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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A job in Silverhold brings Jacob back to a group of old friends, but he learns that things have changed since he last set foot on the soil. Now, though, he has to prepare for a job which might be more than a touch shady.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 917 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
Sometimes, you really can't go home again. I wrote this chapter after rearranging the season a bit, and decided to make this a two-parter. I also made a call in placing the Heart of Gold whorehouse on Silverhold, a planet which otherwise ain't got much description goin' for it.
Also, we get to see a slice of Jacob's freewheelin' past, a bit of Nandi's history back to her founding the brothel as it stands, and some relations between Sylvia and her remaining family. Also... MEXICAN STANDOFF!
The Heart of Gold belongs to Joss. It's just the planet and the rest of the folk on it which belong to me.
Feedback is a goodness. Excellent....
In the Dust of the Day, Part 1
The world was silent.
Of course, it had been that way for a very long time, he reflected. He had gone deaf so slowly that he hadn't even realized it, and by the time he figured out that he couldn't hear what others was sayin' to him, it was far too late to fix. His hard eyes stared along the horizon, quickly counting and recounting his herd. All there, just like they always was. His hands were out and about, makin' sure nothing strayed. Not that they ever did. This batch was the last one she raised by her only, before she took off.
It wasn't the first time a woman in his life left him. His first wife had walked out inside two months, realizin' ranchin' wasn't what those city slickers from the bigger Border worlds said it was. His second wife, though, stuck around as long as she could. She gave him a son, a wonderful son, and stuck with him, even as the damplung took her. How long ago was it that she died? Twenty five years, now? He hadn't ever got over her, not all the way. Never did look for another wife after that, neither. Occassional companionship for a night, sure, but nothing lasting. Somehow, that felt too much like betrayal.
The last woman to leave him was his own daughter. He'd raised her as right as he could, but she wasn't built for the ranch. Born a couple years after Chery died, she was always ghosting his hands. Never got the woman's touch. He kinda regretted that. He also regretted that he never had the money to send her to school. She was whip-quick, but when she left two years back, she could still barely read. He pulled out the heavily creased letter from his pocket.
It was a notice, sayin' that his daughter's mother was bein' remanded to the state. As Fat-Cho explained to him, it meant the whore what gave his sweet little girl went whooly and they threw her in the bughouse. Said it was hereditary, that any kids she had was gonna get it too. He didn't want that for his little girl.
"Gather 'em up," he said. He knew he said it, just couldn't hear it. Folk what learned he was deaf always looked all ashamed and went to fetch a signer. None guessed he could still talk, still converse. Hell, he'd had better conversations since he went deaf than before. He counted the years since his ears truely and completely quit. Yup. About twenty five.
Fat-Cho said somethin', but his back was turned, so he told him to repeat it. "Sorry boss," the rotund man said. He sat on his horse like a sack of meal, but could ride anything on the hoof. Word was, he could steal anything on the hoof, too, even right out from under them sightseein' Core-brats without them learnin' till they got back and realized they was ridin' a sawhorse. Fat-Cho never did filch from him, though. He had the man's loyalty. "Was just sayin' that our man in town ways got words with you. Burgess widow's been snoopin' around lately, and we done run her off again."
"Don't see why you done such trouble on Belinda," he said, spittin' over the side of his horse. "Rance was the trouble, and she ain't but a barren shrew no-ways."
"Wasn't all the words we got," One-eye Jonnie said, trotting up close to Fat-Cho. "Word is, we got a problem with some folk in town. Captain and his crew."
"What sort of trouble?"
"The killin' kind."
He chewed his teeth a moment, waitin' for the one-eyed one to continue. "All sort's of trouble nowadays is the killin' kind, boy. What's our problem?"
"Capshaw says these folks is workin' for the Twins, out on Beaumonde."
"Is that so?" he asked.
"Most certainly is. Ain't got a doubt they's after our stuff. I figure we might just want to make the run in the wee hours and snuff 'em all out," Fat-Cho was also an adept marksman.
"Nah," he rejected the idea. "Ain't right just runnin' up on folk and shootin' 'em before we give 'em a 'how do ya do'. Ain't civil. In the mornin', I'll ride up on those hun dahn and see what they's about. If they're really workin' for the Twins, well, we'll have some words."
"Why you think they ain't, Thurm?" One-Eye Jonnie asked.
"Capshaws are brainblown, y'idjit," Thurman said. "They've steered us wrong before. What you say the name of that ship was?"
"Didn't, boss," Fat-Cho replied. Thurman shot him one of those looks. He knew his damn fair hair, all shot through with grey, made it seem the look of an angry storm. Folk'd said it of him before. Of course, they always said it at the far end of the room, when they thought he wasn't listenin'. In his own unique way.
"Legacy, boss." Jonnie said, tossing his reins and wheelin' his horse about. "You sure you want to go up to them in the mornin'?"
Thurman spat onto the ground again, fingerin' his rifle what still lay cross his saddle. Good for pickin' off wolves and rustlers and the like. "Sure as dirt," he said. "We're gonna show them boys how the Witherells do business."
Jacob rolled his eye as Friday once again sighed. She was like a lovestruck puppy, that woman. Ever since Casher came on board, she'd been makin' puppy eyes at him, doin' all but try to trip him into her bunk. Not that that wasn't outside her options, he noted. Hell, time last year, she ended up handcuffed to her own bed after tryin' to pull a similar stunt on Early.
"Shouldn't go workin' on that crush too hard, doc," Jacob said, sliding the rounds into his Mauser and letting it slide into his holster. "Boy made it plenty clear we ain't but a waystation to him."
"I know, boss," she said. "But..."
"But me no buts, woman," he said, staring hard at the blowing dust. "We've carried him plenty, time's come to cut him loose."
"Jacob," she said, suddenly very serious. "You know how I am."
"A manhunter?" Jacob let out a mirthless laugh. He took his first steps off the ramp, accepting Anne's hand in his own. This was one of the more... uncivilized places in the 'Verse, and the odds of Dour and Crazy showin' up here were one in... well, a very large number. And Anne was gettin' more than a bit stir crazy bein' holed up in the ship for weeks on end. It was a long trip to Silverhold, and weren't it for Friday's highly uncharacteristic floppin' about after the massive passenger in the dorms, they'd have been gettin' on each others nerves pretty readily.
"Not exactly," Friday said carefully, her gaze once again drifting to the somewhat conspicuous form of Casher vanishing into the distance.
"How abouts nymphomaniac?" Anne offered helpfully. Friday shot her a sour look. She usually had a fine humor about her particular appetites, but Jacob guessed somethin' was eating her. Why else would she have brought it up?
"I prefer sensualist," Friday said flatly. "And truth be told, I'm gettin' a bit riled."
"Why? 'Cause we ain't stopped on any planet what got one of your boytoys on it?"
Friday ground her teeth. "Partly right," she muttered.
"I don't like where this is going," Jacob murmured to nobody in particular, knowing his doctor was on a tangent.
"Jacob, I ain't had nothin' twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries in more'n five months!" Friday almost shouted.
"Ai ya, hwai leh! I don't want to hear that!" Jacob spat.
"Oh, I'm sure you could stand to here a bit more," Anne chuckled. He really did have to take her out more. Or give her his bath. That might do some good. When the crew played Tall Card, the men counted a bath on par with any other chore. The women counted it a great deal higher. Hell, he once saw Anne lay a hand wagering two weeks worth of chores against Friday's bath. Early was right. Everybody on that ship was insane.
"Look," the doctor said, dragging him to a stop. "I got me a powerful itch, and I need me a bit of scratching, dong ma?"
Jacob glanced around. "Was that some sort of proposition?" Anne cuffed him upside the head for his trouble. "I was kiddin, honey. Look, I know a place that might do you some good. Nandi's spot ain't overfar from here, some ten miles outside of town."
"Nandi's place?" Friday asked.
"Little whorehouse called the Heart of Gold. Cater to menfolk, mostly, but I know for a solid fact they's got some boy whores," Jacob explained, turning her back around. Better to take the mule for this one. Sometimes, he had to swallow his pride and his gag-reflex, he thought. Besides, better to have a happy doctor than one which's got tension pourin' out every orifice. Especially if this job went south. He knew all kinds from here abouts.
"Boy whores?" Friday asked. "Well, ain't that considerate?"
"Might be a bit of a problem," Anne piped up. "Most folk of that nature don't usually service the womenfolk."
"How do you know?" Friday seemed a bit off-put.
"Last time we was on Silverhold, Jacob took a spin out to Nandi's place."
"And you let him?" Friday asked, incredulous.
"Was around five years ago, doc. Weren't married forever, as you're well aware. Hell, when I met him, I didn't even like him that much. What with him gettin' me fired an' all," Anne was grinning when Jacob pulled up with the mule.
"But... a whorehouse?"
"We met in a whorehouse," Jacob said, offering a hand up to his wife. Friday got on by her lonesome. "Or didn't we ever tell you that story?"
"I believe you did," Friday grumbled. "Now, how long'll it be till we reach this Heart of Gold?"
"Not an overlong stretch, pace we're settin'," Jacob replied. "Ai, it's been a while since I seen old Nandi. I wonder how her and the girls is doin'?"
"Jacob," Anne's voice had a warning tone to it.
"What?" Jacob said. "More'n half the personnel I ain't never grappled with. Some of 'em might even call me a friend."
He glanced back to her, noticing that she still didn't look all to impressed. She knew about that part of his past, the way he drifted from bed to bed back before she anchored him. She said she accepted it. Course, she still didn't ever claim to be happy with it. And how could he expect that of her?
The sun had almost set when the sprawling, two story complex came into view. Some folk said it was a nasty place, with its whores as ugly as its walls. Zane'd explained the concept of solar sheeting to him a while back, and how it powered the house so they could stay off the local grid. Or rather, Zane had tried to explain, Jacob got a headache, and left him still spoutin' words. In all, the Heart of Gold was a powerful ugly building. He knew, though that the cover weren't the whole of the story.
He put the thing into park, helping his missus down and letting the doc find her own way off. Lookin' to his own was one thing, lookin' to every woman needin' a hand was entirely other. He was about half way to the door when he heard somethin' he knew was always a bad thing. The sound of a rifle bein' cocked. With a wince, he raised his hands, taking Anne's with his just so she couldn't do anything particularly stupid. She didn't exactly have a head for peaceful resolutions, no matter what she said.
He turned to the pumphouse, where the sound had come from, and instantly recognized the rifle-totin' figure.
"Helen!" he shouted, a grin spreadin' quick upon his features. "I ain't seen you folks in a dog's life."
"Jacob?" the blond woman in the colorful dress asked, still pointing the rather impressive firearm at him. "I heard you was dead?"
"Reports of my death are sadly exaggerated," he said smugly.
"You're dead?" Anne asked.
Helen finally lowered her gun, a friendly smile on her. It wasn't the calculating smile she usually had on when she met new folks, nor the eager smile she wore when she saw somebody she wanted. He'd done her some good last time he was around, and she showed her appreciation in the best way she could; with simple kindness. She stepped close and gave him a big hug, drawing a dark scowl from Jacob's wife. He made a placating gesture with his hand, and she removed her hand from her gun. Gorram, she had a violant streak sometimes. "My God," the woman said. "What happened to your eye? It used to be the sweetest shade of..."
"Got cut out. Right painful, and I don't feel like talkin' on it, if you don't mind," Jacob muttered.
"I can see how you wouldn't," the woman replied.
"How's the crew?" Jacob asked, changing the direction of the conversation.
"Lily and Emma've had a good year. Jeb left us though, after takin' a bullet about a year back," Helen explained, pulling them all into the new-looking doors and into the foyer. It was still early in the night, so he figured most of them would be supping, which was why the main hall was so damn empty. He did see one woman there, though.
"Wei," Jacob scoffed. "Is that... Holy hell, Petaline, you done grown like a beanpole since last I seen you."
"Do you know all of these women?" Friday asked.
"Just about," Jacob replied, smiling to the plump woman as she made her way forward. When she reached him, she punched him in the face.
"What the hell?" Anne asked.
"No," he warned, shaking off the stars what danced in front of his eyes. "I deserved that one."
Jacob shook his head one last time, and drew himself back up. "Ain't exactly sure what I done to deserve it, but chances are, If'n I'm gettin' beat on, I deserved it."
"We Waved you," Petaline said. "Near two years back."
"I know. I couldn't come," he replied. "Work kept me out of the sector. I figured since I was on Silverhold anyway, I might as well visit y'all."
"Bit too late," Petty sighed.
"Might be at that," Jacob said. "Is Nandi about? I got a special case for her to take care of."
Petty's face fell into her hand. "Nobody told you, I take it?" Helen said quietly.
"Can't say as they done," he replied in confusion. Helen nodded to the portrait hanging over the bar. He'd seen it before, a work commissioned of Nandi back when she was still training to be a Companion. Now, though, it had a plaque nailed under it. A plaque with a name, and two years.
"What?" he said, pulling free of the rest of them. "No, that ain't possible."
He stared at the second year. Near two years ago. Just when they Waved him, he reckoned. She died cause he wasn't here.
"Don't be like that," Helen said. "We got some help after all. Turns out Nandi's got friends in lots of places."
"How did she die?" Jacob asked. How could he have missed this? He recalled that night, about ten years back, when he first came to the Heart of Gold. Nandi had just taken over the place and the girls were either in withdrawls from drops or in bed from the side effects of the medicines she had them on. Havin' nobody else to entertain the crew, she got the entire crew to engage in a drinkin' contest, claimin' that whoever survived her torture test would get all the time they wanted with any of her girls. What they all didn't know was that she'd taken a mighty powerful anti-intoxicant before she began, so she never had a worry in the 'Verse of folding. Jacob was under the table by the end of the night, and she made about a year's salary gettin' ripped. In the mornin' he was the first one awake, and by issue of that, the first one to figure out the scam she pulled. They had a good laugh about it. She had a canny mind, that Nandi. She done these girls a world of good.
And now she was dead.
"When we was callin' you," Helen explained, "Rance was stompin' close. Wanted Petaline awful fierce, and wasn't to bein' warned off."
"Ain't Rance Burgess dead?" Anne asked.
"Surely is, but that's a differn't thing," Petaline said, a bit of pride in her voice. Helen continued.
"Nandi got hold of a friend of hers, a real Companion, and a crew a-side her. They done fought for us, took bullets for us and all. I still remember that big hunk of a man..."
"Helen," Petaline chastised. "The story. Jayne-talk can wait."
"Jayne?" Friday muttered.
"Well, Rance done broke in and took Jonah, and shot Nandi on his way out. She didn't suffer, thank the Lord. Well, the captain ran down that hun dahn and brought him back here so's we could look him in the eye."
Jacob growled, turning away from the portrait. "Who drilled him? That captain?"
"I did," Petaline said. "He ain't never comin' back for my Jonah."
"Wait," Jacob finally caught something. "Who's Jonah?"
"Lily!" Petty shouted into the back. "It's Jacob. Bring the li'l 'un out."
"Jacob?" the asian whore said, pushing through the hanging beads. She let down the smallish figure and ran to him, throwing her arms around him in a surprisingly rib-creakin' hug. Anne looked about ready to do some murdering.
Jacob kindly pushed her away, watching instead the small form she'd put down. A toddler, maybe a year and a half old, if it were that. It walked unsteadily toward Petaline, then extended its hands pleading up toward her.
"There there, little Jonah," Petaline cooed. "Just company."
"He's yours?" Friday asked.
"Most 'suredly is. You never did introduce us to your ladies," Petaline said.
"This is Friday, my special case," he said, pointing to his right. To his left, he continued, "and this is my wife."
"You got married?" Helen asked, sounding no small bit astounded.
"Never thought you'd fall from the noble bachelor ranks," Lily said with a smile, taking a step back out of respect for Anne. Jacob's wife still looked on the edge of ensuing violence.
"Well, she had that effect on me," he muttered. "I suppose y'all'd be the ones to talk to about this then. You got any boys what ain't completely sly?"
"What you have in mind?" Petaline said, a very strange look on her face.
"Ain't for me, woman," Jacob laughed. "Friday, our doc over there, got an itch needs scratchin', and a man for doin' it."
"We picked up a gigolo durin' the winter," Petaline said. "He'll work you over good."
Friday sighed with a release of tension Jacob could feel from across the room. "Where is he?"
Helen took her out of the room through the beaded doorway, and Jacob moved back to his wife's side. "You figurin' on staying here?"
"Nah, we got a ship waitin' for us, and a job needs tendin' to in the morning. I'm sure Friday's going to be hear for a while, so when I pick her up in the morning... I was thinkin' maybe I could take a stop at Nandi's grave?"
Lily smiled then. "You've always been good to us, Jacob. Come on around tomorrow. I take it she can pay?"
As if by command, a purse was thrown through the beads and landed on the lounging chair near the center of the room. Petaline smiled and bade them a good night. He remembered when he last saw her, she was a strip of a girl perhaps sixteen years old if she was a day. So much had happened. Just before he left, she leaned back out of the room. "Oh, and by the way," she said. "Happy birthday, Jacob."
Anne stared up at him. "They know it's your birthday? They know it's your birthday?"
"I've been comin' here ten years," Jacob said neutrally. "Some things are bound to stick in the mind."
Anne smiled, and he got a sinkin' feeling in his stomach. "You remember that sex we were going to have... ever again?"
Jacob sighed. This was going to be a damn long job.
Thurman scowled as he watched the pair drive off, headed away from the sunset on that dinky little contraption. He preferred his horse, truth be told. Horses might eat and drop chips and such, but a well trained horse could save your life. Rig like that couldn't but end it. He slowed his steed to a cant as the two vanished over the low rolling hills. They might be headed to town, or even to the docks nearby. He'd have to get Fat-Cho after 'em. He tied the horse loosely, knowing that it was going to pull free eventually, and this way it wouldn't wander as far when it did. Last time he tried to keep this horse in place, it ruined a buildingfront. He learned better of that.
He swept the dust of the day off of his long, tan coat before pushing open the doors. Couldn't do but to be civil, in these ladies company. He glanced around the front room. Nobody. Hell, weren't that strange?
"Petaline? You in there?" he asked. If she replied, he, of course, didn't hear it. So he waited. At last, her plump form appeared from the back room, little Jonah as he usually was, in tow.
"Well, Thurm, nice to see you about. How's the herd?" she asked. She was a sweety, that one. And she'd grown a hell of a spine since she put down Rance like a dog.
"No better, no worse," he said. "Figured I should warn y'all. There's some folk come off of the docks. Workin' for the Twins, so say Capshaw."
"The Twins?" Petaline asked. "What the hell those two fops want out here?"
"What indeed?" Witherell asked, arching a sun- and age-bleached eyebrow. Petaline frowned for a moment, then went pale.
"They couldn't be...?"
"They are," he said, simply. "If you catch wind of any folk from a ship called Legacy, you get us quick. We'll deal with the bastards."
Petaline smiled. "You always did look out for us, when you could."
Thurman pointedly stared at his feet for a moment. He felt more than a little guilty that he couldn't be there when Rance met his. But havin' a gore-hole in his back kept him sidelined for a long time, and the fevers what knocked out half his hands made it impossible to send anybody. He got a feeling that she said something, so he looked up and asked her to repeat herself.
"If we see any folks from that ship, I'll give you a yell. You come here for a visit, or for business."
"Just a visit," Thruman said, seating himself on the stool next to the door. "Tell me, them two, you seen them before?"
"Oh, Jacob? He's a friend from way back," she said. She shook the child a bit, and he popped his thumb in his mouth.
"Really? Where's he from?"
"He's a captain of a ship," Petaline said. Thurman was on his feet in an instant, but she made a soothing gesture with her free hand. "No, his ship's a big, ugly thing. The BlackJack, he calls it."
"Sorry," the old man said, scratching his grey-stubbled jaw. "Just a bit jumpy. Don't like the idea of any folk hurtin' my favorite ladies."
Petaline set Jonah down and poured a drink of stout whiskey, which Witherell thankfully accepted. It was gettin' cold outside, this time of year. Didn't mind the burn as it went down, neither. He was about to speak when Petaline got a real shocked look on her face, staring up and into the back of the building. She heard something, something that musta been kinda out-of-this-'Verse, to pull a reaction like that.
"What the hell was that?" the old man asked.
"Wow," she said, looking more than a little astounded. "I guess Friday really did need some personal time."
"Friday?" Witherell asked. "What the hell happens on Friday?"
She muttered something he couldn't see. He growled, and she brought her head up.
"I said, Friday's the woman Jacob brought in," Petaline repeated, pouring another shot of liquor.
Thurman scratched his chin again. "You know, I think I'll have some words with her when she comes back down."
"Might be a while, way she's... good God!" Petaline laughed, blushing more than a little. What he wouldn't give to hear what was going on right now. Obviously everybody else in this part of the world could...
"I'm sure its a hell of a show," Thurman, suddenly missing his lost hearing. He very much wanted to know what would make this prostitute blush. "If you don't mind, I've got me an appointment in town in the mornin', and its a damn sight farther from my home than from here."
"You askin' for a bed?" Petaline asked, ostensibly around laughter. "Company, too?"
"Nah," he waved away. "Just a place to rest my weary head for the night."
Petaline turned away and shouted something. He couldn't tell what, not bein' able to see her lips and all. Lily appeared from the back room, caught sight of him, and said something to the folk behind her. The girls and sly-folk of the Heart of Gold done got rather paranoid, since they lost Nandi. He couldn't blame them, though.
"Come on, Thurm," Lily said, hauling him by the hand through the back room where all the rest of the 'workers' were having themselves a bit of supper. Well, they were having supper, but not any longer. Now, they stared up and into the back of the building, laughing and saying things he couldn't completely understand. Obviously whatever was going on was all manner of interesting, 'cause even Helen, veteran of the business that she was, was a bit reddened. Hell, he remembered helpin' raise Helen, back before Nandi took over the job that Maurice bunged up so badly.
The vast gap between their ages never seemed to come up, though. Lily couldn't have seen the turn of thirty summers, not nearly, for all that Thurman himself had seen more than twice that. He was more than fourty when Sylvia was born, and that was a long time ago. The whore dragged him up the stairs, where he guessed the sound was comin' from. He guessed, mainly 'cause he couldn't hear it his own self. He'd reached the top of the stairwell when Lily halted. She released Thurman's hand, and the man peeked around the corner to see what she was lookin', and talkin', at.
The woman in the robe was also Asian by feature, a rather lovely lass. Striking, even. If Petaline had her doin' work, hell, patronage would quadruple. Then, he started picking up on the conversation, and he was disabused.
"Oh, I ain't nearly done with him," the other woman said. "I've just shook off the worst of it and now I'm hungry."
"Who's this lovely lady?" Thurman asked. He had an idea, though, and it was confirmed when she spoke. Friday. Part of Jacob's crew.
"Well," Lily said, still a bit amused looking. "We still have some bao in the oven and some soup on the stove..."
"That'll do nicely," Friday replied. He tried to think what her voice would sound like. Way she talked, it couldn't be high and flutish like Lily. More likely, it'd be lower, sultry. Kinda like Helen. "Tell Jimmy that I'll be back to him in a few minutes."
"Usually Jimmy eats with his clients," Lily said, frowning. Friday smiled, a surprisingly predatory expression on her face.
"He's a bit tied up at the moment."
Thurman decided to talk to her before he went to town in the morning. Better idea for when she's tired. Shaking his weary head, he let the robed woman glide past him. Right now, he just wanted a bit of sleep.
There'd be killin' in the morning.
"In the dust of the day," Sylvia whispered, staring over the edge of the Mule's trailer at the ground they raced along. "There will be none happy, yet be no sadness. There will be none sane, yet be no madness."
"Is she alright?" Jacob asked.
"Is she ever?" Anne responded. Usually, he'd have left her on the boat in case they needed to run in a hurry, but she felt inclined to come along on this run. He didn't like poking the sleeping bear any more than was absolutely necessary, and she did have a hell of a proclivity towards jealousy.
"In the dust of the day," the telepath continued, as if neither had spoken. "There will be no joy, yet be none pained. There will be none clean, and yet none stained."
"You sure this is such a good idea?" Anne asked, glancing toward the woman in the back, and having to squint for the sunrise. Jacob frowned.
"What particular part are you referring to?" he asked.
"Her, first of all," Anne nodded toward the lunatic in the back of the vehicle.
"Early's in town," Jacob said. "Zane's with him, and I wouldn't exactly put him on a level with her, no matter how close to nuts she might currently be. Monday is who-even-knows-where, doin' whatever her high-falutin' sort does, and the Shepherd is spreadin' religiousity to the fuzzy-wuzzies. That means, she comes with us.
"In the dust of the day," Sylvia whispered into the cloud of rusty brown which plumed out behind them. "There will be no evil, nor any good. There will be no words misunderstood."
Jacob glanced back at Syl at that one. Not the verse he'd have used. The Heart of Gold was looming up before them, in all its decidedly hideous glory. Jacob began to slow the vehicle, preparing to park.
"For in the dust of the day... there will be... nothing."
"Who said that?" Anne asked the blonde.
"I did," She said, glancing back only a moment to fix Jacob with her blue-green eyes.
"I think she meant, who wrote that?"
"Noone," she said, sounding surprisingly sane. "I don't have any paper."
"Now you're just bein' a smartass," Anne muttered. Syl didn't look at her, focusing instead far off to the soutwest.
"He's not there," Syl said, voice as distant as her gaze. "Where is he?"
"Bao bei," Jacob said. "Look after her while I fetch our doctor."
Her expression was beginning to darken rapidly when he quickly continued. "Anne? Honey? It won't take me but five minutes."
"I," she began, raising a warning finger.
"Have I ever took less than five minutes?" he asked with a smirk. Her dark expression faded, and the finger lowered.
"Fine, go," she said. "I'll make sure the Crazy One doesn't do anything too... crazy."
"Shouldn't ought to call her that," Jacob muttered. "Whatever happened to her, she's still our Syl."
"Are you sure?"
Jacob wanted to say yes, without a doubt. Definitely and without reservation. He wanted to be that man who stood up for her, who gave her that second chance, who defended her. He wanted it. But all he could do is sigh.
With a scowl on his face, he made his way to the door. The swinging doors were locked open, an unusualness for the early morning, and a horse cropped on the grass rather a ways from the closest hitching post. Might have been a good horse. He didn't know his animals that well, truth be told.
Shaking his head, he walked into the hall. An fairly old lookin' man was sitting at the bar, facing the beaded breach and swirling a shotglass full of something brown and quite possibly potently alcoholic. His blue-green eyes glared at Jacob for a moment, glancing the man up and down, then completely ignored him. Jacob carefully walked to the beads and swept a few strands away.
"Petty?" he asked. He finally recognized Helen at the stove, no doubt watching over breakfast. "Ah, Helen. Could you direct me to my doc?"
The whore smiled at him, moving the skillet from the hot to the not-so-much, and pulled off her padded gloves. Way she was dressed right now, a body'd figure her for just about any of the ranch-wives or such rather than her actual profession. "She's right up there. Had herself a bath once she was finished with Jimmy."
Jacob paused for a moment. "She's done, ain't she?"
Helen let out a laugh. "I didn't ever think you'd grow a prudish bone to you."
"Anne's got a bit of a jealous streak to her. Ways it is, I'm already on the outs what with all y'all huggin' me last night."
"Damn," she said. "That is kinda ruttin' jealous. You sure you want to keep her?"
"Damn sure," Jacob replied. "So, is she?"
"Ain't rightly sure," she said, moving into the guts of the building. They'd passed both the electrical and boiler rooms before they came on what she called the 'bath room'. She rapped on the door, which illicited a string of Mandarin profanities. Yup, she weren't done yet. Regardless, the doctor opened the door a few seconds later, having just finished belting on her robe. Her long black hair was still plastered wetly to her back, and her footfalls landed with moist squishes.
"You could have dried off first, perhaps?" Jacob offered, but Friday smiled at him.
"Per-maybe-haps I shoulda. But I know Anne ain't a patient woman," She grinned. "'Sides, I like the way silk feels when I'm..."
"Not finishing that sentence, for example?" Jacob interrupted. She was gonna get him into all manner a' hell. He shepherded her out to the kitchen, where she simply wouldn't be dissuaded to sample some of the mostly-done bacon. Jacob sighed, drawing a laugh from Helen. He almost sighed at having sighed. When the hell had he got so damn dour? "Come on, we got a meetin' to attend to."
Friday rolled her eyes and bade him lead, whispering something to Helen that he didn't entirely catch. Something to do with old men and wheelchairs. When he pushed his way through the beads, the older fella at the bar was now facing him. He rose to his feet, setting his drink aside.
"Howdy," he said, his voice gravelly and deep. And vaguely familiar. He stared hard with those damn eyes. "You'd be captain Greyson?"
That woman was taking forever, Thurman thought as he swirled his newest shot of whiskey. He was a bit hesitant to drink it. If he did, he'd not have a thing to do, unless he got another one. And once he had it, he'd have to drink it. It weren't that he was afraid of a shot of fortification before a hard day, just that he'd gone into a gunfight drunk before. He wasn't exactly lookin' forward to doing it again.
Faint vibration in his boots brought his eyes up, and he stared hard at the man who came in. One eye, this fella had, kinda like Jonnie, but on the other side. He wore his iron on the other side, too, and seemed to lead with his left. A southpaw, maybe? His hair was kinda long and not particular well kept. Drifter, was his first guess, but he recognized him from the girls' description. The eye was a new thing, they said. Something he came back with last night. This would be the captain of that ship. He tried to recall the name, turning toward the kitchen where Helen was fryin' up some bacon for him. She was a kind one, that girl. Weren't there the thirty years of difference, and the her bein' a whore, he mighta married her. Ah, well. Here's to missed chances, he thought, raising the shot to his lips as the captain peeked through the beads. He paused, as if speaking, then noticed Helen and welcomed himself in. The fellas had either gone out to Nandi's grave or were still asleep, so only Helen by her lonesome was manning the stove this mornin'. Greyson. That was it. Jacob Greyson. He thought he remembered that name from somewhere, but he couldn't peg it down. Probably just his daft old mind drawin' connections where there weren't none. He was about to talk to the man when Helen moved off, bidding him follow her. Where the hell was they goin'? Only thing down there was the boiler room and circuit box. He slapped his thigh when he remembered the hot-tub thing they'd rigged up just past the boiler. Helen had mentioned Friday was takin' a bath. He was gettin' daft.
He set shot back onto the surface of the bar, and pondered what he was going to say. Spacers had a tendency to think alike, might be he could just ask about the ship he was lookin' to. Hell, Jacob heard him proper, might even help him snuff out those hun dahn the Twins sent to make Petaline's life so damn miserable. Yeah. That might just about do it.
He let go of his drink as Jacob swept the beads back and shepherded Friday out. She was wetter than a drowned rat, and her silk robe clung to her in a rather intriguin' fashion. His eyes strayed where they ought not for just a moment, then he got them back to where they belonged, right on the captain.
"Howdy," he said. "You'd be captain Greyson?"
Greyson nodded. "I'd be. What's your business?"
"I heard you was a captain. Captain of a boat."
"Captains usually are," Greyson responded, face flat and featureless. He'd be a hell of a poker player, he guessed.
"I'm havin' a bit of trouble with some outsiders," Witherell said slowly, makin' damn sure he didn't slur. Bein' stone-deaf was a pain sometimes.
"You must be him," Greyson said. He nodded toward the couches, and Friday took a seat, darkening the fabric beneath her with her wet. The captain then took the stool not far from Thurman's own. "Speak your piece."
"I've got a few folk comin' in soon. Lookin' to take what ain't theirs, in point of fact. I figured you and your boys on the Jack might be able to do some good whilst you're here."
"The Jack?" Jacob said suspiciously. "Little behind on the times, old man. BlackJack got torn apart by the Reavers almost a year and a half back."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Thurman said, patting the younger man on the shoulder. He looked a little haunted when he mentioned Reavers, and as well he would. Those things... well, they was unnatural. In more ways'n one, if that BroadWave was on the level.
"That's the past. You want some help, just give me a target, and me and the Legacy'll be at your back."
Thurman's blood ran cold. Suddenly, Friday's bein' here took on a dire alterior meaning. Whatever she was doin' upstairs to poor little Jimmy was just a cover for her to scope the building. Of course Jacob was gonna be the one to do that job. The girls'd never suspect that he'd be the one to take the ransom. Capshaw'd been right.
Thurman's right hand flashed around the bar, ripping the shotgun from the straps what held it in place. Still in his seat, he whipped it up and around, leveling it on Jacob's head. Jacob, as if guessing that Thurman was going to go for the gun, leveled a big, ugly lookin' gun on the grizzled old man's mug.
"You bastard," Thurman spat.
"Why the hell are we holdin' guns on each other?" Jacob asked, face torn between confusion and anger.
"These women trusted you, and now you stab them in the back!"
"Stab who in the back?" Jacob was now entirely confused. "Why the hell would I..."
"Was the money too good?" Witherell asked. "Or did you never even think of poor little Emma?"
"Emma?" his gun didn't waver, even thought it looked like his voice did. "What happened to Emma?"
"Don't play dumb with me," Thurman shouted. "Them twins caught wind a' what happened to her, and that we was gatherin' ransom. They sent you to snatch it for them."
"Ransom?" Jacob asked, then glanced toward the doors. Thurman took a moment to follow the other man's gaze. Friday was flattened now against the back wall, inching toward the back door. Not a fighter. Touch of coward, maybe. Well, she was a woman. It was forgivable. There was another in the room, though. A shortish woman with fairly short, black hair. Who had a pistol pointed at him.
"...your gorram head off!" the short woman yelled.
"Anne!" Jacob yelled, face etched a bit in panic. "Put that down!"
"Drop the shotgun, old man!" she shouted. More than a bit of rage to her.
"Anne," Jacob said again. Thurman's neck was gettin' a bit sore lookin' between them, but he didn't feel like missin' any particular thing.
"Ain't gonna happen, bao bei," she replied. Great. An entire family of brigands. Greyson... Wait, he remembered where he heard that name before today. A letter his baby girl had sent him about sixteen months ago said she'd been picked up for work by a Captain Greyson. On a ship called the BlackJack. He pushed off of his chair and forced the barrel of the shotgun against the gan ni niang's head.
"Where is my daughter?" Thurman demanded.
"What!?" Jacob shouted, completely bewildered.
"My daughter was working for you. Did you leave her to die on the Jack?"
"A lot of daughters died on the Jack," Jacob's face had regained that haunted look. "Yours mighta been among 'em."
Thurman fought to control his rage. His baby girl. Gone. Just like his son, years back at Serenity Valley. His whole damn family. Sure Richard weren't this guy's fault, but Sylvie most assuredly was. "Well, then. I suppose there ain't much keepin' you here, is there?"
Jacob forced his way up, pushing the barrel away with his forhead as he rose. "I do. I have a family, I have a crew. Some of them ain't in a good way, but they're together, and we're still flyin'," Jacob turned to Anne, who hadn't moved an inch. "Were is she?"
"Hell if I know," Anne said. "And hell if I care right now."
"If you want to have your revenge for what I couldn't do in protectin' your get, take your shot. But I promise you, if you make that shot, you're gonna be followin' me pretty damn close when my dear beloved riddles you with holes," Jacob said, face suddenly calm. Almost serene.
"'Cause of you, I ain't got nothin' left. And even if I die, I'm still helpin' Emma."
A flicker of movement caught Thurman's attention as his finger tightened on the trigger. He swung his gaze past Anne and took in the shock of blonde hair. The trigger slipped from his finger. The rest of the gun slipped not long after.
Jacob was a bit surprised as the weapon not only fell from his sternum but right to the ground. The old man was staring past Anne, to the newest entry into the building. Jacob watched as blue-green eyes locked with blue-green eyes. Sylvia took one lurching step, then another, which the old man matched almost like a mirror.
The telepath's lips quivered on the edge of speach. What could she possibly say that would make this situation make sense? Especially that last bit about that man's anonymous daughter. Of course, Sylvia was more than helpful in explaining it. Hell, she did it in one word. Two syllables, in point of fact.
With tears in her eyes, she threw herself into the man's arms with a cry of "Daddy!"
<>To Be Continued<>
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