BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:03, Monday's Child
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Friday carried a secret for a very long time, but finally must come clean of it. She and Legacy's crew must now crash a shindig on Persephone to save someone from Friday's past.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1345    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

The third episode of season two sees Friday's long held secret finally revealed. Now, with that revelation out in the open, she's got some family business to take care of. Take two parts Shindig, add a dash of War Stories, electrocute for ten hours; serves as many as can feed. A fun part of this was writing for Sylvia, who is now awake and in an entirely different place than she was last time she had a cogent thought. I had to watch ever damn episode, the movie, and the RT sessions to get enough Riverspeak in my mind to write for her. Insanity may be fun, but it sure as hell ain't easy. All your Serenity are belong to Joss, every damn thing else is mine. Feedback. It's the polite thing to do.

Monday's Child

"Have you ever read the writings of Shan-Yu?" the tall, blonde haired man said. He had a wide, friendly grin on his square jaw, his eyes twinkling with delight. She thrashed against her bonds, trying to scream but unable for the gag which stopped her voice. Her eyes flit about the room, sanitary and stark white. The bed was covered in a white plastic sheet, the furniture shoved into a corner and covered. The entire place reminded her of a hospital room. Clean. Sterile. Lifeless. "He say, live with man fourty years, share house, meals, and every topic of conversation. Then, bind this man, hand to foot and hold him over volcano's edge. It is then," he picked up a large and cruel looking dagger from a tray not far away, "that you will finally meet the real man." She struggled back against the chains and course hemp as he drew closer, his youthful face looking entirely too enthusiastic. She never knew fear before. She had been raised from a small child in luxury, to know the best things in life. When she turned twelve, she and her sister had both entered training with House Celeste. Her own aspirations were achieved, her sister's, not so much. She was respected, independantly wealthy. And she would trade it in for what her sister had, at this moment, no matter what that may be. "Of course, now we are past little pleasantries," Dmitri Niska said as he loosened the ball gag from her mouth. The very first thing she did was take a deep breath and scream. Almost off-handedly, Niska backhanded her across the face, the pommel of that knife scraping her perfectly smooth cheek. "Useless, I assure you," Niska chided. "I choose room to be soundproof. There is no help coming for you. Say it." "Go to hell! Help!" she screamed. Niska frowned disdainfully, hooking his fingers through the bodice of her dress and yanking it down. The fine fabrics tore apart under his hands, leaving her trussed up in nothing but her shift. When that task was done, Niska jabbed her with that knife. Her call for help dissolved into a yelp of pain. She'd never known pain, just as she'd never known fear. Sure, she'd taken a few lumps as a toddler, and even broke her wrist once while horseback riding. But she'd never been stabbed. It never occured to her that she ever might. Finally, there was no sound left in her. She wanted to scream, but she'd used up all the air she had. Her dark, fluid eyes locked with Niska's. He grinned. She squirmed in pain as he drew the blade slowly along her. At long last, after what seemed to be an eternity, he stopped, removing his blade and setting it aside. He slid his fingers along the scarlet blade. "I must admit, this is rare opportunity for me. The blood of whores is base thing, but yours, miss Yiao, is special thing. Is solid." "You," she groaned hoarsely, "have earned a black-mark in the Companion Client Registery. No one will ever serv..." He cut her off with a brutal backhand, which must have loosened some of her teeth, because she noted a fine white shape in the midst of the pool of blood. A bicuspid, if she remembered correctly from her sister's ramblings. She looked back up at Niska. "That will not, I am thinking, matter so much. You will not get chance to speak with your Registery," his words were absolutely kind. He walked out of the room for a moment, and when he returned, he had something on a trolley, something she couldn't quite twist herself to see. He walked back in front of her, his fine coat discarded and his sleeves rolled back. "Of course we are now past the preliminaries. The polite questions; who do I think I am? Do I know who you are? Why are you being tied? We are past these things. Now we reach important questions." Niska reached past her to that thing on the cart, which activated with an electric hum. She struggled mightily, but she knew it was hopeless. "My contractor expressed wish to 'ugly' you, and that is easily enough achieved," he pulled up a pair of paddles, tapping them against her flesh. Pain exploded through her with the electric current. "But it does not interest me. Would you like to know what would?" Monday Yiao tried to pull herself into a ball, to protect herself. She couldn't. "Let us see," Niska said kindly, "If we can meet the real you." <> The melancholy notes filled the ship, seeming to vibrate off the walls and fill the claustrophobic space with dissonance. She realized half way through the song which one she had picked, and it was one of the bleakest. Since she'd gotten that call, she hadn't been able to concentrate. That would have been horrible had anybody gotten hurt, but as it was, she could bare think straight. That bitch. That conniving, self-centered bitch, what took everything she ever dreamed of. Then she had the gall to call her up and gloat. It was enfuriating. It was everything she didn't want to think about. She'd cut off ties with that... woman... nearly a decade ago, and didn't regret it in the slightest. They'd been close, once. Closer than friends or lovers. Then she had to go and hump it up. The last note, still hanging in the air, sounded off. She glanced at her frets and realized her fingers were clawed over the strings, as if she subconciously wanted to choke the guitar. The instant she saw it, her hand flew open, and she shook the random extremity to excorsize its demons. She knew enough about psychology that sometimes people acted on things they wouldn't even admit to themselves, repressed memories and subjugated feelings and such. Some of that strayed dangerously close to Freudism, but she was living proof of fact, it seemed. She set her instrument aside, before she smashed it to kindling in a taking. Safer that way. Grinding her teeth, she rose from the confortable chair she always took after dinner to practice her art. She needed to walk, to fight, to have a romp, something to distract her and exhaust her, something to leave her drained and able to sleep. As it was, it felt like somebody had been sneaking amphetamines into her supper. A tremor ran through her, leaving her shaking in the stairwell. Maybe a sedative might be a good idea. The only person of her skill level she could fight was Anne, and that little woman would tear her apart out of sheer tenacity, and while there was two men able to romp, she didn't think either of them willing. Zane still was a bit hurting from his two-day marriage, and she didn't have the cruelty to her to bust him up further by forcing him into something he didn't want. Early was just bereft of gorram passion. Not even worth the time and effort. So she unlocked and opened the door to her infirmery. She never used to lock the door, but with a potentially dangerous, albiet currently comatose, woman on board, she wasn't willing to keep that many sharp or pointed implements, poisons, and miscellany available to hostile hands. Potentially hostile, she revised herself. She hated thinking that way of Sylvia. She used to be fun. A bit loopy, by times, and occasionally somewhat unsettling, but fun. Now... Now, she might wake up alright, wake up a shattered wreck, wake up a Reaver, or not wake at all. She wondered briefly if God dimmed the lights in the 'Verse just for this little crew. Bastard. With a capital 'B'. She pulled open the drawer and pulled out a bottle of diazepam. She was unsealing the lid when the console beside her head chirped to life, startling her a bit. She glanced between the bottle and the console, finally deciding to take the call. Anybody using her private line probably had something to say. She activated it, and was surprised by the face she saw. "Well," Inara said in the screen. "I must say, I never thought I'd see the day when a Yiao looked less than stellar." Friday turned away from the screen for a second and said in full voice. "Anybody else around want to insult me?" "I'm sorry," Serra said quickly. "It seem's I'm picking up bad habits from my... from Mal." "What's this about?" Friday asked, adopting her surgery voice. "It's about your sister." "I know about Monday. I got her call," Friday growled. The Companion... former Companion, seemed like now... glanced at her in confusion. "When did she speak to you?" Serra asked carefully "'Bout two weeks back. Gloating, 'cause she'd pulled down ten-over-price to escort some dandy on Persephone. I called her a whore, and hung up wanting to mangle her." "Bi zwei yi zhi ting woh, ni-yu chun di ren!" Serra shouted, her composure severely rattled. "The person who hired her has a blackmark in the registery with House Madrassa. Celeste never ranked high enough to access the Registery, so your sister fell right into in that bastard's hands." Friday paused. "I know a lot of bastards, Serra. Care to be more specific?" "Atherton Wing, a high society man with delusions of propriety. He used one of his pseudonyms to procure your sister, and now he has his man preparing her for him. Is your sister a strong woman?" "Not particularly," Friday scoffed. "Where in Persephone? Eavesdown, or the city?" "The city. She's being held in a hotel that's getting ready for a ball. Security will be tight," she seemed ready to continue but Friday cut her off angrily. "Why in the sphincter a' hell'd you think I'd care anyway?" Inara stared in shocked confusion at Friday's outburst. "She's your sister," Inara said, as if that were the entirety of the matter. Little did the Companion know, it truly, truly was. "You say that like it should mean somethin'," she hissed, flicking off the screen. She shook a bit as she stared at the now blank screen, her fingernails digging into her palms. "Somethin' wrong there, doc?" Greyson said, leaning into the infirmery. He did have a way of sidling in on a body. "Excuse me?" "Couldn't help but overhear, on account of my eavesdropping," Jacob had that less-than-half-serious look in his eye. "What was this about your sister?" Friday ground her teeth for a moment. There really wasn't anything she could do now. A promise was made a damn long time ago. Now it was time for that promise to come due. And hell on any what got in her way. "Gather the crew," she said, noting as Jacob's eyebrow rose in shock. "What was that?" "Gather the crew," she repeated, making her way past him. "You giving me orders on my ship?" he asked, suddenly a touch less mirthful. Something of his spark had faded in the last months. Constant worry crushed the soul. She didn't read that anywhere, she watched it first hand. "Do I have to?" she asked, staring down her captain. Jacob crossed his arms and didn't give an inch. "What's this about?" he finally said. "We're less than ten hours away from Persephone, right?" Jacob nodded. "Anne needs to land us in Southdown. As for the first, I have something they need to hear." Jacob's jaw tightened for a moment, and his arms uncrossed. "Fine, I'll have them up in the kitchen." As the captain left, she moved back into the infirmery, opening up the compartment she'd built into the back of one of the cupboards, pulling out a work of fine silk, like much she wore any chance she got. This one, though, she hadn't worn in years. Six years, now... Refolding the thing, she made her way up the stairs, noting as Early vanished around the corner just ahead of her. She arrived in the kitchen as Early took his seat off to the side of the room. Zane was closest, turned about in his chair so he could see her. Everybody but Sylvia. She took one long step, then another, and set the robe upon the table for all to see. "What's the meaning of this?" Jacob asked, not enjoying riddles in any form. "This is a novice's robe. Every person training in a Companion House gets a number of them. They show the woman, or man, as the case may be, as an initiate, and teach them the finer things in dress and sensation," Friday explained. "Companion House?" Zane asked. "And how did you get... oh." "My mother was a Companion trained in House Celeste, a woman of grace and ability that almost became House Priestess. Before she had children, by which I mean. I personally began my training when I was twelve years old. I learned all of the pleasurable arts; how to walk, how to speak with a refined tongue," Zane snickered at that, "archery, husbandry, music and dance. In all things but one, I was the premier student, and weren't it for that one talent, I would not be here this day." "What one thing?" Jacob asked, a leading question. He probably gathered what it was, but wanted it confirmed. He was a sharp one, sometimes. "Control," Friday said. "It is the first lesson for a Companion, and the last. Since I, admittedly, have all the self control of a suicidal lemming, I was... a failure." "Well, this is all fine," Early said from the nook. "But what does this have to do with... anything?" "I didn't enter training alone." "Of course, there'd be others in your class, right?" Zane pointed out. "That's not what I meant. I was talking about my sister." "You have a sister?" Anne asked, not noticing Jacob nod slowly. "Identical twin sister," Friday confirmed. "What'd they call her?" Zane laughed. "Saturday?" "Although she does 'work' for her living, no. Monday," Zane looked like he was about to laugh again. "My mother was a very talented whore, but she was anything but original. I was born first, and she fell out of labor. Monday was delivered by Caesarian three days later." "So you were born on a," Zane said. "Friday." "And she was born on," Zane continued. "The next Monday," Friday finished for him. His face screwed up in a scowl. "Damn. She was unoriginal." "What happened?" Jacob asked, bringing her back to the topic at hand. "Monday succeeded where I failed, becoming a Registered Companion. I, in my disgrace, left Londinum and headed to Boros. Using up pretty much everything in my trust-fund, I bought my way into the Boros MedAcad, and the rest, as you guessed, is history." "Interesting though this is," Jacob said, "I'm still a bit foggy on what this has to do with that Companion on Serenity. Or why we're diverting to Persephone, in point of fact." Anne glanced at her husband. "We're diverting to Persephone?" He nodded. She stared at him a moment then shrugged. "Fine." As she went up to the bridge, Friday sat down in at the midline of the table. "I have a plan on how to reach her, but I'm going to need all of you for this." "How so?" Jacob asked. "I have the face, fingerprints, and DNA of a Registered Companion. I can walk in anytime I want. Only problem is, I don't know what I'll be facing on the inside, and I need someone there in case something goes wrong. That means you," she stabbed a finger at her captain. "You, on the other hand, are a bit harder a case. You still have that uniform from the horse job, and you might just clean up enough to look military. Certainly having enough money to hire a Companion for the night, dong ma?" "I'm thinkin' Anne ain't gonna like this plan," Zane muttered. Jacob and Friday both shot him a look. "What you need, though, is an IdentCard," she said. "Fine," Jacob said. "I mug a body when we hit the dirt." "No," she chastized. "A real IdentCard. Name, rank, serial number and history. Since the fistfight at the ball back in the day, they've upgraded their systems to only let upstandin' members of the community in." "A falsified I-card, that's a tall order. Damn near impossible to get at any price," Zane said. "Mister Universe. They can get it done. That'll just get us up to the door. Once we're inside, we'll be unarmed and blind. We have no idea where she is in the building, only that it's above the level of the ballroom." "Unarmed?" Jacob asked. "Newtech gun scans. They don't target the serial numbers like the old models, rather the gunpowder in the bullets. If you bring that broomhandle, it's gonna have to be empty," she continued. "When we find her, we're going to have to scram, and scram fast. She'll probably be in a lot of hurt, so getting back here double-time is on our definite list of things to do." "You said you needed all of us?" Anne said as she returned to the kitchen. "You two," she pointed at the other two men, "are going to be the Colonel's entourage. What gets him in gets you in. You," she pointed at Zane, "are going to hack the local link in one of the bedrooms and give us a heads up when things start going south. You," she pointed at Early, "are going to steal everything that isn't nailed down. Might as well make some money on this." "Theft?" Early said. "That isn't my..." "I know where they keep all their best scratch and you'll be stealing from rich, debase, arrogant hun dahn what won't even notice it's gone. 'Sides, with you workin' on percentage, it'd be a niceness to have a figure in the positive to work with." Early scowled, but held his peace. "Do you know this place?" Jacob asked, standing from his seat. "I attended when I was seventeen. I hear these things are almost the exact same every damn year," Friday said, joining him on his feet. She glanced at the other two. "You should get your fineries on. Won't just let anybody in, now would they?" "And me?" Anne asked. "Don't exactly got much desire to be flouncin' around a spot like that." "Just as well," Friday said, moving toward the cockpit. "We need somebody ready to take off in a hurry. Figure that makes you the Colonel's valet." Anne didn't look too impressed with the notion. "Jacob, I need you to Wave Mister Universe. He's the only fella I can think of off hand that could pull an ID-card out of his pi gu in our time frame," Friday announced. Jacob nodded and went to the nose of the ship, the doctor not far behind him. And where the captain went, so went Anne's nation. Jacob wasted no time setting up a Wave from the gunner's seat; Anne lounged in her own chair, and Friday hunched over Jacob's shoulder. "From here to the eyes and ears of the 'Verse," came that familiar voice. "Oh, Jacob! Well, didn't say I expected to hear from you so quick." "No time for chit-chat, sensei," Friday said. "We've got a powerful need, one you're the only that can fix." "What sorta need are you talkin' here?" Verne asked. "IdentCard," Jacob said. "Not just stolen, forged. Full background history and all the bells." Verne scowled a moment, seemingly distracted by something out of camerashot. "That's a hell of a tall order there, captain. What sort of timeframe are you lookin' at?" "It's got to be in my pretty little hand in ten hours," Jacob said. Mister Universe just stared at him for a moment. "You're being coerced into this, aren't you? Blink twice if somebody's got a gun on you," he said. "Verne..." Friday warned. "That kinda task would take a week, no matter where in the Core you looked," the man said. "We're not headed for the Core. We're headed for Persephone." "Persephone? You just delight in makin' things difficult on me, don't you?" He pondered for a moment. "It's not going to come cheap." "Money is no object," Friday said gravely. "It is a bit," Jacob interjected, but Verne spoke right over him. "Just finding one that's reprogrammable, and ain't all of them are, will run a body four grand. Finding one in ten hours, I gotta say, that complicates things. Paying the Locater will run ten by its lonesome," he scratched his ear. "And the history?" "Hell, I'll throw that in for free," Mister Universe replied. "Wait," Jacob finally got a word in. "Where the hell are we going to get together fifteen thousand credits in ten hours?" "One last dip into the old trust fund," she muttered. "They'll shut it down the instant they realize it's been active the last few years, what with my disappearance an' all." "How long'll that take?" Verne asked, but Friday had already reached past the captain and began flinging her fingers along the screen. The Cortex feed jumped between pages so quickly that Greyson probably couldn't even see what she was doing: She'd practiced this action rigorously, so that when she attempted this, she'd be in and out before they shut her out. In a total of twelve seconds, just enough to do her business, just short of being Cortex-Locked, she had the sum flying through the black to the tiny complex on the backwater moon in the heart of an ion cloud. Mister Universe watched a side screen for a moment as the sum was deposited into his account, and smiled. "Ten hours," he said, then leaned back away from the screen. "Fi! Get Cole and Shelley, we've got a rush job!" <> "Don't pick at it," Friday hissed as he tried to run his hand through his hair. It felt weird. Smelled weirder, in point of fact, what with all the crap she had him put in it. It wasn't just slicked back, as he sometimes did, but all formed and such. Felt odd. The building was everything he expected of a Core planet, despite the notable fact that he was quite definitely still in the Border Worlds. Everything that could, shined. Everything that didn't, glowed. Whatever could, also hovered. Being born in the black, he never did even get to acclimate himself to anything grounded, let along wealthy. This was a system shock, even with him pushing so hard on thirty. "Remember," Friday whispered. "You belong here. Nothing is as good as it was last year, the food is atrocious. Stare down and insult the nobles, polite nods to other military officers, and never, ever, talk about your service. Let them guess. They'll come up with," she paused as a servent scuttled past them. "They'll come up with something far better if you just let them ramble." "Arrogant, overpaid, condescending. Got it," Jacob muttered, offering his arm just short of the corner for Friday to loop her's through. They stepped out into the foyer, noting the procession of frilly dresses as they floated around the room like bits of flotsam stuck in an updraft. A wall of music hit him, classical instruments releasing their dulcet tones and controlling the motion of the dancers in the center of the floor. He nodded back to Early and Zane, then pointed toward the servant's door. The doorman caught the gesture, but watched the announcer. They would be allowed in no sooner than their master. Or so Friday instructed him. The pair in front of them was announced, and Jacob forced his back straighter than he'd ever made it before. He even tipped it back a bit so he'd always be lookin' down at these folk, even them's taller than him. The announcer turned back and caught a glance of him. He betrayed a look of suspicion and Jacob pulled the IdentCard which had actually been handed to him as he walked into the door of this building, and slid it into the reader. He punctuated it with his thumb and the lights went from red to green. The announcer nodded and turned back to the room. "Colonel Jacob Northcutt, and Monday Yiao," he said loudly. Behind him, Jacob heard the doorman open the door and allow his 'servants' into the bowels of the building. Jacob took a step forward, but found himself restrained, as if the air had become too thick to pass through. A man in a turban with a walrus mustache turned to him. "I am sorry, sir, but I shall have to confiscate your necklace," he said, his voice surprisingly high pitched. Jacob scowled, letting borrowed rage darken his features into near apoplexy. "You," he said quietly, "shall do no such thing." The two men matched glares for a moment. The security took a step forward, but Jacob reached into his collar and extracted the bullet, holding it so his fingers obscured some of the symbols on it. The walrusy fella leaned in and examined the round, being the only one on Jacob's person. His Mauser was even emptied for the occasion. Finally, the man nodded. "It's a .308," he whispered. "Rifle round. What does it say?" "Not your business," Jacob muttered angrily, slipping back into place. "I'm going to allow this," the man said, turning off the system for a few seconds, which Jacob took to enter appearantly at his leisure. Friday retook her place at his arm. A woman, conversing nearby, seemed to recognize her instantly, and made her way over. "Monday, delightful to see you again," the woman said. "Although I thought you were contracted to mister Addison?" "Addison was my client last evening," Friday replied evenly. "The colonel is my client tonight." The woman, a Companion, by the look of her, sneered, oh, so very subtlely. He only noticed because he'd been watching for it. "Two clients on two consecutive nights? Celeste has fallen farther than I'd thought." "Fools and children insult," Jacob said, his voice light but with an edge of displeasure. "You do not appear to be a child." "Jacob," Friday warned, noting as the Companion almost turned red with shock and anger. "You must forgive him. Military are so hard to deal with." The Companion stared at him for a moment, then back to her, and nodded. "They are at that," she said. "If you will excuse me, my client awaits me." Smiling, she almost dragged him along the rim of the dance floor. "If you do that again, they'll know you're a fake for damn sure." "Did you know her?" he asked. "Roberta," she said. He arched an eyebrow. "I did her appendectomy three years ago." "You're just a storehouse of knowledge, ain't you?" "Don't say ain't." Jacob cracked a grin before he could catch himself. He reschooled his face to disdain, but noticed another decorated fellow standing between them and the door. A decorated fellow what looked in a talking mood. Jacob fixed that down-his-nose look and attempted to breeze past him. "Ah, another soldier," the youngish man said. Youngish, it was odd that Jacob used that word to describe someone who was older than he was. "Colonel Easter, at your service." "No, you are not," Jacob said, but the man danced back in front of him. "Don't be so rude. At least grace me with your name," Easter said, and Jacob realized the man was more than a bit drunk. "Northcutt," Jacob said. "Colonel Northcutt. Now, if you please?" "Haste is an unwelcome trait in a military man," Easter rambled. "Tell me, where are you stationed?" Jacob glanced to Friday. How do I get out of this, he asked? What do I do? How do I slip this hun dahn and get to those doors? And maintain my arrogance and... bingo. "You," he said acidically, "are making an ass of yourself. Look at you. You can barely stand. Disgraceful." "Wei, I was only," Easter began, but Jacob had already begun to walk past him. Easter caught Friday's other arm, dragging both to a halt. "You might think to remove that arm," Friday said. Easter was about to speak when a portly gentleman with a red sash came upon them. "I would follow that piece of advice, colonel," the man said evenly. "The last time a man tried running off with a Companion, a fistfight broke out." Easter let go as if his hand were burned, and backed away with a respectful nod which almost tipped the inebriated man over. The rotund man watched the real officer leave, then turned back to Jacob. "We haven't been properly introduced, mister?" the man with the sash asked. "Colonel Northcutt. Jacob Northcutt," Jacob said. "And you are?" "Colonel?" the man asked. "If you wish. My name is Warrick Harrow. If you need rescuing from these sorts, I rarely stray far." Harrow nodded to both, and turned away. Over his shoulder, he spoke again. "You do look a lot like your sister," he said, staring Friday in the eyes. <> This really was a triapse, Zane thought as he made his way through the 'underbelly' of the complex. Other, real servants charged past him, on their way to whatever their masters willed. Zane almost chuckled at the thought. Servitude. Gorram he was glad he wasn't here all the time. Might just go off his nut. He weaved past the kitchen, headed for what Friday had called the 'scullion hole'. He hadn't asked what that meant, nor did she provide him with any explaination, only directions to go there, and once there to... Ah, there was the cook. She'd been quite specific to look extremely overtaxed and busy in that man's presence. A chef was liable to snatch up anybody's help if they looked to be lollygaggin'. He kept his head low and burned through the kitchen in long, ground eating strides. "You, young man," the chef shouted in Mandarin. "Come here." Zane paused, glancing over his shoulder. Another youth, likely not to have even seen twenty summers, snapped his fingers in irritation and turned to his new taskmaster. Nice to be good, as his Pa said, better to be lucky. He continued on his way before that luck gave up on him. The scullion hole was as unattractive a place as he thought it would be, but he didn't need to stay there long. With a quick glance to make sure nobody else was around, he scampered up a shelf and popped a cieling panel free of its place, crawling up into the breach after. He was glad he wasn't claustrophobic, because the space between the false cieling of the room below and the real floor of the room above was barely enough to fit his chest in. Using a slow drag, he crawled over the wall that separated the scullion hole from the stairwell next to it. He lifted this next cieling panel a mite, just long enough to check for witnesses. This place was also clear, so he dropped down. By now, Early would be waiting by the lockroom, and Jacob would be on his way to the elevator. He didn't have much time. Taking the steps two at a time, he ascended into the first of the rooms where tonights honored guests would be staying. If they were, in fact, staying. He knocked on the first door, waiting a long moment, then placing his ear to the false-wood. Nothin'. Pulling out the proffered card-key, he opened the thing and entered the room, pausing only long enough to scramble the damn door once he was through. That'd slow down anybody took to chasing him. The Cortex screen was a problem, he knew. If he didn't access it right, anybody wanting to could just look him square in the face while he was doing his work. Hacking the Cortex weren't exactly easy neither, no matter what Verne said. He began to rewire the thing. The image flicked off for a moment, and he frowned. No, that wasn't right. Was it? Suddenly, the screen came back on. He was in. He brought up the security cameras, noting that Early was standing in the shot of the door. "Early, you're too close to the door. Step away," Zane said into his transmitter. On the screen, Early frowned, glanced up to the camera, and sauntered away. The mechanic took a moment to loop the video feed once Early was gone, making sure the time code was still running forward. That was the real trick of this scam. "Alright," he said. "I'm opening the doors... now." The indicator for the door now showed the thing unlocked and open, even though the video feed clearly contradicted that. Zane switched to the internal camera, creating a short loop and locking it in before Early entered. "Kinda meager," Zane muttered, observing the contents of the vault. "Take what you can." Zane shut down the lower cameras and began to flip through the hall feeds. The private room cameras were much harder to access, so he left that as a last option. The halls were depressingly similar. He could barely tell one from the last. He must have scanned along twelve gorram floors when one of them caught his attention. He switched angles, just noting the man pulling a door shut behind him. Zane called up the retroactive feeds. "Oh God," he muttered. "Oh God, oh God, oh God." He activated the next feed, the elevator. Oh, no, they weren't alone. "Boss," he said, voice leaking with barely restrained panic. "We've got a problem." <> "How would you know she wasn't a Companion?" Jacob asked, still holding onto his arrogant voice. This Harrow fella just followed him, right into the elevator, in point of fact. "Elementary," Harrow replied when the doors slid shut. "I have been in the presence of many real Companions in my years. I have even partaken of several, in my younger years. Needless to say, I can tell that there is something about you, Friday, that is anything but Companion." "My name is," Friday began. "Friday," Harrow interrupted. "You don't need to hold up the act. If you wanted to play at Companion for the night, it's not my place to stop you. It might be your sister's, but not mine. I hope you do realize that this swai gentleman you are with isn't a colonel, though." "Excuse me?" Jacob asked. "Do not kid yourself," Harrow said. "Too arrogant?" Jacob muttered. "Not arrogant enough, in point of fact," Harrow replied, still staring straight foward at the doors. "Two people not what they claim to be. How you got past the door scanner is beyond me." "Need," Friday answered. Harrow gave her a sideways glance. "I'm not here to live the highlife, and Jacob here is married." "That doesn't stop most. And you can stop calling him Jacob." "My name is Jacob," Greyson replied. "Just not Northcutt." "What are you going to do?" Friday asked, her voice very tight. "Me? Nothing. I should warn you, though. The game of kings is a dangerous one. Whatever agenda you are advancing is of no concern to me, unless you make it so. Dohn luh mah?" "Boss," Zane's voice sounded near to panicking. "We've got a problem." Jacob schooled himself from asking right here what it was. This Harrow was an unforseen snag that he didn't want complicating this already shaky plan. The floor chimed and the doors slid open. The wide man stepped clear, looking once more back at Friday. "Rule number four," he said, just as the doors slid shut. Jacob sighed in relief, then pondered a moment at the look on his doctor's face. Somewhere between startlement and hilarity. "What's rule number four?" he asked quickly. "There are four situations when a Companion is strictly forbidden to have sexual intercourse," she began to tick off fingers. "For less than Guild stipulated minimum price, for an individual with a blackmark in the Client Registery, for a known carrier of an infectious disease, and," she flicked her final finger for effect, "for personal pleasure." "Harsh." "You're telling me," she shook her head. "Zane?" Jacob finally activated his transmitter and asked as the elevator continued its ascent. "Niska's here!" "What?" Jacob shouted, eye wide. "Where? What's that old bastard doing here?" "Not the old man, boss. Dmitri Niska." Jacob almost sighed with relief. To the best of his knowledge, Dmitri hadn't started twisting up like his older brother, and like his father, for that matter. Unless Adelai had intervened, Jacob might still find an ally in Dmitri. "Did you find Monday?" he asked. "Listen to me, Jacob," Zane shouted into the captain's ear. Something must have set him off, because the kid never referred to Jacob by name. "Niska entered a white room. I repeat, a white room." "Son of a bitch!" Jacob yelled, pounding his fist into the metal doors. "White room?" Friday asked. "When Adelai was off the skyplex and felt the need to torture a body," Jacob spoke quickly, "he always did it in a white room. He liked the antisceptic feel of it, and he always has it as well lit as possible. Dmitri's apple mustn't have fallen too far after all." "Still got a chance with Silke," Zane muttered. "She didn't seem to nuts." "What floor?" Jacob asked. "Fourty eighth," Zane said. "Tai-kong suo-yo duh shing chiou sai-jin wuh duh pi gu, why can't anything be easy?" Jacob swore. He switched frequencies for a moment. "Anne? Are you hearing this?" "That's a neg. I just had to skull-kick a flirty yacht runner. What did I miss?" "We need you to bring that shuttle to the roof," Jacob said. "Shuh muh?" "Seems like our girl's damn near on the top floor. Ain't no way we're getting her out past that li'l soiree down stairs," he replied. "Fine, on my way." Jacob stared at the numbers, which increased far too slowly for his liking. Finally, the number reached fourty eight and the doors opened. The halls were, as he expected, empty. When Niska was staying abroad, he rented an entire floor. Just in case he decided to work on his reputation, Jacob had heard. The pair stole out into the empty ways, making silent footfalls. He glanced up at the media screen which sat at an intersection. "Which way, Zane?" he asked the screen. "Yeah, I see you too," Zane remarked. "Room fourty-eight eleven. Be careful. I can't see what's going on in that room. He's got the cortex screen covered with something." Jacob grunted in unease as he crept to the door. "Unlock it." "You're shiny... now," Zane said as the lock released. Jacob twisted the nob as he motioned Friday back. "Me first. He knows me. I might be able to," he said as a scream tore through the cracked door. Rage bubbled in the captain as he forced open the door. It was a room of horrors. The floor around the slanted surface where Niska's liked to do their work was crimson with blood and other bodily fluids, and the woman who was lashed to that table did not look very much like Friday at all. Not anymore, at least. Niska was about to apply a set of electrical paddles to her when he heard Jacob's entrance and turned about. "Ah, Jacob. Unexpected it is to see you here," the middle aged man said. "I always thought you dislike these things we do." "I do. Let her go, Niska," he said. He was having great difficulty convincing himself, in this moment, that everybody deserved a second chance. At this moment, it seemed that Niska had burned through a few dozen. "I am thinking, not," Niska said, putting aside the paddles and leaving Monday to writhe and sob. "My client, he pay much for her in this condition. I think he want her broken, yes?" "Dmitri," Jacob began toward his former employer again, but was halted when Niska pulled out a smallish pistol. Jacob returned the favor, pulling out his unloaded Mauser. "While impressive, that firearm is not fearful thing. Mine, not like yours, is loaded. Now please, step back." Jacob caught a flicker of motion at his blind side, and when he turned to face it, Friday had already stepped past him, headed directly toward Monday, it seemed. "What is this?" Niska whispered, both confused and angry. He kept his gun on Jacob, though. "Trickery?" "You... bitch," Friday spat at her sister's face. Monday recoiled in alarm and terror. "You stole my life, you conniving, self-centered whore. You took my wealth, you took my fame, you took my livelyhood, and left me patching up holes in bumpkins on a backwater boat!" "Friday?" Jacob asked. What the hell was going on? "I'm glad you ended up here. Glad you got what was coming to you. Learned you a lesson, didn't it?" Friday snatched a wicked looking knife. Jacob took a step toward the suddenly maddened woman, but Niska pulled back on the hammer. Niska did take a step toward Friday, though. "What would you like to lose first?" Friday demanded, her voice cracking with rage. "Your lying tongue? Or maybe those deceitful eyes," she made a plucking gesture. "Or maybe I should just split your sternum and show you your blackened heart?" "This is madness, and I will not stand for it," Niska said, taking another step to Friday, and reaching for her arm. "If you wish pain on your sister, speak with client, he will..." He was cut off when Friday refocused all her attention, strength and will on swinging that wicked knife straight into his eye. Niska recoiled with a roar of pain, swinging his gun toward the two women and firing wildly. Friday fell backward with a cry of pain, still gripping Niska's bloodied knife. She was only down for a moment, though, because the man quickly ran out of ammo, and as quickly as Jacob was rushing to tackle the man, Friday reached him first. She lashed out with her blade, slashing his somewhat handsome face into a bloody ruin, blinding him so he could only lash out madly at nothing as she drew closer. He tripped against the edge of his plastic-covered bed, and she mounted him, driving the dagger down three times near his heart. Niska stopped yelling, roaring, screaming. Now, he gasped. His hands twitched and flopped, and his sightless face stared upward. Friday leaned very close to his ear. "Now, let's see if we can meet the real you." she growled. Finally spent, she slumped off of him, collapsing into a mound on the floor. She breathed heavily, staring at nothing as he breathed heavily and wetly. "Above all else, do no harm," he heard her mutter. Tears were beginning to run down her cheeks. "What am I?" "Not a murderer," he said, offering her a hand. "What was that?" "Oh, God, Monday!" she shouted, eyes wide as she ran back to her sister's side, brushing the hair back from her forehead, listening to her chest. "She's not breathing. He must have hit her. Jacob, help me get her down." Jacob, still confused by the transformation he'd witnessed, left the gasping Niska and helped unchain the twin and lay her out on the floor. He watched as she ran through a host of doctory things, but at long last, she simply slumped over her sister's still body. Her eyes, when they rose, were overflowing with tears. "She's dead." <> "It wakes," the thing said. It took her a long moment to translate the words in her head. Tobrik was a counterintuitive language to understand, poetic but gutteral, flowing but harsh. And it didn't have a verbal equivalent for 'to be', which made some sentences harder. The words finally connected, and she opened her eyes. The face staring down at her was mutilated, a brutalized thing with the outer layers pulled back with hooks. So much of the face was pulled back it was as if somebody had split him from forhead to chin and just stapled the flaps over his ears. Then again, considering what matter of beast it was, one possibly might have. She kicked and flailed, managing to strike at something she couldn't see, something which tried to take hold of her again, but she pulled back before it could. It was a long struggle against many hands to rise, finally casting off the last of them and reaching for her gun. Why had they left her armed? She pulled out the magazine. Empty. "Flows-As-Water," a female voice said, "they cannot harm you." She glanced down at the Reavers surrounding her. They didn't scream or roar as they almost always did. They didn't even look that enraged. They simply appeared ambivalent, eyes dark and uncaring. She wasn't food to them, nor was she one of them. Confusion, perhaps? A situation they hadn't ever had to deal with before. She could still... feel them, their rage, their hunger, but it was subdued now. More like a regular prison than an insane asylum. "Where am I?" she asked. Or rather, she asked its Tobrik equivalent, which was akin to 'what is the place that I occupy?'. "We have searched long for you," the woman's voice spoke. "We were told to find Flows-As-Water, and find her we have." The... guards, she guessed, formed a wall around her, one she could not see past. They didn't make a move to touch her, and she checked her clothes. Intact, after a fashion. She didn't ache in any particular manner either. What madness was this, that they would take her, but not... well... sodomize her until she died, for one thing? "It does not understand," a man's voice said in the darkness. The ship was very dark, shadows stretching everywhere, for having less than one of every four lights intact. She suddenly was struck by a worry. She was being ionized right now. Soon, she would start to develop the symptomes of radiation sickness, and show the burns that these... things... did. "This is not the case," the man responded. "This ship was made especially for you, Flows-As-Water. It will not burn you." "Why do you keep calling me that?" she shouted. "It is who you are," the woman sounded unimpressed. A figure forced its way through the crowd, tall and broad, clad what looked like a robe, but made of the hair of a dozen brunettes. Each a slightly different shade of brown, so it seemed to change color with every motion. She could just barely see inside the cowl, making out a smooth, pale leather mask obscuring the creature's face. A Faceless Man, those around referred to him, with more than a little reverence. "It is awake. It must learn. It will come with me," the thing said, its voice deep and bass. "I think not," she said, but a pale fingered hand burst forward from the voluminous sleeves, catching her by the throat and lifting her easily from her feet. She tried to strike at the creature, but her limbs seemed to connect with something solid as stone before they ever reached the Faceless Man. The hand drew her closer after she had exhausted herself. "It will come," it said. "And it will learn." Sylvia opened her eyes. The blood-smell of the corridor was still there, the darkness and the screams. The Reavers were gone, though. She felt the floor beneath her feet. Not the same. Not congruent. Senses disagreed. Eyes said hard, toes and fingers said soft. Cold and warm. Disconnection. Bedlam. She walked foward down the cold/not-cold corridor, feeling the hardness/softness under her bare feet as she rounded a corner. This was unlike the thing she had seen before. She turned back, and there was the ship, her prison for that horrible time. She turned forward, and there was something else, well lit and carpeted. Empty, though. There were similarities. Always similarities. She counted her footsteps as she trod down the stairs. Not just stairs. Other places. Long, warm, not hard. Nobody around though. She could feel screaming, feel it below her. She listened for a moment, then continued. She didn't rightly know where she was going, only that she had to go there. One thousand three hundred thirty one steps. Eleven cubed. Eleven. Important number. Prime number. One walks into the house eleven times but always comes out one. She pushed the door open. Eleven pounds of pressure. Elevens and elevens and elevens. She walked again, closing her eyes and reaching out with her mind. She could feel them here. Sees-While-Blind, and Two-Lives. They meant something to her. She couldn't precisely remember what. The screaming was louder now. One hundred twenty one steps. Eleven squared. Eleven again, and the room, fourty-eight eleven. The door was open, and she heard the wind gust in from an open window at the end of the hall. A chill, autumn breeze, carrying the first teeth of winter. The leaves had fallen, and now were carried away. Gently, she pushed the door open. The leaves were everywhere here. Each one a scream, a breaking. A violation. The wind spun them about, sending them into spirals where the drafts pulled up. The bed held the most of them, all red and corpulent and base. Rotted before they fell. Sickly sweet of a bog, even while alive. The leaves shifted, a pseudopod of decomposing chloroplasts flopping about. Not yet dead, yet dead long ago. Two-Lives was in the middle of the sole clearing, where the leaves had been wafted away. She wept. Sylvia remembered what it felt like to weep. It felt bad. Bad. Mal, in the Latin. "She's dead," Two-Lives said. Sees-While-Blind shook his head, finally noticing her. "Sylvia?" he asked, voice astounded. Sometimes, she wanted to tell him. Tell him the truth. She couldn't though. Not then, and not now. The truth was so fragile. And now, it was broken. "I tried to find the high ground," she said, trying to explain. "Tried, but the flood came to quick. Washed away. Wall of water then splash. Drowning." "Syl?" he said, but she was already moving past him into the clearing. She placed her hands on Runs-From-Self, relishing in pain. Hot lead as a gift, the gift of death. But not dead. Still warm. Still oxygen in the blood. She focused her will, ignored the pain she felt on her everywhere. Runs-From-Self shuddered and coughed, her eyes opening wide, then falling shut again. The chest rose and fell. The Runs-From-Self was not having death. "Unconscious," Two-Lives said, a bit in awe. "She's alive, but unconscious. Jacob, pick her up. We've got to get out of here before the notice that," she pointed to the slowly reddening mound on the bed. Corpulent and decayed. Dead before death. "Syl?" Sees-While-Blind asked. "How did you get here?" "I was," she answered. He waited for her to continue. "Was there, now here. Jacob?" That was his name. Jacob. She reached out her hand, running her fingers down the scar on his face. "Does it hurt?" she asked. "Every damn day," he said, lifting up the unconcious body of Runs-From-Self. She didn't know this one. Eyes said it was... Friday, her name was. Eyes said Friday, other senses said anything but. Disconnected. Chaotic. Didn't fit. Two where only should be one, by one sense. Eyes must be wrong. Ears too. She felt herself being tugged along, her eyes closed and her ears willed shut. She felt the carpet under her bare toes. Felt the leaves as they crunched. Felt the wind as it picked them up and spun them about. Memories and laughter. Pain and fear. Carpet became metal. Cold, and not-soft. Like the other place. The smell of blood. The wind began to register now, pebbling her skin under the robe. Wind of the mind and wind of the world became one, and she opened her eyes. "Jacob?" Two-Deaths-Follow asked. Not that... Anne. Her name was Anne. "What the hell is she doing here?" "Ain't got no proper idea," Jacob said, dragging Sylvia behind him with one hand and settling Runs-From-Self down on the narrow bed with the other. The room that flies felt different. She couldn't exactly tell why. She lay down on the bed opposite Runs-From-Self, staring at Friday's face on the not-Friday. "This don't instill me with any calm," Anne said. She was afraid. Ears said angry, others said afraid. Not just now. Always. Always afraid. "Can't say as it does in me, neither," Jacob agreed. "But weren't it for her, we'd be bringing back a corpse instead of a Companion." Anne scoffed. "Heard from Zane, he's at the back doors now. Early's take wasn't exactly the payday what you said it would be. We're getting them now." Sylvia could feel Bright-Dark-Light and Here-I-Am, somewhere below her. Her eyes slid closed. She'd slept for so very long, but now, all she was was tired. So tired. "What's next?" she heard Anne ask. "There's a fence for this gos-se on Boros we should talk to. Sylvia may have dealt with the dying part, but mei-mei still needs time to heal. My old MedAcad always has room. We can leave her there for a spell." "Some time to breath would be a fine thing," Jacob said. "They come when you ask them," Sylvia whispered. "They come when you call. Two by two... but hands... not... blue." Jacob came closer, sqatting in front of her to look her in the eye. "What is it? You figuring something?" A tear leaked from Sylvia's eye as she looked up at him. "Do you know what your sin is?" <> John sighed. "This is pointless," he said. Jane waved him away, her bright eyes wide as she watched the feed. This was the last known recording of Anne Roykerk's whereabouts in existence, dated five years ago. It showed the long-haired woman entering a whorehouse, obviously against her preference, and take a seat at the bar. "We should focus on James. She will come for her brother," John pointed out. "Dead. Last year, of Bowden's Malady," Jane replied lightly, not altering her gaze a scintilla. "Documentation is in there," she pointed blindly over her shoulder behind her, and continued to watch the screen. "What about..." he shuffled through the papers in the spot she had accurately located. "James' widow? Surely that will offer some leverage." "Too many degrees of separation," Jane chastized. On the feed, a man of middling height with shaggy hair stumbled down the stairs, barely catching himself at the bottom with the help of a solid looking Asian man with a pronounced widow's peak. "There must be something we are missing," John muttered. "There might be something you're making me miss," Jane hissed, still watching the feed. It wasn't the first time she watched it today. Or within the last thirty minutes, in point of fact. The feed continued, and the shaggy haired one found his way to Anne's seat. He spoke to her, a wide grin on his face showing that it couldn't be any kind thing, and the scowl barely visible on hers saying that she didn't appreciate it. She slapped him. He bumped into another man behind him, spilling the man's drink onto another fellow seated nearby. The chain reaction set off a bar-brawl faster than John could draw his sword. These Rim Worlds could truly be uncivilized, sometimes. "This is the fourth time you've watched that," John pointed out, somewhat needlessly. She shushed him without altering her gaze a whit. Anne almost got slashed, dropping out of its path, but not before it sheared off a goodly amount of her hair. The fight grew in scale until it was too disorderly even to be classafiable as a riot. "Wait," she said. "backtrack." The feed ran backwards for a moment, till just after Anne's impromptu haircut. "Replay slow," Jane ordered. The feed began to crawl forward, and Jane's finger pointed at the shaggy-haired man who inadvertedly started the maelstrom. "That's him." "That is whom?" John asked. "She cut her hair, cut it short," Jane said, suddenly sounding very excited. "Shorter than... He knows where she is. Seen her. Recently seen." "You are sure?" John asked. Jane favored him with a 'what are you, retarded? Of course I am' look. He figured as much. She was almost always right. It was the reason she was here. "Bring up file from capture," he commanded, and the computer on the small ship hummed to life. He leaned close, running a thumb along his neatly trimmed beard. "Jacob Greyson. Ship's captain. Damn. How do we get the attention of an itinerant?" "The crew," Jane said, glancing his way at last. "Right. Manifest lists no pilot... Odd. A former slave named Zane, the failure Early and a doctor. Friday Yiao. I know that name." Jane arched a golden eyebrow at him. "Bring up hospital admissions, planet Boros, last name, Yiao," the computer sped along its business, finally displaying the information he needed. "There. Monday Yiao, admitted earlier today at the Boros Medical Academy. Registered Companion, and, birth records state as identical twin sister of Friday. Monday will bring Friday." Jane grinned, and John continued. "Friday will bring Greyson, and Greyson will give us Roykerk."

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