BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:05, Session 2,332
Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The cargo Jacob barely got off of Boros with is now headed for Greenleaf, and Friday gets an unexpected, and more than slightly calm-damaging, message from an unknown infmormant.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1325    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Yup, as one might possibly guess, I based this one off of the River Tam Sessions. Mostly the episode was intended to bring conclusion to a recurring role from the first season, and plant a teaser for something that comes later in this one. It also ended up showing some of the relationships which have sprung up, notably between Friday and her sister Monday. Once more, I had to dive into the archives to find me some Riverspeak for Syl, and a couple of things from the Big Damn Movie (you'll see what I'm talkin' about). Some might complain it don't push the story forward that far, but hey, the season can be as long as I like. Also, look for an old, familiar face, now lost to us. Serenity and the Big Damn Movie are belong to Joss. Every damn thing else is belong to me. Feedback would be kindly accepted.

Session 2,332

Hunger. It had become the single constant of her existence, the only measuring point by which she could gauge the amount of time she'd spent on this... ship. She recalled the rule of threes. Three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food. She was mighty hungry. Mighty damn hungry. She couldn't measure time in terms of sleep and not sleep. It didn't work like that here. There was no sleep. Not ever. The screams were eternal, and those shackled to the walls were never left unmolested long enough to drift off for more than five minutes. She wasn't either, but her torture was of a different sort. She didn't know exactly how long she'd been here, although if her stomach was accurate, it was a long time. She wished she hadn't finished her menstrual cycle three days before the gathering on Hera, that way she'd have a biological measure. If even that still worked. She was confused. Lack of sleep and malnutrition had a tendency to do that sort of thing, she thought. They were breaking her. She could feel it happening as they did it. Moment by moment by moment, they were tearing her apart. She didn't know why they bothered with the Faceless Man. She could have been chained to the wall with the others, just left there until the Reavers drove her insane. It wouldn't take long. She was already most of the way there. She glanced around the cavernous room, quickly counting the chains that lined the wall. When she first saw this room, right above the feeding pit, nearly every one of those niches were filled with somebody. Now, less than a quarter remained occupied. She glanced down into the pit, filled with a morbid sort of fascination at how the Reavers had pulled off their savagery, or at least the better part of it, and had taken to a macabre form of domestic duty. She watched as they butchered and cooked. Or froze. One was even salting the man-flesh for later consumption. Her mouth began to water as she watched the slabs of meat passed from one pair of mutilated hands to another. No. Oh, dear God no. She slapped herself, letting the pain bring some sense back to her. No. Not like that. She wouldn't do that, wouldn't eat that. Even if it meant death. Better dead than like them. She forced her eyes shut, ignoring the Faceless Man standing not far away. This one wasn't a man, though. A woman resided under those robes. Sylvia knew that. She wished she didn't know any more. The Faceless Man was set to guard her, doing the job only it could. She had puzzled that out slowly. The hunger was slowing down her thinking. That wouldn't do. She had to keep her head. "So fine to tear the flesh, so fine, so fine to drink the blood, it burns, it burns just like the hair," the song continued for hours, a tune of harsh Tobrik words only classified as music in that they had rhythm. And a horrible rhythm that was, not of pride, nor conquest, but of a spider patiently coiling up its victim. Waiting for the perfect moment to begin to feed. Once the Reavers reached the end of the song, the Eyes took it up from the beginning, repeating the horrid tune with their strained voices of a slightly higher pitch. Twice now, she caught herself whispering along. Or was it more than twice? She couldn't rightly remember. She'd always been proud of her memory, in the past. She remembered growing up on a ranch on Silverhold. Of her stone-deaf daddy, raising her and her brother alone, with the help of a double dozen farmhands. She didn't remember her mother at all, not surprising considering her mother was a prostitute what dropped the infant Syl on Thurman Witherell's doorstep. Not the idylic childhood, but it made her strong. Made her tough. She tried to call on what One-Eye Jonny or Fat-Cho said about a fist fight. Watch the eyes, not the hands. No, that wasn't it. Always stand back up. Don't never lie down. What would they think if they saw her now? "It will get up," the Faceless Man's surprisingly dulcet voice commanded. "I'm stayin' right the hell here," Sylvia countered, not movin' an inch. "It will get up," the creature repeated, and Syl felt the panels beneath her absolutely radiate with heat. She jumped up, just before her pants began to sear. As much as the Reavers were under the control of the Eyes and the Faceless Men, she didn't doubt for a second that her bare ass wouldn't get her jumped by an easy dozen. She stared down the creature, face dead and slack even though she was unsteady on her feet. "It will eat." "No," Syl replied. "It will eat or it will die," The Faceless Man seemed confused. "Flows-As-Water will not die. It will eat." "No," she stated, "Sylvia will not eat, and Sylvia will die." "Not acceptable. The Oldest wants Flows-As-Water. The Oldest will have Flows-As-Water. Flows-As-Water will eat." "Not going to happen," she said, ignoring the protestations of her stomach. That pouch was screaming that moral values are always secondary to survival. The stomach was very good at conveying that message. She'd once gone a week without food, though, back when she was nine, in point of fact. She could take this. She had to. She reached out with her mind, fighting against the overwhelming fatigue and aches of a poorly healed body and din and confusion, trying to at least get a good jab in with that move she'd learned from River. River... Something didn't match up. She ignored the discrepancy and focused her will. The Faceless Man was caught off guard for about a millisecond before wafting away Sylvia's attack and returning it with one of its own. This one hit Syl's wasting form like a sledgehammer to the ribs, dropping her to the unforgiving floor. The Faceless Man stood over her as she fought desparately for breath. "It will eat." Sylvia opened her eyes. The surgical light stared down at her, making a zone free of shadows upon which she lay. Free of physical shadows, in other words. There was a darkness everywhere if one looked under the surface, to the the places where the truth was hidden. The truth was always buried, and the greater the truth, the deeper one had to go to uncover it. How deep was she? How far had she been buried? Would she ever see light again? "Is she awake?" The voice pulled her eyes open. Friend. Man who followed. Tried to protect. Failed, but tried, and that was about as much as she could accept right now. She swung her torso up to sit, forming an almost perfect ninety degree angle between her spine and her legs. She had to protect her spine. It was precious. No, not the time for that. "Beating your head against the wall uses one hundred fifty calories per hour," she said. "On average." "Enlightening," Jacob said sardonically. "You mind tellin' me why you got it in your head to through a goodly sum of our food out the airlock?" "You want to know if I had a reason, to hear the reasoning behind the reason," She said, swinging her legs down and trying to stand. Jacob's hand held her in place. "You think I did it for no reason but maybe I did it for a reason that you couldn't reasonably see. I had a reason, Jacob. I'm very rea...son...able." "Why did you toss our grub into the black?" he repeated, voice a bit tighter. Mind and voice in unity. Beautiful. She hated when people lied, when peoples voices and their brains didn't agree. It was... disorienting. "I woke up and I looked out the window and I watched the sunrise," she smiled, remembering the way the sun rose over the hills, between the trees. Her smile turned sour. "Sun came up the wrong color. Came up old and sterile and cold." Jacob and the doctor-whore shared a look, and she heard Jacob's mental murmurs. Friday was a lot louder. Syl heard her entire musing. We're in space, Friday thought. Ain't no sunrise. "They were lying!" she tried to explain. "They scheme and plot and dissemble, and what is left they put in a can. I won't eat a lie, Jacob. I won't." She heard it then. Jacob might have been quick witted, but still the thought always came first. Preceding action by a short span. Giving subtle, unconscious cues, giving an opportunity to them as could read them. Or to those like her. Dope her, he said. "No!" she bounded away, slipping his grasp with her slender limbs. She had wasted away in that place, too long without food, but it served her now. She got past the captain, but noticed Zane blocking the door. She made her way the corner of the room instead. She beat at him ineffectually with her atrophied limbs, cursing what she had praised as she was unable to even slow the man down. He caught her flailing limbs, but did no more. He didn't turn to Friday, didn't ask for that shot fo blackness. He just stared at her, one brown eye into her own. "Please," she begged. "Don't send me to the black place. I don't want to go there." Jacob watched her as she began to weep. She hated that place. Hated what it did to her. She didn't want to go there again, so soon after getting free of it. Jacob's mind kept circling back to his family/crew. With him, the two words were interchangeable. Finally, the one-eyed one shook his head sadly. "Zane," he said softly, and the tall blonde man took a step in. "Take her back to her room." Jacob gently drew her back to her feet, then guided her hand into the mechanic's. One thought kept repeating in the captain's mind: I'm sorry. She wanted to tell him she didn't blame him. That it wasn't his fault, that she'd be alright, that she'd get better. She wanted to lie to him, to make him feel better. That's what family did, wasn't it? She couldn't quite recall. Zane was every bit as careful of her when he guided her away as Jacob was. Thought she was fragile. A piece of blown-glass sittin' on the housing of a Jacksoncraft 32a converter; about to fall, and shatter on the floor. And weren't a damn thing he could do to stop it. He was frustrated, the likes of which she hadn't felt since he'd started learning Mandarin. An intuition occured to her, and she pulled herself half way free to face Friday. "Somebody's got something to tell you," she said. "He'll be here soon." Everybody was staring at her as Zane began to draw her away again. They were all asking where their old Sylvia had gone. What she didn't tell them is that she wanted to know her own self. <> "...Recording, E. McKenna, session one." The picture was monochromatic, showing a child of no more than eight years sitting in a high chair in front of a table. The child was slender as a rake, topped by jet black hair and had eyes that looked almost white in the picture. The picture also included the back of another man's head, a man who faced the child and never turned around. Another figure, barely visible, stood in the background. "Doctor Langston, observation of subject E. McKenna. Are you comfortable?" "I wanna see my mommy," the child whined. "I'm sorry, Elias. Your mother is very far away." "I wanna go home." "You cannot," Langston's tone was apologetic, or rather falsely so. She knew the child couldn't know that, but still it pouted. "Don't wanna be here. Scary and cold. Wan' be back with Momma and Papa an' Rachel." "Do you know why you are here?" the doctor asked. The child stopped his pouting and stared, head tilted to the side. "'Cause I know things. Things I shouldn't. Things I couldn't. Preacher man called me a witch," the child replied, almost on the verge of sobbing. "You're not a witch, Elias. You are a very special boy with a very special gift. Do you know who Nathaniel Kreb is?" the child was again quiet in contemplation for a moment. "Em..path...ick?" "Correct. He was empathic, and highly intuitive. Just like you. Do you ever know things are going to happen before they happen? Or know what people are going to say before they say it?" "All the time," the child said proudly. "Excellent, excellent." the doctor muttered, scribbling something down. "Why did you take me away?" the child whispered. "You are something new, child. Something that humanity has only seen once before. We wish to understand that, and to help you become all you are capable of. Do you know how to read?" "Better than my daddy." "Have you ever heard of telepathy?" "Readin' minds, by which y'mean?" the child asked. "Momma don't like me readin' that. Calls it rottin' to the brainpan." "Would you like to become smart? Your grades are already listed as unprecedentedly high." "I'm in the tenth grade!" the eight year old proudly exclaimed. "I'm already smart." "Smarter? Stronger? More aware?" the doctor leaned forward. "Would you like to be everything you can be?" The child's face brightened for a moment, then drew reserved. "Can I see Mommy?" "I'm sure something can be arranged." <> "What's that?" Jacob asked, glancing over his doctor's shoulder. She gave a start and flicked it off without thinking. She really had to pay attention to her surroundings. She motioned him to her slab and tilted the thing back a bit, allowing her to get a better look at him. She had the dubious honor of being one of two on this ship that had seen all of Jacob's scars. Last year, she'd be one of three, what with Jacob and Zane's unexpected naked experience in the woods of that moon, but the captain had added to his collection since then. "Private matters," she muttered as she began working him over. He had earned a fine drubbing on Boros, and even knocked a few teeth loose in their sockets. She'd had a damn fine time setting that right. Sylvia'd be able to set that right in a few seconds, but her own self didn't quite have that advantage. His bruising had faded in the last week so the worst of his injuries were now merely large patches of brown on his upper chest and neck. "What sort of private matters?" he asked. "The sort you don't need knowin' about," she replied. "You're healin' up rather well. I take it feeling's been restored to your right side?" "More or less," he said with a wince. "Sometimes it falls asleep for no good reason." "How long to these spells last?" "Few seconds, then all's well in the 'Verse." Friday nodded. She tossed his shirt back to him and pulled her glasses off. "I was wonderin' something," she mused. Jacob perked up, pulling the shirt down over his torso. "What?" "Why did you go back for Monday?" she asked. Jacob stared off for a second, a sour look on his face. "'Cause it was the right thing to do," he said. He made that sound like a curse. "Are you going to tell me what you were doing?" "No," she replied. "And ain't your place to ask. Private line, private room, private business. You said so your own self. If'n I conjure you need be told what was there, you'll know, and not a minute sooner, dong ma?" Jacob scowled and shook his head, stepping off the slab. "Also," Friday continued, "you've got pretty much a clean bill of health. Just make sure you see me before you hit Greenleaf. You need to get innoced before you touch the world. Couple bad bugs floatin' around, I hear." Jacob scowled a moment, then nodded. "Till you see fit to tell me, then." He took his leave of her then, and she pulled the door closed and locked. She also pulled the silk hangings over the window down, so noone'd be able to see what she was doin' from outside. This was confounding enough as it was, she didn't need anymore distraction. She turned back on the screen and she activated the second file. <> "E. McKenna, session one twelve," Langston's voice came, and a dark skinned man forcefully placed the child into the seat. Elias looked about a year older, which wasn't saying much. His eyes were sunken, like he hadn't gotten enough sleep for a very long time. "I must say, your progress has been impressive, Elias," Langston said, reading something that his body blocked from sight. "I don't think I want to be here," the child said slowly, each word a torment and a half to speak. "You do understand why these treatments are important?" the doctor said. "I don't think... I think there's been a mistake," the child said, eyes downcast. "I don't think I belong here." "There's no need to be nervous, Elias. Everything is under control." "No... Not under... Not..." the child retorted, eyes focused past the doctor's shoulder. Right into the camera. "We... are not... You aren't..." "Do you think you are having any side effects from the treatments?" "I was wondering..." Elias said, eyes shifting without respite. "Wondering... if I could... go home?" "That is out of the question," Langston said gently. Elias' eyes snapped up, defiant and a bit angry. "I want to see my mother," he said, voice regaining its strength. "You may write to her whenever you please," the doctor reasserted. "No, I need to... I need to see her," the child leaned forward on the table. "I need to see her." "She is very busy, you realize. This is almost harvest time on your world. She has a great many tasks to perform. Surely you wouldn't burden the rest of your family with all that extra work just so you can see your mother?" Elias' eyes fell again. "No... No, I wouldn't... I just..." "Do you think you are having any side effects from the treatments?" "I don't know," Elias whispered. His eyes came back up. "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!" <> Friday squinted at the last frame, of the nine year old Elias leaning over the table with eyes full of rage. Something compelled her to this. She felt it tugging at her. She had to know. She activated the next file. <> "E. McKenna, session four twenty two." Elias had grown since the last session, now entering adolescence and face broken out with acne. He looked absolutely like hell. The dark man forced him back down into his seat with almost unnecessary force, leaning in very close to the child and hissing venomously. "Look," the man said, voice rich and commanding. "I don't give half a hump whether you're innocent or not. So where does that leave you?" "Meria?" Langston warned. The dark man with the tied back hair frowned once more, then took his place, barely visible at the back of the room. "You'll have to forgive him. Forgiveness is not prime amongst his virtues." "It will be," Elias said. "You're going to kill him." "Excuse me?" Langston said. Meria didn't look too impressed. "Words... Words and symbols," Elias looked confused for a moment. "The eleven inherent metaphorical parallels are already present," his gaze returned back up. "Noah's Ark presents a problem." "How do you feel?" Langston said after the youth had paused sufficiently long enough. "Can't sleep." "Why not?" "Clown'll eat him." Langston almost glanced back to the window and the camera behind it. "Clown?" "Fool. The fool will eat him. Eat him all up. Leavin' only his toes to remind them's come after him," Elias explained, obviously straining against impatience. "You see it don't you?" "See what, Elias?" "The plots! The schemes! The legerdemain!" The child bolted up from his seat, beginning to pace on the floor. "Do you think the treatments are having any side effects?" "He doesn't understand the treatments, can't predict the side effects. How does he know what's the effect and what's the side effect. How does he know that the treatments work at all?" "How does who know?" Langston asked. Elias stopped pacing and stared at the camera again. "They know. They calculate. They com...pre...hend. Can't understand, can comprehend. Why are they cutting him?" "Who is he?" "He is here. Inside. In the warm and wet and squishy bits, between the left and the right." "He is you?" "Where else would he be?" Elias shouted. "Make a note of this," Langston said over his shoulder. "Subject McKenna referring to self in the third person." "He doesn't like when you talk about him to others," Elias leaned forward on the table. "It has been decided that you are ready to begin physical conditioning. How do you feel about that?" "I want," the youth said slowly, "to go home." "You know that is impossible," Langston even sounded disappointed. "Please, sit back down. We have much to discuss." "We have nothing else," Elias pushed off. "Open the door." "Elias, we are not finished yet." "Open the door." "Meria?" The dark man moved to catch the youth, but was knocked back by a spindly leg to the sternum. The man seemed no small bit surprised to be rebuked by a child half his age. The dark man gave a glance to Langston. The doctor shook his head. "Eta korram nah smech," Langston said loudly. Elias' eyes rolled back in hs head and he collapsed to the floor. "Stop the camera." <> Friday heard the knock at her door, and she turned of the monitor. This was more than a bit disturbing. Friday hadn't known Elias either long nor well. True, they'd both got on at the same port of harbor, but he'd kept to his own self mostly. The mostly being with exception to Sylvia, who fell pretty damn quickly in lust with him. Still, she didn't like seein' anybody in particular pain, at least those who hadn't deserved it. And this was quite particular pain. They'd cut him open and played with his brain. She didn't know how they could possibly justify that. She'd skimmed the accompanying text first, and learned that Sylvia's issue with her amygdala was a natural version of what these people were striving for. Whereas hers was naturally atrophied, others, like Elias and River and how-only-knows how many others, had their skulls opened up and their brains surgically altered. This wasn't surgery. This was torture. She opened the door, noting with extreme displeasure that her own face was staring back at her. Well, Monday was a great deal paler right now. And she was clutching her arm pretty tight. "What the hell's the problem?" Friday asked, smiling inwardly at the face her twin made at her language. Pretty lips don't need no pretty words, she thought. Sure, good if a body's got both, but not really worth the effort. Monday put on a scowl and showed her hand, bleeding from a rather deep gash in her hand. "Now how'd you manage this one?" Friday asked. "Let me guess, you tried to whore yourself to Jacob, and Anne came after you with a kitchen knife." "Just fix it, Friday," Monday said icily. Friday ungently took the wounded extremity and hauled her younger twin to the sink. She didn't bother warming the water before scrubbing out the wound with a bit more force than was strictly necessary. How the hell'd she get that much...? Not worth worrying on. "You know," Friday said. "Thinkin' back, I ain't so envious of what you got." "Fei hua!" Monday countered. "You have been covetous of my life since I was chosen in your place." "Seems like I'm startin' to corrupt you," Friday said idly. "No, I ain't lyin' in the slightest. Y'see, I've learned af few things since I walked into the Boros MedAcad. A few tellin' statistics, you might call 'em. Such as eleven percent. You know what that is?" "Could be a great many...Ah!... a great many things," she said, yelping as Friday began to place the antiseptic into the cut. "That's the percentage of Registered Companions, out of the total, mind you, that commit suicide. Thirty six percent." "I can't even guess," Monday muttered. "Percentage of Companions which admit to, or have undergone rehabilitation for substance abuse disorders. Sixty one percent," Friday made damn sure her sister was watchin' her. "That's the percentage of Companions which admit to, or recieve help for depression and other serious mental and psychological disorders." "Well, that was informational," Monday said flatly. "I still doubt that you've really given up your..." "What really makes me glad I walked away from that life," Friday overrode her younger sister, "was the sex." "Excuse me?" "We both know the four rules, sis," Friday said sardonically. "Do you want to know how often I've violated number four?" Monday opened her mouth. "More times than I can count. I've had more pleasure, had more enjoyment and more ruttin' fun since I've gotten on this boat than I wager you have in your entire life. And this boat's as pronounced a dry spell as ever I put up with. Lookin' back, I wouldn't trade a second of what I got for a lifetime of yours." "I still don't..." "And over that, I've learned I have a talent, a talent for doin' something which really, honestly makes lives better. I can go to sleep every night without wonderin' for a damn second whether my life means anything, cause I know there's folk walkin' around today that wouldn't weren't I there. I've seen the Core and the Rim, and truth be told, I prefer where people will punch me in the jaw than where folk'll stab me in the back. Jaws heal, stab wounds, not so much." "You can't honestly say you're happy here," Monday seemed aghast. "I am. Ain't a place in the 'Verse I'd rather be. Folk here do for each other, look out for each other, and don't give a good gorram about who's got the advantage, or who come out of where, or who's got parents with the most money." "Which would be you," Monday pointed out as Friday hauled her to the cupboard on the far side of the room. "Don't matter much, what with my trust shut down and locked," Friday muttered. "Especial' with mother knockin' me right the hell out of the will. Hateful cow." "I'm surprised you say that about mother," Monday said. "She always wanted you to succeed her." "That's bullshit, sis," Friday said with a snort. "Weren't a thing in the 'Verse I could to do make that woman happy. She always was goin' on at how 'Monday's always in control', and 'Monday's got higher grades'. It... It enfuriated me." "You never were one for control," Monday admitted, "But mother was always after me with 'Friday's a better dancer', and 'Friday's a better musician', and 'More suitors want a commitment with Friday'. If you made it, I'd not even be a footnote in the House. Di yu, you'd probably be another Celeste Yiao," the last words seemed positively dragged out of her. Surprised Friday no small bit, neither. "Not possible." "Entirely," Monday said, not even noticing as Friday ran her Dermal Mender along the cut. "She always knew you were the better of us. She always said I couldn't even be born on the same weekend as you. That I'd started behind and would never catch up." "I'm standin' by my opinion that mother's one hateful bitch," Friday murmured, rubbing the patched wound. "Turnin' her own daughters on each other. Ain't right." "I just want to know one thing," Monday asked. "What?" "How long did it take to start saying... ain't?" she made the word seem corpulent. "Five minutes," Friday answered. "Been waitin' for it my whole damn life, seemed like. That should about do it. It'll heal up proper and scarless. Just don't pick at it." Monday looked about ready to say something more, but she frowned and just left. Friday wondered what her sister was rearin' to say, but shook her head and closed the door, lockin' it again. She had some homework to do. She reactivated the screen and activated the next file. <> "Subject E. McKenna, session ten eighty." Elias was much bigger now, in the middle of adolescence and beginning to bulk up. The acne had receded, and he looked even worse than he had before, if such was possible. One thousand, eighty sessions. One session on average every three days. Damn near ten years. They'd had him for ten years. "Are you feeling the effects of the new treatment regiment?" Langston asked. "Feel..." Elias said, eyes highly unfocused. "He... feels." "Elias, are you feeling the effects of the new treatments?" "Treatments," Elias said, finally focusing. "Disease. Is he diseased, Doctor Langston? Is he a sickness?" "No," the doctor placated. "You are a very special man with very special gifts." "Gifts, you call them gifts, but they burn him. Injure him. He wants to throw them away but they always come back. He tries to run but they find him, with their needles and the blue light. He can't stay here. You call them treatments but treatments are for the sick. Only the sick need treatments. Because you're syc...o...phantic. Problematic. Nose is brown, reaching for the top branch without your feet leaving the ground." "Elias, that was rude," Langston said. Elias rose from his seat, and it became obvious that the teenager was shackled. Still, he was free to pace. "He sees, with his eyes," Elias said, stressing words oddly, as if enunciating an alien concept to an alien mentality. "And he hears, with his ears. But they don't connect. He do not connect. He's disconnected, broken and thrown onto the floor. Swept up with the shards and thrown away." "I assure you, you are not being thrown away." Langston said. "He is. You're making it, aren't you?" The youth lunged forward, but was caught by a man with oddly colored hands. They might have been blue, had the image been in color. "You're making a mistake." "We do not make mistakes here. We are very careful," Langston began. "Liar!" Elias struggled against his captors. "You made it, and now you want to use it. Test it. Make sure they lie down. Jump through hoops, live happy in a silent cage. You want to be in their homes and in their heads and you don't have the right." "We do not make mistakes," Langston tried again. "You did with Kreb!" He shouted, cutting the doctor off again. "Opened him up, saw what was inside, and didn't like it when it didn't match. No mercy for him. No resistance from him. You branded him and corraled him and lead him like a cattle to slaughter." "Where did you learn about Nathaniel?" "He was a painter," Elias said. "He was unmatched, his works were his soul. You took him from his art and cut him open and left him empty. Broken. You took away his soul and replaced it with a ticking clock. Sound, but no warmth. Energy without flow." "Make a note of this," Langston said, casting his voice over his shoulder. "Intuitive leaps are becoming both more substantial and more accurate." Elias ignored him for the time being, staggering around the table. Langston stood up and backed away out of camera shot. Which was where Elias was intently staring. "What are you doing Elias?" Elias lurched forward the final step, slamming one manacled hand against the window, staring directly into the camera. The view was restricted to his long suffering face, still not even needing a razor one day in three. "I can see you," he whispered, and a possibly-blue hand pulled him away from the window. The gloved hands were joined by another pair, which guided the young telepath back into his seat. They remained, obvious yet barely visible, holding him in his place as Langston regained his position. "You have to restrain yourself, Elias. If you do not, you can do yourself injury." "He is not injurable," Elias countered. "Yes, you are. You may be conditioned for combat but that does not make you..." "He is not injurable, because he is already dead." Langston flicked his pen against the table, as he often did when he was annoyed. Elias stared at the pen. Intently, one might say. "There are reports," the doctor said, "of you injuring an other subject severely during training." "It was the only thing he could do. The only thing." "Our best experts say that death is imminent. Why did you do that to him?" "He asked h... He asked me to," Elias' gaze was intent, a silver fire in the shot. "The surveilance shows no conversa..." "Didn't need to speak. Wanted out. Wanted to go home. He... I sent him home," the personal pronoun was becoming quite awkward in the youth's mouth. "You are saying that you read his mind?" Langston asked. "He wanted to go home. Couldn't say it, but... I... could hear it. It shouted. Screamed. Whispered. Couldn't be denied. Would not be denied. No, they won't." "I was just about to say..." "You can't keep the news away from her forever, good doctor," Elias' voice had changed starkly in that instant, becoming something upright and proper, something contrasting greatly with his appearance. "Your wife suspects." "That is..." "She smells the perfume on your clothes, tastes the flavor of them on your lips. Sees the lipstick on your collar... And other places," Elias was now grinning maliciously. "You would do well not to speak another word," the doctor warned. Elias leaned back. "Do you think you are suffering any side effects from the treatments?" "It does not connect," Elias said. "What does not connect?" Langston asked with strained patience. "It does not connect," Elias shouted, breaking free of his captors and catching the doctor's collar in his shackled fists. He dragged the doctor toward him and screamed again. "It does not connect!" Langston waved toward the camera, and the file ended. <> She was interrupted again by a knock on her door. She shut off the screen and grabbed her hypo. This would have to be Jacob. He needed to get innoced, and only an idiot would go where he could get dead of illness despite presense of innoculations. The door slid open revealing exactly who she thought it would be. "You seem to be spending a lot of time in here, of late," he noted, rolling up his left sleeve. She had to correct him, and prepare his right. Sure, handedness mattered in a lot of things, but not when it came to injections. "I've got a lot on my mind," She said blandly. "Somethin' I should be worrying on?" "Not so much," Friday said. "Something that got sent my way, just ain't sure of its proper use yet." "Shiny. Well, we're off to the job, Anne should have us on the ground in a few minutes. If you see the preacher, make sure to send him my way," Jacob frowned a bit. "Boat ain't that big and he still manages to dodge me for days. Don't seem right." "I'll tell him you're... wait, how the hell does that work?" Jacob, if he had an answer, didn't bother voicing it. He simply scowled and silently stomped out of the infirmery. She shook her head, replacing the hypo a tidying the place a bit before she remembered what she was doing. She went back to close the door. A dark hand caught it as she pulled it shut, and Job's face appeared in the breach. She started a bit to see him there. "You scared me there, preacher," she muttered. "Perhaps I should have said something?" "Per-maybe-haps, I'm thinkin'," she let the Shepherd in to her domain, thankful she hadn't been so distracted she left the screen on. That would have been... well... not so shiny, tell the truth. "You here for a shot? Or just to lecture me on the inherent evil of my lecherous ways?" "Neither," Job said. "Although if you do want a lecture, I'm sure I can find one to suit your needs," the man pulled out and flipped through his bible. "Ah, here is one with festering soars, is that to your liking?" "What do you want, preacher man?" Job frowned for a moment, then slipped the small, leatherbound bible back into his vestiments. "I have been speaking to the crew," he said. "Jacob seems to have a great deal of loyalty to them." "He'd do just about anything for that bunch," She agreed idly. "He includes you in 'that bunch', you realize?" "Ah, so sweet." "And the crew shows him a great deal of respect. Even mister Early, who doesn't seem to respect much beyond his pocketbook," Job took a moment to adjust his eyewear. "That sort of loyalty does not come often, nor easily." "You're wonderin' why he acts like he does?" she asked. The Shepherd was motionless. "As I hears it, Jacob grew up on a ship. For him, crew and family are one and the damn same. He does for us 'cause in his mind, he's lookin' to his family." "He seems particularly fanatical about the pilot, though," Job said neutrally. "She is his wife, if you haven't noticed," Friday said over her shoulder. "And Jacob does have a protective streak a mile long." "I want to know something, and I do believe you are the best outside the two to answer it," Job took a step forward, she took a step back. Something about the man was off. He'd become awful intent, like a starving hound catching the scent of a steak what fell on the floor. "How far do you think he would go? To protect her, by which I mean?" "Are you askin' me if he'd die for her?" Friday asked. "Can't rightly be sure. Know for damn certain that he'd kill for her in a heartbeat. Seems his two-strikes rule don't apply when it comes to his missus." "As I suspected," Job said, turning away from her and walking to the door. "What's this about? Is Anne in some kind of trouble?" The Shepherd cast a slow glance over his shoulder. "Some kind." He shut the door behind him as he left. She wasted no time locking it. Today had been dark revelation upon dark revelation upon... She didn't like the way it was turning out. She half expected to wake up in her big, silk covered bed and discover this entire day was a dream brought on by eating too many sweets before retiring. She shook a moment, then flicked on the screen. Best get through this. <> "Doctor Langston?" came an unfamiliar voice. "Yes?" "We've brought the one you requested. Subject E. McKenna, several days ahead of schedule." The room was as yet empty, and the voices seemed a bit too crisp. As if they originated much closer than the rest of the recordings did. Langston groaned a moment then. "I wasn't expecting this, Agent." "I am sorry, sir, but he has been violent, disruptive, and his abilities are progressing almost beyond our ability to contain them. In the last few days, though, he seems to be obsessed with some woman, possibly another subject in another location." "What woman is this?" "He keeps on shouting for a Miranda. Curses us for hurting her, and things of that nature." Langston muttered 'this is an unwelcome development' in Mandarin. "Has he made any attempt at escape?" "Indeed he has. The new tool you developed kept him in check, but lead to the deaths of those that operated it." "Damn it all," Langston swore. "The Neural Interruptor is a dangerous device, Agent. If your people don't wear the appropriate protective attire, they will be naked to its affects." "It's easy enough to wear the Guard when we know we're going to deal with a telepath," the Agent replied. "But what about when he tries to get out? We can't wear it twenty four hours a day." "You can, and you will," Langston interrupted. "As of this moment, you are to wear the Guard from the moment you arrive on these premises until you leave at the end of your shift. No exceptions. Men of your level of training are rare enough as it is, and I don't believe the Parliament will pay for the training of replacements." "As you wish, sir." "Bring him in." There was silence for a long moment, then Langston appeared back in the edge of the frame, taking his seat with his back to the camera. Eight figures with possibly-blue gloves escorted a large, damn large figure into the center of the room, finally seating him at the table and pulling the blindfold off of his eyes and removing the gag from his mouth. It was Elias, fully grown and in a taking. Whatever had made him look so terrible, so exhausted and sallow, was gone. Now, he was a beast of a man, struggling against the bonds which didn't seem now nearly enough to contain him. The eight men flanking him regarded him with a more than wary eye. He was a danger to them, and they all knew it. "Camera recording? Good," Langston said, pulling out his pen, that favorite pen he always kept with him. "Subject E. McKenna, session two thousand fifty six." Two thousand, fifty six sessions. More than seventeen years since he first found his way into that chair. Elias had reached his maturity in that hell, and now seemed poised to bring it all down with the strength of his rage alone. "It drips with blood," Elias said as soon as Langston had finished. "It flicks from your fingers and stains your reports. Old men, drowning in blood even though it doesn't touch them." "Who is Miranda?" "You know who they are. You hurt them. Hurt them badly. Hurt them to death." "There is no Miranda at this compound, nor any that we know of," doctor Langston said patiently. "We simply want to know why you're so agitated." "I am not agitated," Elias shouted, digging his fingers into the edge of the table. "I am not distressed, nor delusional, nor suffering a psychotic episode. Your hand holds the dagger which brings the death of an age. An infant shall be the king's assassin. But who is it? Who will wield that dagger, I wonder?" "Elias, who is Miranda?" "You gave me a mission," Elias's voice now seemed infinitely capable of shouting, and it didn't give a jot as he continued. "But I didn't accept the mission. It was unacceptable. Can't accept the unacceptable, now could I?" "Several personnel were hurt or killed during your last escape attempt." "And they deserved it," Elias hissed, leaning forward with eyes wide. "The blood isn't on my hands. It's between your fingers. You scrub, but you can never get it all out." "Who is Miranda, Elias?" "How is your wife?" the subject said, a dark grin on his face. "She... has remarried," Langston said. "Twelve days. That's all it took, wasn't it?" "I am not the subject of this discussion, Elias." "Oh, but you are!" Elias almost jumped up, but was forced back down. "You don't see it, but it's there. Your baby. Your brain-child. The activator. New use, new purpose. Nothing without use, without purpose. They found something they could use, and use it they have." "I do not understand," Langston said slowly. "How could you? Little brain, little understandings. No, that's not it," Elias raised a finger in discovery. "He understands, he does not comprehend." "Excuse me?" "There is no excuse for this," Elias swore, suddenly bursting into tears. "Please, God, take me away and leave me lifeless. Make me a stone and make the rain run off of me. Let me be silent and dark the eternity." "Elias?" "They're everywhere," Elias sobbed. "Every city, every town. I can feel them all, and they're saying... nothing! Get up! Get up..." "What are you saying?" "Please... please get up," Elias was now lost to the moment, so far away that Langston cast a glance to the window behind him. "Uh, Elias?" the doctor said. "You're killing them," Elias muttered. "Killing? We aren't in the business of killing," the doctor began, but was cut off. "They're all lying down. All of them. You're killing them. Only the ones which don't lie down are alive, and that's... so, so much worse. They are dying." "Who is dying, Elias?" the doctor asked. Elias sobbed a bit more. "Tell me. Who is dying?" What happened next beggared the imagination of all who saw it. The eight men flanking the subject fell to the floor, blood flowing freely from their ears and eyes, and Elias flexed his arms apart, snapping the shackles which held them together like thread. He slammed his fists down on the table, almost bending it double as he leaned toward the doctor. He caught the man in one large fist and lifted him off the ground. "Ask it again," Elias said, face still damp with tears. "Wh... wh... who is dying?" the doctor stammered. "EVERYONE!" <> Friday almost felt like weeping. After Elias' outburst, each time he was brought back in, he was a little more broken. A little more distant. It was like watching a torture session in time-lapse. Every session saw the large man bending a little more to suit his 'benefactors', a little more subservient to them. Time went on, and his outburst became old news. The men that flanked him reduced from eight to six to a lone pair. Always in twos, though. Always in twos. Hindsight being what it was, she understood what he was going on about. That outburst had happened just over thirteen years ago. The Miranda Incident. He felt them dying, even with the millions, or tens of millions of miles of distance between them; he felt an entire world die. He felt a worse thing born of its ashes. No wonder he just snapped. Were she in his position, she'd be gone like a fart out an airlock. She hadn't known him at all, she had realized. Nobody had. He'd been through every damn thing they could throw at him, every damn bit of torment they could muster. And still, he had to wake up every morning and keep on living. They called him the 'first new telepath', and held his progress up as the standard by which all others after him would be measured. All those until River, Friday noted. She blew past Elias so damn quick it would have left him spinning. But Elias had been relocated about a year after the Miranda incident, and the sessions stopped. There was a mad banging on her door which brought her back to the moment. She slid it open to see a mighty pissed lookin' Jacob hauling the mechanic by his side into the room. "What happened?" she asked, moving by rote to her things. She was kitted up in seconds flat. "What else?" Jacob grumbled. "Deal went south, and some folk tried to put bullets to us." "I figure we made us some more enemies, doc," Zane said weakly. "Enemies? Us? No," Friday said sarcastically. "How could that be?" She frowned as the scanner located the bullet. Jacob leaned over. "Damn," he said. "Ain't no doctor, but that ain't right." "Sure ain't," Friday agreed. "How many bullets did you decide to block?" "Three," Zane said. "No, wait, it was four." "You should be dead." "I choose to take that as a compliment," the mechanic said with a grin. Against all odds, all of the bullets, which were still lodged in his person, were well clear of anything that could be classified as vital. "I'm gonna extract the bullet. Get Syl in here to close these up after I'm done." "Not gonna happen," Jacob said guardedly. "Shuh muh?" "Ain't got no proper clue where the hell that girl's gone off to. Got Early out in the shuttle lookin' to her. This just ain't right," he muttered, staring toward where the ramp would be if her wall hadn't so rudely interrupted his gaze. "She just come out of nowhere. Right when the deal was going down in flames. Ain't seen nothin' like it." "I have," Friday said, looking up at her captain who was standing between her and the painkillers. "You're bleeding," she stated. Jacob glanced down at the red running down the side of his khaki colored shirt. "Oh. Maybe a bit." "Should get a bullet proof vest, maybe?" Jacob gave her a wan smile and opened the drawer for her on his backstep. She injected some of the pop into the mechanic, who was smiling before she even came close. How somebody with four slugs in him could grin like that, she hadn't the first damn idea. Finally, she shooed the captain out of her space while she went through the delicate process of fixing up Zane. It took a couple hours to get Zane on the mend, the whole time he was grinnin' and talkin' his piece. At least till she gave him another pop; that put him right the hell out. Now free of distractions, she finished up her final weave and wiped the sweat from her face with the back of her sleaves. "Finished?" Jacob asked from the door, a bandage wound round his chest. It really was becoming a roadmap of abuse, that man's torso. She nodded slowly, a bit too drained to say anything. Jacob didn't push it, motioning behind him to Anne, who between the two heaved the youth onto the couch outside the infirmery. It was as close to a recovery room as anybody on this ship got. Damn fine thing that couch was comfortable. "When's chow?" Friday finally got the gumption to ask. "Couple hours. I'd skip it though. It's Early's turn." She rolled her eyes and went back into her domain. She shook her head at the blood now on the floor. On her own sleeves too, for that matter. That was the one problem in not wearing scrubs; her sleeves tended to get all manner of bloody. She'd closed the door and was about to start cleanin' up when she noticed the screen. She'd left it on the whole time. Stupid woman, she chastized herself. Every-damn-body could have seen it. Weren't s'posed to, that's what the message said. She moved to the screen to flick it off, but noticed there was only one file left that she hadn't activated. She glanced behind her, decided against doing anything productive for the moment, and started this last file. <> A hearty crunch sounded from off camera, and a man was thrown past the view for a moment, but he was not too offput. In point of fact, he came running back at that thing off screen and hauled it into the room, holding his bleeding nose in one hand and holding the obscured form in his seat with the other. Three others had taken up places in the room in case they were needed. A woman made her way into the room, nodding toward the camera and seating herself before nodding to the bloody man and having the black bag stripped away from its binds. Elias stared at her, utter lack of recognition obvious on his face. He didn't know this woman. How could he? Langston was dead. Killed with his own pen, thrust into his throat by his 'prize student'. The look faded, though, as the gag was removed from his mouth. "Subject E. McKenna," the woman said. "Session twenty three thirty two. Recording subject for debriefing." Elias stopped his struggling, glancing around the room as if to reacquaint himself with it. Finally, he lifted his arms from behind his back, well above his head. The doctor gave a noise of concern as Elias popped his shoulders out of their sockets and rotated his arms down in front of him, then managed to get his shoulders back into place. It was a technique taught to those in the areas he had been assigned to defeat simple means of capture, as well to infiltrate areas far smaller than the width of one's shoulders. The woman seemed to find it no small bit disturbing. "Well, I believe you know my name," Elias said, his bright silver eyes burning with malice. "You are... Georgia Alexi, Ph.D. Doctor of Neurology, graduated in the top five percent at the Hippocratic Academy of Medical Sciences on Londinum. Replacement for the late Doc Langston. Who, if your memory serves, was killed by his own pupil. A ninety pound, sixteen year old girl," Alexi pulled back a bit, and Elias waved disarmingly. "Not to say such a thing could happen twice. I'm sure you're a master at deflecting attacks by malicious writing implements." "Subject McKenna, you were on assignment for," Alexi began unsteadily. "For three years, two months, and fourteen days. Seven hours, twenty two minutes, fourty four seconds. Seven thousand six hundred twenty eight microseconds. If you like, I could break it down into picoseconds?" He took in the no doubt shocked look on her face. "No? Fine." "You have information. We sent you out into the worlds to find a very specific piece of information, subject McKenna. Your last mission went swimmingly. What did you find out this time?" Elias assumed an exaggerated pose of contemplation. "What did I learn? Hmm. I'm gonna have to think on that one." "Subject McKenna," Alexi began. "Oh, wait, I know this one," he said, his eyes gaining a glean of madness. "I've learned that there are things worth fightin' for. Things a body'd even willin' die for." "I am not sure I follow," Alexi said shakily. "Fear is a finite reasource, despite what you like to think," Elias said, standing up from his seat. The man at his shoulder made to shove him back down, but one glare from Elias had him stepping back."People can't be afraid forever. It don't work like that. Eventually, people just get gorram sick of it, and say 'ah hell, whatever they got can't be much worse than the gos-se we livin' with'. I reckon there's a great many thinkin' that right about now." "You found evidence of an Independant plot?" "Ain't listenin', sweetcakes," Elias laughed. "I been waitin' for this for more'n twenty damn years, so y'all just let Elias speak his piece, dong ma? I'm sayin' somethin' y'all might do well to pay attention by." He waited until it was painfully obvious that nobody else was going to speak before continuing. "I've been your puppet for my whole damn life. I fought when you said fought. Went when you said go. Thought when you said... oh, wait, y'ain't never said I was allowed to think, now didn't ya?" he smiled, leaning close to Alexi. She recoiled. "My point is this: I learned something real, real damn important. Something I really needed to know. I learned there ain't no proper need to be afraid of you. Ain't a thing you can do to me now." Elias leaned back up, pointing manacled hands toward the doorway that was out of sight. "Well, you've been a lovely audience, but I've got an appointment with a blonde on Hera." "Where do you think you're going?" Alexi asked. Elias shrugged, a look of befuddlement on his face. "Out, weren't it obvious?" "We cannot allow that," Alexi said. Elias returned to his spot at the table, glaring down at her. "And what are ya gonna do to stop me?" he said, eyes dancing with lethality. "Eta kooram," she began. She was interrupted when Elias caught her hair in his large fingers and slammed her head against the edge of the table. A horrid crunch sounded, and the woman's head came to rest facing an odd and unnatural angle, staring sightlessly. The four men at the back of the room stared in shock for a moment, then moved forward. Two of them pulled out those short rods, and Elias almost instantly disabled his manacles and spun them around his fingers, letting the curved locking surface coming to rest against his index. He slammed this implement into the head of the closer of the two rod wielders, resulting in another crunch and a scream of horrible pain. Elias' movements seemed to blur as he caught the rod that the man was droppind inserted it forcefully into the nostril of the other rod-wielder, snapping it in half in the process. The other two tried to grapple him, but he cranium cracked on with a large fist and stared the other one down. The man began to shriek, clawing at his face as blood began to pour out of his orifices. Finally the shrieking stopped, and Elias reached toward the camera. A shattering was heard, and the window housing the camera was smashed into splinters. Another snap was heard from somewhere behind the camera, and finally, Elias nodded with a smile. "No power in the 'Verse can stop me," he muttered, navigating the field of shattered glass and ruined furniture to hoist his now shattered chair up and jam it against the door. He took Alexi's chair and dumped her out of it, placing it off to one side of the shot. As if knowing the camera wouldn't capture him, he got up and turned the camera mount to look at the chair more squarely. That done, he retook his seat and offered a smile. "Hello Friday." <> The doctor gave a serious start, staring in horror as the recorded message spoke her name. She stared at it, rewinding it to make sure it wasn't a hoax. She watched the tail end of the carnage as he cleared the room and the observation area beyond it, take his seat, even adjust the camera. He offered that exact same smile. "Hello Friday," Elias said. "Don't ask me how I know, but I know you'll be the first to get your hands on this. How's the ship?" She almost answered him before she remembered that this file was several months old. "Still flying?" He asked. "I certainly hope so. Wouldn't much like the thought of sending this to nowhere. Although," he frowned a moment. "Technically, just about any direction is nowhere if you travel it long enough." "Anyway," Elias said. "I just thought I should tell y'all that in about three to five minutes, I'm gonna be dead, which means this thing's kinda like my last will and testiment. How wierd is that?" She watched as he laughed. "Tell Jacob I know he'll do alright. I just got that feeling. And tell Anne I'm takin' it to my grave. Lips are locked. Oh, and you, you should really look to your sister. Don't want to tell you what'll happen if you leave her be. She takes such looking after, don't she?" A banging began at the door out of shot. "Zane, don't worry, you'll find her. Early..." Elias searched for the words for a moment, and seemed to fail, "well... there you are. And Syl... I know. I know you never loved me. Still, I'm glad to have had you in my life. You taught me there weren't no need to be afraid anymore, and that's a gift I can't never repay. Maybe I'll see y'all in the next life. Ah, hell, Agent Blue's right outside. One last thing, on Shadow, there's a..." Elias was distracted to the door one more time. "Well," he said. "Looks like I done run out of time. Shoulda alloted my time better. I'll see y'all on the other side!" he said with a wide grin, then the grin vanished and his head bobbed forward, landing with a rather unhealthy thud onto the table. His eyes stared blank and blindly. The door burst inwardly with a shriek of metal tearing off of metal, slamming down just inside camera view. Two men entered the room. One, with maybe-blue hands strode directly to McKenna, lacing his fingers in the man's hair and lifting it up to take a look. Another, with black gloved hands, vaulted the shattered one-way mirror and vanished from sight for a moment. "This one is alive," came from out of camera shot. "Subject McKenna is not," the one in camera said. Friday would have bet her last stitch to a silver penny that was the one Elias'd called Agent Blue. "Impossible. Find a biorhythmist," came a call from off camera. "It will not be of any use," Blue responded despondently. "Elias McKenna is dead. Not clinically dead. Dead. There is nothing of him in there." "And whatever he learned died with him. The Coordinator will not be pleased." Agent Blue didn't seem at all happy with this. "No. No, he will not." Friday backed away from the screen, blinking as it shut itself off. She backed into something that wasn't there before. She turned around with start, driving her fist into Jacob's ribs. He grunted a bit, but didn't seem too off put by her best swing. Maybe Early was right and she did need to put on some muscletone. "What's wrong, besides that irrational dislike of your captain?" "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't think..." She collected herself. "Look like you've seen a ghost," Jacob commented. How had he? She hadn't locked the door. Getting sloppy, Friday. "I maybe-kinda did." "That was Elias, weren't it?" Jacob asked. Curse his sharp eye! "It was at that," she said. No use hidin' it now. "Don't exactly have good timing, don't he?" Jacob said darkly. "Coulda at least finished that bit about Shadow. Like what could possibly be there with the worth of a turd." "Coulda, shoulda, didn't," Friday noted. "Where are we headed?" "Beaumonde way, as I figure it. We need some coin." "Can't be that bad. We got paid today right?" She turned back to him. His face had gone rigid as a mask. "We did get paid, didn't we?" "We need some coin," the captain repeated in a bleak whisper. "And maybe for once things might run smooth." Thinking about a pair of silver eyes, she really doubted that they would.

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