BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 1:15, Unification Day
Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Waking up in the woods can be refreshing. Waking up naked in the woods can be embarrassing. Waking up naked in the woods, with your captain bleeding, and also naked, can be all sorts of confusing.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2422    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

It was a long time in the waiting for, but the next episode of the Legacy saga is finally here. This one, taking place about a month after the events of the last, sees Jacob pretty much healed up from his encounter with a jaggedy sword. Crew isn't starving, but ain't exactly rich neither, and just managed to score a shipment of indigo, which still fetches a good price on the Rim. This episode was born of a need for some sillyness. The series was taking too many dark turns of late, and I needed a bit of levity to keep things holding together, so I thought up the premise for Unification day. Also, yay for the triumphant return of Lund! All your Firefly are belong to Joss. Give me feedback. Please. I'm begging you.

Unification Day

The chirping. It was the chirping that reminded him that he was still alive. His head was arguing loudly in denial, but the flowing, uneven song of the insects anchered him to his surroundings. Zane was tougher than he looked. He could take a punch like nobody's business, he never got sick. But put him within ten yards of a bottle of whiskey and he was three sheets to the wind inside ten minutes. Lightweight, the Boss called him. That would explain the headache. They'd just finished up a job for the local consortium of indigo producers, and they'd paid rather handsomely. Enough for the captain and Zane to spend a night on the town. Considering tomorrow... or was that currently today?... was Unification day, might be best to stay clear of the bars for a bit. Zane couldn't open his eyes. He wanted to. 'Specially 'cause he hadn't the first clue where in the sphincter a' hell he'd be to hear crickets. Or feel wet. And cold. "S'it Christmas?" Zane muttered, finally managing to get his eyes to pop open. He beheld above him a canopy of trees, the first sun of the early morning just startin' to filter through them. A forest? The party'd been in town! He looked down at himself. "What happened about me?" "Ah," Greyson's voice came from out of eyeshot. "Welcome back to the world of the living." "Boss?" "Yeah Zane?" "Why am I in a forest," Zane asked. "And why am I nekkid? Boss, why am I nekkid in a forest?" "Might have somethin' to do with that little bit you were sidlin' up on at the party," Jacob said, voice for some reason a bit slow in delivery. "How much did I drink last night?" "Weren't the drink which took you," Jacob said. "Was the girl." "The one I kissed?" "Very same. Couple seconds after she locked lips with you, you passed right the hell out. Weren't nowhere near your limit, neither," Jacob was just out of sight. Zane willed his body to move a bit, turning over, both to cover his nethers and to get a look at his no-doubt chuckling employer. When he caught sight of Greyson, Zane burst into laughter. "Boss, why is it that yer nekkid too?" Jacob scowled at the mechanic, holding a handfull of fat leaves to a still oozin' cut near the top of his eye-scar. "Tried to help your skinny ass, is why." "So, did you...?" Zane asked. "Naw, just kicked me in the head," he replied. The two sat silently for a long moment as they considered their situation. "Kinda makes a fella glad he'd dropped the money with the girls, eh?" "More'n a little," Zane agreed. "So. Shuttle still where we left it?" "Might just be," Zane rose to his feet, and Jacob did likewise. Zane made damn sure his eyes didn't stray south of the long scar runnin' through his captain's belly-button. "Bout two miles west, memory serves." The two men remained still. "Well?" Zane prompted. "I don't think either of us wants to be followin' a man-ass all the way to Legacy, dong ma?" Jacob laughed. Zane conceded the point. Side by side, they made their way back to the shuttle. <> "And then, when the Tong found out that she was steerin' to hoodwink them, they tied her up and threw her into a dumpster!" Zane laughed, the only human sound in the clearing. "That's what she gets for tryin' to screw with the mob." "While I'm always delighted t'hear of yer sister's misfortune, we do have a more pressin' matter to attend to," Jacob said. "Most pressin' of which is our current attire. Not exactly a good thing to be walkin' round in our nuthin's, catch me?" "Fine," Zane muttered, crossing over a couple more wires that constituted the shuttle's main door lock, and leaping back as they caught and threw off a spark. The door was released from its rest and the two forced it open. Jacob'd left the door's 'key' in his pants. Where said pants were was a topic of much internal discussion. "You do know how to fly, don't ya?" Jacob scoffed at the comment. "I worked on a ship since I was five," he muttered. "Spent a total of twenty seven of my last twenty nine years on a ship. Should've picked up somethin', by now." His hands flit about the controls for a moment, the craft's activation code entered and the control sequences unlocked. Only, nothin' happened. "What the hell is wrong with my gorram shuttle?" Jacob demanded quietly. "Openin' the door the right way usually logs the system," Zane said, already up to his elbows in the shuttle's guts. First time in months these things were more than a glorified bunk, and the had to rebuild the ruttin' thing just to get it back off the ground. "It'll all be shiny, captain. No need to fret." "I'll stop frettin' when you pass me a sheet off yonder bed." "Uh, boss?" "What, Zane?" "Friday took them sheets in fer washin', said I shouldn't be gettin' them so dirty, back when I was fixin' this thing," Zane didn't even have the decency to look embarrased. "Ain't that just shiny? Whole gorram shuttle, and ain't nothin' to gird my loins," Jacob gave a start as the panel light up before him. "I'm sure Anne'll enjoy it," Zane laughed, settlin' himself squeekily onto the bare mattress in the back. "Friday might, too. If she were into battlescars and the like." "I ain't rightly sure she ain't," Jacob muttered as the craft pulled up into the air. The morning sun bit into his eyes, making his wounded head feel just a bit worse for wear. He'd doffed the leaves a while back, when the blood had clotted enough that the leaves were just stickin' to it to no good effect, and now he had a hell of a headache. A thought occured to Greyson. "Ain't it your birthday today?" He could feel Zane smilin' at him. "Sure is, boss. That's why we was drinkin' last night." "Don't most get drunk... you know... on their birthday, 'stead of the night before?" Jacob asked as the town where their drunken binge took place slipped passed beneath him. "Why the hell'd I want 'n do that?" Zane asked, a bit befuddled. "Get m'drinkin' done a-fore the day, that way I can accept m'presents right and sober." "You mean right and hungover, right?" Jacob pointed out. "Last year, we had to tumble you out of your hammock so's you'd blow out the candle and let us eat your cake." "Wacky fun," Zane agreed. "And the year before that, you's so plastered that it took me two hours to explain that I was givin' you a job?" Jacob knew without lookin' that Zane had that fool grin on his face. "Like as not, same ruttin' thing happened back on Jiangyin, 'fore you got took by the hillfolk." "Wei, I was stone sober when I got took," Zane protested, and halted as he realized how useless that made him sound. "'S I hear, they didn't much like you," he said, scanning the forest for the clearing they'd set Legacy down into. "'Specially with half the population talkin' Mandarin and you not knowin' a word of it." "Yeah. Them was the days. Course, han't I got took by them hillfolk, I'd never have crawled into that box." "And my ship would have crashed into Georgia," Jacob admitted. "Ah, there's m'girl!" Jacob took the shuttle down, locking it into its bracket on the side of Legacy. The ship rattled a bit, but settled firmly into place and was pulled into its resting place. Zane opened the door and made his way into the catwalks. Half turned, he smiled at his employer. "Wonder what the women-folk've been up to?" he asked, and Jacob rolled his eye. When the two emerged just in front of the kitchen, Jacob caught the younger man's arm. They both stared into the dimly lit kitchen. The kitchen he remembered was stark and grey, an institutional color which covered all of the walls and cieling. This was gargantuanly complex maze, a byzantine pattern of rich blue and gold paints which covered the walls and most of the cieling. Jacob glanced up, noting that it marched all the way to the edge of the stairwell he stood at. "I think we're on the wrong ship," Jacob said, but Zane took a step forward despite him. The lights came on strong, with all of the women leapin' out of their hiding place behind the counter in the kitchen. "Surpri... huh?" they all shouted, almost in perfect unison. Anne burst out laughing, first of them, a wide grin on her petite features as she held her sides. Sylvia nodded knowingly and promptly looked away from their danglin' selves. Friday just stood poleaxed. Until a grin, not unlike Anne's began to creep upon her. Early, who'd been sitting in the nook, leaned out to get a look at them, and chuckled. "You know," his voice came out evenly. "I think they won." <> Sylvia was having a great deal of difficulty staring Jacob in the eye without bursting into laughter, even as the man wrapped one of her long brown coats around himself. Zane, bein' so much taller, had to take the grey one she had which almost reached her ankles. It hung about his knees. Jacob had just stomped his bare feet into his boots when she remembered the cake. "I ain't sure if this is the best time," Friday said, hefting the oddly shaped baked-good, "'specially with your naked cavortin' with the captain to consider, but happy birthday Zane." Zane beamed broadly as he surveyed the somewhat unpleasant looking cake. Friday had done the best she could, and ordinarily she was the second best cook in the craft, but considering they didn't have any flour, sugar, chocolate, or pretty much anything else a cake usually contains, it was an impressive job. Of course, Zane would have done better. He was a hell of a cook. The thick candle in its center was only lit for a moment before he blew it out. "What did you wish for?" Anne asked. Zane chuckled and nodded toward Greyson. "You know what I wished for." Jacob nodded, rising from his seat and pulling a chunk of the cake-like substance with him. She'd already had a bit of it; It didn't taste much like cake, but at least it felt like cake. "Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" he asked the mechanic. "No," Sylvia warned, knowing full well the insanity he had planned. "I reckon I am, boss," Zane agreed, taking a bit of his pseudo-cake. "Them's my best damn pants." "I hear ye," Jacob said. "I'm a-wantin' m'own back too. Anne likes the way my backside looks in them," he confided to Syl in full voice, with his woman sitting right beside him. "There's no way I'm talking you two out of this, is there?" Sylvia asked, further confusing the rest of the crowd. Even Anne was getting annoyed. "We," Jacob declared, "are going to get our pants back!" The rest of the room stared at him like he'd just grown another head. Deigning not to notice, he stomped away, coat closed and tied, and for all the world seeming like he wasn't asscheeks naked underneath it. Zane watched him for a moment, shrugged, and followed. "Early," she said as soon as the pair were out of sight. "Take Anne and Friday onto shuttle two, land at the town," she gave the other women a look. "I'll let you know when I need you all." The large man nodded and went back to his bunk to arm himself. She knew the others were just about at the doors, so she pelted into the washroom and pulled down her last coat, also brown and still rather wet, from the drying line. Pulling it, and the gun she stashed under the stairs, on, she intercepted the men before they did something unforgiveably stupid. Such as leave her behind so she couldn't witness the madness firsthand. Zane was in the process of shutting the shuttle door when she halted him. "I'm commin' too, gorramit," she said, a rather wide grin upon her. Just about anything that took her away from that... evil book would be a present of her own. "Came for a peek?" Zane laughed a bit unsteadily. The youth was quickly leaving his area of comfort; saying Zane was inept in a fight was an insult to inept fighters the 'Verse over. "Wouldn't miss this for the world," Sylvia answered. Jacob was already taking his place behind the controls, and glanced back at her. "Good to hear that," he said, wasting no time getting the shuttle back into the air. The ground receded rather quickly, the training he'd picked up as a spacer child stretching its atrophied wings after so many years of disuse. She checked herself. It wasn't right to snoop. If he wanted to tell her, he'd tell her. Zane on the other hand. "No," she said to him, obviously beating his mouth opening by at least a second. "What?" Jacob asked. "I was just pointin' out that all's in this shuttle's next to nekkid," Zane tried gamely. "She ain't gettin' nekkid Zane," Jacob snipped. "Why not?" both she and Zane managed to say as one. Zane asked out of humor, and Syl just wanted to know why he didn't want to... "First of all," he said, as he cleared the forest, "That there's reason enough to get a lawyer after us. Sexual harrassment, don'cha know? Second, if I see Syl nekkid, and word gets back to Anne - which it will! - I ain't gon' be seein' anybody nekkid for a damn long time. And I find that a bit disconcertin', dong ma?" Zane merely shrugged, not even disappointed to any degree. Syl knew she shouldn't be rooting around, but she had to think he'd be a bit more interested in... damn it! She had to stop thinking like gorram Friday! With an internal groan, she checked the cylinder of the six-gun she'd hastily strapped to her hip. Anything to get her mind spinning down a touch. Snooping around seemed to rile her a bit. Jacob mercifully brought the awkwardness to a close as he settled the craft down in the outskirts of the town he and Zane had spent a drunken night in. Strike that, part of a drunken night in. Jacob paused at the door just a moment to glance her way. "Carryin' iron?" he asked quietly. She didn't nod, but he took it as the affirmative it was anyway. Sometimes she wondered if he wasn't a bit telepathic himself. Zane, who'd missed the exchange glanced around the town a mite warily. He had reason to be wary, considering he was walking around with bare calves and miss-sized combat boots. Not exactly inconspicuous. "So," Jacob said, surveying the largish town. "Where did we end up last night?" Zane stared around, trying to locate the dive they'd last managed to reach. He didn't see it, she knew, and he said as much a few seconds later. Jacob scowled and nodded to her. She hadn't picked up on his wish, but she followed along anyway. He led her to a dive bar not far away and nodded inside. She still couldn't tell what he wanted. "Boss?" "Shuh muh?" he asked. "You're Blocking me," she said. "Right. This it?" he asked. "What am I, a scenthound?" she asked, a bit unimpressed with him. "You don't remember, so how the hell should I?" "Do any of these fine folk remember us?" he asked as a shaven headed man forced his way between them, eyes focused on the ground in front of his boots. She gave a start. "He does. He saw you two late yestarday," she said, pointing after the man who moved deeper into the town. Jacob didn't need any more of a prompt to set out quietly after him. The bald man made a fairly direct path to another bar, slightly bigger, if far worse smelling, that sat at the far edge of town near the cliff face from which this tiny township earned its name. As he forced his way into the doors, a number of folk shouted his name. He was obviously a regular. "I'd be careful, boss," Sylvia said. "That bar's more'n a touch Alliance friendly." "No problem of mine, Syl," Jacob said, following the man in. He paused just a moment at the swinging doors to look back at her. "Ain't like I got any particular gripe with the Purplebellies outside the Reavers anyhow." "But boss, your coat," she managed before he darted inside and out of her sight. "What's the snag?" Zane asked quietly. "Our dear captain just walked into an Alliance friendly bar," Zane nodded, and she continued, noting he hadn't caught the point. "Wearing a brown coat," he nodded again. "On Unification Day." A look of horror spread across the mechanic's face as the meaning set in. "Shen sheng du gao wan," the man muttered. "That's gonna make things interesting." "It'll get more interesting before we're done," she muttered. "Mark my words on that. Stay close, and if they pull iron," she began. "Kick them in the head?" he offered. "I was going to go with run away," she responded, giving him a significant glance and then entering the bar. She entered, noting the captain sitting on a stool at the bar, and the shaven headed man sitting several stools, and several large patrons, away. Jacob noticed her enter and nodded her into a seat one away from him. Still more than a bit confused at the situation, she reached out with her mind. "What's the plan, boss?" the message was instantaneous, she knew, and he would hear it as if she spoke the words directly into his mind. Take off your coat, quick. "Why?" she replied in her mind's tongue. Trust me, I have a plan. The milisecond long discourse concluded, she pulled off her jacket and tucked it into her lap, concealing it against the rich color of the bar. Jacob nodded, grateful she caught his drift, even though she still didn't have the slightest clue what he intended, only that he was laughing incessantly inside. "Toast! Toast!" came the general cry of the goons and barflies sitting about the establishment. The piano player kept right along, until the shaven headed man rose with his glass in his hand and bellowed "Wei, shut up!" The din decreased almost instantly. He turned to his adoring masses of drunken idiots. "I got some words. Sayin' this 'ere's an ah-spicious day." She rolled her eyes, picking the damp blouse away from her shoulders. She really should have dried that coat out more before donning it. The bald man continued. "We all know what day it is, glorious for all us in the Allied Planets. Unification day!" The crowd rose a drunken cheer at him as he sloshed some of his whiskey out of the cup. "Seven years ago today, we set the groundwork for a better damn world, didn't we? Sent them browncoats runnin', pissin' their pants, and brought in the strength, the power of one government. One leader. Toast, to the Union of Allied Planets! Who's with me?" Another drunken cheer, far louder than the one before, filled the bar. The man, having spoke his piece and now having pretty much nothing of note to do for another year, settled down to finish his drink. While he was doing so, he noticed Greyson, sitting near the end of the bar, quietly drinking a cup of Ng-Ka-Pei. The man pointed at him, and several of his cohorts laughed. The man stood and took his place between Jacob and Sylvia. "Are you going to drink to the Alliance with me?" he said, a fairly obvious threat that he no doubt thought was immaculately veiled. Jacob turned to him calmly, showcasing his disfigured eye, not saying a word for a moment then returning to his drink. "Just here for a quiet drink, friend," Jacob said. Sylvia noticed Zane's lithe form sitting in a booth not far away, hands twitching as he glanced around the bar. It seemed a rather large proportion of them were focusing on Jacob and the bald man. "You were here for a quiet drink," the man said, "might not want to be wearin' a coat of that brownish color." "It was cold outside, and this is the only one not in the wash," he smiled small. "What's your name anyway, friend?" "Ain't your friend, stranger. Name's Lund," Lund leaned in closer, his unpleasant face looming in Greyson's sight. Sylvia wondered how Jacob could stand the smell of his breath, which she could tell was repulsive even from behind him. "Might be you're wanting to take that coat off." "I don't really think so," Jacob feigned thinking it over. "Nah, don't think that's gonna happen." "Somebody might get the wrong impression," Lund said. Jacob smiled at him, an empty smile, and called the bartender over for a bottle of whiskey. Lund grabbed Jacob's shoulder and pulled him back toward him. "Might get the 'mpression that you's one of them dumbass, coward, pissant ind'pendants, donh luh ma?" Jacob's features pulled down into a look of restrained fury, a stark contrast to the restrained laughter he was holding in. Someday she hoped she earned a pokerface like Jacob. The captain stood up from the bar, eyes bulging and jaw tight. "Say that again to my face," he demanded. Lund rose from his seat, his shoulders bulging as he readied them for a fight. With a small smile on his thin lips, he said "I said you were a dumbass, a coward, and a pissant," Lund leaned down at Greyson. "What are you going to do about it?" "Boss? What's the plan?" she asked again through the ether. Look confused and afraid. Don't question me gorram it! Quickly, she reached out with her mind, looking for an appropriate model for her action. Several hundred yards away, she found what she was looking for, a woman too close for her own comfort to a barbrawl just getting started. Affixing that expression on her face, the way she stared up, jaw quivering, as larger men fought around her, Sylvia nodded inwardly. Perfect. Her task done, she returned to the bar where her body waited in the infinite slowness of relative time for Jacob's next words. "Me? Nothin'. I was just distractin' you so's she could get behind you," Jacob said, pointing at Sylvia. She adopted her salvaged expression, sheer horror and confusion as Lund spun about ready to slug whoever was behind him. When he saw the small blond woman with blue-grey eyes stare at him in fear, he was staggered for a moment. A moment Jacob used to grasp the whiskey bottle he'd called for and smash it into Lund's bald skull. The man deflected sideways more than a bit, and Jacob flipped the bottle into his good hand, swinging it again. This time, it worked against Lund's momentum, striking even harder and shattering across his pate. Lund collapsed to the floor. Jacob beamed directionlessly. "Boss?" she asked silently Drunks are so cute. "What now?" Now I run away and you and the kid figure where my pants is. Good luck. "You're the one who needs it." Much of the population of the bar began to rise as Lund reached the floor. Jacob stared about at the horde. "Boy," he said. "There's just an acre a' you fellas, ain't there?" He offered a grin to the crowd. They took none of it. He raised a finger and made as if to speak, then bolted out the door. Most of the bar piled out to follow him, leaving pretty much just Zane, Syl, the bartender and Lund on the floor. The piano player shrugged, noticing most of his patronage had left, and stopped playing the Alliance tunes he'd been called in for. He cracked his knuckles and leaned back against the wall, grateful for the break. "Zane?" she nodded him over, and he didn't even notice until she went over and cuffed his shoulder. "Zane, I think I know the boss' plan." "What?" he said, still staring at the brown coat disappearing into town, an angry mob hot on his heels. "Does it have anything to do with losin' some teeth?" She nodded towards Lund, who was still lying on the floor. He didn't understand, so she told him. "He knows where you've been. Might be, this was a ploy to get him trusting us. We can use him to track down your wayward belongings. Come here." She guided the taller man to Lund's side, and handed over her bundled jacket. "Hide this," she said quietly, noting with pride how quickly the bundle vanished on Zane's person, and cautiously nudged the large man. "Sir?" she asked, voice demure and timid. Zane stifled a snicker at hear it, but managed to reclaim himself. She nudged him again. "Sir, are you alright?" His eyes opened groggily, finally coming to focus on her face after a few seconds. "Wha'th'hell?" he demanded groggily. "Are you alright? That awful man hit you so hard!" she tittered. Zane simply maintained a flat face. Remarkable, considering the men involved. Lund's face flexed as he brought himself a bit further out of unconciousness. "That snake," Lund growled, accepting Zane's hand to bring him to his feet. "Where'd that pissant bugger off to?" "Angry lookin' mob seems to have taken a dislike to him," Zane answered, nodding in the direction he'd seen Jacob dart off. Lund made as if to rush after them, but Sylvia's gentle hand restrained him. "Shouldn't be runnin' about after a crack like that," she said meekly, eyes unable to hold his own. Lund looked down at her, a number of lascivious thoughts making their way through his thick skull, adulterous all, considering he had a woman about as attractive as he was waiting for him at home. Lund grunted. "I've had worse. Last year some browncoat hun dahn brought all manner of unpleasant to our little bar," he said, easing himself back onto the stool with her aid. "We run him right over the cliff, after knockin' him toothless and burnin' his gorram coat." Lies, of course. She laughed inside as she recognized Reynolds from Lund's memory, noting that they'd gotten the better of Lund and got away clean besides. "I'm sure he had it coming," Sylvia said. Lund looked over Zane again. "I's seen you about before, ain't I?" Lund asked. "Last night, just on the wake of the hooch trucks, right?" Zane offered a small smile and nodded. So that's why Zane always got ripped the night before his birthday. All the Alliance friendly bars had the finest liquor that night. She barely held in a chortle. "Yeah, I'm having a bit of a problem," Zane said. Lund's face drew down. "Not that kind, friend." She wondered how he was pulling off this deception. It certainly wasn't in his nature. Curious, she reached out... huh. He glanced toward her; had he noticed her? Was that even possible? Lund pulled down on a shotglass of whiskey. "What sort of problem is that?" he asked. "While I was about last night," Zane shrugged, "I guess I came on the wrong sort of lass." "Wrong sort?" Lund repeated. "Sort that drugs a fella, robs him, and leaves him asscheeks nekkid in the woods," Zane answered. Lund laughed aloud, and Zane shrugged. "Weren't it for my miss here, I'd still be out there, bare as the day I come screamin'." "I know a place does that sort a' thing," Lund said. "Caulfields, little spot near the edge next to the woods. Owner rents out rooms to whores. I can..." She focused her will the way River had, a long while ago. Flash, synapses firing without control. She'd only felt the effects from a distance, but she was sure she could do it herself. Just a bit, though. Enough of a misfire to through off his balance, his coherense. At first nothing. Then it was there, the warmth of a target getting warmer. Warmer. There. Enough. Lund's eyes unfocused, and he shook his head to try to throw off some of his unsteadiness. "I can... Take..." "Are you alright, sir?" Syl asked. "Sudden, ain't feelin so good," Lund said. And then fell off the barstool. Landing with a crash on the floor, Lund drew a smile from Sylvia, who pulled a plat from her pocket and flipped it to the barkeep. "For the whiskey," she said, a bit relieved to be using her own voice again. "I must say, Zane, I didn't expect you to take to that so good." "Felt you rootin' around," he smiled, escorting her to the door. "You did?" He smiled. "Yup. And no, I ain't tellin'." "You're no fun, you know that?" she pouted, sticking her bottom lip out to emphasize her displeasure. "So," Zane said. "What exactly did you do to him? He was fixin' to run the captain down." Zane was staring back at the bar as it vanished behind them. Sylvia smiled, proud of herself. "I killed him with my brain." "What?" Zane said, missing a step. "You can do that?" "No," she lied. "I just slipped a bit a' somethin' into his drink." Zane trudged on in silence for a while. "You ain't never done that to me, have you?" "Of course not," she said with a smirk. "Despite what you may think, ain't all the women in the 'Verse feel like they need to have their way with you." He stared at her for a second. "You ain't right, you know that?" Zane said. "This is for that 'li'l miss' thing, ain't it?" She laughed and slugged him in the shoulder. "Come on, your pants await you." Caulfields was literally on the opposite side of the town from the last bar they'd been to, and the cold wind was starting to irritate Syl, who was only wearing a damp blouse. Finally sick of the cold, she asked for her own coat back, happy even to have its dampness so long as it provided another layer between herself and the late autumn of this mo yi di nao tan keh moon. "So," Zane said, a grin back on his face, "when do we do the pants-stealin'?" Syl pondered for a moment. "Well," she offered. "We could wait until dinner time, use the added press of them's there for dinner to make our move?" Zane shrugged, then gave a start as Jacob appeared beside him. Her coat was somewhat rumpled, and he was very much worse for wear from his encounter. Jacob's lip was split and still bleeding rather freely, as well as a new cut over his eyebrow and a number of bruises she could see just on his head and neck alone. She hadn't any doubt that he'd have more under that coat. Of course, he was lucky. That crowd would have torn him apart if they'd gotten ahold of him. "You should have seen the other guy," Greyson responded to her inspection. "A couple of them managed to find me. Big folk. Not too smart though." "You're missing teeth," Sylvia pointed out, but the captain shrugged. "I want my pants back. This is just part of the process." "Early's right," Zane muttered. "We are all insane." Captain and Reader shared a look. "So," Jacob said as they came upon Caulfields Saloon and Eatery. "Is this the place?" "S'what Lund said," Zane replied. "How'd you know he'd get all helpful for Syl, anyway?" "Ask me again later. Syl, you still got that iron?" she nodded. "Good, come through them doors in about two minutes and shout bloody robbery." "Is this going to end with you missing even more teeth?" Zane asked. "Might," Jacob replied, pulling the younger man with him into the bar. <> The bar was almost as much of a dive as the last he'd been to. At least it wasn't populated by drunken idiots, which made it in a league entirely of its own, he supposed. Zane was muttering nervously as he glanced around the site of his most recent drunken embarrasment. Jacob took a seat at the bar, waiting for the bartender to turn about and notice him. The portly fellow with the odd lookin' manchu moustach gave a start when he noticed Jacob, and glanced around the room before leaning in. "Ain't exactly a smart day to be wearin' that, stranger," he said. This was definitely the place. He remembered that voice. "Learned that the hard way," Jacob showed his bloody smile. He was about to ask a question when something caught his eye. "That there's a mighty fine piece." "Surely is," the bartender said, plucking the heavy pistol off of its plaque. "Picked 'er up durin' the War. 'S I hear it, she's modeled after the Mauser what was made back on Earth-that-was. Damn fine piece of iron, if I do say so." "May I?" he said. The bartender chuckled and flipped a switch. A stream of bullets popped out of the top of the firearm, and he handed the now empty weapon to Greyson. "Odd weight to it," he muttered. "It's certainly got that," the bartender agreed, "but its got enough throw to put a bullet through a bulkhead. Accurate, too." "How exactly'd you come to own this?" Jacob asked, sighting along the barrel. "Took it off a browncoat captain on a blockade runner 'bout nine years back," the barkeep said quietly. Jacob glanced up at him. The man seemed to radiate regret. "Fought for the 'lliance?" Jacob muttered. "Well, nobody's perfect. How much?" "Shuh muh?" the barkeep asked. "How much for this? I like it, and it seems only fitting that..." he managed before the doors burst open, Syl in her brown coat charging into the bar, revolver leveled on Jacob and the barkeep. "Hands and knees and heads bowed down!" she shouted. Jacob snatched the strand of bullets from the barkeep, shoving them into place. He noted that the entire strand, spine and all, was accomodated, before he pulled the first bullet into the chamber and spun the gun around. Pointing it directly at Sylvia. "Boss?" her psychic voice asked, confused. "What?" he replied silently "I'd really like to be hearin' a plan right about now." Jacob smiled, noting that Zane was backing away from both of them in confusion. "Tell him to go to the rooms and bring out the whores. He can find our shit soon as their under your watchful gaze." "What about this little standoff?" she asked. "Grab my gun," he offered. The silent exchange ended, Sylvia relocated her aim to the barkeep, who, unless Jacob was entirely mistaken, was reachin' for a shotgun. Jacob feigned taking advantage and pushing forward, but Sylvia's quick hands popped the gun right out of his off hand with a snap of his smallest finger breaking. He let out a clipped scream. Gorram it Sylvia, he thought. Didn't mean ye' to beat me up for this. Five seconds after she'd entered the bar, she now held all of the guns, and had both men at the end of a barrel. "You," she shifted her aim with the Mauser to Zane. "Bring down them's live up there." Zane glanced between Jacob and Syl for a moment, then nodded and bolted up the stairs. A matter of moments later, he was herding the trollops into the main room, and quietly made his way back up. "What hell's goin' on?" the barkeep asked. "Them whores took somethin' as belongs to me," she answered. "These idiots stole it, and then got asscheeks robbed by these women. I'm wantin' it back." "Look, ma'am," he said reassuringly. "My ladies didn't take nothin' from..." "What is it?" the younger of the two asked timidly. The older hissed slightly. "My very favorite damn gun, and some other sundries a'sides. Kid!" she shouted to Zane on the balcony where the rooms were situated. "You know what I want. You bring it, I'll let you walk without a bullet to ya, dong ma?" Zane had obviously already found his pants, since his legs weren't showing above his boots, and his coat now hung open. He gave a slight twitch, and went into the room near him. After a short while, he came out holding Jacob's gun in his hands. "This it?" "And the sundries?" she prompted. Zane vanished again for a moment and reappeared with an armfull of clothing. "Good. Thank you for your cooperation, barkeep, sorry to have been a bother," Jacob felt himself being dragged to his feet, and he and Zane were herded right out the door. Right into an angry mob, most of which had given over their morning to hunting down Jacob. "Oh hell," Jacob said. "I can't say as I planned for this outcome." "Lucky for you, I did," Sylvia whispered into his ear. Several of the crowd took a step forward, brandishing firearms of various description. "I figure i's 'bout time somebody put you down, dog," one of them shouted. To answer him a gunshot was heard, and the dirt plumed up just in front of his foot. Legacy's other shuttle pulled a sharp turn, bringing Early back into view with his red armored skin, leveling a rifle at the crowd as the craft settled onto the ground. "You might want to step aside," Early's voice rang out. "You planned this?" Jacob asked, no small bit surprised. Sylvia shrugged a bit behind him. "I figured you'd be going off half cocked, so I made a contingency plan." Early forced his way through the crowd, Friday not far behind him. Both were carrying large firearms which belonged to Sylvia, but the mob didn't know that last bit. The rabble billowed out around them, leaving Early standing with his gun pointed directly at Syl. "Sylvia Witherell, you are bound by law to stand down." "You want her?" came an outraged voice from the crowd. "Her? Shiny, I'll just be on my merry way," Jacob said, but was checked when Jubel's gun leveled on him next. "You're not going anywhere. You're bounty ain't nothin' on hers, but money's money." "You can't have him," came that voice again. "We got rights to him." "Bounties better alive," Friday replied, voice cold and professional, her surgery voice, she called it. "If anyone wants to take our payday, you'll have to come through us. Don't step too close to true stupidity, here." Syl let out a loud growl and dropped her gun, and Jubel made a show of handcuffing the pair of them. After they were all bound, he turned to Zane. "You, kid, are free to go. Take your shuttle and disappear, dong ma?" The mechanic wasted no time extricating himself from the situation, a wise move in Jacob's eyes. When the young man left, Early hauled the pair by the backs of the necks to shuttle two, throwing them bodily inside. Friday made her way backward onto the craft, and the thing leapt into the air. "So, that was your brilliant plan?" Anne said from the controls. "Get chased around the town, loose some teeth, get robbed by your own crew, almost lynched by that same mob that chased you, and for what?" Jacob smiled gappedly. "Your favorite captain-pants." She stared at him for a while, unable to come up with anything to say. Finally, she let out a string of Mandarin profanities and took the shuttle home. <> The kitchen was dark when Zane landed the shuttle on the side of Legacy and made his way back inside. On the way, he pulled off Syl's long coat and folded it over his arm, wondering why he hadn't seen the rest of the crew. He wandered into the kitchen pretty absently, and dropped all of his assorted clothings onto the table. He just settled down in the chair when the lights came on. "Surprise!" everybody shouted, leapin' up from their spot behind the counter. Jacob sauntered out of the nook, still wearin' Syl's brown coat, but at least he'd put a pair of pants on under it. "Seein's how it didn't work out so well the first time, me and the crew figured we should try again. Happy birthday, Zane." Zane noticed that his teeth, which had been missing ten minutes ago, had returned. Syl was a miracle worker. He wondered how he was going to explain them to Anne. Dismissing the question, he grinned. "So, boss, what did you get me?" The presents, such as they were, were handed over to him, and he tore into them with a vengeance. When all was done, he blew out the candle again on the already half eaten cake and had himself a second slice. Suddenly, it tasted a lot better than he'd remembered. "So," Jacob said, leaning back in his chair with Anne on his lap. "What'll we be doin' for yer next birthday?"

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