BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:06, Veiled in Midnight
Sunday, January 29, 2006

With the Greenleaf job gone south, Jacob crawls to Beaumonde to get a job from Fanty and Mingo. Just to keep the ship in fuel, he has to let on passengers. Passengers with dangerous secrets, no less.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1380    RATING: 6    SERIES: FIREFLY

This one was harder than I expected to write. It took all manner of a lot of time, and I only figured out what to call it about four minutes ago. This sets up the Silverhold story arc, which focuses on Sylvia's past, and reveals why Jacob didn't get dead when he faced down the Operatives. There's more'n a little exposition in this chapter, which means I must be a bit more like Joss than I realized. He did say he was a fan of exposition. Jacob just keeps getting more and more dangerous and dark with every passing episode, as the Alliance comes closer and closer to taking that which he holds dear. As well, the last of the Reaver Flashbacks is in this episode, so there you go. Serenity is Joss. Legacy is me. Dong ma? Feedback: Yes!

Veiled in Midnight

How was he going to tell her? He pondered this question again as his wrist twisted and the sound produced brought him a moment of joy which faded almost instantly. It used to last. Used to. Now, though, things were very dark for him. Very shaky. So he engaged in his hobbies and he waited for some clue as to who would do this to his family. First his daughter betrays him, walks away from the family business, and now this. The hobby wasn't distracting him as he thought it would. As he hoped it would. How would he tell his wife? She always loved him the best. The apple of her eye. She'd loved him almost as much as her nephew. That one had betrayed him also, thought he could sully his reputation. Gregor underestimated the importance of a man's reputation. Blood is not so thick. He had to be strong. Be more than gossip. He had to be solid. And he wanted to know who did this thing to him. Adelai Niska was angry. That wasn't the first time he'd been angry in his life. He did become angry just about any time somebody thought they could sully his reputation. He tapped the razor edge of his dagger against the man's chest. "I am sorry," he said. "My heart, it is not here today." "Really?" The man said, hopefully. "Too many things on my mind. This is not working. Viktor, take him down." The man, who'd thought he could run off with both his money and his merchandise, practically sobbed with relief. "Viktor?" Niska said as the un-tall but otherwise quite large man lowered the bloody man to the floor. "Yes, mister Niska?" "Throw him out an airlock." The man began to struggle weakly, screaming at the top of his ragged lungs. Ordinarily, that sound would have brought a smile to his heart, but not now. Niska picked up his cane and made his slow way after the man. Ever since that picha zmrzla stabbed him, he hadn't been able to walk as well as he did. He should have known she was in league with that zasranec, Reynolds. Should have known. With a grim look on his farmer's face, he followed Viktor as he dragged the traitor to the edge of the skyplex. The man pounded on the inside of the airlock, screaming apologies and begging for forgiveness. Little did he know he was being given more forgiveness than almost anybody ever did. Viktor's dark face pulled into a smile as he opened the airlock to space and let the man be pulled out. Perhaps he found some pleasure in that, but Niska did not. Very odd. He knew that every man spat out an airlock on a whim did wonders for his reputation, but he couldn't seem to free himself from the melancholy that surrounded him. How could he expect to? He'd just outlived his youngest son. Niska waved off his aide and made his way back to his office, sitting behind the desk. It was all falling apart. First Silke, then Jacob, who was almost a son to him, and now Dmitri. If he ever found out who was behind this, he wouldn't hold them alive for days. He'd keep them on the cusp of death for months. Years, if he could manage it. He must have been sitting rather a long time, looking at the picture of his family, taken so long ago, when Viktor came in. He gave a courteous nod -- he always was solid with courtesy -- and waved in a woman into the room. How odd, the old man thought. "You said you wanted information about the death of your son?" the woman said. "I do not know you," Niska said idly. "You have no reputation. How do I know you are not gossip?" She didn't shrug or blink or scoff, which made him respect her just a bit. She simply pulled out a datadisc and set it onto his desk. Niska allowed Viktor to place it into the computer and activate. It showed a door, in what looked like a quite respectable establishment. Numbered fourty-eight eleven, if his eyes still served. He adjusted his eyewear for a moment. "I do not see," Niska began when he saw his son open the door and walk in, instantly catching his attention. Dmitri had ordered a white room, and the mob boss suspected it was because the son decided to work on his reputation. He waited several minutes, attention rapt as he watched what seemed to be the last minutes of his son's life. Something moved in front of the camera, blocking the door for a second, then turned back, exposing his face. Jacob. What was he doing there? And why was he wearing an Alliance uniform? And why was he with a Companion? Too many questions. Too much not solid. Greyson fingered his ear. Jacob grunted unhappily, facing the screen and the camera integrated into it. "Unlock it," he said, pausing a moment before taking hold of the doornob. "Me first. He knows me. I might be able to..." A scream was heard from inside the room, now that the door was cracked. Good work, Dmitri, only taking the soundproof rooms. The two forced their way in, letting the door swing almost all the way shut behind them. First, there was indistinct mumblings as Jacob and Dmitri spoke, but it was quickly overwhelmed as the Companion took over, shouting things he couldn't quite make out for a rather long time. The screaming had just about come to a head when Dmitri let out a roar of pain, and a series of gunshots sounded, dragging Niska into an odd place of stunned fascination. This was it. Dmitri was still screaming, but they cut off with a brutalness. He knew that brutalness, the cessation which only came on the onset of horrible death. Niska glanced up to the woman, who was standing still not far away. He looked to the screen again. A blonde woman had wafted into the room, almost evading his notice. About a minute later, Jacob came back out, arms coated in blood as he carried an unconscious woman very quickly back the way he had come. The Companion appeared on his heels, dragging the blonde with her as she went. Jacob, Niska thought. How could you betray me so? "How did you find?" Niska began. "I wasn't looking for your killer," she said idly. "I was looking for her. But since you wanted it..." "Yes, yes," Niska said, backing up the image to Jacob leaving the room, Dmitri's blood covering him. "Viktor, pay this woman." Disregarding her from his mind, Niska sat, staring at the image he never thought he would see. True, he had banished the man from Ezra, but he never thought he would see the day when Jacob, so close to a son, betrayed him. His kindly, grandfatherly face assumed a mask of sheer wrath. "He will not get days," he whispered in Czech. "He will scream for years." <> "Not that I don't appreciate your company," Jacob said, noting the preacher waiting on the ramp, "but places I'm goin' don't exactly cater to your type, and your conversation ain't exactly my favored fare." The Shepherd smirked a bit. "Some day, you are going to have to tell me why you hold such an aversion to God." Jacob stared off into the distance. "No," he replied. "No, I really don't." "As you wish," the holy man said, taking up stride beside the captain. Jacob sighed. He didn't like men of God any more than he liked God. And Job himself was more'n a bit creepifyin' and strange by his only. "That's quite a trick," Jacob said, walking past a stall proclaiming it was selling 'good dogs'. As companions or as dinner, it didn't specify. "Dodgin' me for better than two weeks on a ship that small, by which I mean." "I am a very private person," Job replied smoothly. "As you must recall from my first foray on your vessal." Jacob nodded. "You were at that. I figure you comin' on this little walk is 'cause you got a piece to share don't want for others to hear. Am I wrong?" "You are a perceptive one," the Shepherd said, adjusting his eyewear. "How's your right hand?" "Fine," Jacob answered quickly. Maybe a bit too quickly. "Fine now, by which you mean?" Jacob nodded, staring straight forward through the crowd. "You are a very lucky man, Jacob. What they did to you is almost universally crippling. Only ten percent of the population of the 'Verse is naturally able to withstand it." "Lefties," Jacob lifted his hand, making an unsteady fist. "Indeed. That nerve bundle is primary for that region in right handed people, making any injury to it catastrophic. Total paralysis and loss of sensation. In left-primary persons, that bundle is secondary, running only a lesser amount of functions. Assaulting it will cause partial paralysis and loss of sensation, which is why you are not currently buried or incinerated due to impalement." "Don't need remindin' on that point," Jacob muttered. "Still, you comin' through that door with that grenade. Why didn't you just... you know... wring their necks whilst they was out?" Job shot him a look of shock. "The bible has some pretty specific things to say about murder, Jacob. Giving a body a stout beating, however, not so much." "You know somethin' about them's is following her?" Jacob asked. Job looked at him a moment, more than a little surprised. He'd thought that Jacob was going to pursue that, did he? "I can say that I do," he said. "The man is John, or at least that's what he's called. He is brilliant, alert, and stronger than you by a fair margin. He is an expert in multiple forms of physical combat, and is a master swordsman. He is methodical and devout in his belief that killing your wife is the right thing to do. He will not stop until that end is achieved. Of the two, he is the brains and the brawn." "Then what was she?" "She," he said, holding up an interrupting finger, "is everything else. If I have learned one thing in my life, it is that logic and physical ability is not nearly enough to deal with the universe outside the Core planets. The woman, called Jane by some, is also an," Job caught himself before saying it aloud. The crowd around them would have swallowed it whole, but he had an ounce of caution to him. Operative, he almost said. "is also one of them. She is by far and wide physically and intellectually the inferior of John. She is neither as skilled nor as talented. The reason the two were paired is that she offsets John's almost total inability to notice the obvious when it comes to people." "So, she's the voice?" "No," Job said. "Rather, she is the eyes, the ears, and the tongue, by times. She is extremely highly intuitive, she can make deductive leaps that would make your... other lady friend gasp with amazement. She almost was inducted into..." The Shepherd cut off as his hand's flashed down, catching a street urchin trying to lift his purse. "You want to think very hard on the road you are walking, child," Job said gravely. The child went pale and ran off, leaving the purse in the preacher's quick hands. The dark man shook his head. "She was almost sent where?" Job glanced at the captain and continued. "To a place I'm sure you're aware of. A place where they made people like your other lady friend." Jacob almost tripped. He'd heard there was some sort of jack-academy where they cut on folk's brains. Hearing it confirmed so cavalierly was shocking. He wondered good and damn hard how this preacher knew so damn much about that world, but knew better than to ask. "And... she?" he said. "Didn't," the Shepherd said simply. "However, she is still a keen observer of people, the way we interact, the tiny things we do not even realize we are doing. She can look at a man for a minute and know what he had for lunch, what he does for a living, who he is currently sleeping with, and exactly how long it will be until he pulls a gun." "Scary." "It gets much worse," the preacher muttered. "She is insane." "Fei hua," Jacob scoffed. "They wouldn't ever..." "They would, and they did," Job said. "They don't care what it takes to accomplish their goals. They just want their goals accomplished." "A'ight, I've gotta ask," Jacob said, curiousity finally winning out. "How'n the hell you know so damn much about that world?" Job gave him a slanted look. "I wasn't always a Shepherd, Jacob." "That's becomin' fair obvious," the captain muttered to himself. "Where does my wife fit into this?" "As I said, she knows something, or they believe she knows something," Job frowned a moment. "They are not particularly judicious as to the nature of the evidence connecting a person to a crime, real or imaginary. Being in the same room with the wrong person is enough to... warrent a person's death," something caught the preacher right then. Something he didn't want to talk about. Jacob didn't push it. "So, any idea what that might be?" "I might have the pipeline to God," the preacher said, "but he does not confide the darkest secrets of all mankind." Jacob caught sight of the Maidenhead at long last. They'd had to land on the far side of New ruttin' Duinsmire, what with the old docks still being repaired from Zane's little episode last year. "You comin' in? I hear there's all sorts of heathen's need spreadin' the word to." Job stared at the establishment for several long seconds. Not disgust, by any description. More like, apprehension. "No," he said carefully, "I believe this is where our paths diverge for the time being. Besides, I have heathens aplenty right here." "I guess you do, then. It ain't enough is it?" Job was in the middle of a step away when Jacob asked his question. The dark man paused a mite, turnin' back over his shoulder. Once more, Jacob got that on-damn-thin-ice feeling. "No," Job said simply. "It most surely is not." Jacob wondered what that sort of thing meant, but didn't wait long. Fanty and Mingo weren't exactly renowned as patient men. He strode through the door, dropping off his gun in front of the now corn-rowed guard and pulling his claim slip in a single fluid motion. He'd made it down to the floor when he noticed that somebody had broken the large screen which usually watched over the bar. Must have been a hell of a tussle. The one's they used in bars were damn near indestructable. Without any pressing need to conceal himself, he pulled up a chair opposite that foppish swing the twins always gravitated to. "Domestic troubles?" "Domestic troubles?" The twins said in succession. He turned a mite to take them in, standing side by side in identical get ups, as they always did. "How do you figure?" Jacob asked. "Last time you was here, you had a lovely little lady on your arm. Trouble in paradise?" "Hell," Jacob said. All's shiny in the 'Verse," he glanced between the two. "Fanty. Mingo." "He's Mingo." "No," Jacob said. "He's Fanty, you're Mingo. When are you going to give this game up?" "When we win," Fanty said. "You said you was here to do business?" <> "Well?" Friday said, managing to deflect herself from the conversation. "We have a job?" Jacob frowned at the rabble she'd gathered. Made it seem like it were some mean feat to find payin' passengers in a bomber-struck town. Friday repeated her question. "Yup, got ourselves a job, but we need fuel now. These folk won't help near enough, but help they will. Get them on." "Alrighty then," Friday turned and folded up her lawnchair. "Next stop?" "Silverhold," the captain replied. Most of the rabble she'd worked so hard to drudge up shook their heads and filtered away. Silverhold weren't exactly civilization in the strictest sense. Was a lot better now that the Burgesses were either dead or run out of town, but still didn't exactly offer much in the way of culture. Or wealth. Or pretty much anythin' of note, for that matter. One, a middle aged lookin' lady, stepped forward, bags in hand. "Oh, shiny," Friday said neutrally. "Headed Silverhold way?" "Big step in the right direction," the woman replied. "Well, come on aboard, miss?" "Hollis. Beatrice, I should say," Jacob had already made his silent stomping way up the ramp, and didn't seem too happy with his role in the 'Verse at this particular moment. Well, between the running and the not knowing when he was going to get beat up, it would damage a man's calm. Friday took the woman to her room, way at the back of the ship, and bade her settle in. "Silverhold?" Monday said with tightly controlled anger up on the catwalks. "We go where the work goes. Why are we talkin' on this?" "I've only been here three hours, I haven't had time to screen some respectable clients," the Companion remarked. "Respectable clients?" Jacob scoffed. "Don't that just seem a contradiction in terms?" "On Silverhold, there is not nearly the kind of clientele that can afford a Companion's time, let alone the culture to enjoy it fully. We haven't seen the face of a planet where I can ply my talents since I got on this heap." "And I've been mighty generous in holdin' off your need for rent, now ain't I?" "I don't see a compelling reason not to leave this ship," Monday muttered. "How about a stone-crazy blonde with a sword?" Jacob must have smirked then. "How about we try this one on; I stay out of your whoring, you stay out of my theiving." "So it's theft now, is it?" Friday shook her head. Jacob was in over his if he thought he could argue with her sister. She was tenacious, ruthless, and utterly free of remorse once the metaphorical gloves came off. Hell, that woman once brought one of their teachers to tears. It was one of the few times she was proud of her mei-mei. She made her way back outside to pick up her lawn chair when she noted a very... very large man looking at the registry on the ship. "Can I help you with something?" she asked. "It doesn't say where you're headed, ma'am," he said, voice deep but clear. She had to look up at least a foot to meet his eye. She wasn't a short woman, not like Anne, but this man made her feel that way. Bein' so covered in meat that he could feed a small town of cannibals added to that. "Silverhold. Ain't much out there, though." "Silverhold?" he said, scratching his jaw. "Yes, that will do nicely." Do nicely? What was a man of those specifics running from? Only kinda thing looked it could make a dent in him was Cruiser firin' at will. A response like that couldn't be nothing but runnin'. "Well, you can talk to our captain about terms, mister?" "Casher," he replied, picking up a pair of suitably gigantic cases and hauling them into the cargobay. "Which one his he?" "You assume its a he?" Friday chided. Casher gave her a level look. "Is that her then... why does she look exactly like you?" he seemed a bit befuddled. "That's the captain," she said, clearly pointing at Jacob. Casher had to squint. "Just don't jump to the assumption." "Yes, ma'am. I'll remember that next time," Casher replied. He really was striking, once a body got past that enormous frame. Dark red hair and green eyes on a rather suai face. She smiled smoothly as he made his calm way up the stairs. Legs that long took them two at a time without a touch of effort. Thinking her fun little thoughts, she picked up her chair and set it just inside the cargo bay. "We're ready to go," she said into the intercom, and the doors began to close behind her. "Could you help me persuade him to find a decent planet to rest on a while?" Monday asked icily, looking up to Jacob who was now in conversation with Casher. "Rule of the black, mei-mei," Friday said idly. "Sniff the air, don't kiss the dirt. If you don't got a job, means y'ain't lookin' hard enough." "I should have known you'd take his side on this," Monday growled. "Sis." "What?" "Go play with some matches," Friday said. Monday blanched for a moment, then stormed off. If she could manage it, Friday would never let her sister live down the time she set her own hair on fire. It was just too damn funny. Riling up Monday was mighty easy, but by God weren't it just a load of fun? "Well," Casher said as he parted ways from the captain. The craft finally bucked up and departed the mechanised harbour, and Friday knew it would be several minutes until the quiet roar of the wind faded to nothing. The large man was smiling covertly. "Looks like we're going to be spending some time together, ma'am." "Is that so?" she said, then frowned a mite. "And stop callin' me ma'am. I ain't nearly old enough to be called that." Casher rose his hands in caution. "I didn't mean..." "It's painful obvious y'ain't got much experience with women," she said. "So the very first thing y'll be needin' knowin' is this: Bi zwei. When you have the choice of saying something and shutting up, shut up." "I'll remember that m..." the large man managed to catch himself. This lad must be truly socially inept to be so... well... like that. Friday nodded for him to follow her, and lead him into the passenger dorm. As she was walking past her infirmery, she heard a loud bang and turned about to find Casher nursing his head. He really was a tall one, crackin' his head on that particular pipe. "You bleedin'?" She asked. "No," he replied. "Good. Your room's right over there. One's taken up by a Shepherd, another's by our other passenger. You can pick yourself out one for yourself." "I'll do that, then," the large man replied. She gave him one final look. Gorram, she needed some time off ship soon. She strode forcefully up the stairs, almost colliding with her captain in the process. "Friday, we're," he began. "Not now, cap'n," she bit back. "But," Jacob seemed no small bit confused. She stared at him good and long to let him get the idea of arguing with her right the hell out of his head. When he finally crossed his arms, she continued. "I'll be in my bunk." <> Jacob felt a quite pleasant bonelessness. He had fallen asleep, his wife's light form a warm blanket upon him. He'd never gotten around to letting her know it, but he always loved it when she did that, holding close to him as she drifted off. It made him feel like he was the only thing in her world. It made him feel... well... loved. When they simply slept, often still clad in their clothes of the day, it was an intimacy he had never known with anybody in his life. When she slept after loving, flesh upon flesh... it was sacred. Now, though, he was cold. Damn it, Anne, he thought to himself. Did you have to take the blankets with you? He never understood why the ship had to be cold at night. Weren't no proper reason for it, and it sure as hell weren't cold in the daytime. He'd tried to track Zane down about it before, but the kid just started spouting technobabble that gave him a headache. Space was a rutting insulator. It was supposed to hold heat in, weren't it? He growled, pulling on his pants as he got out of bed. "Honey?" Anne's voice said in rising tones. "We've got a problem." Jacob didn't even pause long enough to button his shirt before vaulting up the ladder and into the cockpit. He took his place at Anne's elbow as her hands flew across the controls. "What is it?" "I've just picked up a signal," his wife replied, sounding more than a bit tense. "Omnidirectional, so I ain't got a proper clue who's tryin' to hear it. But sure as the nose on my face it were military." "From where?" He asked. She gave him a look, a patented womanly look which clearly answered his question. Inside the ship. "Tell me you scrambled it?" "Right to merry hob," she said, adjusting the wide neck of the overlarge shirt that hung off of her petite frame. "Only, I don't know how much they got off." "Any signature?" he asked. "You'd have to ask Zane." "You'd have to wake Zane," Jacob corrected. "Did you get a location trace?" "Near the back of the ship," she said. "Back of the hold, maybe? Jacob?" "What?" he said, just before striding out of the cockpit. He caught the heavy pistol she strapped under her console in case things went south. "Give him hell, dear," she said with a smile. Jacob was in a cold fury as he stormed through the ship, past the infirmery and into the cargo bay. He saw the big one, then, hunched over those big-ass cases he'd brought in. Walking more slowly now, Jacob made his silent way to Casher's back. He cleared his throat, but the big man didn't seem to hear him. Finally, Jacob kicked the man's boot. Casher turned around, surprised. "Forget your toothbrush?" Jacob asked, then proceeded to crack Casher's cranium with the pistol he carried. The unexpected blow knocked the large man to the deck plating, leaving him staring up at Greyson in incredulity. "Have you lost your mind?" Casher demanded. "Just about. What did you tell them?" Jacob demanded, putting Casher on the business end of the gun. Weapon like this had two definite ends, a business end and a not-so-much end. Hell, they were built all nice and custom to make the person at the not-so-much end feel like he was having a very good day, and the poor hun dahn at the business end know for damn sure he was having a bad one. If not his last one. Jacob leaned past the man's frame to look inside the case. "I don't understand, sir," Casher replied. "Drugs?" Jacob said, counting the rows of pill bottles which lined the inside of the case. "Boy, you are all kinds of not smart. Ain't nobody runs drugs on this boat. Except for me." "They're not... well, they are, but it's not what you think," Casher said, surprisingly calm, considering. "What was it you told them?" "Excuse me, sir?" Casher made as if to rise. "Stay the hell down," Jacob shouted. "How much did you tell them?" "I didn't tell anybody anything," Casher protested. "Really? 'Cause I got rather compellin' evidence that you did. You know, ain't but a log entry keepin' me from tossin' you off my boat. That's the law. So unless you want to feel your blood boilin' out your ears, I suggest you tell me what the hell you told them." "I didn't," Casher began, but Jacob cut him off with a solid thwap from his right hand. Gorram, if that kid's jaw wasn't made of stone. The captain didn't shake his hand for the pain, though. Wouldn't've been... captainy. "Maybe those drugs weren't for you," Jacob said. "Maybe you were going to hide them in a terribly obvious place on my ship for when your boys come find us? That way, you'll have probable cause to detain us all. Then, we mysteriously vanish." Casher was staring now in fear. "You're a lunatic." "And you're a rutting fed!" Jacob shouted. He heard a door open somewhere above him, but he paid it no mind. "Get up." "Sir?" "Don't you dare 'sir' me you lyin' sack of niao-se. Get up," Casher finally acquiesced, allowing himself to be walked to the front of the hold. Jacob pounded on the inner airlock door switch, forcing the doors open slowly. "You don't want to do this, sir," Casher warned. "Well, I'm sure I'll get all choked up about this later. Seriously, there might be tears," Jacob deadpanned. When the door was open enough, he waved Casher into the ten foot gap between being alive and being a six-foot-eight asteroid. The large man went somewhat peacibly, and Jacob closed the door behind him. "Greyson?" Came Friday's voice. Her's or Monday's, it was a bit hard to tell, them bein' identical and all. He turned away from the controls and moved back to the case, where the silk-robed figure was hunched over the case. "What'cha got, doc?" he asked. The woman turned and gave him an icy stare. Damn it. Monday. He was going to have to learn how to Fanty-And-Mingo those two. "Well?" "These aren't drugs, in the traditional sense," the Companion replied. "I have several bottles of these, in particular, in my shuttle. These are suppliments, mister Greyson. Amino acids, proteins, purified glucose. Pretty sparse, and very low quality from the look of them, but not in the slightest bit illegal. The only real drug is Fillioaxalyn, which is... Friday?" Jacob turned and noticed that the doctor had finally joined the tiny gathering. "Fillioaxalyn? That's a neurotransmitter blocker. Used on patients with epilepsy, amongst other related illnesses. Why are you going through Casher's things?" "Because he's a gorram mole," Jacob said grimly. Friday ignored him and picked up the large medicine bottle. "What?" "This is prescribed to him," she said. "Alliance hiring procedure strictly forbids the induction of persons with neurological disorders, boss. They think it means a body's more like to go off on a fit when they's needed." "So what does that mean?" "Ain't rightly sure, boss," Friday said. "Just collatin' data." "Find what he used. It should have what he sent in the buffer," Monday said, turning to go back up the stairs. "Where do you think you're going?" "It's the middle of the night, Captain," she replied with forced patience. "I intend to go back to sleep." Jacob shook his head. Of course. She weren't his crew. And she wasn't particularly helpful, neither. He scowled at Friday, but she was already rooting through Casher's other case. "Anything?" he asked. "Not so much," she growled. He heard her muttering something in Mandarin, a couple of levels too low to hear, but considering the expression on her face, he had a general idea what the content was. "Maybe our resident witch might have some insight?" Jacob frowned. She'd been keepin' kinda quiet the last day or so. He'd been counting his blessings that she didn't come up and go whooly on him. But if anybody could see the truth of things, it'd be Sylvia. He rubbed his brow, watching as Friday tore through Casher's effects, but not finding anything the resembled in the slightest a BroadWaving device. Finally, he let out a growl and moved toward the catwalks. "Boss?" Zane said from the top of the hold. "What the hell's goin' on?" Jacob caught him by the shoulder and paraded him back up into the fore corridor. "Work with Anne to work out where that Wave was goin', who it was goin' to, and what it got sent from." "And you'll be?" Zane asked. "Havin' congress with the beast." <> Flows-as-Water. That's what they called her. Every few minutes, when she was beginning to fade into no-doubt nightmarish sleep, they would give her a kick, or shout inside her head, or heat the floor beneath her. She didn't know how long she'd been here now. All she knew was she could barely stand sometimes for the fatigue. Not to mention the hunger. She stared at her hands, at how spindly and spiderlike they'd become. She was dying. It took a long time, she knew, but it was coming. The already dark ship was becoming darker with every passing moment. It was all but silent now, save for the endless singing. The last captive had been thrown to the pit rather a while ago. Now, it was just her. Her and the Reavers. She wanted to scream. She wanted to rage and bite and claw at the Faceless Man that stood perpetually at her side. She wanted to tear off its leather mask and bite out its eyes. She wanted to give the last of her up and welcome the hot, red oblivion. She wanted to be washed away in a river of blood. River. Something clicked into place. Something she didn't quite understand. She rocked on her heels, trying to see the picture that had revealed, but it was too dark. Too... too... dark. "Flows-As-Water will not eat," she heard the Faceless Man speak. She didn't bother looking up, not caring to whom the creature was speaking. When she arrived on this ship, it took her time to translate the difficult Tobrik in her head. Now, it was as her native tongue. She heard the plating hiss beneath her and she forced herself to her feet. It would be turning red, in a moment, hot enough to set her horribly tattered clothes ablaze and fry her flesh down to the bone. She trembled as she stood, still trying to figure out what it all meant. Something had clicked into place. She felt it. She knew it. "That is a problem," the voice didn't speak to her ears, and neither did it speak in Tobrik. It shocked her into alertness for the first time that she could remember. She glanced up and saw the man, staring at her. "If she will not eat, she will die. I need her alive." "We cannot feed it, Oldest," the Faceless Man protested meekly. "It spits up the food we force to her, it will not take its own meat. It will not survive." "She will," the man stared down the creature, which shrunk back in abject terror. What could possibly inspire such a reaction from a telepathic sadist? "If she does not..." The Faceless Man fell to its knees, imploring the unnamed man who stood, veiled in shadow not too far away. "It will survive, Oldest," the creature keened. "It will!" "She who flows as water will survive," the man continued, not noticing her in the slightest. "She will give me peace. She will give us all the Peace of God." "No power in the 'Verse can stop us," The crowd of Eyes and Reavers intoned as one. The man finished scowling at the Faceless Man and glanced about the room. "Where is she?" he said, despite his gaze traveling over her at least twice. The Faceless Man scrambled to its feet, grasping her spindly shoulder and hauling her to her toes. The man glanced from the Reaver telepath to the spot she currently occupied. For an instant, he smiled, a dark, blasting smile, but the smile became sickly. Sweeping his hand to the side, the Faceless Man holding her was catapulted into the Feeding Pit, landing awkwardly but not fatally in the lower recesses. "You idiot!" the man shouted. "You took the wrong one!" "What?" Flows-as-Water asked. "I..." "She who flows as water was veiled in midnight," the man shouted, looking as if through the floor to the place where the Faceless Man fell. "Her eyes are gates to the quiet oblivion! How could you be so blind?" Veiled in midnight? Flows-as-Water... river... the two words were connected. The answer came together like a flash of inspiration after a lifetime of doubt. The river, it flows as water. Flows with water, but as water also. River, with her black hair and dark eyes. It had never been about her. They were after River. The whole time, they were after her. Flows-as... She suddenly couldn't remember her name. She'd had one. She knew it. Before she came to this place. What her father had called her, eyes in tears as he found her after the fire, her so close to death. What that one-eyed one called her, in friendship and fear and desparation. She couldn't remember his name either. It was like she was trying to remember another life. The Oldest stared at her with something she hadn't seen in a lifetime. Pity. "She is cracked," the Oldest said. "But she is not broken." "No, Oldest," she heard from somewhere nearby. "She is not the one I need," the man scowled. "And she will not join us." "No," she said weakly. "Very well," he said, a look of sad compassion on his face. "Kill her." She felt a hand grasp her shoulder, but she was already in motion, snatching it between her teeth and biting down hard. She felt her teeth, hard as diamonds her father once had said, tear through flesh and sinew, ripping through the tissues of the second knuckle. The grip vanished from her as she vaulted away, noting that the song had finally stopped. There was an instant of total silence as she snatched the long and jagged sword of an Eye from its sheath. She felt something flowing through her veins like burning blood, and she swung with as much might as could be found in her malnourished frame. The Eye of Pax fell in shock as her face was rent by her own blade. And she began to run. She should have collapsed after the first few steps, but she was different now. The 'Verse looked like it had been bathed in blood, everything red. Like all the light in the 'Verse was streaming away from her as fast as it could. And she ran. She knew where they kept the Crabs. She ran, and the screaming behind her increased in pitch and fury, as eight hundred Reavers came alive from their tasks. She ran, and they ran with her. She dived into the craft, sealing and destroying the opening mechanism behind her. She didn't know how to fly this thing. Others did, though, so she used what they knew. She managed to get the thing to pull free of the craft's spine, and thrust out into the black. She didn't know where she was going, she only cared that she was getting away. She only cared that she was going home. Sylvia opened her eyes. Her room was spartan. She didn't like that term, spartan. They were long dead, long before even the abandonment of Earth-that-was. True, they'd had their proclivities toward stark and workable furnishings, but how had they gotten their reputation? It was not in interior design, she knew. It was war. How had war become rooms? What sort of addle-pated brainpan had come up with that connection. No, she decided. Her room wasn't really spartan, a term she hated. It was empty. She remembered when her room had a rack of guns right there, her clothes over there. They had taken both away, so she wouldn't hurt others, in the case of her guns, and because they were afraid she might hang herself, in the case of her clothes. It was rediculous, though. If she wanted to, she could hang herself just as well with a silk robe as with a leather belt. The only thing on the tiny dresser opposite the bed was the little elephant she'd gotten what felt like so long ago. Where in this universe are you, Elias? That was her thought just then. She knew the answer, though. Friday had a secret. So did Anne. Zane... well, he didn't, but she couldn't keep him out anymore. Things were getting entirely too loud. "Syl?" She glanced up, beholding Jacob at the foot of her ladder, surveying her room. She had a secret too. But she couldn't let anybody know. Not him. Especially not him. He'd come all the way to find her and found her broken. She couldn't let him know what she knew. Not now. Not while she was broken. He wouldn't be able to process it. Believe it. So many secrets. He was looking at the mattress of torn-out pages she'd surrounded herself with. "They speak the things we ought not hear," she said. "Lies. Lies and untruths. Had to tear them out." "I'm sure you did," he said, glancing around the room. "I'm here to talk about the new passenger." "She's a liar, and no good will come of her," Sylvia said, tearing out another page and throwing it to the floor. "I weren't talkin' about Beatrice," Jacob began, but she spoke before he could continue. "Not her name. She lies and lies and lies," she muttered. "That's as it may be," Jacob powered through her. She didn't like being interrupted, and tore out another page. "I was talkin' about the man." "Casher's got a secret," she said, glancing up at her captain. His eyebrow rose in surprise. She hadn't met him, he thought. How could she know his name? "He lies, but for himself. To stay away from those that would hurt him. I want to read his book." "If he wanted to run, he shoulda picked a better... wait, he's got a book?" "Not finished," she said, tearing out another page and staring at it. This one wasn't lying. She ate it. Jacob stared at her, a but wary. "The words were wholesome and real. Have to keep them with me." "Uh...huh..." "Shepherd was a bad man," she said, tearing out another page, and beholding the rear cover of the book. "Hurt people. Monster." "You shouldn't go snoopin' about in other people's minds," Jacob said absently. "You want to know Anne's secret?" she tore the cover in half. He stared at her. He wanted to know, but he didn't want to learn it from her. That wasn't her own secret, but it was another thing she couldn't tell him. "I can't tell you," she said truthfully. "She hides from it. I can't find her. Veiled in midnight." "Right," he said in confusion. "Did Casher send that transmission?" "He is afraid of them. They hurt him. Made him too quickly, didn't finish him. Want to sweep him away." "Is he a danger to us?" "Not to you," Sylvia said, reaching for another book. She sighed when she viewed the title. She liked this book as a child. She tore off the cover. "Especially not to you." "Then who sent the signa..." Jacob trailed off, as Syl stared at her. Jacob nodded, and she felt his warmth. Friend. He'd risked everything to save her. She just wondered if he saved her in time. <> "Friday," he said, spotting the robed figure in the kitchen as he entered the hall. "I need you to rouse Beatrice. Send her my way, don't be too specific as to the why." "What's this about, boss?" she asked. "Our lad Casher weren't the one sent that message. Wrong place, wrong time. More'n like it was here, but I've already flew off the handle once today, don't feel like makin' it for two." "And you want me to?" she began. "Toss the ruttin' room. Find what she used. Her message'll still be in the buffer, seems like. Get Zane's help." "And Casher?" Jacob pondered for a moment. "Let him out. But keep an eye on him. I still figure he's a bit shifty. The captain made his way into the cargo bay, noting the mess Friday had made of Casher's effects. a thick stack of papers had been thrown on the ground nearby, and Jacob stooped to pick it up. Murdering Miranda, the first page read. The Thirty Million Lies. An expose on the tragedy which had hit Miranda thirteen years back. He was flipping through the first pages when Friday and the Bea arrived. "We have a problem," Jacob said to the woman. "Seems somebody'd done sent a signal from our boat. Now, I don't much like the idea of anybody not me sendin' out signals into the black. At first, we figured it was your fellow passenger, but turns out he ain't got any kinda proper equipment for sendin' a Wave." "Is this some sort of a flimsy attempt to root through my things?" Bea said, eyes crinkling with disdain. "Not so flimsy," Zane shouted from the common room. "Boss, we found her Link. It's even got the message in her..." he trailed off as he came into the bay and saw something at Bea's back. "Oh hell." "What?" Jacob asked. Which was about when Beatrice reached behind her and pulled out a small semiautomatic and pulled Friday into a pistol-headlock. "Now, I don't have much time nor patience," Beatrice said calmly, despite the struggling of Friday under her arm. "Now, I want you to power down this ship and wait for that Corvette which is on its way. You'll unlock that airlock and let mister Forsythe back inside, and we're all going to sit around for a while. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Jacob, caught with surprise, growled. "Son of a bitch, this is not my best day ever." She flicked the pistol upward, and he raised his hands in surrender. There had to be a way to get out of this. If he didn't, the Alliance would get its hands on his Anne. That could not happen. She nodded toward the airlock commands, and he grimly made his way to them. Pounding on the button with the burnt-out internal light, he opened the airlock doors. Casher wasn't afraid when he came out. Nor giving any signal of surrender. Instead, he seemed more than a little angry. More than a lot, in point of fact. "Let her go, agent," Casher said. His green eyes kept flitting from Bea's to Friday's. "Not going to happen," she replied. Friday squeeked in fear. Jacob had heard of her recent non-adventure under Boros. She wasn't a fighter, plain and simple. And she didn't deserve to get manhandled like that. "I'm not going back there," Casher said, his massive frame twitching slightly as he spoke his words perhaps a bit too carefully. "I will die first." "You're a big lad," Bea said. "You can spare a few pints, I'm sure." "Look, can't we talk this thing out. I ain't havin' a gunfight on my boat," Jacob said, his hands still raised. "Shut up," she said, pointing her gun at him, then moving it over to Casher. "You, sit down." Off behind her, Jacob caught sight of Zane creeping forward slowly, his largest wrench in his hands, and from the catwalk, he saw Early making his careful way forward. He shook his head at the mechanic, who frowned confused. Finally, he acceeded and shook his head toward Early, who scowled. "I'm not going to do that, lady." Casher said, taking another step forward. "Don't you dare," she shouted. "Not another step." "You need me alive," Casher said darkly. He took another step. "No, thank you. Back off or I swear I will put a bullet into your slut," Beatrice's face was turning red. "What did you call her?" Casher whispered into the cargo hold, his eyes dancing with a predatory psychosis. "Slut," Beatrice said. "And if you want your little whore to live, you won't come any closer." "She's not a whore," Casher protested gravely. "You don't know a thing about women, do you?" Jacob asked. Casher didn't even glance at him. "Now," Beatrice spat. "Back the hell away." Casher's face had gone almost deadly pale, and he shook his head. "No," he whispered. Then he moved. The large man was almost a blur as he bolted toward the two women, but not nearly fast enough. Beatrice fired off a shot, which took Casher squarely in the ribcage. It didn't slow him down a jot. With a massively muscled leg, he drove his boot into about the same place she'd shot him, catching Friday in a quick movement as the older woman was thrown well clear of her. Without seeming to pause, either for the lowering Friday to the ground, nor for the rather painful and debilitating looking bullet wound he was suffering from, he moved to her side, catching her wrist as she tried to level her gun on him again, an snapping it like a twig. The weapon fell out of her hands, and he haulled her into the air, carrying her the length of the hold and throwing her into the airlock. Jacob didn't hesitate to hit the big red button sending the doors closed. After a few seconds, he heard a pounding on the inside of the airlock. His exertion finally at an end, Casher slumped to the floor, clutching his chest and moaning in pain. Jacob was a bit relieved to see the man felt it. Pullin' a stunt like that, he was thinkin' the man might have a touch of Reaver to him. "Friday, see to his bullet," Jacob barked as he pounded the intercomm button. "Anne, no questions, we need you to plot a new course to Silverhold, and make it snakey." "We bein' followed?" she asked, but he knew she was already plotting. She knew his 'thing's've gone south' voice. "Alliance," he said. "Hammer, if she weren't lyin'. Can you outrun a Hammer?" "Barely," came her reply. "Who fired that shot?" Jacob felt the slight lurch of the ship going to hard burn. "Nobody," Jacob said, pounding on the ramp control. The klaxons began to sound as the ramp lowered to the void. Jacob stood by the port hole, watching as the woman tried to hold herself on his ship. "You hurt anybody on my boat," he said, knowing she couldn't hear him, "you answer to me." He watched as she finally lost her grip and was blown out into the black. He pressed the ramp close button and stormed away. With a scowl on his lips, he followed the crimson trail of drops and smears which led into the back of the ship. He was getting entirely too used to having blood in his ship, he thought. He walked into the infirmery, noting that Casher was still awake as she pulled the bullet out. "Will he live?" Jacob asked. "Seems like. Problem is, we can't put him under," Friday said distractedly. "Why the hell not?" "Brain chemistry's a little rattled," Casher said through gritted teeth. "When you get out of there, you and I are going to have a little talk." <> Jacob was staring at the stars when Casher found him. The large man ducked under the threshold and glanced at the copilot's seat, deciding to stand. "I heard you ran," Casher said. "I want you to know that I'm grateful, sir." "I didn't run for you," the captain said, spinning the chair to face him. It was a long way up, Casher knew. He couldn't exactly make himself smaller, though. "You're just along for the ride, till I say you ain't." "Still," Casher replied. "I'm grateful, sir." "Don't call me sir," Jacob scowled, glancing back toward the stars. "Why not, sir?" Greyson scowled at him. "There's one thing I can say about this boat, if you're wantin' to run from the Alliance, you ain't exactly in the smartest place." "Why? Do you frequently work for the military?" Casher asked. As he was doing so, his ears began to ring again, and he missed the reply. Deafly, he asked the captain to repeat himself. "...after us," Casher's hearing returned half way through the sentence. "So if you even think of playin' me, I swear on Jubel's pretty floral bonnet I will riddle you with holes." Jacob turned back to him. "Now, what the hell are you that makes the Alliance come after you?" "I'm a writer," Casher said smoothly. It was true, just not the whole truth. "Writer's don't move like that, or take a bullet to the lung without slowing down," Jacob pointed out. "What are you?" "I am what I am, and who I am. I can be no more nor less," Casher said. Then his left eye shut down. Damn it! Curse this tortured frame! "I suppose," Jacob said simply. "Truth be told, sir, I'm kinda surprised you didn't throw me out the airlock after that bu hwei-hun duh pua-fu." "Don't," Jacob said darkly. "You ain't on my crew 'less I conjure it, and I sure as sweet hell, I ain't conjurin' it. You want to write your book, go nuts. But if you cross me, you won't live long enough to join that mu gou." Casher sighed, scratching his temple. "Kinda a thin line, sir." "It is at that." "How do I know you won't just kill me in my sleep?" Casher asked. Jacob laughed mirthlessly. "You don't know me," he said, "so I'm going to explain this to you right now. When I kill you, you'll be awake, you'll be armed, and I'll be bleeding." "Sir?" "I have an annoying tendancy to give folk a second chance," Jacob said. "But if you even look at Anne wrong..." "I understand sir," Casher said, and his other eye quit on him. Damn it! At least he could still hear the engine... more or less. He turned and made his way back toward his room at the back of the ship, managing to crack his head quite painfully on the threshold as he did so. "Damn it!" he swore. "How could you not see that?" he heard Friday's voice. "Are you blind or something?" Jacob asked. Casher swung his blind head toward Jacob's voice and sighed. How could he explain the way his senses shut down? He hadn't gotten his meds, what with Jacob interrupting him and the bullet getting pulled. He needed to rest, needed to lie down. He turned back to Friday, extending a hand toward her. He felt her soft skin close around his calloused mitt. "More than a little," he said quietly.

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