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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Enter the Treasure . . .
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2577 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
Julian tried not to stare at the wretched creature who was sobbing inconsolably on the deck in front of him. As interrogations went, this one had been less than productive.
It was bad enough that that idiot Fox had mangled what had been a perfectly straight-forward assignment. Julian was honestly sorry the man hadn’t survived the debacle at New Lesbos, because he had wanted the pleasure of killing him himself. Ordinarily he wasn’t so bloodthirsty, but when he saw the views of what the moron had done to the little village, his blood began to boil. Not only had he tipped off the prey to their attention, thus depriving him of a decent chance of surprising the Firefly, but he had criminally involved – and killed – innocent civilians. On top of that he had hired a sorry excuse for local talent to back him, and gotten them all killed as well. The only bright spot to the whole episode was this woman.
She had been one of the “bounty hunters” (if the term was used in its absolute loosest sense) Fox hired, or at least part of the same group. She was an ugly little thing, not more than ninety pounds soaking wet, a face like a hover-wreck, and she walked with a limp. She was devastated, having lost (apparently) a husband, a son, and a lover all in one fell swoop. Only her brother-in-law survived, and he was up on capital charges.
But she had tracked the Firefly as it fled, apparently with some idea of revenge. It was hard to say, honestly, what her plan had been. But she knew that ship was involved. And she was filled with the fire of vengeance. Repeatedly she had begged Julian to do her the courtesy of destroying the ship, enslaving the crew, and let her have her sadistic way with them before he collected his bounties.
That was a little much to ask, of course, but he did pay her handsomely for the information she had. The locals were of little use – all the video captures from the fight had been mysteriously erased, and for some reason the citizens of New Lesbos seemed reluctant to discuss the attack with his men. Even Sinclair got nowhere, and he was a handsome figure of a man, sensitive and polite. Usually Julian had to scrape the womenfolk off of him, but he didn’t get so much as a nibble from New Lesbos.
But this Womack woman, she was golden. She had an exact heading for him. The moment he got it he punched it into the nav system to plot a potential course. When the result was spit back at him, he checked it and tried again. Three tries later the same result came back again, just as confusing as the first time. It didn’t make sense: the course took them to no inhabitable world, no space station, no known pirate port or clandestine rendezvous point popular with smugglers. Where it did take them was pretty disturbing.
The name conjured a chill up his spine, and a flashback to his rookie year on the force, when the news of the event first came across the CV. The views from the scene were engraved on his mind, a young man’s first realization that the ‘verse is a savage, unforgiving place swimming with mortality. Hecate. It was a name pregnant with horror, a macabre place haunted with the ghosts of millions.
What could the Tams possibly want on Hecate?
He thought long and hard about that, while Sinclair led the weeping wretch back to her shuttle and made sure she was decently paid.
Hecate. How did a dead world fit within the Tam’s schemes?
The root cause of the terraforming event was well known: catastrophic grav failure. No known reason, no real theories, just “one of those things”, a random surprise from a capricious God to keep Mankind humble. A disaster of Biblical proportions. A world mourned and forgotten. Rumors had flown for years in the Intel community that Hecate was an op gone wrong, but Julian doubted it. It was just one of those horrible things that happened in an unjust universe.
Apparently someone had remembered Hecate – but why? Julian pulled up the extensive files on it and scanned for anything intriguing.
Half an hour later, when Sinclair had returned, he had little to add. He filled in his partner on what he had learned and waited for his assessment. Sinclair was a brilliant analyst. If anyone could figure it out, he could.
“It has to be the weapon,” the soft-spoken man said. “It has to be. The sister – River Tam – she’s a genius, and her favorite field outside of dance is physics. It looks like she figured out how Hecate collapsed, and convinced her evil mastermind brother to produce her work as a weapon. They linked up with this disaffected Browncoat smuggler, used his underworld connections to find General Lei, and apparently needed a quantity of transnuclear materials to build the device – materials that Lei’s people had access to in exile. They have everything they need now, so they’re off to test this weapon, or verify it, or prove to the General how it works. Then they go into the blackmail business. If this weapon can fit on board a Firefly that makes it exceedingly dangerous. Suddenly someplace like Ariel or Persephone could be wiped out by one little ship. Any little ship. If that isn’t a blueprint for extortion and terrorism, I don’t know what is.”
“God, you just turned my guts to ice,” Julian swore. “I hadn’t even thought of that angle – I figured there was something actually on Hecate they were looking for, and I’ve been chasing that. So why did they stop here? What’s so special about Athens?”
“Two things,” decided Sinclair. “What I couldn’t find out about the attack on the village could fill a room, but I was able to glean one piece of information. A Companion – a real, licensed, registered Companion, mind you, not a simple whore – has been traveling with the Firefly. Has been for about a year. She was spotted at Salisbury – even handed out cards – before they escaped. She was involved with the chairman of Epiphany. She has made contacts with several prominent wealthy men, real movers-and-shakers. And here she stopped to talk to an old client. A philosophy professor she knew on Sihnon.”
“Philosophy? What the hell –?”
“I didn’t see it at first, either. But when you add in all of the other clients she’s seen in the last three months . . . think of it this way: if you wanted to take over the Alliance, who would stop you?”
“The gorram military, I’d hope!” Julian exclaimed. “If not, I want a tax refund!”
“Suppose you neutralized the military. Apparently this Companion used to have a general for a client, war hero who died a few years back. At least she dropped his name to get clear of an inspection en route to Wuhan – remember that red herring lieutenant we went after?”
“Yeah,” agreed Julian patiently.
“Well, say she got some data from that client that would help neutralize the military. Something technical, maybe just a potent piece of blackmail. But enough to take them out of the equation. Who else would you need to cooperate in order to rule the Alliance?”
“The corporations,” supplied Julian with a snap. “My God, you’re right! She’s been lining up corporate support, in case the Family Tam gets their little toy working. Say they take out a little moon, couple of million, maybe, to show they can really do it. Then they start making demands. What if the corps start telling the Parliament to deal, instead of fight? Supposing the military was out of the picture. You’d hand over the reigns to the Tams – or whomever – and we’d slide quickly into dictatorship. So where does the Professor come in? Is he vested?”
“She, actually. No, she doesn’t have any significant holdings. Or influence. But she did work on several government projects during her tenure on Sihnon. Covert theoretical projects, the ones that deal with massive crowd control, keeping a population in order, that sort of thing. She must have some data this Companion needed to further their scheme. You have the corps, the military, and the people on your side . . . and Parliament just goes away. Instead you have His Majesty, Simon Tam, King of the Whole Rutting ‘Verse.”
“Hump that!” Julian spat. “Not on my watch!”
“You want me to call in the military? The Manchester could be here in three days, if we pulled some strings.”
“No! We still handle this ourselves. I don’t trust anyone else to do it properly. Wait! You said two reasons. What was the second?”
Sinclair sighed and looked worried. “The Firefly set down here . . . somewhere. They met with someone. Someone without a name, but who had the knowledge to use an old covert override code to keep them off the radar for their meeting. I did a little searching, made some waves. Apparently this guy calls himself ‘Mr. Universe’ and he can make photons and electrons do pretty much whatever he tells them to. I’m thinking that Mr. Universe had a stake in this plan. He certainly covered their tracks for them. Either that or he had info they needed and they used that mind-reading device to get it. I tried to check into him and get his whereabouts, but he’s too good. He disappeared off the cortex the moment he left.”
“Makes all kinds of sense,” Julian admitted gloomily. “All of it. Ai ya! They really could go after anyone. They don’t even need a ruttin’ fleet. Okay, we have got to stop them. Hecate seems a good place – no place to hide, and no innocent bystanders. Or witnesses. We can take them there. Set a course!”
“I’m on it,” Sinclair said simply.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this. You and me. Saving the universe from a couple of sadistic mad scientists. And here we thought she’d be easy money.”
“Honey, what bug crawled up your butt and died today?” Zoe asked her husband sweetly. They were both on the Bridge, killing time until Wash’s watch ended. Then they could kill some time in a decidedly more physical way.
If she could pull her husband out of his funk.
“I just don’t like graveyards,” he said, quietly. “Never have. I used to walk three blocks out of my way to avoid one on the way home from school, when I was a kid. Dead people, they skeeve me out. Even looking at a gravestone . . . I hate being here. I look out that window and I want to scream. That looks like a nice little town out there, apart from all the vacuum and corpses. And I can’t help but think that that . . . that could happen anywhere, really. A place you thought was safe. A place you . . . well, that you raised your kids on. One day it’s all happy and shiny and birds are chirping and rainbows sprout out of your ass every time you fart, the next day you’re suckin’ a lungful of nothin’ and praying for a quick death. It just has me, I don’t know, a little disturbed.”
“Sweetie, we’re around dead people all the time,” she said softly.
“Yeah, but those are freshly dead. We made ‘em. I still don’t like them, but I can handle it. This, this . . . all of this,” he said, motioning broadly to the scene outside, “this makes me anxious. I see that body, and that one, and that one, and they all look like they could get up at any time. Only I know they can’t. They won’t ever. They’ve been here for thirty years, and they could be here for thirty thousand, and nothing will ever change.”
“So you’re just . . . afraid?” she asked cautiously.
“Hell yes!” he exclaimed. “I know it’s a cliché, but I’m afraid of death. Of dying, too, but mostly of capital-D Death.”
“I guess I’ve seen too much—”
“Yeah, babe, I know, big war hero, Battle of Serenity Valley, corpses thrown around like confetti, casual morbidity on special for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I get that. I know you get hardened to it. I know I probably will someday too but I still get icked out every gorram time I see it! Especially like this. That’s why I’m convinced it’s ice zombies out there. Nasty li’l buggers, ice zombies. If a world like this ain’t safe, where is?”
“There ain’t no safe place,” Zoe said, putting her arm on his shoulder. “Anywhere. Anytime. Death rides around with us in our front pocket, always waiting. Every breath you take is one closer to your last.”
“And I’m supposed to live like that?”
“We all do. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to forget about it, is all. Or be too dumb to realize it,” she added upon reflection.
“Well, I don’t like it. I want to speak to the management!”
Zoe chuckled. Wash continued, passionately.
“No, I mean it! Who put this humped-up ‘verse together like this, anyway? Here I am trying to tell you that a ship ain’t safe enough for a baby, and here we land on a planet that makes a ship seem like a pretty decent bet. At least I have some illusion of control over this. Those people out there, they didn’t control squat. All those kids and old people and puppy dogs . . . all gone, and they weren’t supposed to be.”
“Relax, honey,” she insisted, rubbing his shoulders. “Just relax. There aren’t really ice zombies out there, you know.”
“I know,” Wash said bitterly. “They’re just a convenient metaphor for describing a more deep-seated psychological fear. And it spooked Jayne, that was icing. But this was a whole ruttin’ planet! They ain’t supposed to die like this. If we don’t have even that little bit of security, then what do we have?”
“That’s a religious question. At least two theologians on board and another two dozen bullshit opinions. Me? I say love. We have love, for one brief moment. That’s it. Love. You love your family, you love your friends, you love your charmingly insecure husband who avoids graveyards. And then you die. If you’re lucky, you die old and sudden. Apart from that . . .?” she asked, spreading her fingers in a shrug. “I got nothin’.”
“Well . . . love is okay . . . I guess . . .” Wash pouted, grabbing one of her hands and kissing it. “I mean, until something better comes along. Like immortality.”
“Love is fine,” assured Zoe. “And rare. Y’know, I never, ever, in a million years thought I’d fall in love. Especially with someone like you. But you made all that slogging through the bloody snow and mud in the war, and all the battlefields that were so packed with bodies you couldn’t see the dirt underneath—”
“Less gruesome, more wholesome,” Wash warned.
“You made it all . . . bearable.”
“Oh. My life’s purpose revealed at last.”
“Don’t diminish this. You have no idea the way my brain works after going through that. Because I have seen death, and I have been ready to lay my body down and die and hope I wake up in a better ‘verse. Or hope I never wake up and cease to be. And that would have stayed with me forever and ever. I rightly expected it to. But then you came along with your biting sarcasm, your sense of humor, your perpetual arousal and your really atrocious taste in clothing and you made it so I could bear all that pointless suffering.”
“I do. Not only can I bear it, I can imagine a future. A future with you. Having your babies, washing out your underwear, growing old together. I can see that now, because I love you, and that love, it takes away some of the burden of the death.”
“Well, gee, Wife, when you put it like that – hey! You don’t wash out my underwear!”
“Future, baby, in the future,” she stressed. “I’m sure I will be able to bring myself to do it . . . someday . . . with some therapy . . .” He laughed and pulled her into his lap.
“Well, that was lovely and profound, and it made me horny. I get off watch in ten minutes, we have at least two hours to have some soul-cleansing sex before we wake up His Imperial Creepiness, and we get off this rock. And away from the ice zombies. And become wealthy and—”
An insistent beeping broke his train of thought, and he looked down at the board with annoyance. Then he stood up, almost throwing Zoe to the ground.
“Gao yang jong duh goo yang! Every time I try to get some play . . .”
“What the hell is it?” Zoe demanded.
“A ship! Another ship!”
“It’s . . . hold on, let me scare up some telemetry . . . and there. It’s in orbit around the jovian. Looks meaty, too. Let’s see what it looks like . . . nah, that can’t be right, can it?”
Wash studied the monitor in silence for a minute, then looked up at his wife, a worried expression on his face. He swallowed. “It’s big.”
“That was helpful.”
“You wanna know how big?” he challenged. “Okay, let me put it this way: you may get to practice washing out my underwear tonight.”
“Alliance cruiser big, almost. Jesus, Moses and Mohammad! Would you look at the size of that! Where the hell did that thing come from?”
“I’ll get the captain. Alliance, you said?”
“No, I said ‘as big as’ a cruiser. That ain’t an Alliance configuration. I don’t know who it is . . . but I believe we have friends with a frigate, do we not?”
“But you said that thing was much bigger than a frigate.”
“Maybe their cruiser was in the shop. I don’t know, just get Cap, I’m gonna study this thing, try to find out what it is . . .”
“I can tell you that,” a voice said behind them. Wash jumped as if stung.
“Jesus, Campbell, this is the wrong world to be sneakin’ up on someone, y’know?” he complained. “Gorram ice zombies . . .”
“Sorry. I just finished studying the Imperial Archive. I figured out where the treasure is.”
“Where?” the Washburnes asked in unison.
“When the Emperor made his trip here, all those years ago,” the Colonel explained, “it was part of a diplomatic tour designed to cement the peace after the Xiao/Yuan wars. He settled a bunch of refugees here at his own expense, signed a treaty, and spent six weeks at leisure, hunting and hawking and throwing parties and balls with the Premier of Xiao. Among the ceremonies he attended was one that decommissioned the most destructive weapons in the Imperial arsenal, systems developed by the Tyrant to end the war . . . and end Xiao, if necessary.”
“You have my attention,” Zoe said, swallowing.
“Among these was the destruction of a ship, the Imperial flagship at the time. The Emperor sent it down to implode within the gravitational maelstrom in the heart of that gas giant. A fairly final solution to the problem of a dangerous weapon. He did it in front of a huge audience, hundreds of thousands of them. It was carried on CV throughout the ‘verse. Everyone saw it get destroyed.”
“But it wasn’t?” ventured Zoe.
“No. I don’t know how, but it survived. And that’s it coming up out of the planet. I came up here to see if you could detect it from here yet.”
“It?” asked Wash suspiciously. “Does this monster have a name?”
“The Imperial Yuanese Ship Sun Tzu. The greatest warship ever built.”
The Sun Tzu began its life as one of the great Exodus Ships, created to transport the teeming billions of Earth-That-Was to the new worlds that awaited them.
Carrying millions in cold storage hibernation and millions more in its vast expanses, the ten-mile long ship was originally called after the greatest of ancient explorers, Cheng Ho. It had six massive fusion generators, enough to propel its mass through the Black and keep its people alive along the way. It had a virtual army of security to enforce the Exodus Captain’s rule. After a voyage of decades, it finally brought its charges to Sihnon, where most of them settled in with the other eight great Exodus ships from Greater China.
After the great journey, however, the massive hulk of the ship was nearly abandoned. It became the home to the remnant of Han Chinese who were hesitant to live under the enlightened Buddhist rule that was established at Sihnon. Over two million Han found the company of their countrymen on the ship preferable to mixing with the Indian, Pakistani, Bangledeshi, Indionesians, Koreans, Japanese, and other cultures that had been under the umbrella rule of Greater China, and were therefore heir to the broad, fertile expanses of Sihnon.
Instead they sought to build their own worlds in an effort to preserve the “pure essence” of Chinese Confucian/Taoist civilization, much as the French had done with Merovingia and the Japanese had done with tiny Amateratsu. After lengthy debate the Cheng Ho was moved out to the distant trinary star system that was to become the home to the worlds of Xiao and Yuan. There it was used as a terraforming base for a few decades before being consigned to mothball status in far orbit off of Yuan. There it would have languished forever, had not necessity intervened. The wars between Xiao and Yuan brought it back to life.
After a century of neglect it had been rediscovered and re-built by the old Emperor. Over two thirds of its mass was cut away as redundant and unnecessary – but those six great fusion engines remained, making it pound-for-pound the most powerful ship in the ‘verse. Less mass meant it was faster; more power meant it was ideally suited to be a weapons platform. The First Imperial Yuanese dynasty began the work. Twenty years later, the Tyrant completed it. No longer a far voyager, it was renamed after the greatest warrior-sage of all time, the Taoist master Sun Tzu.
It was a doomsday weapon. Three huge lasers, pumped by the abundance of fusion power, could punch through the atmo and lay waste to whole worlds. Or it could decimate enemy fleets before they came close enough to fire missiles. It was the masterwork of the madman who sought to bring the entire ‘verse under his control, Shan Yu, the Tyrant of Yuan.
It was also enormously expensive to run. It took a dedicated crew of two hundred to fully man its essential systems – though its sophisticated automation could handle most of the routine work for short periods. It had capacity to carry six squadrons of fighters, ten thousand infantry, and two brigades of armor. It was a one-ship invasion force. It was a hospital. It was an asteroid mining facility. It had the capability to pluck valuable H3 out of gas clouds. Even cut down, it was still two thirds the size of the Alliance’s most modern cruisers. And it outmatched them in sheer firepower, even without the main lasers. It was simply the most powerful warship ever built.
It was also the Tyrant’s downfall. When the work was completed, Shan Yu confided in his favorite advisor, Prime Minister Lei, that after he conquered Xiao and her colonies, and successfully incorporated them within the Empire, then he would turn his sights on Sihnon, itself. Then Londinium, then the other colonies. Within his lifetime, he boasted, all of humanity would be under his rule . . . or dead.
Faced with his increasingly unstable mental state and the prospect of eternal war and the deaths of billions, Lei felt he had to act. Though the exact nature of his betrayal was shrouded in secrecy, it did somehow involve the ship. It was after an inspection tour of the massive warship that Lei acted, declaring the reign of the Tyrant ended and ascending the long-vacant Amber Phoenix Throne – something that the Tyrant had never dared do. He set the Empire in order, sued for peace, and began repairing the damage the madman had done.
Ten years later, in a very public show of good faith, he had the Sun Tzu bring 100,000 war refugees to Hecate, and after signing a non-aggression treaty with Xiao he presided over the destruction of the ship. With great ceremony he sent it spiraling down into the depths of the strange gas giant, vowing that it would be another age before such a ship would be needed again – if ever. While the news services at the time had trumpeted the act as a final gesture of peace and good faith, Lei Fong Wu knew otherwise. The Sun Tzu disappeared into the thick clouds of the giant, but it was not crushed.
It had six powerful fusion engines, some of the biggest ever built. They ran the massive grav generators that countered the planet’s own natural forces, allowing it to exist unharmed in heavy grav pressure. It had H3 condensers, which allowed it to eternally refuel itself to keep the engines running. Sun Tzu had not been destroyed. She merely slept in a concealing blanket of hydrogen and helium, tucked into a permanent gravitational eddy provided by the planet’s odd dual cores.
Until a pulse-signal from Serenity told it to wake up and rise again.
All over the ship systems activated, bringing the ship to life, if not to full wakefulness. Automated repairs began, life-support was re-established, and a thousand independent programs that had been set up with just this moment in mind began functioning.
In twelve hours time, the Sun Tzu would be ready for visitors.
“That . . . thing is the treasure?” Johnny asked the flickering holoimage. The crew had reassembled in the lounge, now that the prescribed time had expired, to put their questions to the Map.
“In part,” agreed his ghostly ancestor. “The ship itself can build empires. Or save one. But the real treasures are inside. Gold. Platinum. Gemstones. Artwork. Priceless treasures from Earth-That-Was. And significant other . . . items of value. The Tyrant was an avid collector . . . of other people’s property. What I could not return I placed within.”
“So we can just go over there and scoop it up?” Mal asked plainly.
The image chuckled and shook his head sadly. “What trial would that be? No, my inheritors must prove themselves worthy. Therefore, they are required to face some challenges – nothing insurmountable – before they may lay claim to the treasure.”
“What kind of challenges?” asked Johnny, intently.
“I cannot say. That knowledge was not programmed into me, nor can I acquire it . . . until this unit is interfaced with the main computer of the Sun Tzu.”
“Well, what can you say, then?” the General demanded.
“Your quest is this: you must dock this ship at the ventral bay, amidships. It shall be opened for you. Land inside and proceed. Any attempt to dock elsewhere will increase the likelihood that you will fail, for it will bring greater challenges to bear against you while you try to complete the trial.
“The essence of the trial is this: you must manually activate the ship’s main computer, the engine room, and the bridge. My name is the pass-key for all three. And all three are in separate locations around the ship. This must be done within seventy-two hours after you dock, or the Sun Tzu will return to its resting place permanently, and all within will be lost forever.”
“That hardly seems fair!” Johnny exploded. “Jesus! Haven’t we done enough already?” he asked, disgusted. “I mean, look at the size of that thing! You could spend your entire lifetime wandering around it, and not see anything important!”
“Silence yourself, nephew!” commanded Master Lei, and the young man was cowed. “It is not your place to make the rules!”
“Indeed,” the General murmured. “This legacy falls to all of us. And it will take all of us to earn it. Providing the tasks are not impossible,” he added.
“They are not,” assured the hologram. “What would the point of such an exercise be? No, they are all doable . . . and all exceedingly difficult. More than that I cannot say.”
“Why the arms?” Mal added. “You got . . . some bad nastiness in there?”
“I assure you, I do not know, and cannot tell. You must face them yourself. And within three days, or all is lost. Do so, and your worthiness is proven. Fail, and if you are not exceedingly lucky, the House of Lei stops here and now: you will have failed your ancestors.”
“That’s a pretty big penalty,” agreed Wash. “Nothin’ worse than a pissed-off ghost of Aunty Betty.”
“It is a question of honor,” Master Lei insisted. “We honor our ancestors by carrying their genes. We automatically owe them a debt. And we pay off that debt by surviving and providing more descendents to the line. To not survive this task would bring great dishonor.”
“And a premature end,” agreed Book. “If you don’t step careful.”
“Exactly,” breathed the old man.
“So what’s our strategy?” Jayne asked. “Shouldn’t we have a plan for a crazy venture like this? Not that we’re gonna stick with it, mind, but still . . .”
“I say that our best option is to break up into four groups,” the General said. “One will hold Serenity as a base and to secure our retreat, if necessary. The other three teams go after the objectives. I would lead a team, Colonel Campbell would lead a team, and Captain Reynolds would lead the third. We all go heavily armed, stay in constant contact, and be prepared to provide support for each other as needed. As soon as the objectives are met, we can re-convene at Serenity and decide our next course of action.”
“Sounds like a decent enough plan,” Mal conceded, after some thought. “Everybody pack up. Kaylee, heat her up. Wash, let’s leave the world. Doc, bring your sister out – might need some craziness afore long. And Zoe, get our gear together.” He looked around the room at the eager faces and smiled serenely. “Folks, let’s go get us a treasure!”
Wednesday, November 30, 2005 1:45 PM
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Thursday, December 01, 2005 9:06 AM
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