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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The average River thinks about sex every 30 seconds . . .
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2668 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
Chapter Forty Nine
DELTA TEAM -50:21
Simon had had a busy few hours. When Beta Team arrived they had come in with wounded – nearly everyone on the team had been hurt in some way, but two men were particularly bad off – crushing wounds and broken bones, mostly. Lots of bruising. It took him two hours to get them tended to and stabilized, attach monitors and get them sedated. Just as he was finishing up, two more came in from Alpha Team with relatively minor shrapnel wounds. Even Zoe had a cut across her left temple from a near miss. It took another hour an a half of work to patch them up and administer medication.
Hsang was an excellent assistant, and seemed to be always at his elbow with exactly the proper instrument or bandage. It had been so long since Simon had worked with competent support people that he felt, for the moment, like a professional surgeon again, and not a glorified medic working in an antique store. Hsang had been a first-rate field medic during the war, and knew a great deal about treating trauma.
Simon had to admit – to himself – that he had seen a wealth of trauma in the last few months, far more than he’d ever seen on Osiris. And the really good stuff, too: gunshot wounds, stab wounds, burns, all sorts of good stuff. On a busy Saturday night in Capitol City they had to wait for the inevitable crash, or the rare gang-fight in the blackout zones. Industrial accidents and the ubiquitous stupidity that led people to unintentionally harm themselves – sometimes in spectacularly stupid ways – were a highlight. But in general the wounds that came in were boring.
Not on Serenity, though – say what you would about the protein resequencer, the homicidal crew and the mentally unstable Captain, but in terms of trauma surgery, this ship was a gold mine. While the compassionate human being side in him hated the pain and suffering, the pure technical genius surgeon that had been spawned in Medical School and carefully nurtured in surgical residency fed on each new spectacular wound like a bloodthirsty monster. A collapsed lung? Delicious! A seven-inch long jagged cut to the abdomen? Luscious! And a smorgasbord of gunshot wounds!
When the joy of the technical exercise faded, he could appreciate the alleviation of suffering involved in nursing care. This was another area at which Hsang excelled – and Simon was more than happy to turn over the responsibility. It was not one of his strong suits, though he’d gotten slightly more comfortable since he came aboard Serenity and had to do all aspects of care himself. But for once Simon could leave the infirmary and not worry about how the patients were progressing in his absence. Hsang saw to their care and comfort. Simon could literally wash his hands and walk away for a little while, as he had been accustomed to do on Osiris.
He was in the kitchen pouring half a shot of incredibly smoky Scotch from Isis (a post-surgical libation was something else he’d been accustomed to on Osiris – never more than half a shot, of course, but enough to celebrate or console, depending upon how things went.) when Colonel Campbell came in, half of his combat kit stripped off.
“I’m sorry, are you wounded?” he asked guiltily, pushing away the Scotch.
“No, Doctor, I’m fine. Finish your drink. How are my men?”
“They should all recover fully, with some rest and proper care,” he reported. “They’ll have a few more attractive scars, some colorful war stories, but no lasting effect, I think.”
“Thank you, sir,” Campbell bowed. “They did well, and I am very pleased that they had access to your skills. Too often in the war we had to make do without. But I had a further purpose in mind when I sought you out. You recall our conversation a few weeks ago? The one we had at Hsang Chow station?”
It took Simon a few moments to adequately recall the information. Then his eyes got wide. “You’ve found something?”
“I’ve found everything,” Campbell said, smiling and holding out a small blue data card. “I downloaded this from the Sun Tzu’s computer while I was there. It was in the topmost secret Intel files, but I was able to massage the security protocols. It’s useful being a spy, sometimes. Here,” he said, handing over a data card, “are the total plans and protocols for the entire Project Daikini, including all applicable background research.”
Simon looked at the small blue card like it was a venomous snake . . . made of gold and jewels. He had never felt this attracted and this repulsed by anything at the same time before. He looked from the card to Campbell’s face, and back again.
“You’re serious? You’re just going to hand over the entire classified file of a top-secret clandestine medical project?”
“That was my intention, yes.”
“And no catch? No price? Forgive me for doubting your altruism, Colonel, but I’ve grown accustomed to suspicion of anything and everything out here in the Black. And such a valuable gift from an admitted spy and member-in-good-standing of a rebel criminal organization . . . well, I hope you won’t take offense.”
“Not at all, Doctor. But I assure you, this is entirely without condition. A gift that costs me nothing, and proves valuable to you. And I do, indeed, do it for altruistic reasons. I am a gentleman, after all. But I respect your suspicions, Doctor, and do not take offense. Take the data. I hope it proves of use.”
“Thank you,” Simon said, taking the card in hand after a moment’s thought. “Thank you very much. I hope the answer is in there, too.”
“And while I will not ask for anything in return, I do wish a favor. You are free to decline, of course.”
“What is it?” Simon asked, trying very hard not to be visibly suspicious. That might seem ungrateful.
“I’d like for you to accompany the rescue team when we seek out your Captain and my men. I fear that they may be gravely wounded, and now with the return of the other teams, and the other two objectives secured, I believe that you would be of most use in the field.”
Simon turned the data card around in his fingers. “I . . . see. Well, you do make a compelling case. I was just musing on how competent Hsang is with restorative care. It would be disingenuous of me to retract that, now.”
“I could lie, and say that I’d ensure your safety, if that would help ease your conscience,” Campbell offered.
“That’s unnecessary,” Simon said with a sigh. “I gave up any hope of dying in bed from the moment I busted my sister out of that facility. I’m rapidly coming to the popular conclusion that there is no security. Anywhere.” He gazed in what he thought the general direction of Hecate might have been. “A planet full of corpses will do that to you.”
“Excellent,” Campbell said. “Does that same perspective extend to your sister?” he asked.
“Because I’m thinking that with all the chaos down in that mechanical labyrinth, a psychic may be the only way to find your Captain. She could be invaluable. I’d like her to accompany us.”
Simon just stared at the man, slack jawed. “You can’t be serious.”
The Rescue Team assembled in the cargo bay after a hot meal and, if they were lucky, a short nap. Campbell had the remaining commandos re-supply and change out weapons, while Jayne loaded the mule up with his new selection of fine munitions. Zoe kept her kit largely as it was. And Simon fretted over which emergency supplies to bring . . . and how to protect his sister. Which was completely pointless.
River was excited to be going. She stalked around the edges of the bay like an anxious tiger, waiting for the chance to explore the big ship. The presence of more and more malevolent soldiers awakening in the depths of the ship did not disturb her. She had even donned boots for the occasion.
As she stalked she could not help but pay attention in a subtle sort of way to the most emotion-laden of those present: the Washburnes, who were saying good-bye, yet again. River thought that they would have gotten used to it by now.
“Honey,” Wash whined, “do you gotta go off and save his ass again?”
“Yes, dear, I do,” Zoe said in a matronly tone as she reloaded her shotgun. The rest of her weapons were spread out on top of a handy crate – and there were a lot of them. The very presence of that many – her full assault kit – was enough to make Wash nervous.
“Well . . . have you considered what happens if you don’t? I mean, Mal’s gone, you get the ship. Seems like win-win to me.”
“Shut up, dear,” she said affectionately. “You know I have to do this.”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t very well let you do it without a token protest. Besides, Book and Inara and the kid are out there, too. I’d miss Inara. She smells good. I just hate that you have to go back out again so soon. It seems like you just got back.”
“I did just get back,” she pointed out.
“I know! Back from the battlefield. The hostilities. Back from the tumult and horror of war.”
“You had a point in there somewhere?” Zoe asked evenly as she tested the edge of her favorite combat knife against her thumb.
“Well, missy, I’ve been back here waiting for hours! The pressure has been unbearable. The sacrifices we’ve made . . . the things we’ve had to do, just to survive. The homefront is hell, too, y’know. We’ve suffered!”
“Suffered, huh?” Zoe asked, smiling faintly.
“That stew Simon made? Not enough garlic! And Kaylee has had the heat turned up at least two degrees more than comfortable. And River has been wandering around playing that damn harmonica and . . . it’s just Hell, Zoe. Try to understand that.”
“You have my greatest sympathies. And have you been able to keep your hands off those toys out there?” she asked, nodding out the hatch where the nearest of the Marauders could be seen.
“Why do ask that?” Wash asked, biting his lip guiltily.
“Because you have grease on your hands and behind your ear. And you’re wearing your repair vest, not your lounging-around-on-your-ass vest. And there are two new mysterious cloth-covered bundles in the cargo bay, conspicuous by their . . . inconspicuacy? Inconspicuacness? Inconspicuosity?”
“They looked so inconspicuous that they were conspicuous?”
“Well . . . we had to . . . y’know, check it out. For security. Just for a minute, to check on . . . well, Kaylee figured out if we stripped the big laser capacitors out of one of the Marauders, then they were big enough – almost too big, really – to fix the problems we’ve been having since the core rebuild. A simple salvage mission, no more. Never were more than a hundred yards from the ship, I swear, and always armed. And legged. Especially legged, since we were bound and determined to utterly flee without pretense of bravery at the first sign of trouble.”
“That’s my sweet cowardly baby. Just don’t get yourself killed poking around in a hundred-year old fighter’s innards. I’d take that as a kindness.”
“Consider it done, my sweet, brave warrior princess. Kick some major ass out there. Bring them back.”
“As good as done,” Zoe said, drawing back the bolt of her Dragon assault rifle with a satisfying click.
“We cut out in thirty, people!” Jayne bellowed from the mule. “Take a piss, take a nap, cut your toenails, pray to the laughin’ Buddha, whatever gets it stiff for you, but we walk out that door in thirty!” He sounded anxious. He didn’t like being without the Captain, River knew. As often as they butted heads, without Mal Jayne was just another thug, not a highly trained gunman with a serious mission. He was loathe to lose that. “In thirty!” he repeated, emphatically.
Zoe looked at Wash. Wash looked at Zoe.
“That’s plenty of time,” observed Zoe.
“Hell, we could do it twice,” assured Wash.
“Let’s go,” Zoe agreed.
River watched the Washburnes head for their bunk, trying really hard in the martial atmosphere not to look like they were about to go screw . . . with limited success. She watched them go with the vague interest she had been cultivating about the subject. Of course she was vicariously aware of their pattern of sexual expression. They used sex as a mutual pacifier. It dramatically shored up Wash’s fragile male ego and elevated his low self-esteem, and it reinforced the femininity that Zoe frequently feared was lost to her profession. It was a salve that could sooth both their ills, heal both of their hearts for a while. With Wash and Zoe, sex was the means by which they established that they were not themselves alone in the ‘verse, that there was another side to their souls that they could only see reflected in the other’s eyes.
It was so terribly poignant.
With Kaylee sex was such a deep, earthy, natural expression of her soul that she could no more go without it than she could protein. True, her endeavors had lately been almost exclusively solo, but they were regular, impassioned, and intense. River watched her as she helped settle supplies and equipment on the mule, her hair tied back in a dirty ponytail and her left cheek smudged with some lubricant or another. To Kaylee, lust was not the guilty pleasure at the end of the day it was with some people. It was a regular rejuvenation of her soul . . . a glorious celebration of the vital force . . . even if it did, at times, remind her of her own loneliness.
Jayne . . . she didn’t need to dig too deeply to figure out what role sex played in Jayne’s life. As his muscles rippled as he hefted the newest big gun onto the back of the mule, River could feel from Jayne the release, the pure hedonistic pleasure that he associated with sex. It was an uncomplicated indulgence and reassurance that yes, Jayne Cobb was the most important entity in the ‘verse. To Jayne it ranked with enjoying a good cigar or fine whisky or a thick steak, a sensation to be savored and utterly consumed until he could return to it again. Beyond that, his sexual thoughts got . . . icky. She refused to explore beyond a certain point. There were some things in the ‘verse that River truly did not want to know.
Which brought her around to her brother.
He was pacing back and forth, going over his checklist and looking thoughtful, trying unsuccessfully not to look panicked. He was trying his best to appear calm and professional, in what passed for casual clothes among his wardrobe, but the shoulder holster with his shiny automatic distorted the image. His ideas about sex were surprisingly conservative in most places. She had scanned them – briefly, out of a morbid sense of curiosity and the lack of inhibition one gets when one’s amygdala gets stripped by clandestine government research programs – and found them intriguing in a morose sort of way.
Simon looked upon sex as self-indulgence associated with reward for a job well-done. The truth was that his career had precluded any serious relationships, which in turn limited his sexual experience to a number of brief and intense encounters that, while memorable, were nonetheless mediocre in terms of quality and utterly lacking in spiritual value. While the proper urges were present in the proper places at the appropriate times, there was also a failure to appreciate the experience the way others did.
River knew that when the inevitable happened and Simon and Kaylee became lovers, the lusty young engineer was going to overwhelm her poor brother. She had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand she was looking forward to the day when Simon would get his sexual comeuppance. On the other hand, she knew waaay too much about her big brother’s sex life as it was.
While not present, River knew the sexual landscapes of the other crew, as well.
Mal, his was a minefield of broken dreams and aspirations with occasional flashes of golden brilliance. The impetuosity of youth was a lost memory now, replaced by the mature lust of a middle-aged man who reserved such experiences for moments of profound emotional meaning. To Mal sex was an intimate, intensely romantic, idealized, soul-filling experience. With such a high standard to live up to, of course the bulk of his experiences to date had fallen tragically short of that ideal. He would not lightly succumb to carnal temptations unless he could establish in his mind a credible emotional justification, and participate as a social and romantic equal. Needless to say, his recent past was all but desolate, kept alive only by a highly, almost tragically idealized erotic version of . . .
. . . Inara, who saw sex in perhaps the most colors of them all. That was unsurprising, considering her profession and her commitment to professionalism. Inara saw sex in each of the ways that her crewmates did, but in a detached, studious manner . . . almost boring. She saw sex as the complex interplay between two individuals who strove for communication and understanding through the vehicle of sexuality. Her view was, in honesty, as idealized as Mal’s, though in the opposite direction: that of a clinician. It extended beyond the physical, of course, and encompassed the subjects’ emotional and spiritual selves, as well as being wrapped in the context of culture, society, and economics. But it was a highly conceptualized and clinically idealistic point of view.
That did not mean she was immune to her own body’s nature; Inara was just as subject to the whims of hormones, pheromones, and suggestion as anyone – perhaps moreso. Her usual tight control over that aspect of her life had slipped, however, the moment she laid eyes on the Captain. It was pathetic. One minute she was coolly calculating just which clients she would bed, running a mental profit-and-loss statement, and casually scheduling them at intervals that allowed for her own comfort and enjoyment. The moment that Malcolm Reynolds appeared, however, she was a fifteen-year old schoolgirl with hard nipples, damp panties and electricity running the length of her spine. River had even observed her drooling a little. Not attractive.
And by no means was the attraction purely physical – indeed, Mal deviated from Inara’s preferred physical type in several aspects. It was his mysterious masculine allure that confounded her professional demeanor. He was a romantic and noble figure in her mind, the pirate-with-a-heart-of-gold – a vision which was particularly difficult to bear, considering he violated her perceived ideal of him on a regular – if not daily – basis. She had come to ascribe certain hidden meanings and clandestine stratagems to their interactions, making much of a casual word, his body language, his tone. What River could have told Inara – and what she would never believe – is that Mal wasn’t that complicated. You take a romantic young man, crush it up with some devilish little-boy and add the salt of forced maturity and the spice of defeated idealism and you got Mal. As complex as a plate of spaghetti. And as thick as any stew.
As far as Book, and his sexual escapades . . . Book scared her. She never lingered long inside his dreams, erotic and otherwise. There were Things in there that she didn’t want to know. Things that the tidy old gentleman concealed behind a curtain of piety and wisdom that she never wanted revealed. It was almost as bad as the worst of the Things inside her own head that she hid away, even from her own purview.
Johnny? He was simple. Young horn dog. A gentleman by choice, he was raised around brothels and whores. He had been jaded about the supposed “pleasures of the flesh” long before he ever enjoyed them. No doubt he would be the perfect knight for the right woman, but he had a difficult time taking any act seriously as a spiritual experience that could be the whorehouse’s special on a slow Tuesday night.
Sex, sex, sex. It obsessed them all, by its presence or absence. And it was becoming alarmingly clear to River that she, herself, was starting to become a bit obsessed. She’d have to watch that, she told herself, lest she develop unhealthy voyeuristic tendencies. Momma would not approve.
“River! Are you ready? We leave in five!” her brother pleaded. She looked around; the commandos were in line, receiving an inspection from Colonel Campbell, Jayne was impatiently gunning the mule’s engine, and even Zoe and Wash had returned. Once again time had slipped away from her, lost I in the tumult of her own mind.
River nodded absently, pulling her big macramé purse strap over her shoulder. It had some socks, some clean underwear, a drawing tablet, a radio, a canteen and four recently-looted thirty-year old chocolate bars. And her harmonica.
“Let’s do it,” she said, her eyes narrowed.
“It’s definitely a ship,” conceded the General, staring at the telemetry. “Military ship.”
“What, really?” the old monk asked sarcastically. “Is it . . . human?”
“Stow it, old man!” the General growled. “I was merely confirming your theory.”
“ ‘Theory’. Very well. Can you tell who it is?”
“For certain? No. It’s too far out yet – it has yet to enter the planet’s gravity well, and it’s using a sophisticated ECM system. Which alone tells me it is military. I could launch a probe, but that would attract too much attention, I think.”
“Well, you do have a brain then, don’t you?” Master Lei chided.
“Look! If that thing is a warship, if the Alliance has popped in with anything more than a gunboat, we’re in serious trouble. Without the Engine Room and those other four reactors we don’t have drive or guns. Which means that whoever they are can take this ship – or destroy it, if they have nukes – and there isn’t a gorram thing we can do about it.”
“Then let us hope it is a mere patrol vessel, then. Though I doubt it.”
There was a long silence as each man studied the monitor, and the growing glint outside the viewscreen.
“There is, of course, another possibility,” the General admitted, finally.
“Merciful God in Heaven,” Julian breathed as he stared at the magnified viewer. Even Sinclair’s legendary cool was visibly shaken at the sight . . . and what the computer said it was. His hands gripped the arms of his command chair, the knuckles completely bloodless. “Dear sweet Jesus! Look at that . . .”
“Warship,” finished Sinclair. “Computer says it’s . . . well, there was only one ever built, so I’m fairly certain it’s . . . the Sun Tzu. Yuanese Imperial Navy.”
“And destroyed over a hundred years ago,” Julian said, shaking his head slowly. “A ghost ship in orbit over a ghost world. What the hell . . . well, it does explain a lot. We were looking for the Tam’s doomsday weapon. I suppose they decided not to reinvent the wheel.”
“But how did it survive?” one of the new men, who were not sufficiently up on the Hammer’s protocols to know such outbursts were not appreciated. “That thing was gone! I remember reading about it. Crushed at the core of a gas giant. This gas giant.”
“Of course it was,” Julian said with mock patience. “That’s why it isn’t looming outside of our viewport like a mile and a half of bad dream. Only it is, so what you read wasn’t what you’d technically call ‘factual’. Now kindly redirect that top-notch central nervous system of yours towards something more productive than blind wonder: we’re working here.” Properly chastised, the man went back to his console.
It did all make sense, now. Whatever the genocidal weapon that the Tams developed was, it must need a sizeable platform from which to launch. The speculation in their daily bull-sessions about the nature of the weapon had centered around the idea of a gravity weapon, based largely on the history of Hecate. What if that weapon needed the big lasers of the Sun Tzu – the largest ever built – to operate? Or maybe just the power capacity that ancient monstrosity was capable of generating? Regardless, a weapon launched from the Sun Tzu would be well-protected against counterattack. Fully armed and manned it was a match for any cruiser in the Alliance Fleet. Even those flying cities had their limitations. There just hadn’t been anything around nearly big enough to challenge them.
“Talk to me, Sinclair: what are we staring at?”
“From what sensors are picking up, the ship is only partially active. Less than twenty percent. Four of the reactors are off-line. From the amount of residual particulates still caught in its electromagnetic wake, I’d say the ship was removed from the planet very recently, within two days. There don’t seem to be any active defenses. No other ship traffic, either – and any ship that size would always have a squadron out on patrol. I’d say they just pulled her out of mothballs. And unless they get the engines started and lift her into a higher orbit, she’s going to return to the planet’s core in just a few hours – two days, outside.”
“We can’t let them do that,” Julian said, simply. “We can’t let them get that thing out in the open spacelanes. If they get beyond this system, then they could disappear into the Black and we wouldn’t hear from her again until she was over Sihnon making the Parliament bellydance for their amusement.”
“We could go in hot, hit them with everything we have . . . and just barely scratch the armor,” Sinclair countered. “We’re a frigate. That thing’s a ship-of-the-line. We might slow it down, but even if we had nukes we couldn’t stop it.”
“Only if it has full power, and is fully manned,” Julian disagreed. “With a skeleton crew we might be able to stop it.”
“There’s a whole lot riding on that supposition,” Sinclair warned.
“So let’s find out. Let’s get a team on board and scout the situation. We can manage a shuttle or two. We’ll keep the ship back, just out of range, and cover them – but I doubt that they’ll have any anti-ship defenses in play, if their main power isn’t active.”
“Well what about the Tams’ weapon?” Sinclair asked.
“If it was anti-ship, we would have seen it at Salisbury,” Julian assured. “No, I think it’s anti-planetary. I bet we could sneak two teams on board and possibly take them. If they’ve only been on her a day or so, then maybe they haven’t figured out what’s what yet. That’s a big ship. Plus, we don’t know what kind of repair she needs – it can’t be good for a ship to sit under pressure in a harsh atmo for a century. They’ll be busy. And not expecting us. We catch them sleeping, we not only bag the prey, we capture the biggest damn starship in the ‘verse.”
“Or get everyone killed,” Sinclair added.
“I just might. But let’s not think that way, shall we? We’ve invested too gorram much in this chase already. I am not willing to throw all that away just yet.”
“I’m not saying we will,” Sinclair soothed. “I just wanted to point out that there are many factors that should caution you away from engaging it at all. Too many unknowns. Look what happened the last time we went into a fight without proper intel: that barge nearly ripped us to shreds. I’m merely advocating a cautious approach.”
“So noted,” Julian agreed. “We’ll do this cautiously. Slow orbit in, then launch a few boarding parties. Put the tac teams on alert, Mr. Barnaby,” he ordered. “If things start to look hairy . . .”
“Right. We’ll improvise. But I suggest we launch the drones, just to be certain. They can cover our escape, if necessary, and screen out the Firefly, should she reappear.”
“Agreed. Program for aggressive proximity assault, with the intent to disable, not destroy. Wide pattern – cover every orbit out of here.”
“Easily done. I take it you want to lead one of the tac teams yourself?”
“Need to,” Julian grunted tiredly as he called up a view of the Sun Tzu on his monitor. “I’ll take the ‘Rangers’. Gorram gallows-fruit is what they are. Most of them are new and undisciplined. Need to keep them in line, keep them from getting shot up. Quentin can lead the second party. We’ll launch a party here, in the forward section, and try to take the Bridge, and we land one here, at the aft airlocks, and take the Engine Room. Either one will deny them escape, and put a damper on their command-and-control.”
“That’s a pretty big ship,” noted Sinclair. “That might be more complicated than it seems.”
“Of course it will!” Julian said, crossly. When he realized that he had snapped – and to whom – he sheepishly apologized. “Sorry. Not sleeping very well, recently.”
“I’ve noticed. Me, neither. The ship feels like it’s full of strangers. This chase has rapidly become a gorram crusade to save the universe. We’ve lost some good men – some great men – who will be missed sorely. But we can’t abandon this. We can’t. We have to see this through. If we fail, billions could die. That’s a lot of pressure.”
“Good, we do see eye to eye on this.”
“Well, let’s get to work. We have an evil genius to catch and a plot to destroy the ‘verse to foil.” He looked back at the image of the great warship on the monitor. That thing had to be worth a fortune. To someone. Easily orders of magnitude over what he was expecting to get paid on this run. “And it looks like our bonus is going to be pretty shiny, too.”
He had to wonder just what they were thinking, the Tams. What kind of demented plan was this? The ship essentially confirmed every worst case scenario his imagination had dreamt up, and it was adding fresh ones every few minutes as the capabilities of such a vessel were factored in. What kind of sick human being resurrects one of the deadliest weapons ever built? Part of him had a respectful awe for the audacity of the plot. It would take a man of towering intellect to engineer something like this. To get the shriveled remnant of the Imperial Faction and some unrepentant Browncoats to join him was sheer brilliance, real jing zi. Every evil mastermind needed a fanatical army of minions to do his bidding.
This Dr. Simon Tam was every awful adventure serials’ worst stereotype of the evil genius come true, a character from fiction made real. From the morbid interest in human suffering implicit in trauma surgery, to the beautiful and deadly genius researcher that was his sister, to a fanatical pack of followers, to the mind-scanning device, to the devious plots and secret doomsday weapons – and Julian and his battered ship and untested crew were the only good guys around who had a chance at stopping him.
Dr. Tam was the very picture of a sociopathic maniacal intellectual. Just what, Julian asked himself at he stared at the Sun Tzu, was that evil bastard thinking at this very moment?
“I really think I’m going to vomit,” Simon said, mournfully, as he clung for dear life to the lift’s support pole. “Are you sure this thing is safe? I get motion sick, sometimes, you know. Just fair to warn you.”
“Patience, doctor, only another ten minutes or so,” Campbell counseled. “These express lifts really do molest your semi-circular canals. I’m sympathetic.”
“I’m usually fine, it’s just that ever since I started living in the Black, I’ve developed some nasty vertigo. Or maybe it’s an inner ear infection. I suppose I should take a Dramamine.”
“I know what’s causin’ it, Doc,” Jayne offered. “You got too much sand in your vagina!”
“Leave him alone, Jayne,” Zoe insisted. “Ain’t manly to taunt a fella who’s ill.”
“Hell, me an’ Doc were ol’ roommates,” Jayne said, shaking his head. “Just a little playful banter. ‘Course, his sense o’ humor gets a mite thin when he’s got sand in his vagina.”
“Seal it, Jayne!” warned Zoe.
“I’m just sayin’,” Jayne muttered, laughing wickedly to himself.
“You’re sure this thing is safe? It feels like maybe we’re . . . shimmying. I feel a sort of shimmy. In the rear of the cabin. Definitely a shimmy. Is it supposed to do that?”
“That’s merely the rails, Doctor. They haven’t been maintained in a while. But they are still quite sound, from what the computer told me,” Campbell gently insisted.
“I’m just concerned for our safety,” Simon insisted. “I’m not trying to panic anyone.”
“The only one you’re panickin’ is you, Doc,” Zoe said. “This is nothin’. In the war they used to insert us from orbit in combat drop boats, while folk were shootin’ at us and we were takin’ evasive maneuvers. Shake you so hard you woulda puked in your helmet, except you was smart enough not to eat before a drop. Pilot screws up, you take a hit and get sucked out into the Black, if you were unlucky. If you were lucky, the explosion kills you instantly. Makes this look like a boring cab ride.”
“Gosh, I feel loads better now,” he said with biting sarcasm. His face was pale.
“The g-forces and rates of acceleration involved in the operation of this lift are well within established tolerances for healthy human beings,” River pointed out, rolling her eyes expressively. “So try to stop being such a complete pussy, Simon. You’re embarrassing me.”
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