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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
An open-ended adventure.
Chapter 15: In which much is said of Shepherd Book's past, which refuses to stay behind him where it belongs (2 of 2)
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Shepherd Book was afraid. He did not often feel fear, not in the direct, panicky way he was feeling it now. He did not fear death, for he believed in a loving and just God, who would judge him not only on the things he had done, but on the remorse he felt and the amends he had tried to make as well. What Shepherd Book did fear was his life before he was either a shepherd, or called Book.
He feared it rearing its ugly had and bringing misery to the people he cared about. And, admittedly, he feared the seductive charm of the man he used to be.
That was why it seemed wisest to him to stay hidden. He had only ever once before met men of the ilk of those in Serenity’s cockpit, extracting information from both the ship’s computer system and an unfortunate mechanic, but there was no doubt that they were part of the world of which he had once been a part as well.
The world hunting River Tam.
A world of violence, that he so desperately wanted to remain free from, lest it bring out the worst parts of him.
He looked up in surprise when he heard Inara’s voice. It took him a second to realize that it was only a recording. A message.
“Simon, it’s Inara. Now, please don’t worry too much, but…” There was a sigh. “I guess… I guess you should be worried. I know I am. River has had some kind of seizure, Simon. She’s out of any immediate danger, but the doctors… We have three of the best doctors on New Canaan here, Simon, and they’re all working River’s case. But they don’t know what’s happened to her. They don’t know her like you do. Please… get here as fast as you can. And Simon… I’m so sorry. I know I promised that… Please just get here soon.”
And now those hunting River Tam had found her trail.
TEN YEARS AGO
All around him, the Browncoats lay asleep.
Was a good thing, too, because if any of them looked up at him more than half-awake, they would quite easily been able to tell that the uniform he was wearing was not his. It was a risk, but it couldn’t be helped.
Mission control had screwed up—the uniform they given him to infiltrate the camp was one worn by Browncoat troops on Verbena. That was halfway across the system from Jiangyin, the dump he was on. The Browncoats were a ragtag bunch, only some of them even wore the coats that had given them their popular name. Not that the rest of them didn’t bathe in enough mud that their coats didn’t get the right color soon enough, of course, but still, if these people saw him in a uniform from Verbena they might shoot him as soon as welcome him as a friend. Few of these soldiers would ever have left this rock, let alone have seen what their Verbenan compatriots dressed like.
The uniform he had acquired for himself wasn’t much better, as full of holes and covered with blood as it was, but he’d camouflaged it as well as he could with liberal application of mud.
Even the guards on the camp’s anti-missile defenses were more asleep than not. He wondered why the Alliance forces had even asked for assistance from the Bloodsucker Brigade–that was what the common soldiers had taken to calling Military Intelligence operatives, and they wore the badge with pride. Well, he did, at least.
These Browncoats were simply outclassed by the better-trained, better-armed Alliance troops, who had such a weight in numbers that they could attack in shifts, and work the Browncoats into exhaustion. So far, so good, from the looks of it—and yet this camp was still here.
But not for long, now.
It was no trouble dispatching the guards. Only one of them saw him before it was her turn to die, but a quickly thrown blade through her throat silenced her before she could call for help. The way cleared, he set to work on the missile detectors. Their programming, at least, was as securely guarded as possible.
The Browncoats had no way of knowing that a large number of their codes had been cracked just days before.
He had personally been part of the team that had worked on Browncoats codes, from the most complex computer paradigms to the most deceptively simple ship-to-ship and ship-to-ground visual signals. Even so, he knew that he couldn’t simply deactivate the ground to air missiles that were set to destroy incoming fire without setting off alarms across the camp. Fortunately, he had something more creative in mind anyway.
Soon enough, he had the radar array convinced that every man and woman on the ground inside the camp looked exactly like A56-H45 Firebomb missile. Faced with such a multitude of perceived threats, the defensive system would launch its missiles as quickly as it could load them. The only place in the entire camp strong enough to survive the onslaught was the munitions depot bunker. Maybe ten men would fit inside of it if they reached it in time, but surely the Alliance ground troops could handle those.
He set a fifteen minute delay before the new protocol to set in—that would barely be enough time for him to reach safe distance, but it minimized the risk that his modifications—and the corpses he’d left behind—would be found.
A perfect mission. The only thing he regretted was that he wouldn’t be there to witness the bloodshed. He always liked to keep good track of his accomplishments.
Then it occurred to him—he *could* stick around. There was the munitions bunker, after all. Yes, he liked that idea. He’d have to kill whoever already was at the bunker, and then lock the door behind him, but honestly that probably wouldn’t give him much trouble.
It was still an unnecessary risk, of course, but this was his mission, and he wouldn’t let it go until he saw it all the way through. He never did. That *was,* after all, why the boys had started calling him Pitbull.
“River,” one of the two men repeated from Inara’s message. “The subject.”
“On New Canaan.”
Calling upon all his old tactical instincts, Book’s mind ran through his options. There weren’t many—the men from Blue Sun almost certainly had a spaceship as fast as—if not faster than—Serenity, and Book would still have to gather the crew before Serenity set off. So even presuming that he managed to survive this Blue Sun visit unnoticed, there was no way he and the crew would be able to reach River first.
“There is a Companion’s Guild Chapterhouse on New Canaan. The companion who was reported traveling on Serenity?”
They could—and would try to, of course—send out a wave, but when Book had left circulation, the Blue Sun Corp. had had a controlling interest in eighty-eight per cent of private communication channel through the Cortex and growing. They’d undoubtedly be able to jam Inara’s Guild Chapterhouse, or at least filter their long-distance messages. Some sort of code, then, that they wouldn’t understand. Inara was very smart, but Book didn’t know if she’d be able to decipher clues vague enough to fool the highly trained Blue Sun monitors. Perhaps Simon would have an established code to share secrets with his sister.
“Agreed. If you can proceed with the sterilization?”
That settled it, then. First priority was to get out unnoticed, second to gather the crew, third to attempt to warn Inara and River, and fourth to reach them. The Blue Sun Corp. knew Serenity now, and would eventually find them again even if they escaped now, but right now, that was low priority.
“Please… I’ll… Whatever you want…”
The weak voice startled Book. The moans and soft screams hadn’t stopped the entire time that he had been in hiding, but somehow, he’d just tuned it out. He knew very well that the men from Blue Sun were going to kill the poor girl. There was no excuse for his lack of compassion for her. It mattered nothing whether he could do anything for her—to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to suffering was a terrible sin.
He risked a split-second glance around the corner. The mechanic girl was clinging to one of the men’s leg, begging for her life. Book flinched away. He was not one to blame the victims for the actions of cruel and evil men, but the fact remained that if not for River and Simon and their presence on Serenity, and if not for Book allowing that to continue, the girl would not be losing her life. All her dreams and hopes… He could only pray that God would look kindly on her.
In that brief glance, he’d also seen the two men. One was working a switch, and the instant he’s switched, it, Book suddenly felt a pounding headache. As the mechanic’s screams became louder, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots. He had to get out of there.
Get out of there, and save his skin. Get out, and live to save River and Inara. Get out, and leave an innocent to die…
All his old training, his instincts honed over many missions, even his more recently developed abhorrence of violence, all told him the same thing. He had to get out of there. But he couldn’t.
Book had tried the road of violence, and had grown to hate himself. Then he had tried the road of pacifism, and it had fallen apart as soon as he set foot outside of Southdown Abbey. Perhaps, ultimately, violence was sometimes the lesser of two evils. He didn’t know if he truly believed that, now, but he was certain that he could not take it to stand by and do nothing while an innocent was murdered.
All of these thoughts flashed through his mind in a fraction of a second, and he shot forward with the same single-minded swiftness. There had been a knife in his duffel bag—a carving knife, but sharp, perfectly suitable for combat. He didn’t even remember bringing it with him, but there it was in his hand.
He unsheathed it, and threw it as he leaped into action, perfectly timed to fly through one of the men’s eyes as he looked up at the sudden movement. He dropped the strange device he’d been holding, and it fell to the floor. Book stepped on it on his way past—there was a crack, and he immediately felt the stabbing pain in his head fade into a dull remaining ache.
There was no time for a sigh of relief like he heard from the mechanic, though—he could still reach the second man quickly enough to take advantage of the surprise. Book swung in a blow. The man blocked it, but Book was ready for that, and shifted the force behind his movement to a knee to the groin.
Even a trained operative couldn’t help but double over at that, a motion Book helped along, pushing his head down and hopping from foot to foot to bring his other knee up, crashing into the man’s face.
Book surprised himself. He was already breathing hard, but he was doing far better than he’d expected.
The surviving man half-fell, half-dove to the ground, momentarily out of Book’s reach. Suddenly, there was something in his blue-gloved hand—the reason Book had been able to hit him so hard, no doubt. He had been focusing on the move two ahead of Book’s.
It wasn’t like the other man’s death machine, though. It looked more like… a spaceship remote activator!
An explosion of splintered glass erupted over Book, sending him sprawling.
For a moment, he was completely out of it, but thankfully it was brief enough that he was still able to roll on back to his feet. He reached out a hand to steady himself, and push himself back up, and it landed on the first man, the one he’d killed. He pulled out his knife.
What had happened? His ears still ringing, his eyes sought out the source of the explosion. Serenity’s large main windscreen was gone, laying shattered all over the cockpit. Still hunched low, Book’s view outside was mostly upward, and that was how he found the Black Ops ship parked a level higher, pointed directly at them, its laser cannon still glowing. He wouldn’t have known it for a Black Ops ship, of course, but that he recognized its make, or at least its similarities to an older model he’d flown himself once upon a time.
The threat identified, Book quickly set thoughts of it aside and looked for his adversary in the cockpit.
But that man had taken full advantage of the chaos he’d created—he was rushing to the newly created opening, and stepped on the pilot’s chair to leap outside, onto the ship’s nose. From there, he quickly glided out of sight. With a normal man, Book would have assumed that a drop to the ground from that high up would break both their legs, but with this one, he was taking no chances.
He went over to the pilot’s station, and revved up the engine for a cold start. They’d be in the air in a minute’s time, before the man from Blue Sun would even reach his ship. It was hell on the engines, without a mechanic there to make moment-to-moment adjustments, but they’d take the strain—they had just been overhauled, after all.
With the adrenaline of the fight leaving him, Book suddenly felt exhausted, and the cuts he had taken in the explosion of the windscreen began to sting. Behind him on the floor, he heard the gasping breath of the mechanic.
He’d saved her life. He took comfort in that, even as he understood that with the damage Serenity had just taken and the rush he’d urged the remaining man from Blue Sun into, he had lost his crew their last chance to reach River and Inara in time.
THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO
“Detective! A moment of your time, please.”
“Uh, well, I have—”
“It’ll just take a second. Congratulations on your medal.”
He grinned, couldn’t help it. The chunk of metal that had just been pinned to his chest was an honor some of his colleagues spent their entire career earning, and he had it already. “Thanks.”
“I’ll be brief. The police force. It’s a very noble profession, but I can’t help but think you should set your goals a little higher.”
He sighed. “Are you corporate? Because I’ve told you people already, I’m not interested in a corporate job, no matter *what* you want to pay me. I do this job because it let’s me help people.”
“Oh, I’m not corporate, Detective. We work for the same government, you and I. The only difference is that I get to help more people at once. Think about it, and give me a call.”
The man shook his, and then turned away and vanished in the crowd. He was left a bit confused, unsure of what had just happened, until he realized that the man had left a card in his hand when he’d shaken it. He looked at it.
It read, ‘Logan Beck, chief director, LIS.’ LIS. Londinium Intelligence Services. Wow.
‘The only difference is that I get to help more people at once.’ That *was* something to think about.
New chapters (almost) weekly--now previewing on www.BattleOfSerenity.tk, Chapter 15: Internal Affairs.
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