BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 1:14, See What's Inside
Friday, December 9, 2005

Times have gone from bad to desparate, with even food becoming precious on Legacy. Now, the crew must take a job from a shady fellow in order to keep themselves fed. But what's waiting for them has a powerful hunger of its own.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1825    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

Quite possibly, the longest chapter to date, which is just as well, because it will be the last that I release this year. What with the holidays looming, I find myself with surprisingly less free time to myself with a computer handy, so enjoy this. It'll be January when the next one hits. Ah, those three little words, so hard to say in proper context and timing. And if it's hard to say them right, just imagine having to write for them. Bah. Anyway, a touching moment near the beginning, a lot of horrifying moments later, and a cool new scar for one of the crew. I hope you like. All your Firefly are belong to Joss GIVE MEH FEEDBACK!

See What's Inside

Colonel Patrick Barclay watched down on the harsh surface of Kerry, a sad little dustball with no redeeming features that he could see. He hated having to do these kinds of runs, being sent so far away from his home, and more importantly, from civilization itself. While the promotion had been his ambition for years, the manner in which it was granted was almost a damned insult. He paced the length of the spacious command deck, waiting for his personnel to inform him that nothing was wrong, that it was just another false alarm. He'd gotten dozens of them since his assignment to the Magellan, from every planet and moon in this sector. He missed his family, and his wife hadn't wanted to pull their children from school to join him on his tour, so he was very much alone. With all of these factors working in conjuction, he was in a lethally bad mood. He turned to the sensors officer, "How long until we enter scanning range?" "Entering range, now," the young cadet replied. "Mark, we've got some civilian traffic. One Firefly class midbulk freighter, an old Trans-U. Wait a moment. I'm not getting a definitive read off of the third contact." "Explain," Barclay demanded, stooping down and staring at the display. He only had a minimal amount of skill at interpreting the information, having focused himself into other areas from early in life. Cadet Church soaked in the information in moments, then started to speak. "The last one is... It's a Frankenship, sir," Church. "I will thank you to never use that term again in my presence, cadet," Barclay said. "What type of ship is it?" "It's not any kind of ship, sir," Church explained. "It's got the tail and engine block of a Phoenix, the bridge looks like a Wren... Sir, I'm reading high explosives on that ship." "It is armed," Barclay muttered. "Pirates? Bring them up on the screen." The main holotank came online, showing a three-dimensional interpretation of the chase. In the front was the Firefly, and behind it the Trans-U, with the odd ship following and catching up quickly. The Trans-U looked to be gravely damaged, but it was moving with incredible speed. "Sir, more contacts. Small, like gunships. Should we assist?" "Like gunships?" Barclay snipped. The display began to resolve the small craft overtaking the Trans-U. They looked very much unlike an ASREV, or any other craft a sane man would create once, let alone four times, as followed the Firefly. One of them, which had moved fastest, sunk its metal claws into the underbelly of the Firefly and began diggin in. "Good God," Church said. "Reavers." "One more outburst and I will have you relieved of duty," Barclay said idly. He'd seen the Wave. He'd seen the woman being torn apart by those... things. Torn apart, and far worse things before that happened. Everybody had seen it. More, his gunnery chief had been part of the taskforce that fought them on Ion, but until this very moment, he still held to the belief that the Reavers were some sort of folk-tale, a bogey-man to frighten children. They were terrifyingly real. "Set the ship to alert status and deploy gunships," Barclay said. "That Firefly is obviously in distress. Can you swat down those boarding craft?" he asked his chief. She nodded, unable to take her eyes away from her old fears. "Do it!" The gunships were away by the time the first dark contrail streaked away from the Magellan, burning out into the void. The first one struck with wonderful precision, smashing the smallish craft into oblivion. The second one was equally accurate, bursting within feet of the craft and tearing it in half. The third shot missed, however, and streaked off into the black. "We're getting a transmission from the Firefly, sir," a female cadet piped up. He really had to remember her name one of these days. Car? No... Cobb? No, that wasn't it either. "Pipe it through," he ordered. "Gorram it, the're gonna kill us," a woman's voice came through. "Mayday, mayday!" a man interjected, "we are under attack. Does anybody hear us?" Barclay nodded to the woman-cadet, and she activated the two-way. "This is Colonel Barclay of the IAV Magellan. Surrender your controls and we will bring you in." "Copy that," the man replied. "Anne, come with me." The line went dead. The Gunships had finally reached the crab-like ship, and were launching a flight of smaller missiles at it, taking apart piece by piece as it tried in vain to latch onto the Firefly. Barclay shouted to his gunnery chief. "Open fire on the pirate vessal," he ordered. "Gather a detachment of marines and meet me in the docking bay." "Sir?" "That ship has been boarded by hostile forces," Barclay said, leaving the bridge. "It is our duty to assist these citizens of the Alliance." He made his way quickly through the ship, collecting marines as he went, it seemed, until he had a good double-dozen trailing behind him in double file. At last he heard his gunnery chief over the intercomm. "Direct hit, but the ship is still intact. The 'pirate' vessel is breaking off. The Trans-U is... Following it. Huh." Reavers. Inside the safety of his own mind, he shuddered at the implication. He was more than a little apprehensive of what he'd find when he opened the door. "Are they sealed?" he asked the dockmaster as he passed. The man nodded once, and Barclay let his men stream past him, taking up positions at opposite sides of the airlock door. They shoved the thing to, and poured into the Firefly as a flood of grey and purple. The instant he came to the door, however, he was overwhelmed with the stench of blood. There was a chorus of feral groans and barking in some tongue that had no right to be spoken by human tongues. Even tongues split in twain. The ship was a vision of Hell, with still moving bodies adorned in tatters of cloth and putrifying flesh still thrashing in an attempt to do some more damage before their bodies finally admitted death. They were helped along to that slow end by the men firing more out of nerves than need of orders. He wouldn't reprimand them for that; how could he, when he already had his sidearm out, and was flitting between every available nook in worry that one might be not dead. After a moment, he counted a full twenty of the things, falling silent one after another as a fine upstanding Alliance Federal put a bullet into their skulls. "Where are the owners of this ship?" Barclay called out. His gaze was dragged up into the catwalks of the Firefly, where he saw a man rise unsteadily to his feet. Behind him was a short woman with close cropped hair. "That," the man gasped deeply between his words, "would be me," the man slipped his arm around the woman and called out to the opposite side of the catwalk. The man guided the quaking woman down the stairs and into Barclay's proximity, and seemed to be supporting himself at the same time; his right arm was clutched about his abdomen. As he reached the ground, a pair of others were escorted out of the the back of the ship. Barclay looked them up and down. The captain was of had only one eye, and was only of middling height, but made the woman he was with seem miniscule by comparison. New into the room was a black man in red armor, bleeding rather profusely, and an asian woman in a torn and tattered robe who was obviously on the verge of voiding herself. The captain glanced about, arm slipping away long enough for Barclay to get a look at the injury. It was quite severe, and a wonder that he hadn't been completely eviscerated. "Where's Zane?" he asked. At last, a tall, lanky youth with shaggy blonde hair was escorted out of the top floor of the ship. "Is this everyone?" Barclay asked. The captain took a look around, taking in the four members of his crew. After a long moment of staring off into nothing, he nodded grimly. "It is," he said. "It is now." <> Business had been slow, with Sylvia a wanted woman and damn near every Firefly scrutinized under a microscope, it was damn disconcerting to find both little work and little mobility. A haul of wobbly-headed geisha dolls took the edge off, but the crew was beginning to chomp at the bit. Jacob sat down and began munching on one of the last dozen protein bars on the ship. What good was having four tanks full of fuel on board if he didn't have anywhere to go, and no food to sustain him when he got there? "Tyen shiao-duh," Zane swore, almost managing to pronounce the words right. The lanky man was still limping from the aftermath of the last job, and now swung his gaze about the dining area. "Did you have to destroy the kitchen to feed yourself?" Jacob looked around the carnage he had wrought in his quest to find some food before the rest of the crew awoke. It was a right mess, entirely his fault, with every cupboard pulled open, the non-edible contents of most scattered wherever they would sit, and a great many cooking impliments now sitting on the floor. "Seems like," Jacob answered. Zane stared slackjawed at the maelstrom for another few moments. "Gorram. How in the hell did you end up as the captain, again?" Jacob only grinned, and took another bite of his bar. "Cause I'm the prettiest," Jacob grinned, leaving Zane to pick up the pieces. True, he could have done it himself, but as the saying went, gos-se always rolls down the hill. Besides, with business so slow, he was in something of a bad mood. Zane muttered to himself as he cleaned up the mess in his secondary domain, leaving the captain to think on captainy matters. Chief of these matters was whether them as contacted him on Kerry were actually going to give him a job, rather than just shoot him. He'd already had one bullet yanked out of him from a visit to the Rim, and didn't much feel like going through it again. Wasn't the first time he'd have been shot on Kerry, neither. Five years back, he took a slug to the thigh from a group somewhat ornery as to the points of the agreement they'd been forced into. Jacob wondered if they were going to hold a grudge? He finished the tasteless bar and walked into the cockpit. The dustball moon was coming up swiftly as Anne forced the craft down through the layers of cloud and dust as they burned toward the surface. This job seemed simple enough. Iron to Silverhold, government food from Silverhold back to Kerry. Simple. He placed his hand on Anne's shoulder, illiciting a smile. They shared a long look, not even needing to ask the question, nor hear the answer. How long? Couple minutes. Her mischievous grin returned to the planet and he watched as the ground drew closer with every passing second. The ship went through that wonky period where the ship's false-grav and the planet's real gravity were fightin' each other, then the ship's gravity took over proper and their ride became a touch smoother. Finally, the ship settled down nice and soft on the the outskirts of a little rustic town. "Keep it warm for me," he said simply, turning to leave. He'd almost reached the threshold when he heard her voice again. "Wait," she said. He looked over his shoulder, she'd turned her chair sideways, but wasn't looking at him. "I need to know something." "What is it, bao bei?" he asked. "Do you love me?" she asked. The question had him poleaxed for a damn long second. They'd always avoided that word, said it'd jinx them up ever it were given. He moved back to her, kneeling in front of her. "Desperately," He said. She smiled small. "Did since that night you dragged me out of the whorehouse on Athens," he cupped her hands in his. "I thought we didn't..." "I'm sorry," she said, still smiling. "I just, well, I..." "You just wanted to hear it?" Jacob said. "Here it is. I love you. If you didn't catch that, woh ai nee, bao bei." She just smiled at him, eyes bright. "I... Thank you." Jacob just grinned and stood. It felt like a weight he hadn't even realized he was carrying had been lifted from his back. "This change anything?" "Should it?" she asked. "Go. Get a job. I'd like to eat sometime this month." He was still smiling when he made his way down into the cargo bay, where Early and Sylvia were waiting. Early took a look at him and rolled his eyes. Sylvia didn't even bother looking his direction, staring off into the early morning, and toward the town. She slid a shell into her shotgun and tucked it away. "So," she said, still not facing him. "When's the wedding?" Early scowled at her, and raised an eyebrow at Jacob. "Did you get her pregnant?" the dark man asked. Jacob noted that he was wearing his red vac-suit, a thin skin of armor able to stop most small arms fire. Jacob really had to make a note of asking where he got it. Wait. Pregnant? "She's pregnant?" Jacob asked Sylvia, an itch of panic edging into his voice. She turned to him and gave him a you-are-a-boob look. "Hell no," she replied. "But I had you spooked there for a second." "You," he said quietly, "are an evil woman," Sylvia's laughter came out in a restrained hiss. "Did you hook Early into this?" the dark man shrugged a touch too innocently, proving his complicity. He looked to the Mule, which was about as torn apart as Jacob had left the kitchen. Zane'd said he'd have it fixed up right as rain, but with a gut-wound, Jacob wasn't exactly holding him to that. Still, he'd liked to have had a leisurely drive into town, but with a transmission spread out on the cargobay floor, it was obvious they were going to have to hoof it. He strode off the ramp, feeling the dry soil crunch beneath his bootsoles. Early and Syl weren't far behind. She was relatively safe out here, so far away from anywhere they expected to meet the Alliance in any damn way, shape or form, and these folk preferred it, it seemed, when a fella approached in threes. For some reason, when they saw two folk comin' they assumed the third was tryin' to get the drop on them, and that ended in all kinds of unpleasant. "So," Jacob said as the town grew closer. "How did you know about the...?" "you were overwhelmed," Syl said. "When you're overwhelmed, your Block goes down, and," she tapped her temple to complete her statement. "Course, Anne don't even know how to do it yet, so she's comin' in loud and clear." "But I can keep it up when I'm...?" he began. "Strangely enough," Sylvia admitted. "You mind steering this conversation towards things ain't in the realm of the cheesy sci-fi movie?" Early asked. Sylvia smiled at him. "Do I make you uncomfortable?" she asked. "All manner of," he said. "Well," she said to the former bounty hunter. "What would you have us speak on?" Early pondered for a moment. "You ever been to Higgen's Moon?" he began. His story seemed perfectly timed, since when he'd finished it, they were at the edge of town. "And they have a statue of him?" Jacob asked. "That hulking-man-ape that was tear-assing around my ship has a statue? Musta been a boost to his damn ego." "Hell, I hear when Cobb found out, he tore the damn thing down. Course, the Mudders just put it back up not a day after he was gone," Early shook his head. "Gorram natives. One of these days, I'm gonna drop a box of money on them, see if I get a statue." "I'm sure they'd capture your essence, though," Sylvia muttered. "How d'you figure?" Early asked. "They'll probably make it in a fistfight with the Jayne statue," She chuckled. Jacob stopped for a moment. "What's wrong with this picture?" he asked. Sylvia almost bumped into him, glancing over his shoulder. The town was quiet. No matter how rustic a town got, there was always a fair bit of noise to it, but this thing was too damn quiet. "Open them up," she muttered. "See what's inside." Jacob pushed a nearby door open, taking in the total vacancy of anything beyond four walls, a floor and a cieling. "Ain't nothing inside, like they all just picked up and left," Jacob muttered. "How the hell are we supposed to get a job if there's nobody to get the job from?" Early said wryly. Greyson feigned sarcastic laughter. "No mercy," Sylvia said, voice nearly a whisper. "What?" Jacob turned to her, but her eyes flit from structure to structure, never stopping. "Never lie down. Can't lie down. Sleep is death. No mercy," she ranted quietly, eyes shining with horror. "Syl!" Jacob shouted. Her gaze fell upon his, and that knowing look bloomed across her, as if she'd been working on a riddle for days and the answer dawned upon her as she was taking a squat. She smiled for just a moment, then the smile turned sickly. "Run," She said. Early was beginning to back away from the building, and the town in all. "They never lie down, only lie. Lie like thieves. Love to trick. Love to trap. Only love to be had. Run." Jacob glanced at Early, then back to Syl, who was slowly opening her coat. Does that mean what I think it means, he thought? She didn't nod. She didn't move. She didn't need to. Reavers. Jacob spent no excess time clearing Sylvia's line of fire, for she pulled out her shotgun and let fly a cloud of shrapnel into the buildign he'd been standing in front of. The shrapnel illicited a shriek of rage, and more than a dozen brutalized forms began to pour out of the structures around them. Early was already in a sprint, eyes locked straight forward doing his best to avoid looking at the creatures behind him. Jacob didn't blame him, and joined him an instant later, with Sylvia taking only a moment to put her weapon away before her legs began eating the ground. <> Barclay watched the crew of Legacy for several minutes. They didn't speak the entire time. For some reason, he was sure they would say something, something that would help him explain this to the brass at home. Reavers didn't sit well with anybody, and he definitely didn't want to write this report. But he'd seen what he'd seen. What is, is, he reminded himself. Can't pick the pretty lie over the ugly truth. He'd thought he knew what that meant, before today. Now, he was learning just how ugly the truth could get. One of his officers handed a flexi to him, an arrest warrent, the ship's registration, all manner of things sliding past without any regard to which might be relevant, only that they had to do with Fireflys, Captain Greyson, or some combination of the two. He thanked the aide quietly and pushed the door open, walking into the corridor and from there, into the room with the long desk. He sat without a word, setting his pile of documents before him. Jacob was currently patting the hand of the small woman next to him. He wondered if she even reached four eleven on a bad hair day. That would be Anne Roykerk, the pilot of that ship. "I thank you for your cooperation," Barclay said civicly. "Although, I must say, you've brought a rather unexpected complication to my day," he'd left the comment open in order to possibly catch the man in an assumption. "Reavers are a hell of a complication," Jacob said flatly, staring him in the eyes. "One I'm sure your higher-ups won't like hearing about." "Indeed. You are captain of this ship, are you not?" Barclay asked. Jacob's face was deadpan. "I am," he anwered simply. "And how did you come to own this ship?" "Salvager's Right," Jacob answered. "Ship was dead and adrift, zero atmo and touching on zero Kelvins. Both shuttles were present, but there were no bodies. With no survivors, and no next of kin, we took the ship to Shadow to get re-registered." "That is a somewhat unusual story, mister Greyson," Barclay pointed out. "It could be that you simply commandeered the ship, spaced the crew, and claimed Salvager's Right on it." "I've already been through this," Anne said coldly. "The UAPSR ruled that there was no foul play involved on our behalf more than half a year ago. If you feel like overruling one of your own departments, be my guest." Barclay smiled slightly. "Do you always let your crew speak out of turn?" he asked Greyson. "Pretty much," he said with a smile, "'specially since I was not of the counscious at the time. Wouldn't exactly know to tell, catch me?" Barclay decided to end this line of questioning. The UAPSR had decided that Salvager's Right was valid, so he had no grounds for a search on that basis. He turned to the Asian woman opposite them. Damn, but she looked familiar. "Miss Friday Yiao?" he said, pulling up her statistics. "Doctor, I'm sorry. Have we met somewhere before?" "I don't think so," she replied. "Are you sure?" Barclay asked. "Because I'm almost certain I saw you a few months ago in Capitol City." "I've never been to Osiris," Friday said simply. "You must have me confused with somebody else. What is your point?" He frowned. He was so sure it was her. Regardless. "You are a graduate from the medical academy of Boros, yes?" she nodded. "And now you make your living on a Firefly?" "What is your point?" Yiao asked. "I find it a little strange that a woman of your training would be willing to... well... do practically anything of what your record said you did in the last four years," Barclay had to school himself to keep from outright laughing at several points in the report. "I completed my residency less than a year ago," the woman said. "I'm just taking a spin around the 'Verse before I settle in. Is that against the law?" No, he thought, but it flies in the face of all common sense. He turned to the next, a tall, lanky blonde man who slouched in his chair scribbling something onto a scrap of paper. "And you would be Zane... It doesn't list your last name, mister?" Barclay said. "Ain't got a last name," Zane said, releasing an easy smile as he returne to whatever it was he was sketching. "Family was slaves. Hadn't the right to a surname, or so old Breen said. Didn't slow me down none, and ain't so bad as my sister." "Excuse me?" Barclay said. "My sister. She ain't even got a proper first one. Hell, I figure she'll take every name in the 'verse 'fore she picks one to live with," Zane chuckled. He then frowned at his doodle and pushed it toward Greyson. "Well, I'll be damned." Greyson looked at the schematic, for that was what it seemed to be, his brow drawing down. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. "This is it? This is what made our shuttles a pair of glorified bunks for the last eight months?" "Seems like. Ain't hardly nothin', now that I figure it proper," Zane admitted. Barclay cleared his throat, reasserting himself. "Yes?" Jacob asked. "The matter at hand?" Jacob shrugged. "Have you ever seen a woman named Sylvia Witherell in your travels?" "Names are kinda hard to see," Jacob replied flatly, "and this far in the black, they don't have a habit of stayin' fixed." "She's a woman," Barclay began. "Well, that lowers it down to half the population of the 'verse," Anne muttered. Jacob gave her a look, and bade Barclay continue. "She stands five foot seven, dark blonde. Green eyes," He said, finally locating a picture. Irritatingly, it was in monochrome, and did not seem recent in the slightest. He slid it forward anyway. Jacob looked long and hard at it. "Nope," he said finally. "Never been on my boat, nei' passenger nor crew. I'd remember a face like that," the comment earned Jacob a jab from Anne. Jacob smirked. "What? I would. Why do you ask?" "The arrest warrent was deporably non-specific as to her location. Just a criminal who was last seen on a Firefly. Fourty thousand of those things in the air and that's the best they can do," Barclay shook his head, noting that Jacob nodded. He leafed through the pages once more. "You mentioned another member of your crew... she was..." "Public relations," Jacob said. "She... didn't survive the attack. The Reavers took her in our own gorram hold." All faces had gone blank and slack at the mention of the woman who's capture Barclay finally produced. He slid the thing toward the captain, who took in the dark skin and black hair of the woman who had been so brutalized under his aegis. "Is this her?" Barclay asked, already knowing the answer, but needing it heard for regulation's sake. Jacob pulled Anne close as she started to shake. Jacob didn't even look at the picture; Barclay didn't blame him. "Yes," he said, pushing the picture back. "Yes, it was." <> Early's lungs began to burn after the first minute, and his legs were beginning to flag even with those creatures out of myth and nightmare so close behind him. He'd first heard of Reavers just shy of ten years back, when he was hired to bring in a druglord who skipped bail and ran out to Lilac to lay low. Early had burst into the man's safehouse to find the thing ransacked. There was a wet sound coming from the back room, a pitch black place in the very dark house. It wasn't his first job, by any stretch, but it would be a memorable one. He'd cleared the rest of the house silently, not even creaking a single floorboard. He'd left that backroom for last, more than a little unsettled as to what would be back there. He thought he'd already seen, in two years of work, just how demented people could be. He got an education that day. The chunky, smacking sound halted as he approached the back room, followed by a shuffling and the sound of wood sqeeling against wood. Early shoved the door open, flicking on a flashlight. The room was a horrorshow, his target's blood coating all available surfaces, as well as parts of the man that were never intended to see the light of day. Early had never vomited on the job, and didn't then, but it was a close thing. He'd wrapped the baron up and dragged him back to town where his ship had landed. He was at the tavern having a bite to eat when he heard that word for the first time. Men gone mad out on the edge of space, a locale he certainly was currently occupying. The beasts with a man's intellect and none of his mercy. Reavers. He left Lilac before his food grew cold on his plate. Now, they were right behind him. Legacy finally came into view, sitting coyly so close, but so far away at the same time. The raucous calls of the monsters loping behind them rose and fell with a brutal regularity, the creatures advancing no matter how fast he and Jacob ran. They should have been overrun in the first sixty seconds. They would have, weren't it for Sylvia. She managed to turn and plant bullets into legs and heads every few dozen steps, slowing until they were almost upon her, before facing the ship and catching up with the other two who hadn't attempted the maneuver. Each Reaver that came close to grasping Jacob or Early himself was checked by hot lead, knocked down or twisted in his stride, needing a moment to recover which was the best she could offer. Even a bullet that pierced one Reaver's eye did not stop him for long, as the beast hauled itself up and followed, now at the back of the pack with a half paralized lope. Still, Early, with his body screaming in agony and the ship slowly coming closer, was grateful for every picosecond. "Why the hell," he asked as he ran, "didn't we take the gorram shuttle?" Jacob turned his head toward him, his mouth wide as he panted between strides. "Because," he said, words coming out in pairs. "The shuttles. Don't work. And the. Mule's all. Over the. Bay floor," Jacob took a moment to pull out his gun and blindly fire a few shots at the clutch of man-shapes that followed with disturbing closeness. Having exhausted his vocabulary for the moment, Jacob refocused on making it to his ship. Finally, Sylvia reached the ramp of the ship, a good hundred yards ahead of them, and pounded on the intercomm button as she began to fire past the two approaching men. Gorram, weren't she fast, and gorram, weren't she reckless? "Anne, start closing the ramp," she shouted as a pair of slugs came within an inch of hitting Early's chest in order to intercept a Reaver that was practically drooling on his bootheels. It stumbled, leaving a ten-yard breach between the two men and the next closest. "Take us up!" Anne, for a wonder, didn't hesitate an instant, and the ramp began to close as soon as the words were spoken. Jacob had to hop to get into the ship, and Jubel had to full leap. He rolled on the airlock floor, turning to see a wave of Reavers following suit, leaping into the airlock from the ground. Early began to scoot away, firing madly with his free hand as he cleared the airlock door and scrambled to his feet. Even more vaguely human shapes piled into the ship, finally the entire party that had followed them damn near a mile taking up residence in the outermost area of Legacy. Early's gun clicked, signaling its emptiness, and he looked at the control panel for the bulkhead. It was so close. He flicked the gun around in his hand, took aim and hurled the weapon at the airlock control. The pistol struck the button, and the massive doors began to slide closed. Sylvia backed out of the breach, throwing her pistols back and pulling out her shotgun. "I need a piece!" Early shouted, and Jacob pulled a spare out of his right-hip holster and handed it over. Early took the gun with a gracious look which was completely overlooked, and when he turned back to the bulkhead, he knew why. The Reavers had forced themselves into the divide, fifteen adrenaline-charged bodies holding back the hydrolics, forcing the doors back open. One of them broke free, catching a cloud of shrapnel from Sylvia's shotgun, but managed to pound on the red control on the panel, and the doors reversed in their effort. The Reaver who got shot slumped then, done of its duty and able to die. Fourteen others leapt out from the breach, one of them landing straddling Early's hips. He forced the gun against the creature's chest, right where the heart would be, and fired. Again. Again. The creature struck awkwardly at him, his nails scraping against his armored suit. Finally, the thing found purchase in the line of Early's jaw, tearing at the flesh as he shouted, trying to through the mortally-wounded-but-damned-if-he'd-admit-it Reaver off of himself. A combat boot took the creature in the head, tipping it backward, and he looked up to see Sylvia astride him like some angel of death. Her lips twitched, and she shrieked. "Izhian!" All of the Reavers stopped in their advancment, staring around stunned and confused. Jacob and Early din't question it for a moment. Or at least, they didn't stare in awe like the misshapen beasts did. With a chance to aim, Early managed to make his last three bullets count, driving each one into a different skull. The Reavers were so confounded that Early had enough time to pull out his long knife and plunge it into the neck of one standing about a foot away. He cursed as it lodged in its new home. The Reaver didn't even cry out as it bled out, simply standing in befuddlement as it died with its blood splattering on the deck. Early then noticed one, than another, than another of the Reavers that remained, looking back to a figure Early hadn't seen before. A dark-skinned woman with black eyes, a cruel sword-like thing clutched in her hand, and covered head to foot in a strange, pale leather armor. She stared at the stunned Reavers with disdain, finally shouting, "Rhigazh!" This second word seemed to snap the creatures out of whatever trance Sylvia'd put them into. The woman gestured emphatically at Syl, more words in that alien tongue spilling out her mouth. Those closest to her turned and nodded, focusing their efforts on Sylvia, the greatest threat. She was directing them. She was leading them. Early had about a half second to react to an axe arcing toward his chest, to lean away and clock the offender in the head with his second now-empty pistol. The blow did nothing to slow the creature, only divert him for a split second as Early's questing hand reached for something more substancial. His hand closed on something as the monster surged forth again, and he slammed his unseen something into the Reaver's temple. A screwdriver's handle stood out when he leaned against the crates and used all his limbs to push the beast away. The Reaver was still not remaining still. Early took a moment to look about. A heap of Reavers had fallen, which was encouraging, but five of them had ganged up on Sylvia, who was now fighting her way up the stairs. Two of them had taken an interest with Greyson, who unloaded his last remaining pistol into one approaching braincase and held off the other on nothing but fear and rage. The Reaver with the screwdriver in his head rose again, more than a bit unsteady, but still looking more dangerous at its worst than Early wagered he ever did at his best. Early's hand found something else, something weightier than a screwdriver, and swung it at the Reaver. A box-wrench collided, hammer to nail, with the screwdriver, burying it deep into the monster's skull. It collapsed, eyes still afire with lethal intent, but no longer able to make his body carry out its will. "No mercy," it said over a bissected tongue. "Open them up. See what's inside!" The woman slowly advanced the length of the hold, ignoring the two men and focusing on Sylvia. Early took the opportunity to bolt past her; he was unarmed, now, and she was obviously not. Jacob was holding his Reaver at arm's length over him, and his arms' length was growing shorter as his strength, taxed first by the mile-long run and sapped truely by the fight at the end of it, ran out. Early wrapped his arms around the unpleasant neck of the creature, ignoring the biting pain of the spikes this creature embedded into its flesh, and twisted sharply. A wet pop filled his hearing, and the creature became deadweight. Early tossed the thing aside. Jacob gave him a very clear I-owe-you-one look as Early helped him to his feet. As that happened, a decapitated Reaver landed on the deck next to the men. Jacob didn't even pause, reloading his pistol as he dashed up the stairs. Early was close behind. The pair made their way to the catwalk as Sylvia's own knife slashed the already ruined chest of the nearest man shape as another grappled her from behind. More gunshots came from deeper within the ship, he noted. Jacob had only slid in three bullets by the time he reached the level where the fight had moved. All three went into the chest-wounded one, sending him sliding off of the walk and onto the deck, some five or so yards down. The second Reaver, what grappled her, did not begin to tear at her throat or clothing, as Reavers did, but instead bodily tossed Sylvia over the edge. Sylvia managed to catch herself with a hand on the lower portion of the walkway rather than be dashed on the floor, and as quickly as her position was salvaged, it was released as the leather-woman's sword tried to cut off her fingers. Sylvia dropped and the woman leapt to follow her. The Reaver woman miscalculated, though, because as she landed, Sylvia managed to land a brutal right hook even as her left hand caught and twisted the hilt, popping it free of the Reaver-woman's grasp. Early and Greyson managed to both tackle the Reaver, holding it down as one then the other realized they had no real way to kill it. The answer to their dilemma arrived as a piece of the ship slammed into the creature's head. A compression coil, if he remembered Zane's rantings correctly. Early looked up to see Zane pulling the part back for another messy swing, caving in the creature's skull with a piece of his ship. "Told you it was a good idea to get a spare coil," Zane quipped as he stood, leaning to take in the fight below. There were no more Reavers moving in any appreciable fashion, but Sylvia and the Reaver woman still flowed about, fighting over the same blade, each using it in turn to try to maim the other. Jacob leapt over the edge and rolled as he hit the ground, trying to aid Syl as he could, but his efforts were rewarded by the Reaver woman taking control of the sword and sightlessly casting it behind herself in a wide arc, hacking through a not insignifigant portion of Greyson's abdomen. Greyson tipped back, hands clutching his belly in a bid to hold his innards in. After a few tense seconds, Sylvia finally retook the weapon and twirled it in a high arc, which bit deep into the Reaver's neck. It didn't decapitate her, but it came very very close to it. As the woman tipped backward to the ground, Sylvia slumped to the ground. Early rushed down the stairs, looking her up and down. Despite having been literally in the thickest of the fighting, she carried no more than a few fledgling bruises, a number of scrapes and some long scratches from fingernails and teeth showing through her shirt. As well, she didn't look half so tired as all the rest of them. Jacob pounded on the intercomm button. "Anne, are we out of atmo?" he wheezed painfully between breaths. His answer was a terrified string of Mandarin profanities which stirred him back into motion. He tried to bolt past them, but was caught short by the tearing all movement placed on his guts. Still, he made it to the door, almost knocking down Friday as she tried to enter the cargobay. She stared about the hell the ship had become, the fifteen bodies lying about. "Wuo duh ma!" she muttered, completely oblivious to the clothing that hung in tatters from her shoulders. "Real. Really gorram real." Early left Sylvia to her own devices and caught Friday just as her legs gave out on her. An injector fell from her now flaccid hand, and she stared madly out at the bodies. Early looked past her to the commons, where a man-shape twitched violently. Another Reaver. It didn't move appreciably, and when Early noted the largish bottle of morphine attatched to the injector was completely empty, he understood why. With as much consideration as he could find, he checked the woman for injuries, and, with a great deal of apprehension, sodomy. While her clothes had almost been ripped from her shoulders, her nethers were still covered, and by extension, intact. Still, he could scarcely believe the terror this woman had seen as that thing caught her, tore at her, pinned her down... Like he said he'd do to... Not now, he chastized himself. This is a damned shaky situation. "Friday, get up," he said, shaking her slightly. "Jacob needs help, and not tomorrow. Come on, woman!" he shouted. Her eyes took him in, finally focusing again. "Needs help?" she said, forcing herself to an arm. "Get him... Into the..." she tipped over and vomited onto to the floor, which forced Early to check himself before he joined her. He nodded and let her back down as he ran to scoop up the moaning Jacob with the mechanic's help. Teey made their stumbling way into the bay, almost dropping the captain onto the slab. Friday stumbled in a moment later, looking pale, but no longer about to pass out. "Not much I can do until we flatten out," her voice was all business, in direct opposition to her wardrobe, and she pulled open a drawer. "Best we can do is keep his innards in for now." She set about her job and Early took a brief stop at his room for a towel and another gun. The towel he through about his neck like a scarf to staunch the flow of blood from his jaw a mite, the pistol he double checked to see it was still loaded, then strapped it on. With a dark thought flitting into his head, Early bolted from his room up the stairs, past the kitchen and into the cockpit. Anne turned to him with wide, terrified eyes for a moment before remembering that he was human. Her hand dropped, and he noticed she'd had a small pistol pressed against her heart. Wise girl. Jubel took the copilot's seat and flicked on the screens. "Son of a whore," he muttered. "This can't be right." "I can duck one of them," her voice was on the brink of breaking in panic, "but the other one'll get us." "Since when the hell do they fly in pairs?" Early shouted, pounding the panel in overwhelming frustration. They would be catching up in no time flat. The two ships were still there, though. Mocking him. The silence stretched out as the two mutated ships loomed closer on sensors, finally resolving into an image on the rear camera. Suddenly, a proximity alarm cried, and something appeared for an instant on the viewscreen. "What the hell was that?" she shrieked, and to answer her, the ship bucked hard to the left. Gunfire sounded from the hold, a flurry of it, dying off slowly. There was a crackle of static and Jacob's painful voice came over the transmitter. "Send out a mayday, Anne. Somebody's got to be out there," he panted painfully. Early was sure that the man was on his way to the bridge, even with his insides barely inside. With a look of despair, Anne flicked on the Wave. "If anybody's out there, we're in deep gos-se here!" she screamed, eyes locked forward as the ships came closer behind her. Jacob lurched through the door, shooing Early from his seat and taking it himself. She glanced at Jacob in desparation and continued. "Gorram it, the're gonna kill us." "Mayday, mayday!" Jacob croaked, wincing as speaking pulled on his still-badly-bleeding injury, "we are under attack. Does anybody hear us?" "This is Colonel Barclay of the IAV Magellan," came the reply, about a second and a half after the massive Cruiser appeared on the edge of the sensor bubble. "Surrender your controls and we will bring you in." "Copy that. Anne, come with me," Jacob said, flicking off the comms again as he left the cockpit in short, stumbling steps. <> "I notice," the last one in the room said, thumbing the stitches along his jaw as he spoke, "that no mention was made of me?" Barclay smiled a bit. "Jubel Early the bounty hunter needs no introduction." "I don't?" Early asked. "He doesn't?" Jacob parroted. "Since when?" Friday chuckled. Early gave her a level look. "I hired you about eight years ago to track down those defectors, you remember. Not only did you bring them back in, you did it alive, in half the time you said you would, and did it despite hauling them off of Shadow, which, if memory serves was a hotbed back then," Barclay said. "I remember you now," Early said. "You were just a cadet then, weren't you? They wouldn't even let you near the front." "Yes, I remember," Barclay said. "Anyway, what are you doing on a heap like that? Didn't you have your own ship?" "Did," Early said. "Not anymore. Things gone south." Barclay couldn't pick out the man's tone. Early no doubt had a lot more to say on the matter, but knew it wouldn't be altogether that enlightening, so said nothing. Barclay could appreciate that, at least. "Indeed they have," Barclay responded. "There was one other thing..." he pulled out the wide, thick book. Jacob stared at it in the oddest way for a long time. "Where did you find that?" he asked, voice small. "We found it in the common area, near that Re... near the assailant next to the medical bay," Barclay's brow drew down inquisitively. "Why? What is it?" "It's her Bible," Jacob said, pulling the now ruined-beyond-reclaimation tome toward him. "She was translating it into Tobrik, her own language." "Tobrik?" he said. "I've never heard of Tobrik." "Obscure language," he said. "I didn't know it existed till I heard her speak it. Wanted her Words in her one tongue, I guess." "Well," Barclay said. "If it belongs to your crewmate, I see no reason to confiscate it. Although," he leaned forward and whispered, "I wouldn't want to have that sort of reminder around. Not of something like that." "I don't have anything else," Jacob said, fingers still on the leather cover of the book. "It meant a lot to her." Barclay shrugged. "As you wish. It's good to know a honest trader exists in these times, mister Greyson," Zane snickered. "Excuse me?" "Honesty is relative," Jacob said. "I am, however, relatively honest." This whole crew was a little insane, Barclay realized. He leaned back when the door opened, listened to the marine whispering into his ear. "We found no contraband on your ship, but we did find it surprisingly devoid of food," Barclay raised an eyebrow. "Business has been slow," Jacob replied simply. "Too slow." "So it would seem. If you wish, you could," Barclay began. "No, thank you," Jacob interrupted. "If it's all the same, I'd rather get what I've earned," Barclay noted as Anne jabbed Jacob, who ignored the prod. "Is that all?" "I believe it is. Are you sure you don't want to stay in our recup-ward for a few days. That's as close to an evisceration as I'd like to see." "No, thank you," Jacob said, raising to his feet slowly. "Friday's the best damn doctor I know. She'll put me on the mend in no time." "Well," Barclay said, raising himself to stand over the injured man. He offered his hand, which Greyson carefully took, trying not to stretch his abdomen overmuch. "I suppose all is in order. This man," he indicated a fellow standing outside the door, "will direct you back to your craft." The group slowly made their way out of the room, some limping, others not so much, and exited from his sight. He sat back down, steepling his figures as he considered the unconsiderable. He looked up as he heard a knock. He took in Lieutenant-Colonel Jonah Abrams entering the room with all of his usual crisp walk and razor precise uniform that accompanied him. "Sir," Abrams said. "What did you find out from them?" "Shuh muh?" Barclay asked, glancing over his shoulder. "For what are we citing them. We already have that they're lacking the registration marks on the bow, I was thinking that we could also..." Abrams looked ready to launch into a long list, so Barclay interrupted him. "Bi zway, Jonah," Barclay's inferior goggled in surprise at being so brusquely cut off. "You will go to the medical bay in Nong-quarter, and tell the coroner that I sent you. When you see what we found on that ship, you and I are going to have a talk about priorities." As Abrams made his exit as grandiously as he possibly could, Patrick Barclay wracked his brain for a way to explain this incident, preferably one that didn't use the word Reaver. <> "I've never seen them out this far," Jacob said, lurching into the cockpit, taking in Anne staring dead forward. "Every gorram year, they just push further." Jacob collapsed into the copilots seat and watched as the Magellan slowly slid away into the black. His stomach still hurt like hell any time he walked. Or sat. Or moved. Or breathed. That was the problem. The breathing. Anne smiled at him as the ship finally vanished. "Where do you think she hid?" Jacob said as he very slowly put his feet under him. "I mean, there must have been near a hundred marines through this ship, what with as happened here and all." "Crawlspace, maybe?" Anne leaned back from the controls and caught his hand. "I was terrified," she said, voice small. He never thought he'd see this woman so vulnerable. So small. "I thought they'd gotten you, that they'd be after me. I was so afraid." Jacob wanted to pull her against him, to lie down with her curled up atop him, to sheild her from the darkness in the 'Verse. He would have, but he hurt too much to sleep. Too much to do anything, but he had to move. He wasn't sure why, but he did. He smiled down to her. "No matter what happens, I won't let them take you," he said, staring her in the eyes. "They will never take you, bao bei." She smiled small. "Thank you." As he turned he could see in her eyes she was trying to saw those three words she needed to hear this morning. He kissed her fingertips. "I love you too," some of the fear receded and she turned back to the stars. Jacob hobbled out of the bridge and came upon Friday. She'd changed her outfit to a rather simple white shirt with dark grey pants. It was the only thing in her size as could be found in short notice on that ship. Compaired to the rags her last ensemble had been reduced to, it was a dress fit for a Companion. She raised an eyebrow at him as he winced with each step down. "I thought I should give you some time," Friday said, taking his arm to keep him upright as she guided him down the steps to the commons. "Because you're going to be off your feet for a while with this one." She guided him into her domain, slightly less attractive now that a Reaver had had its way with it. Both Jacob and Friday let out a start when they saw Sylvia sitting cross legged on the slab, that damned queer Reaver book open on her lap. "Tobrik is hard to translate," Sylvia answered the unspoken question. Her pages were turned fairly infrequently, where she used to flip them every few seconds. "It doesn't have a verbal equivalent for 'to be'. Translating Hamlet's gonna be a bitch." She closed the book and moved, even going so far as to help Jacob up. "How did you hide?" he asked. "Where did you go?" "Right here," She tapped the table by his head. "They didn't look for me here, and they didn't find me," Friday and Jacob shared a look. "No making faces." Jacob smirked anyway as Friday lifted up his shirt and began to undo the hasty stitches that had held the tissue together as a stopgap. "What does that thing say, anyway?" he asked. She sat down on the counter nearby. "Everything," Jacob rolled his eye. "Everything folk need to be a Reaver, I mean." "Really?" He chuckled as he felt a dose of narcotic entering his vein. "What does it say?" "You ever read the Bible, how it starts with 'In the beginning'?" Jacob nodded, his head suddenly heavy and his middle, numb. The world became decidedly bendy. Sylvia's voice became bendy too, as if it came a long way through an oddly shaped room. "Well, this starts with something else." "What does it say?" he said. Or tried do, he wasn't sure if it actually cleared his tongue. "No mercy," Sylvia's voice sang him into the dark. "Open them up, see what's inside."

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