her to do so. She didn't like Badger either, but no one should die like that. "They seem ... content." "Then that seals it." Cat, on the other hand, dropped the weapon's harness around her body and handed the pistols at her side to Declan. "Where the hell you think you're going? Mal asked. "After Badger." "He ain't your mission and you if die in there ...." "I won't." It was simple and precise. "Badger might not mean much to you, but he does to me." "Cat, we didn't exactly leave that place in good condition. Walls could come down any minute, let alone -" "And I'm damn tired of losing people that mean something to me," she ended before looking to Declan and Batha. "You keep your eyes open in case that weasel makes it out before I get to him." "Ordering me now?" Declan smiled gently as Cat returned it. "Aye yi, Boss Lady." 'Step careful. Quiet,' Batha advised, blinking as she rubbed her head against Cat's hand. 'Be back 'fore you know it.' 'Stupid.' 'Always am.' 'Last drink?' "'Fore I die." Cat let the words escape her mouth before she headed back towards the burning building ... after a man she wasn't sure she wanted to save. ==== Badger struggled again with the ancient desk, making it press even harder on his broken femur and forcing a groan from his throat. Once the monstrosity had been his pride and joy, made from real wood ... now, between it and the roof beam on top of it, the pair would end up killing him. It had been some time since he'd heard the last explosion, the building shuddering around him, and the gunfire had died away as well. He waited for help, but nobody came, and he was rapidly losing feeling in his foot. Leaning back, he stared at the ruins. His lovely office. The best money could buy. The carpet alone had cost more than a year's wages for a dockworker, and now the curtains, the pictures ... all of it busted to hell. Even his apple peeler had been smashed by something falling on it. He sighed. As soon as he got out of here he was going to sue. This was a new building ... no way just a couple of grenades should have done this. The goushi buru who put it up probably skimped on the concrete, using inferior product rather than what he'd paid for. Still, he knew exactly who to blame. Mal Reynolds. It was his fault. If he hadn't come around, poking his nose into things that were nothing to do with him, his gaffe would still be in one piece, and maybe he'd be sending out for some of those girls from Macey's, just as a treat ... A ceiling tile fell, and he had to cover his head to protect himself. It didn't hurt him, but as he brushed the pieces from his shoulders he inadvertently jerked his leg, and pain shot through him. He swore, gasping the words out, hands gripped around the top of his thigh. At last it eased it a little and he leaned back. Wait a minute. "What the diyu ..." The movement had dislodged some debris, and he was sure he could see the butt of his shotgun, just poking out. There was movement behind him as he tried desperately to reach for the weapon, his fingers just barely brushing the stock. "Stop or I will kill you," the mercenary ordered. Badger tried to grin despite his pain. "Think I care? Gonna die anyway. Not like anyone's coming after me." He'd watched the men in purple body armour kick aside the remains of the door, pouring into his office. Trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible he stayed perfectly still, but for some reason they didn't seem interested in him. They searched the room, tipping debris aside, but didn't go for the safe, nor him. In the end he'd asked for help. They ignored him, instead placing small packages at various points, most notably against the still surviving support pillars. That was the point he understood their plan, particularly as most of them disappeared into the bathroom, obviously taking the back stairs after Mal and his crew. "More right than you know." The merc grinned. "Not even the Feds are going to interfere." "You paid 'em off?" "Not me. But there's people high up ain't gonna let anyone get in our way." "In your way to what? Killin' an upstanding businessman like me?" "You?" the man scoffed. "You're nothing." "Then what?" "Where are they? And don't play dumb with me."

"Don't have any idea what you are talking about."

"Sure you do. But you just keep quiet. 'Cause I can make things easy on you or make you die painfully slow." The merc aimed for Badger's other leg just as his belly exploded in a rain of blood and bile, showering the other man with bodily fluids. "Don't you just hate when they talk about doing it instead of just getting it over with." Cat smiled, a smoking shotgun in her hands. "Gorramit, Cat! Did you have to?" Badger complained, wiping at his face with his sleeve. "You'd rather I let him gut you?" "Well ..." He realised what she was holding. "Is that Mathilda? Damn, thought 'Ski had lost that thing years ago." A look of relief flooded his face as she slung the gun to her shoulder and headed for him. "What the hell are you here for? Should be gone by now ... safe." "Right, and leave you to die. Can hear the bitching in heaven between you and my husband once I get there ... how I should have come back for you." "If you're waiting for me to complain then hell've freeze over first." He tapped the desk. "Get this off me." She grinned. "Yes, sir." Shifting the beam as gently as she could, it rolled off the desk. "Forgot how strong you are," he sighed as the pain ebbed a little, before adding, "And between you and me, think we are destined for a lot hotter place with all the shit we've done in our lives." "Maybe so. Still, knowing 'Ski like I do, if he knew I let you die, he'd figure a way to make Hell even worse for me." With a groan, she pushed at the desk, freeing his left leg. The bone had penetrated the skin, a spear of white amongst the red, but that wasn't the worst of it. Blood was pooling and she knew if they didn't get out quick, the leg would need to amputated. "Now, don't take this the wrong way," she added, quickly stripping her shirt from her back. Badger's eyes bulged. "Wha ..." "Oh, shut up." She tied the fabric tightly around his upper thigh and slid Mathilda in as a brace.

"You mind pointing that the other ..." A look from Cat silenced him.

"It's not loaded and I ain't having you put pressure on the barrel." Using a knife, she slit the bottoms off her jeans. Those she used to secure the gun into place.

"Got to get something from the safe," Badger insisted. "Ain't worth dying over, Badger. You can't spend money from your coffin." Dusting off her hands, she tore down one of the few curtains still hanging, the material heavy enough to keep glass from cutting Badger. "This will protect you, in case there is need."

"Worth more than dying, Cat." "Forget it. Before I decide I was wrong coming back in for you." He gave up, at least for the moment, knowing that look on her face from old. "So how you plan on getting us out of here? Don't think I can walk."

"Badger, with the damage done, I'm not sure even Simon can stop you from losing that leg." Standing, she wrapped the curtain around him before bending down to pick him up. "And don't even try to put into words about how undignified this is." The sad little king was about to speak anyway, to quite possibly make the biggest mistake of his soon to be ended life, when he realized just what he was pressed against. A very thin tank top and black bra was all that stood between him and Cat's rather ample chest. "Wasn't gonna say a word," he promised.

"Behave. Or I'll leave you here to rot and deal with my afterlife husband later," she replied, not having to be psychic to know what Badger was thinking. Still, it was time to get the hell out of here before something bad happened. ==== "Frey?" Mal glanced at his wife. They'd joined the crowd around the burning building, hiding in plain sight. Even with the rain falling steadily, the residents of Eavesdown could be relied upon to enjoy a good spectacle, particularly if it included property being destroyed - as long as it wasn't theirs, of course - and the numbers were growing. Freya was listening, but not with her ears. "She's found him. He's hurt." "Couldn't happen to a nicer feller," Jayne muttered. Mal didn't sigh, but only through a sheer effort of will. "Mal ..." Freya's hand gripped his arm. "What?" As the question hung for a second in the air, a sound equal to that of a whimper came from the black panther at Declan's feet. "Too late ..." ==== "Fuck." Cat heard the click even as she carried Badger through the ruined foyer towards the entrance, her foot snagging on something that felt depressingly like a tripwire. "What?" the little man asked trying to see what the red head was looking at. "Pray." She rolled her body around him, drawing the curtain around his face as the first of the explosives detonated. Within seconds, the entire ground floor was consumed in flames and flying debris. ------------

AN: As for the line about Declan's parents... a mighty fine thanks to Werzbowski. Told you I'd find a place for it. :)


Friday, December 17, 2010 8:22 PM


Ah, Declan's such a good boy.

Awesome action, keep up the good work please.

- 'Ski

Saturday, December 18, 2010 1:41 PM


Good Gorram, what an explosive chapter with an ending to top it! Wow, loved this to bits, my friend. I can't believe how thoroughly those purplebellies wanted to demolish the place and Mal and company with it. I like Cat's dialogue with Badger and her insistence she go back and save him fits with her loyalty to this verse's Mal. Hope they get her and Badger out of there so they can all get out of that tinderbox of trouble. Don't know why you were only given a score of 9, this deserved a 10 three times over! So shiny I need dark glasses, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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