Vengeance: Ch. 10 - Approaching Darkness
Thursday, September 15, 2005

While following the signal given by Shepherd Book, the crews of both ships take a moment to look beyond the current situation, and Soul brings Talos his prize...


On Board Serenity In the Black

Mal knocked on the door to Inara’s shuttle, and realized that while trying not to make a habit of being polite, he had inadvertently done exactly that. He tried to remember back to how things had ended the last time he was here, and found that the events were still crystal clear in his mind, despite everything else that was clouding up his thoughts. Kaylee was still missing, River had been taken, Zoe was recovering from wounds that should have killed her, the girl Anne was still a threat, and now Book was presenting more unanswered questions. Thoughts that should be forefront in his mind were for some reason being pushed aside by the memory of what had happened between him and Inara, memories that he couldn’t shake, no matter how hard he tried. He had even asked Jayne to hit him hard, no consequences, just to try to get his mind off of Inara. Jayne had complied, and put a bit more joy behind the punch than he should have; but now Mal had the memories and the pain of a throbbing cheek, along with a fine-looking black eye. He raised his hand to knock again, but realized that the door was already open, Inara standing in front of him. He chastised himself for disappearing into his thoughts. “Hi,” he said, and then chastised himself for not saying anything else. Inara, however, wore her mask well. Her face spoke of complacency, as if she had no problem with the man seeking entrance into her private sanctuary. “What can I do for you, Captain?” she asked. Captain. So that’s how it’s going to be. “I, uh, I just wanted to let you know that Zoe’s recovering well, just, uh, in case you were wondering.” Stupid. Great job putting together words there, Mal. The Companion’s shoulder’s dropped slightly, as if Mal had said something other than what was expected, and now she could relax. Her mouth turned upwards ever so gently, and Mal found himself transfixed by the lusciousness of those red lips, and his words turned to mush in his brain. “That’s good to hear,” she said, and Mal forced himself to re-gather his thoughts. “She did have us all worried for a while.” Something crossed her mind; Mal could see it moving behind her eyes. Her smile dropped, for an instant, and then her placid face returned. For Mal, though, that one instant jerked something inside of his chest, and the little man beating away on his heart began to kick him in the stomach. Inara continued as if nothing was bothering her. “So I understand that our own Shepherd has supplied us with the means to find Kaylee and River?” News travels fast on this boat. “I hope,” Mal replied. “One of these days, I am going to sit that man down and have a long talk with him about secrets.” Something in his statement seemed to amuse Inara, as the smile was back on her face. “You really do trust him, don’t you?” I do, don’t I? “Yes, I do. Seems like I have to at this particular junction.” “So where is it we’re going?” Mal shrugged. He honestly had no idea. “We’re just following a signal. Wash is on the bridge tryin’ to figure out our heading and our eventual destination.” That brought on a long silence, awkward on Mal’s end, but Inara just stood there with that gorram calm look on her face. In the past, it had infuriated Mal; but now it only made the little man kick harder on his stomach. Inara seemed to sense Mal’s awkwardness. “I just made tea, if you would care for some.” She stepped back to allow Mal entrance. “Tea, ah, no…” Mal paused, and for once in his life, listened to his heart. “You know, tea sounds real good right about now.”

* * *

“You’re not…participating…in an…interrogation,” Book said between grunts as he struggled to lift the barbell off of his chest. “Yeah, well, there’s a whole lotta crazy goin’ on around here,” Jayne commented, his arms crossed on his chest. “You jus’ added to the pile.” “I…understand…your lack of…trust…but…really, Jayne…this is too much…weight…” Jayne sighed, but complied, lifting the weights off of Book’s chest with one hand, but being forced to grab at the barbell with his other hand. “Yeah, maybe a bit much.” Book sat up slowly, his breath coming in ragged gasps. “I am not trying to mislead you in any way.” “Right,” Jayne replied. “An’ you jus’ happened upon this signal we’re followin’, right?” Grabbing at his towel, Book dabbed off his forehead. “I have not led you astray before, have I?” When Jayne didn’t answer, Book continued. “All I ask is for you to trust me, just for a little while longer. I promised the Captain that I will explain everything in due time.” Jayne stood there and crossed his arms across his chest again, appearing to consider Book’s request. Finally, he sighed. “Fair ‘nough,” he said simply. Then, lying down on the bench and grabbing the barbell, he turned to Book. “Spot me?”

* * *

Simon was standing next to Zoe when she finally awoke. Her eyes, fluttered for a minute or two before she finally focused on his face. “Welcome back,” Simon said, smiling despite himself. Zoe swallowed loudly, her dry lips crackling. “Did we find Kaylee?” she asked. Simon’s smile disappeared. “Not yet. We’re following a signal that may lead us to whoever has her and River.” She looked confused. “What do you mean, River?” She didn’t know, and Simon mentally kicked himself for not realizing that. “She was taken while you were in surgery. She went down to Persephone with Mal so the Alliance wouldn’t find her on board when they fixed you up.” Her eyes closed. “Damn,” she said softly. She turned her head to the side and opened her eyes again. “We keep losing people, and Mal keeps her alive.” Simon followed Zoe’s gaze to where Anne lie, now heavily sedated. “I can’t blame him,” Simon said, despite himself. Even with how Anne had messed with his mind on the return trip from Persephone, he couldn’t help but see his sister in the girl.

* * *

On Board the Ass Kicker In the Black, Following Serenity

On the bridge, Badger sat in the copilot’s chair, grumbling softly to himself. To Etris, it was still a mystery as to why the Middleman was helping them like this, but he appreciated it none-the-less. Etris himself sat in the pilot’s chair, his eyes closed as he let the ship do the flying. He could sense Rian sitting behind Badger at the gunnery station, and he knew he didn’t have to worry about Badger trying anything. Togan was down in the engine room, where he had remained since coming on board. There had been a brief yelling match between Togan and Badger when Togan produced a list of things that were wrong with the ship and how to fix them; Badger had been very adamant about anyone doing any adjustments. In the end, the Engineer shortened his list of fixes, and Badger relented, if only to avoid getting his with a spanner. Harvey was wandering the ship, taking an inventory of everything on board. Etris knew that his Load Master was still haunted by the memory of what had happened on Persephone, despite Etris’ constant assurance that River’s kidnapping hadn’t been his fault. Gretta and Tark had found an empty passenger dorm and were, according to Spooky, “christening the ship on her maiden voyage”. Etris told Spooky to stay alert, and left the two of them alone. Now, the Ass Kicker floated just aft of Serenity as the two ships followed the signal provided to them by Shepherd Book. Book. Etris had known something was not quite right with the Shepherd from the first time they met. Mal had asked him to trust the man, so Etris had done just that. They were following the signal, and praying that it would lead them in the right direction. Etris sat up and opened his eyes. For some reason, he felt the need to do another system check. They had already looked over everything three times, and while the ship seemed structurally sound, Etris was a big fan of the old saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry”. He had just opened his mouth to let Rian know his plan, when the console chimed with an incoming Wave from Serenity. “Captain Kurdian,” came Wash’s voice from the speakers. Etris grabbed the intercom. “Go ahead.” “The signal we’ve been tracking, it’s stopped. I’m sending you the coordinates.” Etris looked down at the console as the information came in, and noticed Badger standing beside him. “Can I help you?” Badger looked up at him, his bowler hat sitting perfectly on his head, as always. “I would think you’d be a bit more thankful than you’ve been, Captain. I was just about to say that this boat o’ mine has something you might find to your liking. Long range visual scanners.” He hit a button and one of the screens above their head lit up, and for the first time since Etris could remember, Badger didn’t say a word. Etris did, though. “Woah.”

* * *

In the Black

At a point in space equidistant from the closest planets, hung a massive ship unlike any the ‘verse had ever seen before. She was pitch black; from her towering bow to the swept back wings, to the twelve-story high reactor engines. She was a city in herself, and looked like she could easily support a crew of over a thousand; but in reality, it held not even a third of that. The majority of storage space on the appropriately named Agamemnon was reserved for stores of food and supplies, enough to keep the crew well supplied for over a year. The rest of the ship that wasn’t being used by the crew was filled with weaponry of all sorts, from guns to bombs to seven fighter bays, even an experimental weapons lab run by three of Blue Sun’s most brilliant scientists. The Agamemnon appeared to be a floating military base, and was, in fact, just that. One hundred and twelve crewmen ran the ship, participating not only in their daily responsibilities, but also in a strict regiment of training; from weapons training to hand to hand combat, they were, at least to those who knew of their existence, the greatest threat to the stability of the ‘verse. Twenty six pilots were also on board to pilot the three dozen “Raptor-X” fighters, designed, of course, by Blue Sun, and made only available to the crew aboard the Agamemnon. The fighters ran on stealth technology, remaining practically invisible until they locked onto a target. The pilots themselves were pulled from the best Alliance flight schools, all having met “unfortunate accidents”, at least according to official records. In addition to the crew, there were seventeen prisoners, plucked out of various high security prisons around the ‘verse. Each of them were facing death when they were “transferred” to the Agamemnon; they were all incarcerated for committing some of the most heinous crimes possible. Four were in for violent rape; seven were murderers with a total of eight hundred and forty two lives taken between them; two were thieves who liked to torture their victims before robbing them; three were former assassins-for hire who specialized in dramatics when it came to their targets; and one was responsible for the genocide of over twelve thousand people on what used to be the Outer Rim world Meridian using a very clever combination of toxins that produced painful internal hemorrhaging, with no antidote. They were part of the grand plan, and were given the promise that if they cooperated on board the Agamemnon, they would be released in due time to continue in their various “professions”. A cargo bay occupying a large area just aft of the massive Commander’s Lounge contained the main reason for the Agamemnon’s existence: the one hundred Cryo beds containing the best “graduates” of Blue Sun’s Academy for Gifted Students. They were psychics, they were pre-cogs, they housed the brains that Blue Sun had successfully enhanced to suit their plans, plans that were nearing fruition. Atop the three story tall neck at the bow of the ship, the massive form of Damon Talos stood in his impressive stateroom, as the key to his plans was carried through his door.

* * *

He was carrying River Tam through the door as is she were his child: she lay in his arms in front of him, her head resting on his shoulder, her hair falling across his back. His foot caught the edge of the doorframe and he stumbled, nearly dropping the girl; but Mantichorus reached out to steady him. Together they walked into the room, a trio of armed guards escorting them in. “Well Marshall,” Talos said, his dark eyes gleaming, “I’m glad to see you held up your end of the bargain.” Soul looked up at the larger man. “I don’t recall giving you permission to call me by that name.” Talos chuckled, but to Soul it sounded like a banshee wailing, and the former Expendable cringed. “I would think that twenty five years in a frozen tube would have softened you up a bit,” Talos said, still standing in the same spot, his fingers flexing at his side. “I guess I was wrong.” Soul shifted River in his arms. “I brought you what you asked for. Now let me see my family.” “Your family?” Talos asked with a shifting grin. He put a finger to the side of his mouth with a look of mock confusion. Then he grinned again. “Oh yes, my side of the bargaining chip.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small remote nearly identical to the one that Soul himself had used to subdue River on Persephone. “You see, Marshall,” Talos continued, “I chose you for several reasons. First, you’ve always been reliable, for the most part. Second, you do your job without asking too many questions. Third, I had the most leverage with you. With the lives of your family hanging in the balance, I knew I could get you to do whatever I wanted.” Soul nearly began to growl, his voice lowering, anger shaking his vocal chords. “I did the fucking job, now let me see my family!” “Why did you never ask for proof?” Talos asked, ignoring Soul. “Never asked for a picture, for a video, nothing. You’re slipping, Marshall. I thought you were better than that.” Stepping forward, Soul began slowly lowering his right arm towards the knife hidden in his belt buckle, hoping that River’s body would block what he was doing. “What are you talking about?” “They’re dead. Plain and simple. Been dead a while, as it turns out. Died on that rock you made them run away to. It’s a shame, really, a pretty woman like that giving up her life for someone as despicable as you.” Talos shook his head, and Soul exploded. “Son of a bitch!” Soul shouted as he pulled out the knife, lifting River Tam’s body onto his left shoulder as he threw the small blade with his right. The knife dug into Talos’ shoulder even as Soul threw himself backwards, crashing into the nearest guard and knocking all three guards to the ground. Beside him, Mantichorus grabbed a fallen revolver and began to fire on the guards as he backed towards a table in the corner. Soul headed in the opposite direction towards a door at the far end of the room. He heard the gunshots ringing out, and he prayed that Mantichorus could defend himself, and begged for forgiveness for abandoning his friend. She can’t be dead. Neither of them can be dead! Please God, tell me that this wasn’t all for nothing! There should have been tears coming from Soul’s eyes, but Talos had succeeded in turning Soul back into the man he was before: hardened, emotionless, and determined as hell. Soul raced for the door, keeping his body low and holding onto River Tam tightly. “I’m sorry, River,” Soul said, “But I can’t leave you here. Some asshole opened his mouth before he had his prize.” He kept running, and he hit the wall, slapping at the panel to open the door. The door hissed slowly open, and then Talos roared. “Enough!” he shouted, the guttural sound ripping through the room. Soul spun in surprise as he stepped through the doorway, and watched as Talos raised his remote, and pointed it at River…no, not River…he pointed it at…Mantichorus…what the hell? Like a switch had been flipped, Mantichorus stopped firing, and stood slowly, raising the gun in his hand as his face changed, the friend that Soul knew disappearing as a look of pure hatred painted itself upon Mantichorus’ face. The gun shifted, it’s aim drifting from the guards, to Soul, as he stood in the open doorway on the other side of the room. “I have everything planned,” Talos stated, a twisted smile on his lips. “I think I’ve endured you long enough.” Before Soul could react, the gun in the hand of Soul’s friend jumped and coughed; but River Tam reacted, somehow, and her body jerked even as the bullet speared through the air towards Soul. Soul’s head turned to the side in response, and the two of them fell back through the doorway, the bullet whistling past Soul’s head, catching the edge of his forehead. Soul cried out, but his mind snapped back quickly enough for him to hit the control panel on the wall, shutting the door as they crashed to the ground. “What the fuck!” Soul shouted as he gently pushed River off of him. He rose unsteadily to his feet, his left eye blinded by the blood running down from his forehead. Closing his eyes, he tried to focus, and activated the sub-dermal implant above his left ear, searching for the system that controlled the door locks. Finding it, he quickly overrode the security commands and locked the door. That effort alone was almost too much for him, as the pain in his forehead throbbed. He opened his eyes slowly and turned back to River’s slumped form— --And met River Tam once again face to face. She was standing, her nose lifted as she looked up into his eyes. Soul froze, knowing that he was done. He was in no condition to fight. “I’m not going to fight you,” River said calmly. “I read you. Knew you were good. Knew you wouldn’t let them take me back.” Soul stared at her, his mouth hanging open, speechless. “You brought me here,” she continued. “Now I can finish it.” Soul found his voice. “Finish it?” She smiled, and Soul found himself more fearful of this little girl than anyone he had ever meet before. “We fight back,” she said, and grabbed his hand.


Thursday, September 15, 2005 5:02 AM


Aaargh! Cliffhanger ending!!!

.... *takes a deep breath*

That was an excellent piece of story telling. Very solid!

I enjoyed the subtle use of recapping moments from the previous instalments. (During Mal's meeting with Inara and the exchanges between Simon and Zoe.) It was balanced out and wasn't intrusive to the continuing story.

The characterisation was really strong too. (I loved the exchanges between Jayne and Book.)

The end scene with Soul, Manti, Talos and River was action packed and intense. Talos is one evil son of a bitch! :)

Looking forward to reading more! Well done! Keep up the supershiny work!

- Cos.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 5:04 AM


...Talos is quite Machiavellian, isn't he? And River's not without a shade of guile herself...

This is shaping up to be a battle of the brains...literally, in River's case.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 5:43 AM


It just keeps getting better.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 7:00 AM



Edge of my seat, here Soul! How's this going to end?

Saturday, September 17, 2005 6:00 PM


You just don't stop stringin' us along do ya?
I can't wait for the next chapter

Saturday, September 17, 2005 9:52 PM


again, awesome chapter. And we didn't have to wait that long either.

Saturday, November 11, 2006 1:41 AM


hey man, it been over a year. what the hell happened?? u just leave us without a conclusion?? i wanna know what happens!!! do they ever find kaylee?? does anne wake up? WHATS GOING ON HERE!! HOW DOES IT ALL END!!!!
I WANT ANSWERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
not to be demanding... but please!!!!!
No power in the verse

Friday, March 5, 2010 11:26 AM


I may be continuing/rewriting this...


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