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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Legacy is in dire straits, having had no chance to stop for fuel, nor enough cash to afford it. An opportunity to fill up the ship comes at last, but the job will put Jacob and his crew in contact with a new and powerful enemy.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1009 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Gorram, this was a long one, especially odd considerin' I completed it so fast. Well, a bit of background onto what happened to poor old Early since he was seen in Objects in Space, an overview of the usefullness of a telepath without compuction to lie, and a new and deadly enemy steps out of the wings, making a short and dramatic appearance.
Remember, we will rise again!
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One by One
The sun was setting on the sixth day at Eavesdown when the Boss said anything, having spent the last week studiously avoiding everybody except for his little cadre that had sprung up. Early somehow got dragged into it, but still Zane got stuck outside the loop. It was damn irritatin' to always be on the outside. He had been dozing on the ramp for the entire afternoon, having nothing better to do while Jacob made arrangements for fuel that never seemed to arrive. No fuel, no go. No go, no ship.
Something had happened to the crew, of late. Not just Sylvia's penchant for the insane. Certainly not his two-day brush with matrimony which ended with him a widower. Something else. It was like there was a battleline growing down the middle of the ship. He was on one side, Boss and the rest on the other. Only Anne was able to straddle it, but that was mostly due to the other things on the ship she straddled.
His thoughts again drifted to Penelope, and the horrible way she died. He might have come to love her, in time. That angered him more than anything. To have a woman foisted upon him, and him just getting her killed. What sort of husband did that? He didn't even notice how he was finally admitting to be her oh-so-brief husband. Part of this was his fault. He should have protected her.
How he was supposed to do that was another matter entirely. The blood on the floor was shocking, not just from her head-holes, but from the still barely living Early and the two men in suits. That was when Early stepped onto the boss's side of the line, as if it drove him. Zane didn't understand. And it was starting to grate on him.
He was no small bit surprised to find his teeth grinding. He'd always been so open, so loose and inviting. He'd cut his teeth on Serenity, under Kaylee Frye, no less. He figured a good bit of her outlook had rubbed off on him. Now, though, it seemed it was finally getting scoured off. He didn't like that. His jaw was tight as he stared into the raucous crowds, at the men and women bustling about. Lucky bastards.
"Oi," he heard a call. He at first disregarded it. More'n like, it wasn't directed at him. Only when he heard that "Oi!" again did he look down a mite. There was a man standing in what Zane would have called a fine suit and hat, had he never seen a fine suit and hat. He was rather short, perhaps of a height with the captain, and not an inch more. Zane raised his chin a touch in acknowledgement.
"What?" he asked simply.
"You Jacob?" the man asked, a thick accent marking him as a child of the Dyton colonies. He had a somewhat rodentic look about him, a bit of a scavenger or the sort. Zane shrugged.
"No," he said, just as simply and lowered his head again.
"Look lad," the man said. "I've got m'self a touch of business with the cap'n of this 'ere vessel. Now do me a favor, an' get off your pi gu and fetch him, mate."
Off his ass, eh? Everybody tried to exploit his total inability to understand Chinese in the past. He'd been workin' toward rectifying that, and had noticed a great many insults being flung around the crew of the ship over the last few weeks. Definite battle lines. Zane forced himself off of his particularly comfortable seat and went into the bowels of the beast. The ship was a pure thing, he reminded himself. It had no control of all the hun dahn what lived inside it. Work the ship. Screw the rest. He shuddered a bit at thinkin' on that.
"Boss!" he called. Jacob came out of the common, where he was no doubt conspiring with his cronies for whatever purpose. They'd not be tellin' him no doubt. Just keep the gorram ship in the air. Ain't gettin' paid to think. Jacob's one eyebrow arched a bit. Guilty? Naw. "Some Dytoner's waitin' on your ramp," he said.
"Ain't on y'ramp no more," the voice came again, directly behind Zane. Jacob looked past Zane's shoulder and afforded himself a small smile.
"Badger," he said.
"You'd be Greyson?" Badger chuckled. "I been on Firefly's before, ain't none of them looked like this," the way the Dayt'er mangled the word made it sound like Firefloy. And no bit respectful, neither.
"Different models, different layouts," Jacob said guardedly. "You said you could hook us up with a load of fuel on the down low. Is this an untruth?"
"Don' even see why ye need it such," Badger pointed out. "Most'd just hop over the station over Eastpoint and top 'er right off."
"I've got a sudden and pressin' need to keep my head down right now. I'm sure you understand," Greyson said succinctly. He turned to a noise behind him, noting as Sylvia slipped past him. She was wearing one of Friday's dresses, Zane noticed. Her hair had also been pulled into a complex braid.
"I ain't sure I figure your tone," Badger said. Sylvia snorted, attracting his attention. "You got a piece to set, luv?"
"Figure y'self such a big man, don't ye," Sylvia said, adopting a perfect Dyton accent. Zane kept his face as smooth as he could, grateful that nobody but Jacob was facing him. "Fancy fits and a tappy top. Back ain't straight as y'd like, eh? Never could get a touch o' height te' ye, could ye?" she asked, prompting Badger's eyebrows to raise almost to his hatbrim.
"Do I know you from somewhere?" he asked. She snorted again, rolling her eyes.
"Your li'l sista would be spinnin' in her grave, she saw the grifts ye'runnin' now. Shakin' down them already shook. And poor Luce. It'd break her li'l 'eart," She said.
"Wait, you were..." Badger began.
"Lovely as this little reunion is," Jacob interrupted, "we still have business to attend to."
Sylvia gave Badger a wan smile and languorously glided out of the room, looking every bit of a baron's daughter, rather than a bootstraps and bayonets bruiser. "Tell me," she said as she exited the bay, "if anybody interesting shows up."
Badger watched her exodus with rapt interest, then turned to Jacob with a smile. "I like her," Jacob offered a tight lipped smile. "Might just have a spot o' work for ye, after all."
"Best news I got today. Figure on goin' somewhere more private?"
"Here'll do. I've got a bit of product needs movin' to Paquin. 'S y're no doubt aware, i's a bit of a pain to move near anythin' off planet. Tha's why I contract out t'folk like y'self," Badger said.
"Is it illegal?" Jacob asked.
"Might be," Badger said with a smile.
"Is it people?" Jacob's brow drew down.
"Good. The fuel?" Jacob asked.
"Enough to make Paquin. You show y'face, my man'll fill y'tanks. Simple, oi?" Badger said, offering his hand. Jacob took it after a moment.
"Keep your word, I'll keep mine," Greyson said.
"Figure on introducin' me to the little miss?" Badger pointed into the ship where Sylvia had vanished. Jacob gave a coy smile.
"Maybe some other time."
Badger shrugged and gave a few details, then made his way off the ship. Zane caught his captain's arm before he got away. "Boss," he said, unable to align his words for a moment. "Did you tell Syl to do that?"
"Can't say as I did," Greyson replied, staring pointedly out the ramp.
"Then, you know she was gonna do that?" Zane asked.
"I really did not," the captain said. "But she did clinch us the deal. Gotta count for something."
"Still, had me crawlin' in my skin a second there," Zane said. Jacob turned and walked into the ship, his voice carrying back into the bay.
"She did at that."
It seemed like such a small thing to do, something so simple that biology ingraned it into the autonomic nervous system, an automatic responce happening with regularity for her entire life. A physical response requiring less actual activity than any other external physical response a human could proudce. And suddenly, the simple act of closing one's eyes and reopening them seemed so damn difficult.
Greyson was not going to be happy with this. Her eyes read the entire page again, from top to bottom, daring it to remain real. It hadn't altered a hair, still as damning and feng kwang as it was a few seconds ago. She heard somebody approaching, and Anne's voice dragged her out of her comfortable befuddlement.
"What'cha doing?" she said simply. Almost childishly, point of fact. Anne's head tilted over and looked into Friday's screen, and she too was infected by it.
"It's..." Friday said, trying to rationalize it somehow. Luckily for her, the captain of the ship chose that moment to stomp into the bridge. She thought stomp, only because he was making just about as much noise as somebody trying to be quiet. Gorram he was a sneaky one.
"It is a warrent," Jacob said. "Anne, we're fueled for Paquin, take us out of the world."
"A warrent?" Friday asked.
"What are you doing in the Cortex anyway?" the captain asked. "Don't they tell you quickest way to get found is to keep y'self on line?"
"Why is there an arrest warrent for?" she began.
"Did you check the date?"
"It was issued six days ago," she said. "Boss, why is Sylvia wanted for...?"
"I meant the dates of her crimes, doc. See?" he pointed out one in particular. "Where was she two months ago?"
"Comatose on my bed. You sayin' that this thing's fake?" Friday asked.
"It's on official channels. Somebody wants real hard to get ahold of her," Anne said, flying perfectly well with half a mind. "Mayhaps we just give her to them."
"Hey," Jacob snapped, drawing her attention sharply. "We ain't handing over anybody on this boat, 'specially since we know for a gorram fact that the charges they got her for are gorram lies."
Anne looked a bit defensive. "I's just sayin'," she pouted.
Jacob's ardor cooled, then. He placed a hand on his lover's shoulder.
"You know that ain't an option," he said softly. "What we gotta worry with is this job. We're quite literally flyin' for fuel, and we ain't got much more'n it'll take to reach Paquin. Nice and easy. Doc?"
He nodded into the back. She shrugged and followed him, walking as far as the kitchen before he turned on her.
"I heard that the reason we had to uncuff you so's you could deal with the injured was 'cause you were trying to make a boytoy outta Jubel," Jacob said. "Do I need to invoke the rule?"
"No boytoys?" Friday said snidely. "How the hell am I supposed to fulfill my needs?"
"On your own damn time," Jacob said.
"It was my time. We were landed, our job was done," she argued.
"And why in the hell did you pick Early?" Jacob laughed mirthlessly. "I mean, Zane was... oh, right."
"He was married at the time, boss," She pointed out. "Besides, Got nothin' against the exhuberance of youth, but every now and then I need a touch of experience."
"Oh God," he gagged a bit. "I did not need to know that."
"It's kinda strange that you're taking umbrage at that, considerin' your own proclivities towards, say, matrimony."
"Hey, now," Jacob interrupted. "Ain't got any issue with the nuptial bed. Or the nuptial floor, or the nuptial chair. Or the nuptial kitchen table, or surgical slab. Or nuptial stairwell, or come to think of it just about any nuptial surface. Not the nuptial stove, though. Not gonna try that one again."
"Are you trying to be funny, boss?"
"Am I succeeding?" he grinned broad. "Just don't your diversions get in the way of your job. And leave poor Early alone for a bit. You've already got him jumpin' out of his skin," he turned to leave, "Oh, wait, tell him about the warrent that came up. He might know something, and right now I need every brain I can get."
"Why don't you tell him If'n I'm spookin' him so much?" she prodded.
"I've got to go talk to God," he said with a scowl.
"That preacher still on the boat?" she asked.
"Yeah, don't understand it m'own self," He pursed his lips as he walked away.
"Boss!" she said before he went down the stairs. "Did you really... on my slab?" He grinned. She stared, jaw hanging at his vanishing visage. She was going to have to wash that thing with bleach now. "Son of a bitch."
The preacher looked up from the Bible as Jacob slid the door open. A brow arched over wire-rimmed glasses, and he marked his place with a dark finger.
"Civilized people have a tendency to knock first," Job said. Jacob slid the door closed behind him.
"Ain't never claimed to be civilized, have I?" Jacob smiled. "Why are you still here?"
"Right to the heart of the matter," the Shepherd said, his soft voice filling the room with its presence rather than its volume. "I wonder perhaps why you are so uncomfortable having a man of God on your ship."
Jacob's eye narrowed a piece. "Ain't uncomfortable havin' a man of God on my ship. So long as you pay dues, you're welcome to stay. If God feels like payin' His fare, well, He can have the room next to you and eat with the rest of us."
The captain lowered himself to one knee, slightly more comfortable, "'Sides, I was askin' why you're still on my boat. I made it abundantly clear there was an abbey over Southdown, a spot a fair sight friendlier than the skies these days. Makes the question double obvious. What's a fella like you on a boat like this?"
Job smiled then, a small thing, with just a hint of torment. Most would have never noticed it, but Jacob was specificly watching for it. "When did you lose your faith, child?" he asked. Jacob hadn't expected to have the conversation turned on him in that manner, answered anyway.
"Damn long time ago, and took a damn long time in comin'. 'Sides, never said I didn't believe in God," Jacob said.
"You seem to imply it rather frequently," Job said.
"Nothing here is what it seems," Jacob said. Did the man flinch just a bit when he said that? Huh.
"I should suppose not," Job answered cautiously. The preacher knew he was walking on some thin and shifting ice. Only problem was that Jacob knew that if that ice gave way, it wouldn't be the Shepherd would would be drowning. The captain rose to his feet and opened the door again. He spoke over his shoulder.
"I know you're not a Shepherd," he said. "The name would be a dead giveaway to anybody cracked the Bible before."
"How so?" the preacher whispered.
"Job was a man who God Himself turned against. Job was an upstanding man, but God had Job's family slaughtered, his livelyhood destroyed, and his body inflicted with horrible illnesses. Not because Job had done anything wrong, but because he had done everything right. Job believed in God, and for his faith, was destroyed," Jacob said. "I know you've got blood on your hands. Hell of a lot more than I do, and a lot less regret about it. Lucky I don't give a good gorram about that. My concern is that you're a random element, a whole pile of interestin' I really don't want."
"An interesting supposition," the Shepherd said carefully. Jacob took another step away.
"Might be best if you got off on Paquin, preacher. Might be better for all of us."
If the preacher had a response, Jacob didn't hear it as he walked out of the passenger room. He spotted Sylvia in her usual spot, legs crossed with a book open on her lap. It was his book and she was flipping through the pages faster than he'd have liked to behold.
"You seem to be the subject of much debate, these days," Greyson said, lowering himself into his spot. He pulled the book away from her, an activity that took more effort than he'd have expected. She had a strong grip. "Somebody's lookin' for you, and lookin' hard,"
"One by one, consume the sun," Sylvia said, shaking her head. "Just words, don't comprehend yet."
Jacob forced a smile. "Don't worry about it yet, mei mei. We'll get things sorted out."
"Mei mei?" Sylvia scoffed, giving him a you-are-a-dummy look. Her face sagged a bit, then. "No, things'll get sorted out just like they did on Persephone. Question is, who's blood will it be?"
"Hey," the captain muttered. "Ain't havin' that kinda pessimism on my ship. You perk the hell up," Jacob scratched his wounded eyebrow. "Any idea what's in the boxes?"
"Weapons," she said without hesitation.
"Pick that up offa Badger?" she smirked a bit. "Well, never fancied myself a gun-runner. Hell of a thing, that."
"Not guns," she muttered. "Not things that go boom. Other weapons."
Jacob pondered a moment on what she meant, when he recalled the old saying 'information is ammunition'. He was smuggling information. Weren't that a hell of a thing?
She smiled at him. "Fast learner," she whispered.
"How are things, now that you don't need to listen to us?" he said quietly. She smiled at him.
"Quieter. Nicer. Especially since Friday shut up. I can actually sleep now."
"Speaking of sleep, what about Elias?" Jacob asked.
"Not so much as a peep. Whatever programing he's undergone has seriously shut him down. Don't know of any way to snap him out of it without the right code," She reached for the book, but Jacob held it away.
Give it back.
"Why don't you do that more often?" Jacob asked. "The quiet thing?"
"It may be faster," Sylvia said. "But talkin's easier, simpler, and looks a whole lot more natural. 'Sides, I play my cards close to the chest."
"No you don't," Jacob corrected. "Since that flight into Hera, you ain't played any cards at all."
"They were gorram jealous that I'd gotten out of doing anything for the next three months," she murmured.
"They were gorram sure you were cheating. And come to think of it, you were."
"Ain't cheatin' to use your brain," Sylvia smiled.
"Is when you use it like that," Jacob laughed a bit. When he finished, he sat for a moment. He opened his mouth to ask a question.
"Four hours till Paquin," Sylvia answered. He raised an eyebrow. "It's all over your face. Besides, Anne wants you."
"For what?" Jacob asked. Sylvia shook her head.
"What else?" she said. Jacob bounded up with a grin, only stopping with his hand on the stair rail.
"You gonna be alright down here?"
"Don't know," she said, not looking at him. "I really don't."
For some reason, the gun now riding on Early's hip didn't feel natural. Sure it wasn't the perfectly tuned, terrifically optimized firearm that he purchased two years ago, but he'd always had a gun on him, and it had become so natural that he felt naked without one. Now it felt like he was overclothed with one.
He still only wore his fine white shirt, but he eyeballed his vac-suit for a long moment. He'd learned to trust his instincts as a bounty hunter. When he got an inkling to do something, he did it. Whether that was licking a support strut he was passing or rigging a feedback trap into his ship on a whim, it was all the same. He was waiting for what his instinct told him. It had become sluggish, of late.
He didn't feel anything, and walked out of his room with a mutter that not even he caught. Things were coming unraveled. Unhinged and sideways. His very senses were beginning to betray him. And every damn night, he had the same damn nightmare, of the mechanic girl with the kind face. He shook out the fatigue. Maybe it was just not getting sleep. Yeah, he could believe that.
The ship had landed for a while, and the Shepherd had taken his leave in the later afternoon. Now, the door to Paquin laying open and the sky was black with the night. Sylvia and Jacob were waiting on him, standing at the top of the ramp, her loading a final shell into her shotgun and flipping her long coat over it, him leaning against the doors. Early wasted no more time.
"'Bout time," Sylvia said passively.
"Didn't figure on you bringin' her out," Early said slowly, "what with every police department in the sector looking for her."
"She's got something I need," Jacob said. "And she knows how to keep a low profile."
"Hopefully a bit lower than on Liann Juin," Early said, walking passed the pair. Jacob jogged to catch up with him, then passed him.
"Low blow," he said with a grin. "And 'sides that, you don't even know where we're going."
"Then enlighten me," Early riposted. He turned around to see the captain lugging a pair of large cases, appearantly not entirely heavy. Jacob handed off the one in his left hand to Early, and Sylvia did the same with her right, leaving Jubel carrying more than either. He scowled a bit and let Greyson lead the way. Sylvia filled the walk with quiet banter, mostly about weaponry, no surprise there. She had some rather remarkable insights in some aspects, though, and he found himself rather effectively distracted from the length of the trek. The streets of the town were becoming narrower and narrower, until the three had to pass single file with their cases turned sideways as they then navigated back alleys.
"Any reason we aren't stickin' to the streets?" Early asked. "Or maybe using the Mule?"
It wasn't his thought, and sounded distinctly like Sylvia's voice. He stared at her for a long moment. He'd heard that Readers could... well... read, but he'd never known them to do the whole brain-to-brain thing. All in all, he found the single word somewhat unsettling. Of course, he was much more unsettled when a tetrad of soldiers in Alliance purples strode along the road. They looked almost every direction, saving of course for at Early and the rest. When the passed, she nodded out into the street.
"Where?" he asked. Jacob pointed at the three story building with the bright red-stained lantern hanging just above the door.
"A brothel?" he said as the trio exited the alley and quickly crossed the distance. "We're delivering illegal weaponry into a gorram brothel?"
"Not guns," Sylvia said as Jacob knocked on the door.
"So, we're delivering classified documents into a whorehouse," he said. He tried to turn the idea over in his mind, make it fit somewhere. "Does that seem right to you?"
The door opened, and a pair of large men ushered them in. Early had seen their like before. They were professional bullyboys, hired hands to toss out them as were unwelcome at the establishment. Once Jacob and the rest were in the room, the pair returned to their positions. Early had never frequented whorehouses for their intended purpose, but he had seen the inside of many during his illustrious career. He was frequently called to enter a building very much like this one to dig out a criminal, bail-dodger, or some-such out of the arms they'd payed to sleep, or not, in. This one was almost prototypical. A bar stretched along the main room, offering a place to sit and reclaim oneself before returning to the prostitutes throughout the house. Also, it was a good place to get a patron so drunk that the aforementioned prostitutes could have an easy night.
Jacob made his way quickly through the room, dodging the hordes of whores on his way to the backroom door. He knocked twice and spoke the password, and the door was pulled open. Jacob nodded them all in. The guards in this room differed from those outside in one very critical fashion: they were armed. And in Early's not-so-humble opinion, they were armed well. Hell, most folk would say these fellas were ready to fight a war. The hall was rather dark, and led down into the bowels of the building, a place wherein Early had no experience. When they finally opened the door, Early understood exactly why they had brought these cases here.
It looked like a gorram warroom. Sure there weren't any maps, nor screens with troop locations, nor anything else which would have ostensibly pointed toward that conclusion, but there was a feel to the place. The blackboards had even been wiped clean very recently, meaning this place had seen use in the very near past. A woman turned to face them, her face made up like one of the women-of-the-hour upstairs, but her overly fine dress marked her as the establishment's madam. Despite the garish coloring, her features were rather weathered and hard, the face of a soldier.
And draped over her shoulders, concealing all of the flesh her dress would display, was a long, brown coat.
"Well," Jacob said. "Not exactly what I expected."
"What?" the browncoat madam asked. "Were you expecting some sort of a demure miss with the chest out to here and a slinky dress?" she asked.
"Well, needless to say," Syl laughed a bit. "We didn't exactly expect to see an Independant in her warroom."
"That's the beauty of this setup," the woman said. "Nobody expects it. Sergeant-Major Virginia Brownlee."
"Jacob Greyson," the captain said, taking her hand and giving it a single shake. He placed the case on the table, and bade his cohorts do the same. Jubel's were the last to be so placed. "What's the score, Brownlee?"
She didn't answer him right away, instead rifling through the contents of the cases. When the contents met with her approval, she nodded.
"I'd not do that, Brownlee," Sylvia said. The soldier looked up at her with suspicion. "We're all on the same side here."
Sylvia took a step into the light, and Early noticed that the coat she'd picked out for this run was exactly the same color as the soldier's. Lucky.
"What outfit were you part of?" Brownlee asked suspiciously.
"I was with the twenty-second during the battle of Du Khang," Sylvia lied. Early heard from the rest that the first time Syl had used a gun it was to take down a Reaver out in the Miranda Belt. She was quickly, he realized, becoming a highly proficient liar.
"Really? And before that?" Brownlee asked.
"Before Du Khang, I was part of the eighty-third, but they got shot down over Newhall, scattering us all to hell. I hooked up with the twenty-second and ran with them till I caught a fistful of shrapnel," Syl said, voice clipped and concise. A military voice. "I was in traction for almost a year, and by then, the war was over."
Brownlee nodded. "And your name?"
"Private Witherell," Sylvia said. Brownlee nodded again.
"I've heard of a Witherell with the twenty-second. Ever fight with Sergeant Reynolds?"
"Got sidelined before Mal pulled in the whole damn gang. Never actually met him till a few months ago," Syl said. Damn, Early thought. She was really going to pull this off!
Brownlee smiled then, her hard face softening in a rather surprising manner. "Well, its good to see a friendly face," she said. "I'll have that fuel in your tanks inside two minutes."
Jacob turned silently and walked away, Early knew enough to follow him. Sylvia obviously didn't see that as her moment, and stood at attention for a moment longer. "You know, the war is over."
Brownlee smirked. "That war is over," she agreed. "The new war is just getting started. You ever need a place to lay low, don't be a stranger. Brownlee's'll always take in one of our own."
Early was now in the corridor, and he heard Sylvia's footfalls catching up to his own. He shot her a very pointed look, she smiled conspiratorially to him. They were escorted politely back into the main room of the establishment, and from there, took their rapid leave and exited into the street. The three of them almost scurried into the alley, where they all stopped to breath a collective sigh of relief.
"How..." Jacob said, "in the hell... did you do that?"
Sylvia was smiling broadly, proud. "I told her what she wanted to hear. Did I do good?"
"Hell yes," Early said. "What were they planning to do, anyway?"
"Keep us in a small, cold room until they see where our alliances lie. They've worked with Badger before," she explained. "Just he's not exactly reliable when it comes to manpower, so they run their own checks. We'd have been out of there in the morning," Sylvia smiled again.
"So..." Early said. "Why did you do that... thing?"
She grinned. "Two reasons, really. First, I want to sleep on a bed tonight. Second," she gave him a wink. "I wanted to see if I could."
"Well," Jacob said, "you've earned your pay for the day."
"Does that mean I get ten percent of that gas?" Jubel asked.
"Figure of speach," Jacob muttered. He drew in a deep breath, then sighed it out. "Well, that was all kinds of interesting, might as well make our way back."
Sylvia once again filled the walk back with conversation, picking up her last discussion precisely where she left it. They'd progressed up the line from Ceresarms Doubleactions to the vaunted Callahan Full-bore Autolock by the time they had traversed the town and came back upon Legacy. Even as they moved to the ship, Early noted the refueling gantry moving off into the night. Good as her word. What a shocker.
Zane was waiting on the ramp as they approached. Jacob spoke loudly. "You should have seen Syl's little performance in there. I was shocked my own self, she almost had me thinkin' she'd fought in the gorram War."
"I'm sure," Zane said flatly, then got to his feet, eyes on Syl and rife with suspicion. Jubel turned and took her in, standing stock still and staring pointedly at nothing.
"Something wrong?" Early asked. Sylvia hadn't moved a hair, her eyes locked onto a little bit of nothing in the darkness. Zane took a step toward her. Just one step, at least, before she ripped her shotgun out of her coat. Before she even racked it, she fell to the ground with a clipped scream.
Early reached for his gun, missing, since it was in a different spot than he'd always worn his, and watched as Jacob quickdrew pointing in that general direction. The gun sprang away from his hand, flipping through the air.
It was caught by a black hand. In the second it took to locate his weapon, Early watched as the night opened around a man in a fine suit. His eyes were a rich brown, but somehow they were clearly visible against the night. His hands were pitch black. Gloved. Zane took a long stride toward the man, brandishing a wrench. The man didn't pause an instant, spinning the revolver in his hand until he grasped it properly, pointing it at the youth without glancing, and squeezing off a shot. Zane collapsed backward to the dirt, hands clutching at his stomach.
"One by one," Sylvia said, reaching toward her shotgun. The revolver whipped back toward them, leveling on the three still clear of the ship. "Consume the sun."
"What do you want?" Jacob said cautiously, giving Early a glance. Jubel removed his hand from the gun. The man in the black gloves nodded and his weapon was lowered somewhat. Less threatening, but every bit as ready for action.
"I have very specific and narrow orders," the man replied. His voice was that of someone very young, perhaps not much older than Zane. "Your miss Witherell is not included in them."
"I'm not?" she asked.
"She ain't?" Jacob said over top of her.
"I am here solely for McKenna. If you stand in our way, you will meet your mechanic's fate. Will you acquiesce?"
Jacob and Sylvia shared a long look. Finally, she nodded grimly.
"The rest of your crew, then, will not be harmed," the man said. With one hand, he field stripped the pistol into its component parts inside four seconds, letting it fall to the ground. Sylvia's hand closed around the shotgun, and she pulled the thing up, just as Early grabbed for his gun. He looked back at the place the man had been standing.
It was as if he'd never been there. Not so much as a bootprint. Zane screamed in agony as his gut-wound began to bleed out. There was an unspoken agreement between the captain and Sylvia, who grabbed Zane and hauled him wordlessly into the ship. Early waited just long enough to scoop up the vital components of Jacob's gun before joining them. Friday was descending the stairs from the catwalks as they carried the screaming mechanic into the ship. Her eyes took in the carnage in an instant, standing clear of them so they could take him into the infirmary. On his way past, Early pounded on the intercomm.
"Anne!" he shouted. "What happened in here?"
"Not a gorram thing," came her reply. "Was that gunfire?"
"Captain wants you to check on Elias," Early said, catching the captain's nod before the man vanished around the corner and down the stairs. He followed the swarm, curiously finding himself abreast of the doctor, who had completely set him out of her mind, by the looks of her. They laid him out on the slab as Anne's voice came back over the comms.
"Gorramit, he's gone. Where the hell did he get to?"
Jacob forced his way to the intercom and punched it, leaving a red handprint on the wall. "Get us into the air, Anne, now!" he shouted. Zane's screaming must have filtered through the signal, because the ramp was shutting even as the ship bucked on its way into the sky. After a few seconds, and the ship stopped shifting about so much, Friday began her duty, stripping away Zane's clothing to access his wound. She knew a bullet wound when she saw one, and was already reaching for the forceps when Sylvia's hand stalled her.
"Zane, listen to me," she said. "Can you feel your legs?"
Zane's panicked eyes darted about. "Hell no. Can't feel 'em."
Sylvia turned to the doctor. "It's in his spine."
"It's in my gorram spine?" Zane whined.
"Why won't you pop him?" Jacob demanded.
"Because it'll make him bleed out," Sylvia answered.
"We can't pull the bullet," Friday said. "Even if the bullet hasn't destroyed a major blood vessel, going in to remove it might. It would kill him."
"Don't do that, then," Zane groaned through the pain.
Syl pondered for a moment. "Pull the bullet," she said.
"It might," Friday began.
"It won't," Sylvia replied, eyes brooking no opposition. With a grim set to her jaw, Friday forced the forceps into the wound, ignoring as the gasps of pain became ear-injuring screams. Finally, she let out a grunt and pulled out an entire slug, still glistening red. Sylvia took hold of the mechanic's face as he thrashed in his position as best as as paraplegic could.
"Do you want to know the secret?" she demanded. "Look at me, gorram it! Do you want to know the secret?"
Zane, no doubt desperate, nodded. Sylvia looked to Early. "I'm going to need you to hold me up," she said. Early obliged her, even though he didn't rightly know what she was about. She placed both of her hands over the bloody opening, jaw shutting with a click. There was a moment of pristine silence in the room.
Then both of them screamed. Zane quivered on the table, and Sylvia bucked against Early's grasp, almost pulling free. Suddenly, she was going slack, knees giving out, as Zane's back arched and he forced his middle off the table. Only Friday and Greyson holding him down kept him from falling off. Finally, the screams stopped, and Sylvia's hands fell free. The wound was still bleeding, so whatever good she did, if she did any, Early couldn't see.
"Can you feel your legs now?" she whispered, head flopped back against Early's chest. Zane stared at her, equal parts horror and confusion in his eyes. Then he looked down at his legs, and noted as his boot shifted first one way, then another. A shaky smile came onto his lips, matched by the one which appeared on Syl's. Then, her head dropped forward, and her body became deadweight.
Zane's ears were the first thing to come back to him, registering that beep-beep-beep that meant he was still of the living. His eyes were next, opening to stare into the lavishness of the medical bay. Friday really did like her place to look opulent, didn't she? Then he saw the woman herself, as she leaned in to do that gorram light-in-the-eye thing that doctors always did. He grunted and tried to wave her off.
As he did, his stomach gave him a spike of pain which worked its way most of the way up the brain. Gorram, he thought sardonically, I musta got shot.
"How do you feel," Friday said. The room was darkish, he noticed. Like it was still night. Or maybe he'd slept the whole day through and woke up the day next.
"Like I got shot in my belly," Zane answered drowsily. He wondered if he was on drugs. Probably. He did get shot. What a concept! Him, getting shot. Wow.
"Don't you worry, Zane," Friday said. "You'll be good as new in no time."
"No time being what?" Zane's words came out rather slow, even to his own ears.
"Week or two, maybe," Friday was checking something he couldn't see, then came into view again.
"How," Zane started again when he found himself choking on a drop of his own saliva. "How the hell'd she do that?"
Friday looked out the door, prompting Zane to stare down the length of his body, at the form of Sylvia laid out on the long couch. "She's got a rare, wonderful gift. I guess you'd be tired. Do you need a blanket?"
"I'm a bit cold, yeah," Zane said. Friday left the room to grab some linens. "Syl?"
"Yeah?" came her drowsy response.
"That's a hell of a secret you got," he said. "A hell of a secret..."
The black washed over him again as he fell again into dream.
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