BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:08, In The Dust of The Day, Part 2
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

A friend from Jacob's past has got herself took, and now he has to set aside the job to try and set things straight. If, of course, he's not too late.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1534    RATING: 7    SERIES: FIREFLY

Part two of the last episode, which just got too damn big to make one chapter. This one explains why Old Man Witherell was so damn crotchety in the first episode, and shows us how damn bad thing've got all the hell over the place. I've read books which excelled in creating no-win situations, where the best a body can hope for is survival. Some might notice I've been kicking them in the teeth of late, but you'll understand why in time. Just keep the faith. The Heart of Gold doesn't belong to me. Pretty much everything else does, though. Feedback: As much as possible.

In the Dust of the Day, Part 2

The woman squatted down on the sparse grass looked more like a child than the adult of more than twenty five years to those who stood around her. She was plucking at the flowers which still made a run at surviving, despite the dry weather of Silverhold. Jacob walked in that slow circle around her, glancing from time to time to the old man sitting not far away. He'd seen her in so many lights in the last two years. This was just another of them, he tried to tell himself. But that wasn't true. This was something new. It was a regression, as Friday said. She was protecting herself by going to another time, distant in her past. It took him a long time to figure it, but it seemed more and more like the woman was sacrificing her mind to protect... what? Her soul? He wasn't sure if he even believed in that. "Look at all the pretty daisies," she whispered, a smile on her features. It almost broke Jacob's heart. Friday had finished with her examination of the delusional woman-child and had gone back for a towel not long ago. Anne still had her hand on her weapon. She didn't seem nearly willing to stand down. A bit rattled. More than a bit, truth be told. "I'm sorry," Jacob said, at long last. "For what?" Sylvia's aged father said. Jacob had heard the man was stone-deaf, but he still had a way of conversing. "She was on my crew," he said. He watched the other man's eyes, so like Syl's. The elder was watching his lips. That made sense. "I was supposed to look out for her. I... failed." "Couldn't fight her nature, son," he said. Jacob glanced up at him. The old man was smiling down at his daughter, who smiled back up to him innocently. "Mother's got a twitchiness to her brainpan, the sort which carries." "Hereditary mental illness?" "Them's the words," the older Witherell said. "Mother never was all the way there. Worked for Maurice back before Nandi took over. She weren't stable and he didn't do her no good. She got in the family way pretty quick, dropped the kid on me. I already had a son, I figured I could raise her too. Didn't know about her... you know." "But you raised her anyway?" "I did. Done the best I could. But she run off a couple years back. I was afeared she got plucked up by slavers or Reavers or raiders or whatever. Hadn't heard from her in forever. I just... I thought she'd last a bit longer, is all." "Should we tell him?" Anne asked. Jacob swung his eye from her and back to Sylvia. "Tell me what?" Jacob sighed. "I said I failed. I meant it," he squatted down, facing the woman on the ground. She plucked the petals off another flower, leaving the rest of it untouched. "You remember that big hellabaloo over Boros?" "Heard of it." "I was there. She was with me..." Jacob took a deep breath. "She got took... by the Reavers." Thurman went pale. "Re... No... that ain't possible," he looked to Anne, who nodded sadly. "But... them's get took, they turn into Reavers. Always. Every damn time. She ain't... she ain't like them. Is she?" "No," Friday said, making her triumphant return. Pretty much the only difference was that her hair looked a bit drier. "But they hurt her. They broke her, I'm thinking. I don't know if we got to her in time." "But... she seems so happy, now," the old man said, kneeling before his daughter, who had turned to assault another flower. "Ain't always the way," Friday said. "She flies from fury to fear to sorrow so damn quick you'll spin your head. And she's becoming more and more... well... destructive." Thurman sighed. "You brought her home, though. She's safe." "No, ain't none of us ever safe," Jacob said. "And I don't think she's all the way home. Not yet." The old man turned to the younger. "The only reason I ain't got to shootin' you yet is cause you brought back my little girl. You make a move toward that ransom, though, and I will end you." "I didn't even know there was a ransom until you told me," Jacob punched the ground in frustration. "Damn their identical eyes! They knew about this, and they didn't tell us." "What did they send you for?" the old man asked, brushing a wisp of hair away from his daughter's face. Her grateful smile was entirely too bright. "To steal a stockpile of money. They said a contact in at the town'd give us the specifics, and that we had to show up doublequick. Barely made it here in time..." he said. He waved a hand to dispell the mootness of the point. "If I'd've known it was Emma's blood money... I'd have mussed up those hun dahn's faces." "I almost believe that," Witherell said. "You'd better," Jacob replied. "You heard from the girls on how long I've been there. Hell, Helen thought you'd gone nuts when you pulled that shotgun on me. As much as you've done for them, I figure mine ain't far behind." "I heard what you done for my li'l Helen," he said. Almost sounded fatherly. How many daughters and daughters-by-proxy did this man have? "It was a right good turn." "It was the only damn thing I could do." Witherell looked him in the eye. "You willin' to fight that hard again?" "Shuh muh?" "Only reason we got that ransom is cause of them bastards what took our Emma," the elder explained. "We?" Thurman nodded. "Whorin' brings in a lot of cash, but not quite that much. They needed help... and some of them girls is like family." "Setting aside the unpleasantness of that implication," Jacob said carefully, "what kind of trouble are we facing, pops?" Thurman rose to his feet, staring hard toward the north horizon. "The killin' kind," he answered. <> The old man led them to a camp of sorts they'd set up on the north edge of town. "Couple of us folk have taken to lookin' to the girls, whens we could," Thurman explained, easily guiding his steed with his knees as he cleaned his revolver. The others could barely stay in the saddle, with the exception of Friday, who took to it like a... well, a Core-brat to the equestrian, he guessed. Which was probably where she learned. Anne was currently clinging to Jacob's back, and seemed just about ready to cry. Jacob had offered that she ride with Friday, but his wife just shot him one of those hard glares and clung on tighter. Fine, he thought. If'n I fall off, she's comin' with me. Sylvia, ranch-hand born, snickered atop her steed. She really should take to stayin' out of other people's heads. Sometimes, he could swear he almost felt her rummaging around in there. He couldn't rightly blame her, though. Way it sounded, she'd lost pretty much all of her control along with her mind. She had to look. She couldn't not. He looked around the party. Yup. Just him and Anne uncomfortable on a horse. Figures the one pairing that ain't got no way with animals'd be forced to share one. "When you could?" Thurman scowled, blue-green eyes fixed on the campfire barely visible through the high brush. "Maurice was a ta ma duh hun dahn. Had the girls all strung out on drops, they got beat on regular, took sickly and dropped kids like apples. None of them kids was too healthsome, neither. So, we started lookin' to the girls. Takin' care of them, might say. Gettin' medicine directly to 'em, instead of givin' it to Maurice, who'd barter it away. Tracked down those what beat on the girls the worst, and gave them a taste of their own supper," Thurman paused just a moment, to swing down from his saddle and check the ground. "Fresh tracks. Four on the hoof, two walking. One's mighty big," he muttered to himself. "Big?" Jacob asked, staring at the fire, still ways off. Thurman didn't acknowledge him. How could he? He didn't know Jacob had spoke. The old man swung back up into saddle, leading them forward again. "Must have newcomers," he muttered. He had a tendency to talk to himself, Jacob had learned. Not knowing he was talking kinda added to that. The bushes rustled a ways out from the camp, and a long barrel appeared from it, followed closely by a lanky, one-eyed man. "There you are," the sentry said. "I was a bit worried when it took you so long. Didn't spend the mornin' with the ladies, did ya?" "Nah," the old man replied simply. Truth be told, the sentry weren't exactly a spring chicken neither, and his hair was shot through with grey. He'd likely seen the turn of four decades at least. "And the folks from the ship. You got their measure?" "I surely did," he replied, not even halting as he moved past the one-eyed one. "They waitin' on the worms?" the sentry asked. "Not so much. Is Fat-Cho around?" Thurman asked. "Not so much?" the old man, not facing the sentry, didn't respond. Witherell swung down from his saddle again, leaving the horse to wander as it would while he walked into the firelight. Jacob made to lower himself also, but a rifle-barrel curtailed the motion. "Not until he say so," came the warning. "Cho!" the old man shouted. A rotund man with a shaved head appeard into the dim glow of the cool fire. "Find anybody willin' to work with us?" "I did at that," the man, Cho, if Jacob heard correctly replied. "What about you? You find them hun dahn from Legacy?" "I have," Thurman nodded toward the horses. "That's them." Fat-Cho's firearm was trained on them in a heartbeat, but like the one-eyed sentry, he got distracted awful quick. By Sylvia. A wide grin broke out on his face for a moment, but he went serious again. "What's this about, boss?" "Capshaw weren't exactly right," Thurman explained. "Jacob there done looked out for my little girl. He's right close with the girls. He'll help us." "You sure on that?" the sentry asked. "Sure as dirt, Jonnie." Witherell responded. "Let them down." Jacob gratefully got off of the horse. His groin was going to ache for the rest of his life, seemed like. Anne was even more so. He strode into the fire light, instantly noticing a dark man in red leather at the edge of the glow. "Early?" Jacob asked. "What the hell you doin' here?" The dark man scowled. "I..." he pondered for a moment. "It seemed like the right thing to do." "She's a whore," Anne pointed out. Jubel shrugged. "She may be. You're point?" Anne rolled her eyes, turning away. "I see you two know each other," Thurman said flatly. "He's on my crew," Jacob said, turning as he heard brush being stomped on. A massive figure appeared in the firelight, a beast with flaming hair. "What the hell?" "Sir?" Casher asked. "I could ask the same of you." "Friend needs help, and here I am. You?" "It's the right thing to do, sir." "Stop calling me sir. I ain't your boss. Hell, I ain't even your captain, no longer, dong ma?" Jacob snipped. The very large man simply shrugged. He had a remarkably simple outlook, it seemed like. "What's the plan?" Jacob said. "She got took to their hideout, a spot in the canyons a couple miles north," the old man said. "Emma's like to be in the caves what got cut when we still mined up there. Problem is, we ain't sure where they got her stored, and I reckon they'd be all manner of spooked. They see iron, violence will ensue." "So, that means we can't go in with guns," Jacob said. "Yeah, I don't like the part where we're unarmed, neither." Jacob grinned, "I didn't say unarmed." He pulled his long brown coat away from the long blade that Sylvia had given him on his wedding day. He pulled the sword into the failing light, letting the fire play off of it. "I swear to you, they won't see this coming." Anne glanced about. "What about us?" she asked, casting a finger between herself and the rest of the women. "You'll be sitting this one out," Jacob said. "Might be a fine thing in a firefight, but in a brawl, you leave a bit to be desired." She shrugged. "What about...?" "No," Jacob said. She was going to ask about Sylvia. "She's not up for this fight." "Fine, then," Thurman said. "We move out in the dawn." "You got the ransom with you?" Jacob asked suspiciously. The old man glared at him. "Dump those bags. If I know them, they'll just kill us and take the money." "I think you're having a bit of a problem with your brain bein' missing," Witherell muttered. "We walk up there with empty hands, they'll kill her. Worse then, I'm thinkin'." "Not if they think our hands ain't empty. When's the drop supposed to be?" "First thing in the morning. This is the last chance..." "We're going now," the captain said, handing off his Mauser to his wife. "Put down your iron. Nothing but belt-knives and brass knuckles. We want these folk to get in for the up close kill." "It's getting dark," Cho said. "Exactly. Either of you good in a tussle?" Both the rotund man and the sentry shrugged. "Then hang back. When you start hearin' gunshots, that'll be your cue to come in," Jacob paused, turning to Thurman. "I can't promise this is gonna work, but if we don't try, they're sure as hell gonna kill her." Witherell frowned out into the infinite. The late-day sun and the fire both at his side as he stared north. From where Jacob was standing, the man was more shadow than flesh. Finally, he nodded grimly. "Jonnie, take the money and bury it somewhere," the old man said. "Come back for the woman once your done a' that. This ain't your fight." "Boss," he said, scowling. "Ain't got the depth perception and you ain't got the twitch you once had. Ever'body else, saddle up. We're ridin' hard," Witherell said quietly as the sun finally slipped past the horizon, throwing the camp into darkness. Jacob didn't relish in the though of riding again, but this was Emma. He pulled himself awkwardly into the saddle, making sure his sword, his only weapon, didn't catch or fall out. That would have been bad. After several long minutes of riding at a swift cant, the old man glanced over to him. More specifically, at his sword. "You know how to use that pig-sticker?" Jubel laughed from his own uncomfortable perch. "He knows which end to hold," the dark man smirked. Witherell didn't look over impressed with that. The rest of the ride was made in silence. <> "Well," Anne said, watching as the horses departed into the night. "Looks like another wonderful adventure in sitting." Syl was staring at the fire, a look of childish delight on her face. "Afraid," she said. "Of course, it doesn't help that... what?" "Afraid," Syl repeated, her delight fading fast. "Afraid of what? There ain't nothin' out here can hurt you." "Not her," Sylvia said. "Too late." "Too late? Too late for what?" The telepath stared off to the north, her eyes catching the small blue flames beside her. "For Emma." <> "Hold 'er right there, puhn yoh," Early frowned grimly. The bandits came out in a cluster, some three strong. They surrounded the old man first, the 'leader' of the pack -- feral dog that he was -- waved a decidedly low-quality revolver at the elder Witherell to keep his hands in plain sight. It was just as well Jacob said not to come with pistols. His new favorite was melted into the deck-plating of Logan Kell's newest ship, and his replacement still didn't feel quite natural. He never did acclimate to new firearms quickly. Jacob had his hands up fairly quick, and with his coat billowing out behind him in the wind gusted for a moment. The effect was a bit dramatic, but served to show he was effectively unarmed. They couldn't see the hilt sticking out between Greyson's shoulderblades, with the dark the way it was, and even if they did see it, they must have discounted it, because they only gave him a summary frisking. Early got considerably more attention, and Casher, more still. It was the old man, though, who got the most, with two of them checking every damn pocket. Thurman Witherell did have a reputation, though. Twelve years ago, when Early was just starting in the business, Witherell had gotten him out of a tough spot, blowing out a hostile's kneecap with barely a glance. He had a firm grasp on his version of justice, and saw it done. The man lived by a code. Jubel could appreciate that. At Jacob's feet was the bag, ostensibly of money. It clinked the right way, and were a body to open it up, he'd see a layer of platinum. Just a layer though. Less than two percent of the ransom, he estimated, and more than enough for the illusion. "This it?" one of the lackeys asked. The 'leader' reached down and shuffled the detritus a bit, and Early was suddenly relieved he'd left so much platinum in the bag. Sated, the man made to grab the bag, but Jacob took a step forward, forcing the man a pace back. "It is," Jacob said. "And you ain't gettin' a piece of it till I see Emma." "Who's the kid?" "Does it matter?" Witherell answered gravely. The lacky grinned malevolently, nodding the four men forward with a gun to their backs. One of the lackeys walked before them, a odd little procession through the loudly windy canyons with their dark, precarious stone pillars. From time to time, things went from dark to absolutely black as the clouds obscured the moon, and each time, Early got the compulsion to smash the skull of the gun toting pissant next to him. He was better than this, he knew. But he couldn't do that. If he took one out, the others would yell. The men back at the base would undoubtably find some way to know that the deal had 'gone south', and the girl's life would be forfeit. He couldn't stand the thought of another innocent dying on him, by his actions and by his will. He'd already done enough harm. Hell, what sleep he got was still haunted by that mechanic, Kaylee. He wondered if he'd ever rest easy again. "You might want to be waitin' here," the leader said from Early's other side, much closer to Casher. The one out in front vanished into the dark and the scrub. Jubel knew that there were others very close by now. They'd almost reached the point the old man had said they'd be hiding, and Early knew enough to never bank on the stupidity of one's enemies. His dark, discerning eyes glanced around the area, picking out at last the wooden beams of the mine opening, shrewdly concealed by loose stone and scrub. In the night, it would just be a place of greater darkness against the black. A place where the shadows were king. There. Two on the ridge. Another two near the entrance, and unless he was completely mistaken, there would be two on the shortest of the stone buttes nearby. Sentries. Or snipers, he clarified to himself. Probably snipers. They'd been waiting no short time when a newcomer arrived. Jubel had a hard time at first, but he finally was able to make out the man's features. He recognized this man. Stein was his name. He was wanted, dead or alive, on no few counts, from murder to robbery to all manner of unseemly and unpleasant business. It had been during Early's first hunt for Stein that he happened across a certain dangerously unpredictable midget, with an unhealty fixation on fire. Little man got the better of him, shamed as it was to admit, and damn near made off with Early's own ship. That would have been an embarassment he'd never have lived down, assuming he survived the fact that he was on fire at the time the little man was attempting to steal the ship. Stein, though, was a whole other story. The man was a ghost. As soon as he was seen, he vanished. And now he turns up on Silverhold. The wide-shouldered man stared down at the bag at Jacob's feet. He ran his finger along the long scar which ran from the inside corner of his eyebrow, across his nose, and ended just past his lip on the far side. "Is that all of it?" he asked. "Where's Emma?" Jacob asked. Stien casually backhanded the captain, facing Witherell. "You just let Stein speak his piece," the muscular man said. "Well? Is it all there?" Jacob shook off the blow, staring hatred at the man. Early knew his captain had a tendency to forgive damn near anything anybody did to him, but Jacob seemed to be rather in a taking. "It is," Witherell said grimly. "Where is she?" Stein leaned back. "Hsien! Go bring her out!" Early didn't see any motion. Jacob had taken to staring to the south, the way they'd come. Staring with a growing rage. Something wasn't right. The long-time criminal took a step toward the old man. "You sure do have a lot of money for her," he said calmly. Despite his appearance, it was the man's canny wit which made him so threatening. And Stein had a head which never went hot. Even when he was being shot at, he was cool as the Black. "I don't see how a whore could be of such worth, to anybody." "She's of worth to us," Witherell replied, with an almost equal calm. The two men stared each other down. Early's gaze went to Jacob, barely visible against the night. Even with the dark, Jubel could clearly make out the look the captain was giving him. In the time he'd spent on Legacy, he'd learned a few things. A few subtle signals the captain sometimes gave. This was one of them. It said, violence is about to ensue. Stein smirked a bit, not out of any real malice, but simply out of having the better bargaining position, and took a step toward Jacob and the bag of mostly-not-money. Jacob took a position in front of it, however. Every line of the man that Early could see was screaming fury. Stein frowned. "You might want to be moving, kid," the criminal warned. The two lackeys from out the way moved to either side of the captain. Flanked him in, was to say. "And why would that be?" "Because our business is done," the man explained, as if to a child. "We got our money, you get your girl. Easy as lying." "One snag," Jacob pointed out. "What's that?" Stein asked. "Emma's already dead." All parties were shocked for a moment. Jubel included, he was sad to say. Jacob capitallized on that moment of prestine confusion and pulled out the blade he had running down his back and lashed out to his side with it, a razor-tongue that would have reflected light, were any to be had. A strangled gurgle sounded from the left hand lackey as he was granted use of a second mouth, one several inches lower on his anatomy. The other reached for his gun, but had his arm pinned in place as Jacob thrust the steel into his chest, just below the sternum. If nothing else, Jubel had to be proud at how good the man got with his blades in such a short time. The impaled but still living man let out a scream. That was about when all hell broke loose. With the darkness working in Jubel's favor, he hit the dirt as a fair number of guns began to go off at once. Absolute darkness being what it was, nothing hit him, and from what he could see, neither did it hit anybody else on the ground. The sentry leader was pulling his gun, aiming it at where Early had last seen Jacob, but a wet crunch sounded, and a gargantuan shadow heaved the man into the dirt not a foot away from Early's low frame. He quickly policed the body for firearms, of which he found several, all poor quality but servicable, and he looked back out into the night. There, on the butte. The snipers. From the ground, bullets began to return to the heavens. Jacob was nowhere to be seen. <> "No," Sylvia said, staggering northward a few paces before both Anne and Friday grabbed hold of her. "Don't. He's lying. Shadows and deceit!" "You got any proper reckonin'?" Anne asked. "Surgeon," Friday said, "not psychiatrist." "Bear returning to his den. He knows it too well. He wants you there," Syl continued, still struggling as the placed her back on the ground. The feng kuang woman glanced between those standing over her. Her voice became small. Timid. "Things are going to get a lot worse." The other two women exchanged a glance. "What's going to get worse?" Tears began to well in the telepath's eyes. "...poor Jacob..." <> It was dark. Darker than any place he'd ever been. Even the Miranda Belt had light of its sort. Distant, yet over-bright. The darkness simply accentuated it, seemed like. This place... not so much. A while back, there had been torches and lamps and lightbulbs and the like, but Stein was runnin' into the old mine. The mine that had been the first to be cut. The dark mine. He couldn't see a damn thing. The sound of dripping water was the only thing convincing him that he hadn't been swallowed whole by the shadow. He had a powerful want to pull his sword back out and start swinging. Start cutting. Cut through the black. Cut through the man. He deserved it. He hurt... he killed... Emma. "Sylvia?" he said. "If you can hear me... I need your eyes." He paused for a moment, wondering if she even heard it. She had some amazing pickup, sometimes. He ceased wondering when he felt some indefinable force at his back. Move, it urged. This way. He picked up his pace, jogging, then running through the utter blackness. The shafts continued with disorienting sameness, at least, with the 'Verse reduced to nothingness the way it was. She was guiding him. Setting his course and giving him the strength to walk it. Or, he'd just gone nuts. One or th'other. The insistant force pulled him deeper and deeper into the shafts. The dripping faded behind him, leaving only the sound of his breathing and his heartbeat. He suddenly realized how damn stupid this was, runnin' after a guy he couldn't even see, without even pausin' long enough up top to grab a gun. Damn stupid, goin' so deep into this place, that he might never find his way out. Damn stupid that he could run up on Stein and get a bullet in his brainpan. Jacob slowed to a stop, pulling the stale, flat air into his burning lungs. His one good eye glanced about, seeing nothing. He couldn't even see his arms, braced against his knees. He had to think this through. The insistent push was still there, but he ignored it for the time being. Well, ignored wasn't quite the word. He studied it. It had a feel to it. Not anger, not revenge. Sadness. Slowly now, Jacob took his strides with the force at his back. Weeping. He felt tears through the compulsion. Sylvia was weeping. He continued as the air got flatter, fouler. As the continued, the sound of water picked up again, stronger now. Dripping. Dropping. Pooling. He was frowning at what this might mean when the floor vanished from beneath him. <> "No!" Sylvia broke free of them, sending the two women to the ground and stumbling off on her knees. "The place is dark and cold. She doesn't belong there. She needs the light. Oh, God, don't let her stay there." "Grab her!" Friday said, tackling the crazy woman's legs. Anne tackled a bit higher, driving Syl to lie flat on her belly on the ground. "Get up... Get up!" the telepath cried. "Kick! Flail! Get above the surface!" "What the hell's she jawin' on?" Anne shouted above the woman she was holding down. "I ain't rightly sure," Friday said. "It's there! Don't give up. So close!" Sylvia's hand thrust out to the north, imploring. "Breathe!" <> His lungs burned. He'd barely gotten a chance to take in a gasp before the cold, brakish water closed over his head. He didn't know how far down the pool was, or how deep in it he was. He did have one particular worry, though. Jacob didn't know how to swim. He heard in his younger days how to. The theory of it. Flailin' around and usin' the water to get a body higher. Add in the natural boyancy of the body and most just float around like little bits of wood. But that boyancy is mainly a product of havin' full lungs. When the lungs are less than full, well, suffice to say, boyancy suffers. Which Jacob was swiftly discovering. Cup your hands. The thought wasn't his. Sylvia's silent voice spoke to him, soothing, calm. With all the sanity she didn't have. He quickly did it, forming his hands into bowls. He swung his arms down, noting how much more effective they were at dragging himself through the water. Wrong way. Going down. Up is down. Turn around. Jacob felt like he was about to explode, his lungs tearing at him. He pulled himself toward what he thought was down. He really hoped she was right. He wondered how she could possibly know... No, no time to doubt. Something felt off about his left hand. Too easy. Less resistance. He pulled again, and the water parted from over him. Hungrily, he pulled in the stale, foul air. It was sweeter than wine. Kicking his feet, he kept his head and shoulders above the surface. Gorram, it was cold. Weren't planets supposed to get hotter the deeper they went? He felt something stringy brush against his cheek when he sank a bit, and he recoiled from it. As he moved away, he felt stone brush the bottom of his feet, and he took an unsteady stand. Blindly, he quested his fingers out along the surface of the water again, finding that queer stuff and wrapping it around his fingers. Odd. It was damn familiar. He tugged it a bit, noting how hard it resisted movement, then began to move through the water. He felt the ripples of its passage as it came close. "No," he said, not wanting to believe it. His hands traveled along the strandy mess, to something more solid. The hands dove beneath the surface, feeling the contours. The contours of a woman's face. "Damn it," he whispered bleakly. "You were right, Syl. You were right." Jacob pulled Emma's limp form toward him. He'd found her. Just like he said he would. She was alive not a day ago. If only he'd been faster. Got here sooner. No, he chastized himself. They'd offed her on the day, weeks back, when they took her. It just took a while for her body to die. As he reached behind him for some way out of this rutting pool, his off hand noticed something. She was stripped to her skin. They'd used her. Brutalized and used her up. Then just tossed her into this heart of darkness. Let her die. Jacob suddenly remembered something. He fished into his pocket, pulling out the lighter his Pa had given to him near about fourteen years ago. He flipped the cap off and struck the thing, grateful as the tiny flame sprang to life. The flame grew as the wick was made dry, and the place around him grew into light. He saw the tumble-down scree of the stones which had fallen down over the century that this mine had been operating. The opening of the side-cut that he'd tumbled from. The flame fell far short of reaching the top but at least one other side cut, with a cart-track bridging it, opened into this spot. They hadn't walked the path he had. They just took her to the bridge and pitched her over. He dragged himself up the stones, pulling off his brown jacket and tossing it onto the broken track. He pulled up the whore's visage up behind him, taking just a moment to drape her with his coat. It was soaking wet, but so was she. And she couldn't feel it anyway. He cradled the body in his arms as he felt the force begin to push him again. Up and out. He shoved the lighter back into his pocket. How long ago had he put that in there? Months ago? Years perhaps? No... He'd put that in his drawer a long time ago. He hadn't kept it with him in ages. How had it...? Sylvia? Is this your doing, he thought to himself? He shivered as the cold air cut deep into him. Suddenly, he wasn't wearing nearly enough to keep out the chill. He hoped she was... And knew she wasn't. He didn't want to think about the horror she'd been through. But he did. What had happened to him? Things weren't this bad when he was on the Jack. Hell, even last year, since the Jack got took by the Reavers, things had been... well... swell. Now? Not so much. Jacob went tense a moment. Had he really heard that, or was it just his greif-driven imagination? He shook his head. He needed to focus on the now. The later would wait. Then he heard it again. Pebbles on stone. Click. Behind him. <> "Run!" Sylvia shouted, drawing a start from the one-eyed man who was trying to wrangle her. "He's right... Qian zeh tah, di ku wei di yan jing!" "You'd best shut your mouth, mei-mei," Jonnie said, somewhere between annoyed and confused. "He's bleeding," Sylvia whispered. "Jacob?" "He cannot see... So dark a candle, bright against the night. Please, get there on time," Sylvia cried. Finally, the three were able to force her back down. "What the hell's she talkin' about?" Jonnie asked. "I'm going out there," Anne said, trying to vault onto the horse and falling right the hell off. Friday shook her head. "Not going to happen, woman," Friday took the reins and handed them to Jonnie, who could only give the horse have his attention. It wasn't easy to keep one eye on the horse and one on the crazy person if he only had one to work with. "Drip drip drip. One chance... Already unforgiven," Syl muttered. She glanced up with a smile. "So dark a candle..." <> Jacob felt the hot lead biting into his back, throwing him to the ground. He bit off a stream of profanities, knowing they would only help what was already a lucky shot become a not-so-lucky killin'. He heard the boots clearly now. Step. Step. Crunching turn. Step, step, step. "I know I hit you," Stein said, oddly calm. "I don't reckon that bullet snuffed you though. Not from the sight I got from the flash." Jacob let Emma lay as he crawled to a place away. No good if he got dead. No good to Emma, and no good to Anne. Ai ya, Anne. If she was with Syl, the telepath must be throwing a fit right about now. She would be coming, and coming soon. "You shouldn't try to hide, kid," Stein continued. "I will find you. I can smell it. The blood." The voice was just about where Emma was left. Jacob heard a hollow thump, and Stein's cheerful exclaimation. Another click sounded, and the rustling of fabric. A dissatisfied grunt. "Nice try, kid." the voice came again. "I ain't that easy to throw me." Jacob reached behind him, for the hilt that would stand between his shoulder blades. It found nothing. Gorramit! It must have fallen out of its sheath when he'd fallen. So, that made him just about unarmed. And with a bullet in his back... Jacob didn't exactly like his chances. Footfalls sounded again, moving past where Jacob had fallen, and ended with a clatter of metal. The ringing of the fine steel sounded in the tunnel. "What the hell's this? A sword? Damn Core-puppies. Don't know enough not to bring a knife to a gunfight." There was another clatter as Stein tossed the weapon away. Jacob winced at thinking what that would do to its fine edge. The insistent force was still there, telling him to move, but Stein was standing between him and his way out. The foot falls came again. This time coming closer. There was a scraping sound somewhat distant, but Jacob was focused on the footfalls. He wanted to crawl away further, but he didn't have room nor strength. Finally, the footfalls stopped, fairly close to his feet. He practically see the smirk on Stein's scarred face, the way he leaned over. Jacob felt the cold metal barrel of Stein's revolver pressed to his temple. Heard the click of its hammer being drawn back. "Shouldn't have tried to cross me, kid." "Shouldn't have killed Emma," Jacob said. "Now he talks to me," Stein said. "She was a troublemaker. Never intended to snuff her, but..." "You're a coward," Jacob said, forcing himself up the wall. The barrel stayed at his forehead. "You can't make me angry," Stein's voice answered him. "I forgive you," Jacob said quietly. "Shuh muh?" "For shooting me, I forgive you," the captain replied. "Well, glad to know I won't have you on my conscience," Stein said sarcastically. Then he screamed in pain, and the metal barrel fell from his brow. It clattered to the stone ground, in point of fact. Stein grunted, then shrieked again. Then there was silence, but for Jacob's labored breathing. "Are you here, boss?" Early's voice came from the darkness. Jacob pulled out his lighter, revealing the scene at long last. Emma, her fair hair in disarray, stared sightlessly toward him, seeming to stare at the disembodied hand that was at Jacob's feet. Stein's. Another hand lay not far away, and the profusely bleeding Stein lay unconscious beside where Early stood. Glancing away from the light, Jubel saw Emma. He glanced back to Jacob and sighed. "I tried." The dark man picked up the woman and handed her to Jacob, who took her despite the pain in his back. He found himself able to stand, now. A moment of weakness. Nothing more. Still hurt like a bitch, but he bit his tongue. Jubel stared daggers at the literally disarmed, unconscious hun dahn on the ground. "I know you did, Early." The light almost hurt when he finally reached the surface. He was still soaking wet, despite spending nearly two hours in the mine. It was still dark outside, but after the utter blackness of the mineshaft, it was as the highest noon. He carefully placed the woman down in the dust of the night. "What are we going to do with him?" Witherell asked, pointing his sidearm at the still unconscious Stein. "I was just waiting to see who was taking the honor of shooting him like a dog," Early said darkly. He seemed to be favoring his side a bit. "You been shot?" Jacob asked. "A bit." Witherell looked from Emma to Stein, and back to Emma. Then, calm as the farmer he was, put a bullet into Stein's face. "Won't bring her back," he said, holstering his gun. "But it's what he earned." <> The sunlight was a bit painful. Not because his eyes hadn't acclimated to it, this time. No, this time it was because a friend was going away. Forever. The funeral was silent. Job wasn't anywhere near, and these ladies had buried folk before. He sorta expected that somebody would say some words, or maybe sing. "Emma was the one what sung," Lily said when he whispered his observation. "Used to sing Amazin' Grace." The Asian woman fell into tears as the simple box was lowered into the hastily dug hole. They hadn't ever thought it would come to this... but here it was. He felt like a part of him was being buried with the woman. Anne simply stared blankly from his side, as if trying to ignore the prostitutes surrounding them. The little clearing had become a graveyard of sorts, of late. Hell, years back, he remembered when the Jack would disgorge its crew and they'd gather here for a big damn dinner before headed to the Heart of Gold. Now, four graves were dug in. Three were grown over. Nandi's was closest, and two more next to hers. All of them what worked at the brothel and shuffled off when Rance made his raid. Now, there were four. The old man stood opposite Jacob, staring with damp eyes at the box as it was slowly covered with dirt. "In the dust of the day," he said quietly, yet totally clear in the silence. "There will be none happy, yet be no sadness. There will be none sane, yet be no madness. In the dust of the day, there will be no joy, yet be none pained. There will be none clean, and yet none stained. In the dust of the day, there will be no evil, yet be no good. There will be no words misunderstood." "For in the dust of the day," his daughter continued, despite not even looking at the funeral, "there will be nothing." Jacob took a step back as the boy-whores began to cover the coffin wholesale. He noticed the black hair and silk robes of his doctor and motioned her over. "About time you showed up," he said. "When we get back, I need a bullet pulled out of me." The Asian woman stared at him oddly. "I think you've got the wrong sister," she said flatly. Damn it. Monday. "Where in the hell were you?" Jacob asked, conscious of the shooting pain running up his back. He really was going to have to get that looked to. Monday rolled her eyes. "Turns out somebody on this rock does have enough money for my time," she said, handing Jacob a purse. "That should cover rent for the next month, as well as any back pay you feel you need paid." Jacob nodded. It would go toward fueling the ship. He had a powerful need of a great many things, and with jobs gettin' sparcer and sparcer as time went on, he was reaching the raggedy edge. "So, who felt a terrible distress in his pants?" "A pair of ten year old girls," Monday said, waiting just long enough for Jacob to blink in confusion. "In Core worlds, Companions are often recruited as teachers of etiquette." "So you made a pair of Core-dandies out of them?" Anne asked. Monday rolled her eyes again with a disgusted grunt. "They'd need me for ten years before I'd let them out in public. I managed to knock a few sharp corners off of them, though..." She was cut off as the shuttle screamed to a halt, landing several yards away from them. The girls from the Heart of Gold stared at the thing as if it were some sort of finale to the day. Some funereal event. The shuttle had touched down for all of three seconds when the door swung open. Job leaned out, then caught Jacob's shoulder and tried to lead him away. Anne wouldn't leave the two alone, though, until Jacob gave her that I'll-be-right-back look, and she threw up her hands. "What is it, preacher man?" he demanded. "A ship has landed on the planet on the south hemisphere," the Shepherd said, adjusting his spectacles. "And that warrented the dramatic entrance?" "Bi zwei," Job snipped. "That ship belongs to them. They are here." Jacob felt his heart splash down into his stomach. How had they tracked him to this rock? Was that even possible? "We should..." "Run," Job said firmly. "You cannot fight these people. Your last encounter should have taught you that lesson." "Oh, it did at that," Jacob said. He turned to what crew he had close by. "Get onto the shuttle. We're going to be leaving in a hurry." "Why?" Monday asked. "'Tis not yours to wonder why'," he paraphrased. "Where's Friday?" he asked the preacher. "Pulling bullets out of mister Forsythe," Job said. Casher was a fairly large target. "Damn it," he said. "How damn far are we going to have to cart that kid?" "As far as he needs to be," Job said. Jacob looked back at Witherell, who was staring at Sylvia, who was staring at him. "She should," Jacob began. "She wants to go with you," the father said slowly. "But..." "She knows where her home is," Witherell said, his weathered face pulling into a smile. "Thanks for letting an old man see he wasn't alone in the 'Verse." "What's the plan, bao bei?" Anne asked from the shuttle. Job had already taken his place on the simple bed which they hadn't gotten around to removing, and Monday sat beside him. He was going to have to leave the Mule, but that could be replaced. Anne couldn't. "What's the plan?" she asked again as he ducked through the door, pulling Sylvia along with him. He looked her in the eyes and drew himself up as best he could. "Get us back to Legacy," he said, staring at the sky. "We're runnin'."

COMMENTS

Monday, May 29, 2006 11:25 AM

JAMESTHEDARK


Early is a dark skinned man, wearing clothes which appear black, and is standing outside any pools of light. And yes, I very likely did make a mistake. Like the proverbial SCUD missile, I tend to fire and forget. But so long as the inconsistency didn't totally destroy your enjoyment of the entire work, it's good enough for me.


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