Legacy 2:10, So Dark A Candle
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Suicide. That's what assaulting the secret government facility on Londinum is. But Jacob wants Sylvia back, and those who would stand by him have desires of their own.


So Dark a Candle

Casher wasn't exactly comfortable in the infirmery, but he didn't really have anywhere else to be. Zane, the mechanic, was still on the slab, the same place he'd been the last two weeks. In that time, he'd been awake about an hour or so. The youth had been through a hell of a beating, and Casher was more than a touch surprised that the mechanic survived his injuries. When Casher had gone through that matter of hell, it crippled him permanently. Most wouldn't know to look at him, but Casher was a destroyed man. He almost remembered a place like this. From some point in his past. Almost... but then it disappeared, slipping away from him before he could do anything but feel it's texture beneath his fingers. The door opened, and two identical women entered, both seeming a bit surprised to find him here. He didn't understand why they'd be surprised. Casher had been the one to find the lad. His life was now Casher's responsibility until he got better or died. He glanced between the two women in turn. "Monday... Friday," he said to each. "Would you excuse us?" the whore asked, with the barest nod to courtesy. He didn't know much about subtlety, but he knew that she had very little respect for... just about anybody that he could tell. Anybody whom couldn't afford her rates, by which he meant. "Ain't got any reason to leave," Friday said, that shy smile on her pretty face. Casher had heard from Early that she was a maneater, but he hadn't seen anything of the sort from that awkward, shy doctor. Unless she was just shy around him... too much to assume. "Not a problem," Casher got up as he spoke, drawing out a floaty expression from the doctor. "I was on my way out anyway." His egress was interrupted as the captain took his place at the door. "Friday," he said, addressing the Companion. "How's my mechanic." "She's Friday," Monday muttered. "Damn it!" He growled, turning to the doctor. "Other Friday, same question." "Comatose, and while the internal bleedin's finally stopped, I wouldn't expect to see him up and about for a damn long spell. Where are we?" "Persephone," he said. "And about damn time." "Why exactly are we over Persephone?" Friday asked. "And why haven't you given me a chance to screen some clients? Persephone is a very nice place with some respectable clients," Monday said acidically. "Ain't that just a contradiction in terms?" Friday laughed sarcastically. "Some people prefer a civil evening," Monday responded. "Fei hua," Friday interrupted. "Most of them could do to get tied down and given a right good nasty..." "Friday!" Jacob snapped, shutting the sisters up rather effectively. Give him a what? Tie him down? "We're not kissin' the dirt, Monday, just smellin' the air. Hell, ain't even that, I guess. We're just pickin' up passengers, of a sort." "How about picking up some supplies?" Monday asked coldly. Jacob just stared at her. "Supplies... With what? Am I supposed to reach into my pi gu and pull out a hundred credit bill?" He leaned in very close to the Companion. "You're eatin' better than any damn body on this boat. We ain't had meat on this boat in months. Ain't had fresh food of any sort in weeks. Hell, we've been down to protein for the last few days now, and ain't long till we're skimmin' the scum off the water purifiers. We are close to gone out here, and gettin' closer every damn minute. Don't push me." A loud clunk sounded forward of them, and the ramp's door released that loud groan it always did when it was being pushed open. "That would be our guests," Jacob said flatly, his one eye burning into the Companion. "I guess it would be the civil thing to go greet them, don't you think?" Casher followed as the captain cleared the way, a bit curious who would be coming on at a time like this. Captain Greyson seemed to have declared war, and since then, didn't pause long between anything. Even Anne was complaining, and she didn't complain often that Casher could hear. Mostly, she complained about the insanity of the plan to steal back a telepath... news to him... from the Blue Sun Corporation... also news to him. Once again, he wondered who the hell these people were that they could acquire such unusual information or unique enemies. Jacob had his gun out as he peeked through the tiny viewing hole, a habit which he seemed to be developing over the last few weeks that Casher had been on Legacy. The captain was getting paranoid, it seemed like, sometimes. More than sometimes, he corrected himself. Whatever was on the other side of that hole must have mollified the captain a bit, because he slid his gun back into his holster and pounded the button that opened the airlock, and took his place in the middle of the hold. A large man... not large in comparison to Casher, who towered over him easily. Still, most would consider him a damn big fellow... came first, carrying several bags and staring hard ahead of him. His blue eyes seemed about ready to burn anything which got in his way down to ash. He dropped the bags to either side as he came up on Jacob, crossing his arms before his chest. The two men squared off, Jacob staring up with one burning eye, the newcomer staring down with two. Casher expected at any moment for Jacob to pull out that sword he seemed to be favoring and do something moronic, but instead, the captain simply nodded. "I take it this is about River?" captain Greyson said. The other man didn't even flinch. "Do you know where she is?" "Sure as hell do," he replied. "Then stow your bags and buckle in. Just you, Jayne?" Greyson asked. Jayne... what an odd name for a man. Especially a man of that particular description. Jayne shook his head and cast a nod over his shoulder to the two making their way into the airlock. The ramp door swung shut behind them, and even Casher could hear the ship on the other side disengaging its docking locks. One of them was a fancy looking man in a crisp white shirt and a vest, hair slicked down and a bag in one hand. His other was at the back of a very... very pregnant woman in colorful coveralls which likely were purchased just for this trimester. She was smiling, he noted. It suited her. "Who the hell's he?" Jayne asked, picking the bags back up and nodding toward Casher. "Just a passenger," Greyson said. Jayne scowled. "Damn. Looks to be of use." "And that's your guiding star, isn't it," the fancy gentleman said flatly. "What's of use." "If'n it gets us River, ain't a thing I wouldn't do. You know that," Jayne's tone was very distant. Like he wasn't even sure he was talkin' to the man. "You look to Kaylee. I'll look to my River." "Hey, don't be like that," the woman, possibly Kaylee, soothed. Peacekeeper of the group. She was still smiling, but now it was unsteady. "No need to fight." Jayne shrugged and moved into the passenger area at Greyson's prompting. Kaylee and her companion simply stood in the hold until Greyson realized they were still there. "What do you want, Simon?" he said. "You don't look so well," Simon said, taking a step toward the captain, who took a matching step back. "And I ain't lookin' to get your help. If anybody on this ship needs your help, it's the body in our infirmery," the captain said, voice still harsh, although for no reason that Casher could see. Kaylee was glancing about. "Jacob," she said haltingly. "Where's Zane? I thought he'd be the first face I'd see." Greyson glanced away from her painfully hopeful face. "He's on the slab in the infirmery. You got words, you can speak them, but he ain't talkin' back." Her smile, fragile as it was, fell away, leaving a horrified look to her. She very nearly sprinted to the back of the hold, an unusual sight to behold with her belly so distended, and vanished out of sight. "That was cruel," Casher said. "So's life. Get used to it," the captain snapped back. He looked to have not slept in a long while. "I must say I don't approve, sir." "I don't need no approval from you, Casher," he said, walking toward the back of the hold. He was interrupted by Jayne making a reappearance. "Good, I was about to run you down. Just where the hell are we headed, anyway?" Jayne stared between the two of them for a moment, as if thinking really hard on whether he should speak. The wheels didn't seem to turn overly quickly in that head of his, Casher deduced. Finally, he crossed his arms in that manner which most would find intimidating and took a breath in. "Londinum." <> "No." Jacob raised an eyebrow. "I can understand your reluctance to travel into the Core, but..." Anne smashed her small fist against the table, rattling the ugly metal thing Monday put in the center, claiming that it was an... what was that term? Objet d'art? What the hell language did that one come from. Jayne glanced up from his whetstone, which didn't cease in its rasping against his long knife. "You're asking me to walk into the lion's den, husband," she said slowly. "I am," Jacob said. "Point of fact, so're we," Jayne said, still intent on his weaponry. He had a shocking focus, of late. The focus of the bullet, one might call it. Just screaming for the slightest spark to explode into motion and violance. "That's..." she searched for words. "Suicide." "No," Jacob said, an smile creeping onto his face despite his efforts for it not to. Yesterday, there was no hope, and now... now there was hope. Now there was a chance. "It'll work because they'll never see it comin'." "They'll never see it comin' 'cause they ain't insane," Anne stressed. The blade on the whetstone paused for a moment, but Jayne otherwise gave no sign of overhearing. This was a man privy to a great many insane, yet successful, plans, Jacob sensed. "Don't need to be," Jacob said. "We've got internal schematics, a touch outdated, but I don't think they'd change a buildin' overmuch. We've got a body's actually been inside," he nodded to Simon, who was sharing the large, comfortable chair next to the door with his pregnant bride. "I was a touch concerned on not havin' a hacker of any skill, but miss sunshine over there can fill that niche." "You're not bringing my wife into this," Simon said darkly. "Fei hua," Kaylee said, slapping his arm. "Not like you can step into that buildin' nowadays anyhow." "Who is going in anyway?" Early asked. All eyes turned to him. "What?" "I'm just a touch concerned that you ain't asked on the percentage as yet," Jacob muttered. Simon, Jayne and Kaylee were still staring venom at the dark man in the fine, white shirt. "Not everything is a question of percentages," Early said calmly. "I'm sure mister Cobb can agree with that." In response, Jayne horked a ball of spit onto his whetstone and continued sharpening. Jacob took a step away from the head of the table, turning to take in his crew. His soldiers. He never wanted to think of them like that, but he'd couldn't escape the feelin' that he was neck deep in a war, and it was about time he started fighting one. "Jubel ain't wrong," Jacob said. "Not every-damn-thing in the 'Verse is a question of payment or percentages. This is about them's got took. Sylvia and River. If'n we're to get them back, we need t'all play our parts, and play them well. One part falls, and the whole ruttin' thing falls apart." "Parts?" Monday asked. "I will have no part in this." "Luckily for you, that's exactly what we have planned," Jacob said. "We're headed to Londinum, and I expect you to have a client picked out by the time we hit orbit." Her eyebrows rose. "I thought you said you weren't going back to the Core?" "Change of plans," Jacob said quickly. "You have some established clientelle in that area?" "I do," she answered. "Then run through them, and pick somebody out for an evening," the captain and the Companion stared at each other for a moment. "Now?" he prompted, and the woman gracefully rose from her seat opposite her sister and moved to her shuttle. He waited until she was gone before turning back to the gathered group. "That cuts her free of the backlash, which there might damn well be if somethin' goes south. It also gets us clearance to land on Londinum. They're more'n a mite touchy about who lands on the world, and lovely as Legacy is, I don't think she's the right sort for those hun dahn." "I'm not going out there," Anne said again, stubbornly. "Lucky for you," Jacob smiled, drawing a withering glare from his wife. "You're not going to leave this ship. This is the Core. There's sensors everywhere and where there ain't sensors there's Feds. Which is why you'll be stayin' right here. Also, makes for a quicker getaway, havin' a steady hand at the helm will be a fine thing." Anne grumbled just under earshot, and Jacob continued. "Simon won't be able to get very far into that building, before the security gets too tight for him to go any further. Lucky for him, he won't have to. Kaylee?" the woman perked up with a smile. "How'd you like to hack into the most advanced mainframe in the 'Verse?" She clapped her hands in excitement, and Simon pulled her a bit closer to him. "Don't feel left out. You'll be right there with her." "And if, by chance, we need somebody to deal with Federals?" Simon asked. "Don't trust your gun hand?" Jacob asked. "Fine. Early will watch the door." "No offence, but I'd rather be guarded by a rabid dog," Simon said darkly, staring daggers at the dark man. Jayne continued sharpening his knife, not even looking up. "I know there's an unpleasantness between you," Jacob stated. "Tough. Get over it. We all play our parts. Jubel can't get far into that building neither, and that's as worthy a post as he can serve. You might need him." "I'd still rather," Simon began. "We ain't talkin' on this," Jacob interrupted, managing to keep his voice smooth. "It's decided, and ain't a point to talkin' on what's been decided." His tone swept back up as he turned to Friday. "You, on the other hand, have an incredibly important task." "Which is?" the doctor asked. "There are three people on this ship that haven't pissed off the Alliance enough to reach the bottom floor of that dungeon. You, Jayne, and Colonel Northcutt." "Who's Colonel Northcutt?" Jayne asked, testing the edge against his thumb. "Me." "Since when?" Jacob chuckled. "You remember the horse goo job, near two years back?" Jayne grunted his affirmation. "You remember what I was wearin'?" "A uniform," Kaylee said. "Colonel," Jacob said. "Add in a master hack from Mister Universe, and I've got a solid, untraceable alternate identity." "Which Mister Universe?" Jayne asked, sliding his knife back into its scabbard and pulling out a gun and disassembling it. "All four of them," Jacob answered, pulling a grunt from the mercenary. He knew. "I can get into that building as an inspector, if Simon tells me correctly. Friday's a doctor. Doctor's a doctor's a doctor, with a bit of creative forgery, and she knows all the fancy words. That leaves you, Jayne. What are you?" "Going in," Jayne said bluntly, running over his weapon with a rag and oil. "Fine, we'll find something for you to amuse yourself with. One hitch. No bringin' Vera." "Don't have her no more," he said. Jacob actually grunted in surprise. He'd figured Jayne'd willingly give up his John Thomas before he lost that gun. "Fella with the location wanted somethin' weren't cash. He wanted his own Callahan Fullbore Autolock." Jacob was at a loss for words. "You... gave up Vera?" Jayne seemed all manner of uncomfortable at having everybody from Legacy still able to stand staring at him. Except for Casher, who had absolutely no idea the extreme amount of sentimental value Jayne had for that weapon. Until now, it seemed. "If it gets my River out," Jayne said quietly, "it'll be worth it." "Fine then. Sidearm weapons only, which probably means none of Petaline." "Petunia," Jayne corrected. "Whatever. We'll be in the lion's den. Everybody else had to do their thing," Jacob stared around the room. "Where does that leave me, sir?" Casher asked. "Considerin' your especially conspicuous manner, here, watchin' out for Anne. Or out there, on Londinum, if you feel the desire to go. Y'ain't crew, and I can't order you to do nothing for me." Jacob answered. "That's the plan. If any's got a better one, I'd love to hear it." Silence greeted him. "Fine then," he said, sitting himself down. "Anne, get ready to land on that tian di wu yohn rock." "I still don't like this plan," she muttered, making her way to the bridge. He glanced back to the mercenary, who was now studiously blocking out everything around him. "When did you know?" Jacob said. Jayne looked up, his blue eyes roiling under the surface. His uncouth lips writhed for a moment, and he hung his head for a moment. "Near on a month," the man replied, unsteadily. Simon got a suspicious look to him. "What happened a month ago?" he asked. Jayne looked back up. "Saw her... I saw my River dance." Simon stared for a moment, but his expression had softened rather a lot. "I never thought I'd say this, but I understand," the doctor said, pulling Kaylee close. "It's like Kaylee and her machines, like Wash was with his flying. With her, dance is a pure expression of her soul." "Only two men on that ship seen my River while she danced," Jayne said, staring into the distance, despite the fairly close quarters of the ship. "I never thought I'd ever get somethin' like that in my life. Merc's don't usual get a long life expectency. Most don't even last s'long as I have. And..." "And she feels the same," Kaylee finished for him. Simon stared at her now. "What? We got to talkin'." "Am I always the last to know these things?" Simon asked, sounding more annoyed than aghast. "Usually," both Jayne and Kaylee answered. Simon glanced between them, and sighed. "Fine, If you all don't mind," he said, rising, and bringing his wife up with him. "I'm going to get some rest. Breaking into the most well guarded facility in the Core is hard work, or so I hear." The two made their way out of the kitchen, leaving Jayne staring at his still disassembled firearm. "You know," Jayne said, as soon as they were both out of earshot. "She near miscarried three times. Like that kid don't want to come out alive," he glanced back up. "This ain't your fight, Jacob." "It is. They have Syl, and I'm gettin' her back." Jayne nodded, piecing together his handgun in a flash. "You're my kinda crazy, pal." Jacob grinned. "And you're my kinda stupid. Now we still got an ass load of work to do, and best we get to ironin' out the wrinkles now." As Jacob pulled apart the schematics that Simon had helpfully provided, and began to run through them. He wondered if the Syl he found would be worse than the one he saw on Paquin. Then an even worse thought occured to him: Jacob wondered if there was any worse she could get. <> Agent Blue stared at the screen for a moment. Then he looked at the pair standing before him. He'd had two chairs prepared for them, but they opted not to take them. Again, despite his near photographic memory, he glanced at the screen. He wasn't exactly sure why he did so. His senses had never failed him in the past. Oh, now he remembered, staring at those three enfuriating words. Full Parliamentary Override. "I don't immediately understand the reason for this visit," Agent Blue said smoothly. "It should be abundantly clear," John said, fixing him with dark eyes. Blue let the look slide over him. "Posit on the premise that I do not," Blue said. Jane laughed. Laughed! He'd heard of her before. She had been given the entrance tests to this facility in her youth, and she almost passed. Almost crossed from that world and into his. His world. He even knew her name, not the ridiculous throwback to the nomenclature saved for unidentified cadavers located in the western world. But he would not bring that up. It had no relevance. "You have somebody that might be useful to us," John said, casting 'Jane' a quieting look. There was some dischord between them, perhaps? Something to be exploited. True, it would be leverage in an entirely different circle, but every bit of leverage was a precious commodity. "I had heard that the Alliance had no further interest in telepaths," Blue said, a calculated smile on his dark face. "Something to do with a number of secrets you allowed to be leached. Somewhat important ones, if my memory serves." Jane smiled, then, no doubt sensing his cerebration. While she was by no means telepathic, she had a way of knowing. He sometimes wondered, reading those old files, whether somebody had made a mistake in letting her slip away. Her reality matrix was already splintered, so there would have been very little lost in the process... No, now was not the time for such rumination. John, frightfully devoid of such insight, darkened a touch at the percieved insult. Sometimes, the mundane were simply too easy to manipulate. "She is important to us," Jane said, "because she is a direct and close link to a target. That is all you need to know." Interesting. He hadn't expected her to take control of the situation at this point. Or at all, in point of fact. He leaned back in his chair, steepling his blue-gloved fingers and reaching out with his mind. As he expected, he felt the shards of her mind, a brutal mine-field he would no doubt injure himself trying to traverse. He recoiled back into himself carefully, not giving any signal of his trespass. "And who would this important woman be?" Blue asked. There were only two subjects in the facility at the moment, and both were female. If it was for the one that the Coordinator had struggled so hard to reclaim, he would have to kill these people, status as Parliamentary Operatives be damned. If they requested a name not here... well, their kind could stand to wait for a while. A few weeks, as it turned out. "Sylvia Witherell," Jane answered. She really was taking inititive. Blue ran a swift probe of John, nothing deep, just a moment to get a measure of him. At first, it was like pushing into an orange, skin not easy to puncture casually, but the needles of his will pierced that rind and took a quick feel of what lie beneath. Frustration, in plentiful amounts, and a bit of shame. He was not in charge. How... odd. "And she will be useful... how?" Blue asked. "She is intimately familiar with Jacob and his ship. Moreover, she knows how they both think," Jane said. "There can be no more valuable person in this hunt." "She is so valuable to you?" "Yes," John said simply, attempting not to betray his annoyance that she had asserted herself. "Well," Blue said, sitting forward. "To me, she is more." Jane grinned. "I'm sure she is." "You would do well to silence yourself," John chastised. "Who is in command between us?" Jane asked sweetly. John glanced away. "Who?" "You are," he admitted sourly. "Then bi zwei and let the elders speak," she said. An odd choice of words, considering she was almost a decade younger than 'John'. "What is she to you?" "Valuable." "Too valuable to speak with?" Blue stood, spreading his blue gloves on the table. "I know how you 'speak with' people. They have a tendency to become impaled." "Would it help if you were present?" she tried, smiling wide. Had he been a man of lusts, that sort of smile would have him buckling in an instant. Still, her offer was sound. She couldn't harm his charge with him present, no matter how hard she tried. He paused a few moments, feigning the pondering most others had to suffer over the course of seconds. "Very well. Come with me," he bade. John took a step to follow, but Blue pointed him out. "You will remain here. Only one may come, and it will be her." "Why?" John demanded. "Reasons which, I believe, should be obvious," Blue said. He waited a moment for the implication to sink in. John truly was too dense to live. With John set down, Blue showed Jane the way to the holding cell, not far away. They had yet to do anything with Sylvia, yet. The researchers had a long way to travel to meet her, even longer than those who were here for the Tam girl. They hadn't seen Sylvia's like in decades. Until they arrived, holding her any deeper in the building was pointless. The walls were an odd shade of green that never really agreed with Agent Blue, and lead everywhere in this facility. The deeper levels, which had been created after the Tam debaucle, had a different paint scheme, but that was an issue for another time. He pushed open the thick door which was magnetically, vaccuum and mechanically sealed, to prevent any attempt at forcing, and waved Jane into the chair that sat in front of the table. Facing the mirror, after a fashion, was miss Witherell. Her shackled hands were on the table, and she stared at nothing. She was much thinner than she had been before, and only the super-nutrient solutions they were piping into her were filling her out again. It looked as if the woman had nearly starved to death, and then never got around to eating heartily afterwards. "This is her?" Jane said. In truth, she didn't seem to think it was a question. Sylvia didn't respond, or even acknowledge that she was sharing the room with anything but the drips which supplied drugs and nutrients twenty four hours a day. Blue nodded, and she sat on the table, stretching out until she was lying belly down on the damn thing, staring directly into the telepath's eyes. Whereas John's mind was an orange, and Jane's a forest of razor glass, Sylvia's was a twisting hell of slivers and shanks, with absolutely no safe way in. Every time he found an opening, a strange leather mask seemed to appear. A pale, leather mask. Was somebody keeping her mind cloistered? Or rather, had something been directly responsible for her state? She was listed, both in the Bloodlines and in the public health registery as having a hereditary proclivity towards mental disorder. Too many factors to account for at one time. He would be quite happy indeed when the mice with their white coats came to deal with her. However long that would regrettably take. "You said you were going to talk to her," Blue said, after several minutes of silence. "Shhh," Jane hushed, keeping her face mere inches away from Sylvia's, staring into the woman's blue-green eyes. "She's telling me a lot." "Excuse me?" "Box," Jane said. "A box of six simple sides. Locked from the inside." "How are you?" he began. "Love, and death. The two are intertwined. Sides of a coin," Jane continued. She glanced to Blue. "She sees the truth of things. Things which haven't happened yet." Inside, Blue paled a bit. How could this woman know that Sylvia was a PreCog? Only he himself, and the Coordinator knew that. Sylvia finally stirred, snatching upward with her hands, and grabbing at Jane's throat. The Operative smoothly slid back, even managing to take a seat in the chair as she did so, as Sylvia snapped and thrashed. After a moment, the fit receeded, and the woman became still again, in almost the exact same position she was before. "He's going to kill you," Sylvia said softly. "Who is?" Jane asked kindly. When Sylvia didn't answer, Jane's smile dropped off. "Who is?" she asked again, a great deal more harshly. She did have a great many facets, this woman. "Death... dead man..." "I'm going to be killed by a dead man?" Jane shook her head. "Is she always this helpful?" "We haven't had her long, but she seems to be in a rather deep psychosis. Also, she seems reluctant to sleep. If you like, you can try again in the morning." Jane stared at the now catatonic woman on the other side of the wall-bolted table, then sighed. "Very well, Agent. I'll go collect my partner," she muttered, frustration plain upon her. Agent stared after her as she left, and bade a Supervisor to make sure she went directly to the other operative. His duty done, he pondered the nature of the PreCog sitting at the table. "She is a four-cross," came a very familiar but unexpected voice. Agent Blue glanced about, but the Coordinator was nowhere to be seen. Of course he wasn't. He almost never came to the upper levels. Still, his voice, and his will, were heard and felt. "I am aware of that," Agent Blue replied. "Do you wish to mate with her?" the Coordinator asked, voice flatter than a salesman discussing an uninteresting dinner. Blue frowned. "I assumed that was... discouraged... amongst the Agents," Blue responded. "It is. I will not stand for diluting the Bloodlines. You, however are a part of them. The question stands. Would you mate with her?" Witherell's head rose, facing the direction the Coordinator's voice seemed to come from. It was an abstract constructed in Agent Blue's mind, that directionality, but she managed to face it precisely. She spoke, a string of words which would have been smooth and poetic had they not been delivered so harshly. And in no language he understood, despite the fact that he knew almost all of them. "What did she say?" he asked of the Coordinator. The voice was silent for a time, as if stunned. "If he touches her," Sylvia translated for him, "she will kill him. Painfully." "I think you overrate your abilities," Blue said placatingly. "No power in the 'Verse can stop her," she said softly. "That is a bold statement for a woman in your position," Blue muttered. "Not the Sylvia," the woman laughed. "Flows-As-Water." Blue frowned. He hadn't considered the possibility of offspring, but there it was. He considered her critically, then. She was somewhat attractive, if one had a proclivity towards her type. Moreover, she had a strong intellect, if not on par with his own, and she was a four-cross, a geneticly assured telepath. Any offspring between the two of them would have about a two percent chance of not being telepathic. But, even as he considered this, he remembered that the offspring would be no benifit of his. He had desires, aspirations. Offspring were irrelevent to them. "Good," Sylvia said, detaching her blue-green eyes from the furious glare she locked him with. Had she actually... read him? He hadn't considered the possibility. Especially with the Guard he wore to keep her out. He made a note of not going near miss Tam any time soon. That would be an unpleasant experience. "You are not so cunning as you believe," Agent Blue said. Sylvia smiled then. "That's true," she laughed, staring up and away from him. "That is very... very true." <> Simon stared at the dark man who pointedly didn't look at them, thinking over a thousand unpleasant things to call the man. Early shot him. That was rather unpleasant. He'd threatened Kaylee, giving her nightmares which almost drove her mad, which was unforgivable. Simon had eventually helped her past that, but still. She didn't deserve to ever be afraid. "How are you coming?" Simon asked, simply to break the awkward silence. Truth be told, he'd rather it be awkward and silent, because that meant it wouldn't become comfortable. Early didn't deserve a moment of comfort. He was a evil man, whatever Greyson thought of him. "Just shiny," she said idly, completely absorbed in her task. Early leaned back into the room, glancing at them, much to the disgust of the doctor. "How long is this going to take?" Early spoke softly, dark devil's eyes not settling long in any one place. "As long as it takes," Simon said, words clipped and harsh. Early frowned a moment. "You still dislike me," Early said. "You're God-damned right I dislike you," Simon said, acidic and low. "You tried to take River away." "And failed miserably," Early muttered. "You shot me," Simon pointed out. "Kaylee shot me back." "You haunted her dreams for months," Simon said, now in full voice. "And she still haunts mine!" Early actually shouted, freezing everybody in the room for a moment as they worried if anybody heard. Early was the quickest to recover, continuing. "I haven't had a decent night's sleep in almost a year and a half. Every time I fall asleep, there she is." "I am getting a strong urge to hurt you," Simon muttered. "She's always indicting," Early whispered, his eyes locked onto the far side of the hall. "Always... I've hurt a lot of people, doctor Tam." "Still have that urge." "Jing tsai!" Kaylee laughed, oblivious to the exchange behind her, save for the shouting. The screens began to cycle through cameras which patrolled the lower floors of the building. She smiled wide as she began to run through the cameras, until she found one watching a room with a blonde woman and a dark skinned man in blue gloves. She activated the transmitter and spoke. "Jacob? Jayne? Y'all hearin' me?" "Surer'n hell, mei-mei," Jayne said. "What do you have?" Jacob asked. She stared at the screen, as if to make perfectly sure, then spoke again. "I've found your woman. She ain't far in, neither," she tapped a few more buttons, that concentrating look on her face. "You should be getting the coordinates, Friday." "Got'm," Friday's voice chimed in. "Damn, ain't far at all, is it?" "What now?" Early asked. Simon shot him another look of pure venom. "Now," Simon said, "we start to look for my sister." <> The music was terrible. Elevator music always was, so far as he knew. Jacob glanced around, as the numbers dropped first to zero, then started to grow in the negatives. The number stopped growing a good long while ago, and they hadn't started to slow in the slightest. How damn far down did this building go? Simon said at least a good hundred yards down, but it was hard to believe it was only that far. "You remember the plan?" "Yeah, no shootin' till we's on our way out," Jayne said curtly. Or it would have been curt, if Jayne understood what curt was. He was awful damn focused, of late. "Just don't say anything," Friday reminded him. "Ain't a thing comes out of your mouth as won't give us right the hell away." Jayne grunted something, but otherwise put on a look of frustration that served Jacob's purposes perfectly well. Frustrated folk usually didn't appreciate bein' talked to, and the less took a talkin' to Jayne, the better. Jacob just ground his teeth, and waited for the doors to open. Annoyance and impatience. That was his role. Here to see the newest toy the Blue Sun had worked up. Getting past the guards upstairs was utter child's play, considering that according to the IdentCard in his pocket, he was a decorated veteran of the Unification war, cited for valor at Du Khang and Shadow. Nobody wanted to hold back a war-hero. Even a one which happened to be false. He felt his Mauser resting in his sidearm holster and felt a bit of confidence. If anything happened, he'd be ready. He felt the cool metal of his sword running up his back, and took confidence in that, too. The doors finally opened, showing a maze of hallways painted an unpleasant greenish hue. He turned to Friday, who pointed straight ahead. She made it seem that she was arranging notes on her data-book, but she was actually running through schematics and camera feeds. He took point, leading the makeshift procession through the building. At some points, inquisitive eyes watched him, blue-gloved hands lacing in curiousity. None made to stop him, though. They continued forward until they reached a security checkpoint, or what passed for one. A man with black gloves stood in the middle of the room, looking at them each in turn. Jayne, he lingered on the longest, finally turning back to Jacob. Silently, he thanked Sylvia for showing him how to block things in, and at the same time, out. "You have undergone conditioning," the black gloved one said, sounding a bit intrigued. "I have," Jacob said simply. And honestly, after a fashion. "I was under the impression that you wanted this project... scuttled." "There is some disagreement on that point," Jacob said, keeping his words short and irritated. "I was informed that you just managed to find a new... subject. She is of interest to me." Jacob's brother always said the best lies are those which are mostly truth, and he believed it. The black gloved man tipped his head, and Jacob felt something... like when Sylvia was rattling around unwanted. Back before Boros, by which he meant. She'd gotten sneaky since then. So this one was a telepath, was he? He shored up his defenses. "Things might go faster if you..." the telepath said. "Not going to happen," Jacob said harshly. "I have no intention of repeating the Parliament's last mistake. The telepath shrugged. "Very well. Wait here while I consult with the Agent," he said, stopping to stare off into the distance. After a moment, the telepath nodded and waved them toward the back of the room. Toward the heart of the complex. "He will be waiting for you." The parade of sorts took them deeper in, past the pipes and processors. The building got even more stark as one went deeper, and Jayne looked about ready to twist somebody's head off with his bare hands. River must have told him about this place. Hell, from what he'd gathered from the three, he'd have a bit of a rage thinkin' on this place his own self. The hall ended with an abrubt left turn, leaving them in a sort of un-doored office. A dark man stared with shockingly blue eyes over blue gloved hands, seeming to see right through Jacob's skin and his bones, beholding his naked soul. He recognized this man, from that video Friday got. Elias had called him Agent Blue, and he was a man of no small influence in this place. Or so he gathered. "This seems to be a busy day for us," Blue said, rubbing his temples. It was rather late in the night in the city of York, more an advantage for Jacob who wasn't on their circadian rhythm. The man, no doubt quite fatigued, didn't give Greyson more than a summary brush before moving on. Blue's gaze lingered on Friday for a long moment, then moved past Jacob again, to Jayne. "You might want to see to him, Colonel Northcutt. Some of our subjects might find that sort of thinking... disruptive." Jacob gave Jayne a look, telling him to not say a word. "I'll make sure he scrubs it with wire brush, if need be," Jacob said flatly. "What do you want?" Blue said bluntly. Jacob almost laughed at his luck. The man seemed to have been here more hours than any man should be forced to work in succession, and was almost asleep on his feet. "Access to speak with a telepath held in this facility." "Who?" "Witherell," Friday said, glancing to her board. "Sylvia." <> Early was standing entirely too close to her, Simon decided. "What is it?" he demanded, but Early brushed her off, staring at the feeds. He reached out to one of the displays and tapped on it. "Cycle through those ones again," he said quietly. Kaylee had pulled as far away from him as the room would allow, but now had to move somewhat close to Early to continue her work. The screens flicked past quickly. "Wait, go back," he said. The screens flicked in the opposite wise, and Early leaned back. "Tzao gao," he muttered, almost seeming to pale. Which would have been an interesting trick for somebody so unabashedly dark. "What is it?" Early didn't bother answering Simon's very simple question. He instead snatched the transmitter from Kaylee and took a step back. "Jacob, listen up, we've got a hell of a snag. Jacob? Are you listening?" He watched as the cameras cycle again, bringing the office into view. Jacob, Friday and Jayne were standing at one side, and a man with Blue gloves was seated at the other. "Fine, I know you can't talk," Early said, voice bordering on panic. "They're here, Jacob." <> Agent Blue frowned, standing up from his desk and moving toward him. "That was interesting," the man said. "Did somebody talk to you?" "I..." Jacob didn't have to search hard for confusion and unease. "Somebody... spoke to me." "What did she say?" Blue asked. "They're hurting us," Jacob said, remembering something Simon said. "Get me out." Blue frowned. "She does that sometimes. Sylvia. You're not the only one to ask after her today." "So I hear," Jacob said. How was that possible? How could they have gotten here before him? How had they known... and then it occured to him, they hadn't. They had come here for Sylvia. Because she was a link to him. To her. "Operatives of the Parliament," He said, stifling a yawn. "First the government, now the military. I am beginning to think there is more to this woman than meet's the eye." "That is for me to decide," Jacob stated bluntly. "Very well," Blue said. He waved vaguely to an offshoot from his area. "She is in a holding area, awaiting our researchers. An agent will escort you there." Jacob turned a bit, and barely held in the start when he noticed the blue-gloved man standing behind him. The man was eeriely silent, a compact man with greying hair, and eyes which were as flashing and intent as Blue's. Jacob nodded to the man, noting as Blue walked away. He'd had to have been here a damn long time. The squat man lead them away, down the green halls, the pipes and the processors. The man stopped at the door, waving them toward it. Jacob looked pointedly at the nearest screen, knowing Kaylee would pick up the look. She'd better. Violence was about to ensue. The group entered the room, noting Sylvia still seated at the table. Jacob moved to her, staring at her. She stared back, more or less. Through him, it seemed. "You still there?" Jacob asked. "Somebody's lying," Sylvia said, voice sing-song, eyes still unfocused. Jacob's jaw tightened, lookin' on the swarm of tubes that poured who-knows-what into Sylvia's arm. Jacob cast a look to Jayne, and another to the Agent. Jayne mightn't be so swift when it came to thinkin', but when it came to violance, the man was a poetic laureate. Jayne grabbed the man by the back of the neck and dragged him into the room, smashing his head on the wall next to the mirror as he did so. The man rebounded, but seemed still cogent, and reached for his pocket. Jayne didn't stop there, though. With a quick, uncharacteristic blow to the sturnum, he knocked the blue-gloved agent back into the wall, causing his head to crack against the concrete. A third blow, a haymaker much more to Jayne's style, dropped the man senseless to the floor. The man grinned, finally able to work out some agression. "You want I should plug him?" Jayne asked. "No, let him breathe," Friday said. "He won't even remember the last few minutes, the way you hit him." Jacob picked up his rod thing and snapped it in half, a surprisingly easy act. He wouldn't have anybody bleedin' out the eyes on his watch. Jacob. "Gah!" Jacob croaked, spinning back to find Sylvia standing right behind him. Her manacles were burst, and the drug lines now lay dripping on the floor. She stared through him for a moment, then her eyes seemed to register him. "They suspect," she said, voice faint. "We don't have much time." Jacob nodded and fingered his ear. "Kaylee, where's River?" "Ain't rightly sure," the bubbly mechanic's voice came over the line. "'Cordin' to this computer, ain't nowhere else in that buildin' where they'd keep her." "So she's not here?" Jayne sounded somewhere between panic and rage. "Ain't sayin' that. There's a lot of power bein' diverted somewhere below you. There's another floor, one they don't want you knowin' on." Jayne perked up at this, but his optimism was short lived. He got a right disturbed look, his eyes focused well past the walls. "She's hurtin'. She wants out. I don't think she knows I'm here," somehow, that last part sounded the saddest from his diatribe. He turned to Sylvia, who was staring intently, almost straight down. "You know where they got her held?" he asked. She stared for a moment more, then looked at her captain for what seemed like the first time in a lifetime. "Things are going to get much worse," she said. Then she began to walk. <> "Turn that off," John said, his back still toward her. "Unlike you, we mere humans need sleep." Jane smiled over to him, "I'm shocked," she said. "That was very nearly a joke." "It won't happen again," John said dourly, still not taking a moment to look her way. Jane frowned and turned to the screen. John was unlucky in that he often required absolute darkness and silence to sleep. It was somewhat ironic, in that the man snored like a ship tearing itself apart once he did sleep. She ran over the raw code again. Something was off. Very off. She couldn't quantify it, but she knew it was true. She was always right when she knew it. It was an inevitability. Unmistakable and immutable as gravity used to be. Before humanity learned to harness it, twist it to whatever end could be thought for it. She searched the code, and the code searched her. There. She looked at it again. Yes, it was there. Somebody was hacking this system. Seeing through her eyes. That wasn't right. Something to be remedied. She pulled her sword off out of the case, the ring of its finest alloys and construction sending a shudder into the air. Men had broken to weeping at the sound. John simply rolled over from his cot and frowned at her. "What are you doing?" he demanded, still not rising. "Unwelcome guests above," she said, staring at the screen. "Rats. Vermin. Have to be eradicated." "Who?" John said. "Four of them. One is a dark candle..." Even Jane didn't know what that one meant, nor even where it came from. She shook her head and stood, adjusting her thin shirt as she belted the scabbard down the back of it. John rolled his eyes for a second, but then looked at the screen. "Is that?" "Tam," she said, throwing open the door and striding out into the corridor. <> "What now?" Jacob said, staring at a smooth wall. Sylvia glared at him as if he was being all manner of stupid, and kicked the wall. It swung backward, like a door, revealing a narrow, steep stairwell. She gave him a you-are-a-dummy look, and made her way down into the blackness. The group made their way down, vanishing from even their own perception as they reached the darkest reaches. At the bottom, illuminated by a crack of light about eye-level for a slightly taller man, was a door. "Helpful," Jacob muttered. "More'n like it's locked." As he finished the words, Sylvia walked up and pushed open the door. It swung open, but bumped into something, keeping it from becoming totally open. Sylvia moved through first, and when Jacob followed, he saw a man with shockingly blue eyes on the floor next to the portal. His entire body looked like it had been squeezed until the blood had just run out of him. Sylvia smiled shyly for a moment, then dropped, shaking. As she flailed on the floor, in the midst of a convulsion, the door down the short hall opened, revealing an older gentleman, rotund and Chinese, by the look of him. "What happened?" "We were transporting her back to her holding cell," Friday managed to say. "She just..." "What about him?" the doctor asked, obviously distressed. "Did she...?" "Affirmative," Jacob said. "Then she began to..." "What did you do?" the doctor demanded, suspicious. Jacob looked to Friday, but it was Jayne who spoke. "I tried applying the cortical electrodes," Jayne explained. "but was unable to get a neural response from the patient." The doctor frowned at him. "Why would you apply cortical electrodes to a seizure?" Jayne looked to Jacob, shrugged, and grabbed the doctor, bashing his head against the stone. The rotund man collapsed to the floor. Jayne didn't grin this time. He was too close. He walked to the door the doctor had come out of, but found it still locked. He tugged on it a moment, then growled a rather florid profanity. Even as he stomped away, Sylvia got up, wiping the spittle from her chin and stretching to get the kinks out of her thrashed frame. "Over there," Friday said, pointing to the room opposite it. Jayne opened the door, and was greeted by a storage room. Friday glanced about, and began clearing the shelves. "What in the sphincter a' hell are you doing?" Jacob asked. Sylvia smiled knowingly. "You said yourself that we're near to gone out here, and any one of these bottles," she held one up to demonstrate, before stuffing it into her pocket, "will sell for a goodly amount out on the Border." When she had filled every pocket to capacity, she turned to the computer that sat unobtrusively at the back. "This, on the other hand, is what I was looking for," she muttered, taking a seat on the bucket which had been left next to the console. "What is it?" Jacob asked, watching as she activated the door locks on the door opposite. She gave him a look, but he pointed to what the screen had been on before she changed things. "No, that." She frowned and brought the previous list back up. Names. Thousands. Millions. "Good God," Friday whispered. "Wait, there's Syl." she pointed out the name, right at the bottom of the screen. Sylvia E. Witherell. Her name was enclosed in a square comprised of red, green, blue and white boxes. One above her, Thurman, was three quarters of a box, with the blue missing. "I think it's a bloodline," Jacob said. "Look there." This time, he pointed to an entry that caught his eye, distant to one side. River Tam. Also, with the four box square. Simon was identical, but his name was grey rather than black, just like everybody else with an incomplete square. "Telepaths," Sylvia said. "Psions. Witches." "Woh deh ma," Friday muttered. "They've been tracking the bloodlines which code for that for..." she scrolled all the way to the top. It took a while. Jayne shuffled impatiently. "Earth-that-was. This thing reaches back more than five hundred years. There are billions of entries, Jacob. Billions." "That's a hell of a family tree," Jacob said. "You're in it." Friday said, pointing. "Wwwhat?" the captain said. He then saw his own name. Yup. There it was. Jacob Greyson. With one red box. "How about we stop standin' around scratchin' our nuts and get my River out of here?" Jayne asked testily. "You're in here too," Friday said with a laugh. Two boxes. Jayne weren't nearly so impressed. He pulled down a bottle of something and slammed it into the floor. "How about we stow the lollygagin' and get the hell back to the job?" Jayne was on the edge of a fury, now. Friday glanced back to him, and went back to the screen she'd shifted to. One more keystroke, and a loud hissing sounded from across the hall. "Go," Friday said softly. Kindly. She nodded toward Sylvia. "I'll look to Syl, you get your woman." Jayne didn't hesitate a second, forcing his way out so quickly that the door banged on the stone. He threw the door to the opposite cell in much the same way, powering through the short passage and flinging open the last door and taking her in. River was standing. Her arms were bloodied and torn, as if she'd ripped something out of them, and the chair had been torn off of its. Her bare feet tracked through the puddles which dripped down from her. Dark eyes stared out, a wild beast. She flung herself at Jayne, striking him in the chest with a small fist. She screamed in that language Sylvia seemed to use from time to time. Jayne weathered the assualt, stopping her by gripping her wrists. When she was stopped, she began to weep. "I didn't think you were coming for me," the girl... woman, now, Jacob supposed, weeped. Jayne smiled down at her, wrapping his arms around her comfortingly. "Well," he said, eyes welling damply, "you're a dummy." River smiled, then, throwing her arms around him. Jayne brushed the wild hair away from face with surprisingly delicate fingers. "Touching," Jacob said. "Now with the getting away?" <> He popped the last of the night's medication into his mouth and swollowed. So damn much just to keep him from dying. He always had an untrustworty mental chemistry, and the best he could do was get not dead. He sighed, walking around the ship. It was dark, now, waiting. Anne was up on the bridge, staring at the hallway. A gun in her hand, he noted. There was a clunk as the shuttle connected in the number two spot. Not the rest of them. He wondered how Monday could have gotten away so quickly. She appeared to him quickly, storming out of her shuttle in a huff. "There some sort of problem," Casher said, talking up to her from his spot at the crux. "Sometimes, I think, I must be reminded that incivility knows no borders. I wish to leave." "Not going to happen," Casher responded. "Captain Greyson hasn't returned yet." She frowned, but didn't say anything. He should have been back by now. The plan was rather specific on that. Casher set down his cup and hopped down to the floor. Reaching around, he stretched and cracked his knuckles. Not like there was anything else to do on this ship. He'd hit a writer's block something fierce, so he needed to clear his head. And a little danger was great at that. He strode off the ramp into the night. <> "Where did they go?" Early asked again. "For the eleventh time, I don't know," Kaylee said, "They just done vanished." The screens ran through the exact same things. Time and time again, it seemed. Where could they be? He was getting uneasy. He didn't like it when he got uneasy. A flicker of movement caught his eye, and the doctor pointed it out first. "There," he said, eyes wide. "There they are!" Sure enough, there they were. Jacob and Jayne were taking point, and River was close behind the hulking mercenary. Almost standing in his shadow, it seemed like. A man in blue gloves noticed them, and shouted. Jacob didn't pause, pulling out his Mauser and putting a bullet into the man's skull. That, of course, set off the alarms. "That wasn't smart," Early said, turning toward the door. Somebody was standing there. "I should say it wasn't," Jane said, smiling in that maniac way she did. Early stared blankly for a moment. "Excuse me?" Simon said, dead to rights, but still clinging to decorum. That clinging stopped when Jane reached behind her head and the hiss of metal filled the space between thin whistles, the only alarm to be heard but a constant companion. The couple retreated a pace, backing into the wall. "Not nice to eavesdrop, mister Tam," Jane said around a grin. "Not nice at all. You don't belong here." "Ah... I..." Simon said, but Jane pointed her sword at Early. "You're more interesting, though. Where is she?" the woman demanded, face becoming flat and expressionless. "You're not going to get her," Jubel said, taking a step back. After a few steps, he found himself opposite Simon at Kaylee's side. "I am very good at extracting information," she said, taking a long step into the room, that silver tongue of razor steel out before her. "What is?" Kaylee managed, eyes locked on the weapon. "Operative of the Parliament," Early explained. "Mayhaps you'll be a bit more cooperative when the good doctor is less a few knuckles?" Jane said, still far enough away to remain outside his grasp, and still close enough to cut them all down. "Not very likely," Early said. The only way he could protect them now was to make this crazy woman think they were of no importance to him. "Oh," she said. Her weapon twitched left and down, pointed directly at Kaylee's protruding belly. "Maybe the little guest would be a bit more usefull in that regard?" Early's mouth was suddenly struck still. He could stomach a great deal of brutality, but the one time he vomited on the job was when he happened upon a serial killer who's fetish was killing pregnant mothers. He couldn't do this. "No? Very well," she said, thrusting forward. Jubel closed his eyes. Early grunted in pain as he felt the sword lance him. He opened his eyes, beholding Kaylee's face before his own, shock and surprise plain on her face. Just for a moment, though. Because an instant later, Simon dragged her away from him, and from the blade which had almost impaled her unborn child. He saw that look on her face as she vanished through the door. That was a look he'd been waiting for since Serenity. Something he wanted. Needed. Forgiven. He felt the steel slide back out of him, and Jane turned to cut down the retreating pair, but Early willed his limbs to motion grabbing the slender woman and slamming her against the wall. His chest burned brutally, every motion absolute torture. Which made her kneeing his wound a torment he had never experienced in his existence. He didn't doubt that he'd done it to others, but to feel it... he really was a wrong, unrighteous. A bad man. Reducing a scream to a loud pained grunt, he tried to kick out the Operative's knee. With both his chest-wound and the subsequent smashing, added with the fact that she was nimble as a snake, she managed to evade him easily. A flick of her wrist sent the blade flashing through the confined space, and Early recoiled away before it took off his hand. He almost succeeded. He saw that he was missing the ends of his fingers before he felt it. Adrenaline was a fine thing, keep a man fighting when he should lie down. Keep a runner running when his heart ought simply die. He balled his mangled hand into a similarly mangled fist and smashed it into Jane's face. This must have took the woman by utter surprise, because the blade sprung away from her fingers. Early leapt after it, closing his not-so-ruined hand on the hilt and rising to his feet. He swung the blade as best he could with his compounding injuries, trying to split her from shoulder go groin. He missed entirely as she dodged around him. He felt her grab onto his shoulder and he elbowed her in the face. He swung the blade again, and just as easily, she dodged once more. A second time, she grasped his shoulder, but this time, she drove her fingertips into Early's back, right beside his spine. There was a moment of incredible pain, undescribable, really. Then there was nothing. The sword clattered to the floor from out his benumbed fingers. He couldn't feel his wounds any more, small mercy in that. Janet circled to face him, holding her fingers to her bleeding nose. She nodded. "Not bad," she muttered. "It's been a very long time since the blood on my face was my own." Early tried to comment on that, but his mouth didn't seem to work. The woman kneeled down on the ground, slamming the pommel down and bracing up the blade. The scarletted tip was aimed directly at Early's heart, he could tell just by the way she was positioned. "Do you know what your sin is?" she asked him. She stared at him for a moment, that smile returning to her lips. "Wrath. Your sin is wrath." That was about when Early's feet slipped out from under him. He felt a slight pressure on his chest, but didn't need to see to know exactly where the blade had pierced him. The already-darkness of the room got darker still. "There is no shame in this," he heard a woman say. Who was it? Mamma? Is that you? "No shame in a man's death. A man who has sacrificed himself for those he cares for." His eyes took in the stars around him. Was he outside? When had it become night? The stars were so many colors. Yellow and blue and red and green. He stared at them, and they stared back. He could do this, now. He was forgiven. "It will do you no good, though," the woman's voice continued, as if from the end of a very long tunnel. He felt his position changed somehow, as if flipped. "We will find them, though. They cannot escape." The voice disappeared, then, leaving Early alone. Just him and the stars. He felt as if he were floating, listening to the song of the constellation as everything came to a stop. He stared at the stars, and he felt it all going away. Well, he thought. Here I am. <> The hail of gunfire was more than a bit unnerving. Even more so by the fact that almost none of it was actual bullets. Every now and then, the guards would hurl a grenade at them, a stunner, no doubt, but every time, River would snatch it out of the air and throw it back. Jacob had run out of bullets a long time ago, and despite only having three people and a door between him and his way out, he felt like he hadn't done nearly enough. Sylvia, unlike River, was huddling next to him, rocking as she wept. She wasn't afraid, that he could tell. Something else. Bein' reduced to hurling insults at the guards didn't help his calm one bit, neither. Finally, she spoke, a quiet whisper against the blaring of sonic weapons and the hissing of laserfire, lasers fired high, only to frighten. "So dark a candle, bright against the night," she said, as if quoting poetry. "So long to burn, so quick to gutter." "So dar..." Friday said, from where she huddled, fairly close to Syl. The doctor didn't have much of a head for fightin', seemed like. Her eyes came back up, an epiphany plain in them. "Early." "Try aimin' for the table next time," Jayne bellowed. "An' y'might hit my head!" "What's wrong with Early?" Jacob asked. "Guttered," Sylvia said. "Snuffed," River corrected, eyes scanning the crowd of folk. Sylvia stopped her rocking, staring at the other telepath instead. "He's... Who?" "Green eyes... What?" River asked as Sylvia laid hands upon her. The young telepath shuddered, then stared down at her belly, covered as it was by the unattractive gown they had her dressed in. "They took... You gave me...?" "What the hell?" Jayne said, finally resorting to throwing a shoe at the guards. It had about the expected effect. River was smiling brightly. Jacob was pretty sure he got it. "What use is a weapon if it is pregnant?" River asked. "Tubal ligation, of course," Friday said. A grenade landed next to her, and she squeeked. River picked it up and threw it back, and it detonated in mid air. "They sterilized my River?" Jayne said darkly. "Tried to," River was still smiling. Jacob grunted. "While this is interestin', I'd really like to be somewhere elsewhere." "Well, I'd love to clear those bastards out," Jayne said. "But I ain't got ammo but my swingin' cod. Impressive though it is, ain't exactly the best for room clearing." "That's what you think," River said impishly. Jayne grinned at her, eyes softening. "If'n we ain't off this rock in the next ten minutes, we ain't never gettin' off," Jacob said. Then he heard a scream of fear. Jacob peeked around the corner. One of the door guards was thrown all the way to the makeshift barricade they'd hastily set up. Two more turned their weapons on the massive newcomer, smashing him first one direction, then the other, but the man weathered the assault and smashed each face in turn with massive fists. Each dropped like a mauled ox. Jacob never had seen an ox get mauled, but he reckoned it looked rather like those too. His exertion done for the day, Casher slumped against the door. He spat out a bloody gobbet onto the floor. "What the hell are you doing here?" Jacob asked, vaulting the wall. Casher was breathing deep, staring up at him, and giving a smile to his lady doctor. "I saw Simon and Kaylee running for the shuttle, and I figured you all would need help," he said. "That don't answer my question on why you're here," Jacob said, motioning the rest of the people forward. Jayne had his arm around River as they watched Casher retake his admittedly massive posture. "I got bored." "You got bored, so you decided to assault the most secret Alliance facility in the 'Verse?" Jacob asked, forcing past the door and headed out toward the landing pad. Kaylee had done a wizard job, he admitted, despite the alarms goin' off inside the building, the sky was absolutely free of ASREVs, patrol boats, and all manner of ugly that should have been there. Casher wasn't far behind him, and the rest, not far behind that. Simon sighed with utter relief as he made his way into the craft, which was very quickly filled to capacity. True, the shuttle usually ran with nine, but Casher counted as two at the least. Simon immediately took River into a hug, which she gracefully accepted. Was this the same cracked, broken girl he first saw on Triumph? Couldn't be. "Where's Early?" Friday asked. Simon sighed and shook his head. Of course she was right. She always was, when she got like that. He made his own way to the pilot's seat, and started up the engine. Eight minutes to get away. He made record time to the landing platform several miles away, docking on Legacy in a single sweeping maneuver. He hadn't even opened the shuttle hatch all the way when he was shouting for Anne to get him off of this rock. Those were the tensest minutes of his life. Just standing at the helm, beside his wife, waiting for something to streak along and blow him up. Nothing came though. Nothing. After more than an hour, he finally allowed himself to relax. They'd done it. He didn't know how, but he'd done it. "Everyone here?" Anne asked, still seated at her station. Jacob sighed, almost identically to Simon's. "No." "You didn't get her?" Anne said. There was something to her tone, something that was certainly not grief, nor sorrow. Something he didn't want to think about. "We have Sylvia. We lost Early," he said. She blinked in surprise. "How?" "The Operative got him," he said, and she paled. She stood, and paced toward the threshold, then turned and returned to him, sitting with her back against his leaning form. "What now?" she asked. Jacob stared down at her a while. "I don't know, love. I don't know." <> "Well, if that ain't just the finest sight I ever did see," Malcolm said sarcastically as the four of them appeared on his ramp. He had waited on Beaumonde, the last place his wayward crew had been seen, for weeks. Now, they were standing here, just as the mercenary had promised, come back to him. Simon gave the captain a polite smile, Kaylee her usual hug. She still hadn't popped, although it must be just about any day now, by his estimations. Once they had reintroduced themselves to Mal, they went on their way back into the ship. Jayne and River, though... Were they holding hands? Must be a trick of the light. No way that man'd ever hold hands with... "River," he said politely, and the young woman nodded back, equally polite. Jayne just stared, all defiance. "Jayne. I guess it's a decent thing to see you again." "Likewise, I guess," Jayne said, non-commitally. Mal glanced down again. Yup. They was sure as hell holdin' hands. What the hell? "I suppose I should go be doin' some captainy things?" Malcolm said. "Oh, wait, I got my little albatross back, didn't I? You mind doing the honors?" River smiled small, and turned to Jayne. With delicate fingers, she pulled him down for a damn long kiss, one that left Mal shifting with a great deal of uncomfortableness. Sure, she was pushin' on twenty, a long sight older than he was when he first... but then again, he weren't a crazy psychic, neither. Finally, the two parted, and Jayne smiled down at her. "Tonight," she said. It sounded a bit too much like a promise for Mal's liking. She slipped away from the mercenary and Mal took her place, staring down the large man. "Might want to be thinkin' on that decision," Mal said. "Don't feel like remindin' you of the special hell." "Ain't takin' advantage," Jayne said, a confident smile on his face. He crossed his arms, and his blue eyes flashed defiantly. "As I heard it, she made the call." "Jayne," Mal said, but Jayne cut in. "No," he said simply. "I ain't never had anythin' so fine as her, and you ain't takin' her from me. Noone is, gorram it. She... I think she loves me, Mal. Ain't never had that before. And I ain't screwin' it up." Jayne pushed past, and Malcolm noticed a conspicuous absense. "Jayne?" "What?" he asked impatient. "Where's Vera?" Jayne smiled, distant. "A price I willin' paid."



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Legacy 3:13. Among the Ashes of Gahaan
At the farthest fringes of the system lies the Veldt. What secrets lie within its murky mass? What devils call it home?

Legacy 3:12. The Ecstacy, part 2
The crew of Legacy faces further dire straits in its bid to complete its mission. On Londinum, Eli comes to a hard decision.

Legacy 3:11. The Ecstacy, part 1
Niflheim is home to many who are desparate enough to do anything. When one of them comes into Legacy's path, the results prove to be catastrophic.

Legacy 3:10, The Agony
Niflheim. The world collapsed into anarchy as nature betrayed it. Today, it gets more visitors than it knows what to do with, with a cargo-drop on one hand, and a desperate and dangerous fugitive on the other. Something is going to have to give, and the 'Verse help whoever it is that's to do the giving.

Legacy 3:09, Quiet Emptiness
A new job for Legacy means that it must stop off in Three Hills, where Sylvia suddenly finds herself confronting her past.

Legacy 3:08, Running Away
On Boros, Monday begins to see the unpleasant truth that stalks her, while King Benjamin finds his breaking point on Londinum. In the end, they're just running from their problems.

Legacy 3:07, Confederation, Part 3
With the Battle for Hera coming to a climax outside, Anne find's her child's birth beset by soldiers, storming the ship. Jacob and those in the city must somehow find a way through the war-zone before they get killed, either by the Alliance, or by the Confederates.

Legacy 3:06, Confederation, Part 2
Legacy's crew is scattered across a city soon to be embroiled in a full-scale war, and time is running out before the bombs fall. In the sky, two of the greatest military minds clash, while on the ground, the best the crew can hope for is to not be crushed under foot.

Legacy 3:05, Confederation, Part 1
Finally arriving on Hera, Jacob settles down to unwind, but is interrupted by a startling revelation by a member of his crew. And not too far away, even as the Independant Planets sign their Confederation, somebody is waiting in the darkness for the perfect moment to strike.

Legacy 3:04, Definition of a Hero
With mere hours to go before Confederation, Jacob catches wind of a travesty taking place, perpetrated by his supposed allies. Will he jeopardize the conference for the sake of his principles?