BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:16, A Greater Evil
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

A quick, simple delivery goes sideways double-quick, and he finds himself in the hands of one of his worst enemies, and it is up to his crew to spring him before he dies. Too many times.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2031    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

Well, if that weren't just the longest damn chapter I ever wrote... This one also deals with some un-funny stuff, but since it's happening to Jacob, it doesn't seem to be as disturbing. To me at least. Anybody who reads this will know that this is more or less 90% War Stories, with a lethal twist at the end. Now that we've gotten the character death out of the way, we start getting enemies gathering together, and Jacob's incredible ability to gather them leaves him in a bit of a pickle. Also, we learn a bit more about the relationship between the Operatives, and what the hell happened that made Sylvia go from whooly to not so much so damn quick. And Zane learns to shoot. Joss owns... a lot of what I just wrote. Please don't hurt me. Feedback: Always appreciated.

A Greater Evil

"I don't like it," Sylvia said darkly as she stared at the hard packed grit which billowed up as they landed. Ezra weren't exactly the safest place to land, nowadays, but Jacob had cargo what could only be sold here, what with Hera locked down nice and proper. So to Ezra they went. "Oh, it can't be that bad," Jacob said, staring down through the front windows from the gunner's seat. Anne was pointedly ignoring the telepath, focusing on her own work, namely finding a nice nowhere place to land. "Niska tried to kill you," Syl pointed out. "That's 'cause of a perfectly legitimate conflict of interests," Jacob retorted. "Hell, it was more'n a year back, besides. I ain't holdin' a grudge, don't see's why he should neither." "Reputation," Sylvia said, raising one finger. Jacob nodded his admission. "Well, he's going to be on the far side of the planet, and we came in nice and quiet. Plan is not to even let him know we's here till we's long gone." Syl let out a laugh, somewhat unsteady, he noticed. "Well," she said, "what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar, you realize?" "Nobody's tellin' that you gotta come along," Jacob said. "We all just figured you'd as well sit this one out." "You all, meaning Anne?" she said. Anne shot her a glare, but didn't deviate from her task. Jacob should have known better than to try to lie to a telepath. Jacob shrugged. "You don't have faith in my abilities?" "I don't have faith in many things," Jacob said. "Your abilities ain't amongst 'em. What I'm doubtin' on is your startlin' recovery." Sylvia scowled lightheartedly at him, shaking her head as if at a drunk which had just tripped over his own jug and landed on the magistrate's cat. "You still think I'm a touch leaky on the old brainpan? Fine. Your funeral." Jacob grinned. "See? Everything's shiny. How about there?" "Too uneven," Anne replied with a glance. "Leg's won't be able to compensate on a grade like that." "Ain't hardly a grade, dear," Jacob said. "Who's flyin' this thing?" she asked. There was a long pause. "Oh, right, that would be me. Let me do my job, honey." Jacob shrugged. "What about there?" "Quicksand." "There's just no pleasin' you today, is there?" he said. Sylvia stood, shaking her head as she made her way to the door. "What about...?" "You wanna fly?" she snapped. "Only someplace with beaches and sunsets twenty four hours a day," he replied. Even she couldn't hold the grudge now that Sylvia was out of the room. She shook her head with a subdued smile. "One of these days, dear, that attitude's gon' get you killed," she said. "Well, I'll just make sure it ain't today, and we'll be shiny. What about there?" "Fine, we'll land there. But if that stone slides we'll be a very large, very crushed can filled with very dead people," she said. "That rock's likely been standin' for thousands of years 'fore the terraformin', and don't look to be droppin' any time soon," Jacob said, reaching up for the intercom. "Casher an' Zane, you mind meetin' me up on the catwalks?" "What y'need them for?" she asked as she slowed the craft next to the standing rock formation. "It's a long damn way to the rendezvous point, and I don't over-much feel like carryin' that niou-se on my back. Don't got no illusions a' ever gettin' that Mule back, neither, so we load the shuttle." She grunted a reply as she went about shutting down the engines and what all, and Jacob made his way back into the ship. Casher's broad from ascended from his bunk. Jacob took the turn, heading down the stairs and onto the catwalks. Zane was already there, which meant the young man was probably up to his waist in the shuttles. "What's the job, boss?" Zane asked when Casher arrived. Jacob pointed to the plethora of long, thin boxes that were stacked tall in the hold. "I want all of those," he said, then pointing at the shuttle Monday hadn't commandeered, "in there." Casher glanced at the boxes. "Ten minutes. Eight if he pulls his weight," the large man cast an equally large thumb at the lanky Zane. "Shiny," Jacob said, headed back into the front of the ship. Slipping through the corridor and down his ladder, he paused for a moment as he reached for his sword. Of late, he seemed to be defaulting to it, rather dangerously. But still, he felt more than a bit naked without it. He fastened the blade down his back and slid his gun into its holster. As he was sliding a few spare spines down his pockets, he heard feet against metal. He turned. "I don't like this," Anne said, dropping the last rung onto the floor. "What's there not to like?" Jacob said with a smirk. "Besides Niska?" she said flatly. Jacob hung his head a moment. "Look," he muttered. "He's on the far side of the world, hoverin' over it, in point of fact. I'll be here and gone long before he even catches wind I'm here. Ain't like he's actually out to get me, you realize. Just slap me if ever I touch boot to dirt on Ezra." "And what if he is after you?" she pointed out. "Dmitri died while you were at that shindig on Persephone, and Niska ain't exactly the dullest knife in the drawer, dear. He start's puttin' the peices together..." "Ain't never gonna happen," Jacob said simply. "Why'n the hell not?" she demanded. Jacob grinned. "...'Cuz." "You're insane, you know that, don't you?" she pointed out as he moved toward her. He leaned down and recieved the kiss she offered. "That's what makes this fun," he said, thereafter making his way up the ladder. A quick trip through the ship and he was back on the catwalks, as Casher made one final trip up the stairs burdened with more crates than even Jacob thought possible. "You sure you don't want anybody with you, sir?" the large man asked as he passed. "Sure as the black, Casher," Jacob replied. "You keep whatever ugly might be out there from gettin' onto this boat." Casher's laugh sounded from the shuttle as Zane ducked out. "Kinda hard to be public relations when I don't ever get off this boat, sir," Casher noted. "Then consider yourself a bodyguard 'till I says not," Jacob said. "Just keep the ship ready for me. I don't intend to spend one hour more than I absolutely need to on this spit a' land." "I'll keep the engines warm, boss," Zane said, moving up and into the bowels of the ship. Casher watched as he disappeared, then shrugged. "I'll just be about, then." Jacob nodded. "Tell Anne that if y'all don't hear from me inside two hours, that she ought take this ship... and come and rescue me." "Sir?" "It's aweful lonely out there, and I don't want to get left," he said, as he ducked into the shuttle, past the crates, and up to the controls. It'd been a while since he'd had time to fly on his own, and he felt like stretching his wings for a while, now. With an almost natural twist of the controls, he launched the shuttle away from the craft, skimming low over the terrain and burning toward the rendezvous point. The flight there was the easy part. The hard part was unloadin' the gorram shuttle. Hauling every damn crate took nearly a half hour, just getting them out of the ruttin' hold and onto the grit and sparse turf. Lucky he arrived all manner of early. When he was done, he leaned against the crates and waited for a long spell, 'till his contact finally arrived, coasting around the rocks on a hover Mule. What a dinky contraption, he thought to himself. Might just have to get himself one. "Mister Greyson," York said loudly. "For a while, there, I was kinda sure you weren't going to show up." "What gave you that impression?" Jacob asked. "Call it a hunch," the wide shouldered man said. "Those are the goods, I take it?" "Yup," Jacob replied, pulling off one of the caps next to his ass and pulling out a packet. "Food suppliments in all the colors of the rainbow. Not exactly top-of-the-line, but sure to keep a family alive for a month per pack. More, if'n they don't like their kids too much." "Not exactly the ideal market for them, here," York said. "Best selling for these is Hera. Whitefall, if a body could manage it, but Hera's a lot closer this time of year." "Not to mention barricaded by an Alliance fleet," Jacob said. "If you ain't lookin' to acquire, just say so so's I can be on my merry." York put up his hands in a dissuading gesture. Jacob's eye scanned the rocks, noting the men who had kept themselves a respectful distance away. No sharpshooters, which was a hell of a change from the folk he usually dealt with, back when he weren't constantly on the run. "Don't get twitchy, Greyson," York said softly. "Just pointing out a possibility." "Ain't a possibility, York," he said. "This's the only spot a body can drop this niou-se off and catch more than silvers on the the plat. You lookin' to buy, or were you just talkin' out your ass from orbit?" York shook his head. He ran over the crates, did a mental calculation, scanned the crates again, and recalculated. York might be a big man, but he was a whiz with numbers. The fact that he counted twice didn't bode well for Jacob. Instead, he nodded, holding a hand behind him. One of his men approached, dropping a hide sac into his hand. York tossed it to Jacob, who opened it reflexively and glanced inside. Good old cashy money. "Counting it right in front of me?" York said. "Don't you know that's rather insulting?" Jacob looked up, his face flat. "I've been screwed more ways than you can imagine, York. Might even say I'm a mite twitchy. Don't want this fallin' apart at the last second. Now, if you don't mind, I'll be on my way." Jacob hauled himself off York's cargo and took a step toward his shuttle. It was about then that every shrub and sizeable stone leapt to life, brandishing assault rifles and effectively barring him from moving in any direction. York backed away in surprise, and the nearest of his men raised his weapon. A red splat exploded from the man's right elbow, and the gun fell back toward the ground. There were a lot of camoflaged men out here. Two for every man of Yorks, and twelve for Jacob and the man himself. He put his hands slowly up. "This is not my best day ever," Jacob muttered. When he saw the dark form approaching him, he was sure of it. "Viktor. I didn't expect I'd see you off the skyplex. Ever." Viktor didn't even look at Jacob. "York," the dark man said. "You're new here, so take this as advice. Don't even dare to go over Niska's head. If times were normal, even trying that would make him drag you to his skyplex where he'd torture you until you died at least twice." "I... I didn't mean... But," York said. "These aren't normal times," Viktor said, now looking to Jacob. "You can go, but make sure you watch where you step. Niska's got his eyes on a bigger prize." As the men closed ranks around Jacob, a sigh escaped his lips. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. Then, he felt something hit him in the back of the head, and the world went black. <> The 'Verse returned quickly, as a wall of frigid water smashed him in the face. He sputtered and coughed, trying to get the unpleasant amount out of his nose and throat, finally forcing his eyes open. Viktor was standing near the door, an empty bucket in his hand. Much closer at hand was Niska. "Oh," Jacob said, feeling giddy for some reason he couldn't quite explain. "Well, I can't say's I expected you to go this far over me just touchin' foot to your soil." Niska's elderly face screwed up into a hateful rictus, and he smashed Jacob across the jaw with an ornate cane. Jacob grunted, more in surprise than pain. Althought pain was certainly a constituent. "I didn't touch a nerve, did I?" Jacob asked, a grin stretching 'cross his face. Niska scowled deeper, twisting the head of that cane and pulling out a small, wickedly sharp knife. A knife which he immediately thrust into Jacob's abdomen. "You kill my son," Niska said, voice tight with rage. "Dmitri was like brother to you, and you kill him." Jacob took a moment to stop screaming in pain, finally slumping against his restraints. "I... didn't... kill..." Niska backhanded him, a weak assault compared to his earlier stabbing, but one which spoke volumes about his frame of mind. "I didn't never kill your son," Jacob hissed as his head dropped back down. Niska's blade bit into his stomach again, and Jacob grunted to keep from screaming. "Have you ever read the writings of Shan Yu?" Niska said visciously, discarding his grandfatherly appearance entirely in his madness. "Sadistic crap," Jacob managed despite the blinding pain. "Legitamized by florid prose." Niska plunged the knife deeper, and Jacob felt an odd euphoria spreading over him. He found himself grinning again. "You're not a fan, are you?" Jacob asked. Niska took a step back. "You are not soldier," Niska said, brandishing his bescarletted blade in one hand and the rest of his cane, still supporting his weight. "You will not hold long. I will break you for what you did to Dmitri." "Why do I think I know where this is goin'?" Jacob muttered through the pain. "Now," Niska said, reaching for his favorite toy, the Snake. "Now, I will get to meet the real you." <> Zane watched as Sylvia collapsed to the floor. He dropped the spare catalyzer onto the table and rushed to her side, more than a bit weirded by the fact that she had been cooking normally moments before. Her eyes stared blankly at the cieling, and Zane's skin began to crawl when he couldn't feel a pulse. "Casher!" he screamed. "Get in here!" The seconds that followed were the longest in Zane's life. She'd just gotten normal, and now she was gettin' dead. Casher finally made his appearance from the back of the ship, pushing Zane aside as he crouched over her. "What happened?" Casher said, laying an ear to Sylvia's chest. "Don't know," Zane said. "She was just cookin' when she pitched over." "Did she complain of chest pains?" Casher asked. "Didn't say so much as a thing," Zane said. "Hurry!" "Her heart's not beating," Casher said. He frowned a moment, then scooped her up and began his rapid way toward the infirmery. Zane followed close on his heels, so close that he could still see her face staring sightlessly at the cieling. They'd almost reached the infirmery doors when something unexpected happened. She gasped in a breath of air, struggling in Casher's grasp. Both men slowed to a halt, the larger one holding her aloft as she flailed. "Gorramit," she said weakly. "Let me down!" "What the hell just happened?" Zane asked. Casher let the woman down, and she began to pace around the common, rubbing the center of her chest with the heel of her hand. "I don't really know," Casher said. "She was dead as a doornail a moment ago." Sylvia cast them both a hot glare and continued her pacing. After a moment, though, she paused, staring through the bulkheads. "Good God," she muttered. "What is it?" Zane asked, but she was already off, leaping past them back up the stairs. Casher and Zane shared a look, and the smaller of the two shrugged, following her. She was already out of sight by the time he reached the kitchen area. He frowned a moment. "What the hell was that about?" Zane asked the empty air. He glanced around. No sign of Elias. Wasn't that just shiny? When he needed the hun dahn's opinion, man wasn't around to be found. Zane was only standing a few seconds when Sylvia began to haul herself out of her bunk, now draped in that long, grey coat that he knew from experience carried more than enough weapons to outfit a hit-squad. Zane crossed the kitchen in long strides, while Sylvia leaned to the next bunk over and shouted. "Monday," Sylvia's voice was strong. "I'm takin' your shuttle. Don't bitch." Monday's response was lost as Sylvia stormed into the cockpit. "Anne, don't argue with me, I need a pilot in that shuttle," she said, pointing her thumb behind her. "And why would I want to do that?" Anne asked, her arms crossed before her, making her seem like the littlest tough Zane'd ever seen. Sylvia squared her shoulders. "They have Jacob," was all that Sylvia said. Anne went pale and shot up from her seat, zipping past Zane like a bullet on her way to the shuttle. He shot Sylvia a questioning look, but she shook her head, walking past him in deck-eating strides. He fell behind her again as she made her way down the catwalks to the ornately decorated shuttle. Zane managed to block the closing door with his shoulder, and Sylvia scowled and hauled him in before shutting the door again. "What's this about?" Zane asked as the shuttle popped out of its landing brace and leapt into the air. Anne was extra focused on her work as the ground zipped past, and Sylvia finally stopped pacing. "They have him," Syl said simply. She reached into her coat and pulled out her very favorite shotgun, clutching it tight. "Those bastards are..." "What?" Zane asked. "They're what?" The blonde telepath was implacable as a stone as Anne brought the shuttle down. The door popped open and Zane managed to be the second out. The other shuttle was right there, sitting on the ground as pristine as anybody'd like, and there wasn't a soul about. Sylvia was already crouched down and observing the ground not to far away. "What happened?" Anne asked impatiently. Sylvia stood, scowling into the distance. "There were six men out there," she pointed to the rocks. "Two came close, and one of them got shot." "What?" Zane asked, but she'd already moved away from that spot and toward another otherwise unnoticable spot. She touched the ground, running the grit between her fingers. After a moment, she smelled it. "Twenty were hiding, camoflaged," she said. "The approached from all directions, most of them converging on..." she walked to the spot right in front of the other shuttle's door, "here." "Who?" Anne demanded. Zane noticed something which had been tugging at him as a bit out of place. He stooped down at the edge of the long black scar on the landscape. He ran his fingers along it, noting the jagged glassy texture of it under his calloused fingers. "What you got, Zane?" He wiped his hands off on his coveralls, staring down the track as it tapered off heading northeast. "Fast-burn rocket shuttle," Zane said. "Zipper?" Anne muttered. "Ain't that entirely too low-tech for the 'lliance?" "Most certainly," Zane said, rising to a stand. "Hell, they just hand those ruttin' things out wholesale to the old Domes and... skyplexes." "Niska," Sylvia said. <> Jacob gasped as the Snake was pulled back out of him, and Niska loomed close. "You are not soldier, Jacob," the old man said. "You are not strong. Not hero." "Some don't think so," Jacob slurred. "This is not business, Jacob," Niska said, recalibrating the Snake as he spoke. "This is personal. I must say, you are an extraordinary man, to not be whimpering yet, for example. But I do not want you to be an extraordinary man, Jacob. Personal business is not war, and heroics are unseemly." Niska placed the Snake against the center of Jacob's chest, and Greyson began to scream as its tendrils began to creep along under his skin. "Heroics... complicate," Niska said cruelly. Time shattered into an infinity, each a torment without end, as it worked its insidious damage through Jacob's already scarred frame. When the timelessness faded into a more coherent agony, he noticed that Viktor had leaned in close to Niska, and was whispering to him. "Ses posral v' kine?" Niska swore. "Always with the interruptions!" "Gettin' visitors?" Jacob managed painfully? "'Cause I can come back later." "You have a strange following, Greyson," Niska said, setting the Snake aside and pointing toward Jacob's chest. Viktor moved forward, placing electrodes against Greyson's chest. "What can I say?" Jacob muttered. "I'm an inspiration." "And you inspire Operative also?" Niska said, nodding toward Viktor, who threw switch and sent thousands of volts coursing through Jacob's body. He screamed and not just from the pain. How had they known? Had Niska sold them out? How would Niska even know about them? "He seems very interested in you," Niska's voice came from the blind void around him. When the coursing ceased, he hung against his binds, and Niska tipped his head up. "And until he arrives, I have oh, so many fine things to show you." <> "This is madness," Sylvia said, watching as Anne stuffed the last of the money into a bag. It was every cent she and her husband had accumulated, which admittedly wasn't entirely much. She cast the telepath a harsh look, and shook her head. "I'm not changing my mind," Anne said. She tossed the bag over her shoulder, making her way back through the ship, toward the shuttle. "Niska's totally obsessed with his reputation. We hand over a payoff, he'll let Jacob go," she said. Hell, when she put it that way, she almost believed it her own self. Sylvia shook her head. "Somethings not right about this," she said. "Jacob's got a lot more panic to him than..." "This'll be alright," Anne repeated, fixing the larger woman with a glare. "Just bi zwei and let me do my job." Without another word, she slid the door closed to the shuttle, dropping the bag and decoupling the ship. It was a short flight from where she parked Legacy in orbit to Niska's skyplex, and the docking couple caught her soon enough, dragging her shuttle toward the 'plex like a flytrap 'round a gnat. When the last clang sounded against the outer door and sound of pressure equalizing, she stood from her controls and picked up the bag. The door slid open, and a pair of gunbarrels poked through. "What is your business here?" the airlock guard asked harshly. "I'm here to see Niska," She said, hands up and the bag over her shoulder. The guards exchanged a glance. "I'm unarmed." One of them stepped back, giving her just enough room to skirt past them and head deeper into the 'plex. She hadn't gone far when she started to hear screaming, inhuman, brutal screaming. Her heart splashed into her stomache as she considered what it meant, and she must have paused, because one of the guards gave her a gentle push. Finally, she arrived in Niska's office, the wailing coming from just one door away. The first guard knocked on the door, and the screaming died off somewhat suddenly. She heard a stream of Czech cursing and the door was opened. She almost burst into tears seeing him there, lashed to the frame. "No..." the words came hoarsly from Jacob's lips. "No, run away." "Why do you interrupt me, woman?" Niska asked, his farmer's face coiled in a knot of hate. She shrugged the bag off her shoulder and shoved it forward with her foot. Viktor picked the bag up and showed it to his master, and Niska took several unsteady steps toward her. "This is for paying for your man, yes?" he asked. "It is," she answered. "And he is worth so much to you? Perhaps he is damaged?" Niska taunted. "He is," Anne asserted. Niska spat at the bag, kicking it away. "To me, he is worth more. He has killed my son, and now everybody will know what happens after," Niska hobbled back to the room. Niska paused, looking back at her, and leaned to Viktor. "Aante en nractnhy ero." She watched in horror as Viktor reached up and slashed off Jacob's left ear with a long, curved knife. Almost numb, she accepted it when the dark man handed it to her. She also caught the rejected money as it was thrown to her. "We are ended now," Niska said, bidding the door be shut. "Show her out." Almost in a haze, she was herded back out the skyplex and into her shuttle. When the doors shut behind her, she fell to her knees, tears freely flowing down her face. She sunk her head foward until it connected with the deck plating. She wept with fear. Niska was going to kill him. If he hadn't already. In which case, Niska was going to kill him again. "Anne, can you hear me?" Sylvia's voice came from the front of the shuttle. Anne looked up, then crawled to the radio. "He's going to kill him," Anne wept. "Anne, listen to me," Sylvia said strongly. "You need to take that shuttle and get back here. Now." Anne found herself doing exactly that, piloting the tiny shuttle away from the skyplex, her husband, and her hope. In a haze of terror, she landed the shuttle and staggered out of it, Jacob's ear still clutched in her hand. Casher, standing at the door up, took her in. "What the hell happened over there, ma'am?" he asked. When he saw the ear between her fingers, he took a step back. "Huh choo-shung tza-jiao duh tzang-huo! Is that his...?" Anne walked past him, barely noticing as he pulled the strip of flesh from betwixt her fingers. When she'd reached the cockpit, where Sylvia was standing, she felt as if something in her had snapped. "Why in the puckered sphincter of hell did," she began, but Syl pointed out the front screen to where a sleek ship was pulling up next to the skyplex. She'd seen that ship, all rounded and flowing like some deadly beast. She knew what manner of monster dwelled within it. Suddenly she felt more than a bit light headed. So much so, that she noticed the deck platings suddenly leaping up toward her. <> With a surge of electricity, Jacob felt his eyes burst open one more time. He was so sure that this time would be the last. That this time no matter what Niska did, he'd be gone. It was strange, this hoping for death. He'd never quite gotten around to getting used to it. Weren't exactly a standard concept to hold, in his opinion. "You died again, mister Greyson," Niska said, pulling the bescarletted apron off of him. He almost never wore that apron, preferring to perform his sadism in a tie and business suit. Of course, those were for purely profressional torturings. This was strictly personal. "Seemed 'bout th'right thing t'do," Jacob muttered against the pain that suffused him. He knew he should have cracked hours ago, been left a gibbering mass not unlike the one that landed on his kitchen table last Christmas. He should have snapped, but something was holding him together. For a moment, he could almost feel her. "When you die," Niska explained, "I can't hurt you anymore. And I do want to hurt you. For a very long time." "Well," Jacob managed with a smash-mouthed smile, "sorry to be such a disappointment." "I will have you for weeks, Jacob," Niska said, his eyes distant. "You will be my masterpiece." "What?" Greyson laughed hoarsly. "Are you trying to torture me?" For some reason, he didn't cry out when Niska's knife sliced through his flesh again. Focus. That's what that feeling was. Focus. Somebody willing him to hold on. Returning a favor? Why did he think that? What the hell was goin' on in his head? Had he gone as leaky in the brainpan as she had? It was a worry. "Sad to say," Niska said, "others wish to detract from our time together." "Who'd w..." he grunted when he felt the blade cut lower. "Want to do that?" Worry became panic when that Asian face with its neatly trimmed beard appeared next to Niska. He really was going feng luh, off his axle, completely out of his gourd. Please, he begged. Let this be a delusion. "Hello, mister Greyson," John said, leaning forward as if to scrutinize Niska's work. John didn't exactly look too good, now that Jacob had a moment where he wasn't being actively tortured, actively dead, or actively being resucitated. The Operative was drawn and sunken eyed, as if he hadn't eaten in the last few days, nor slept, and certainly not bathed. Hell, between John and Jacob, Jacob figured he was by far the less fragrant. Up close, his beard was reaching unkempt status, as well. "Chiu se," Jacob responded. John smirked. "So rude, Jacob," the Operative chuckled. "I was just going to ask you a few questions." "Chiu se, ni ri shao gou shi bing," Jacob ammended. John's face went blank for a moment, and then the Operative punched him. Right in one of his wounds, in point of fact, sending an explosion of pain throughout Jacob's chest. "Oh," he gasped, after several long seconds of trying to stop screaming. "Did I strike a nerve?" "You misunderstand," John said, beginning to pace. Even Niska seemed to be a bit apprehensive. "I am not going to kill you. And I do not care about whatever two-bit crime ring this man see's fit to operate." "Aba onta?" Niska asked, obviously insulted. John didn't even look back at him. "Since you obviously have a talent for accumulating enemies, mister Greyson, what say deal with this like civilized men? You know where she is," John said. It was obviously not a question. "Most certainly do," Jacob answered. "And you will tell me," John prompted. "Not so much as a chance in hell," Jacob smiled bloodily. Sooner or later he was going to just bleed out. He could feel it coming, the lightheadedness. John smiled then, shaking his head. "You have been getting transfusions since word came that I was arriving," John said. He sat down on a tray of brutal looking implements. Jacob wished one of them had the decency to stick him in the ass. "You should be glad that Jane is currently recuperating, Jacob. If simply because she would make what Niska has done to you seem like a chaste game played by Core children." "Yay me," Jacob smirked. John's expression shifted again, to a subtle mix of impatience and joy. "She holds no monopoly in that area, captain," the Operative whispered. "Niska, if you would?" <> "Seven shots, then drop it," Sylvia prompted as she slid another shell into her spare shotgun. Zane nodded, slipping the pistol into the back of his waistband. "And don't put your gun there. You'll just shoot y'self in the ass if you fall down." Zane shrugged, placing the gun into the holster she'd provided him. Monday stood near the front of the ship, her arms around her sister who stared pointedly and dumbly at the floor. "This is suicide; you do know that, don't you?" Both of the bodies at the table ignored her, strapping on all manner of firepower instead. Monday scowled and tried again. "You're believe you can assault a skyplex owned by a universally feared mob lord, and live?" Monday asked, with that tone she seemed to get when she was being totally tactless. "They won't expect it," Zane said with a grin. "Mostly 'cause they ain't insane," Syl pointed out, sliding her shotgun inside her coat. "But insane plans have a tendency to work when a body think they ought not." Casher couldn't exactly see the logic in that, but in his time in the 'Verse, he'd witnessed the phenomenon of 'dumb luck' often enough that it gave the point a touch of credence. He slid another round into his rifle. He heard a sound approach from behind the twins, and Anne glanced into the kitchen area. "What are y'all doing?" she asked. "Getting Jacob back," Zane answered in that cheerful way he almost always did. "Oh," Anne said. She then frowned. "You can do that?" "No," Monday responded. Casher slid the last round into the last of the many weapons he was taking on this excursion, of which most were Syl's. He stood. "There's a motto I've heard for people like us, you might even call it a creed. Don't know if it's right for this, but it runs like so: When you can't run, you crawl. And when you can't crawl," he paused for emphasis, sliding the first round into the chamber in the process, "you find someone to carry you." Monday shook her head. "Suicide. Idiots mounting a three man rescue operation..." "Two man, one woman," Sylvia noted. "A unisex." "How is he?" Anne asked Sylvia, and Syl seemed taken aback. "I don't know," Sylvia said quietly. "You don't know?" Casher repeated. "I thought you were a telepath?" "It's," she said, stifling herself. "It's hard to explain." "It's gone buggy, ain't it?" Zane offered. Syl stared at him strangely for a moment, then nodded. "Shiny," Casher muttered. "What can I do?" Anne asked. "You're still in shock, Anne. Best that you sit this one out," he said. "Hold on," Syl interrupted. "Zane, get the missile launcher ready, Anne?" "You want me to blow them up?" the tiny woman asked. Casher got up as Sylvia sketched out quickly and with surprising accuracy the skyplex exterior and the ship which had just docked with it. She drew a circle where the two connected. "No," she said as the sketch finished. "I want you to blow up this. Hit that, and he's cut off from his ship, giving us a head start at the gettin' away." Syl then caught Casher's shoulder. "You sure you want to do this? This isn't your fight." "I'm part of this crew, in case you didn't remember," Casher said. Quite possibly she didn't remember, because she'd actually had to ask him his name once she came out of her psychosis. "And like I said, you find somebody to carry you." She stared hard at him, blue-green eyes locking onto his own, then nodded. "Zane!" she shouted. "Get us onto that skyplex, nice and quiet." The mechanic paused a moment. "Who said I could fly?" <> Jacob had stopped screaming a while ago, now. He couldn't anymore. There simply wasn't any air left in his lungs. Or slack in his throat, for that matter. Still, though, he stared defiantly with his one remaining eye. He sagged low against his restraints, unable to look these monsters eye to eye, to stare them down. All he could smell was blood, and all he could taste, blood. And almost all he could see as well. "I must admit," John said, taking a step back from the mess. "I did not expect that you would take that so... stoically." "I'm a rock," Jacob muttered in a gravelly whisper. "Regardless," John said, stooping close and forcing Niska to step back. "I will know the truth." "You can go to hell," Jacob responded. "I am trying to build a better world, Jacob. A world without sin," the Operative proclaimed. "And she's gotta die," Jacob hissed, "jus' so's you an' yours can live in that better world?" John shook his head condescendingly. "I'm not going to live there, Jacob. There is no place for me there. I am a monster, Jacob, I know that. I hold no illusions about that, but what I do must be done." Jacob spat, missing John's face handily. "I ain't gon' let my last act in this 'Verse be betrayin' her." The Operative smiled, then. "It does not matter, Jacob. In the end, I will have Anne Roykerk." "Anne?" Niska said, his face pulling into a knot of suspicion. John's eyes flew wide, and he spun to the old man, catching his collar with one fist. Viktor took a step toward his master, but John's sword leapt from its scabbard and trapped him that he was unable to move forward another milimeter without opening up his throat. "Anne Roykerk. You have seen her?" John demanded. Niska seemed a bit off-put by this, and scowled. "She's worked for Dmitri for years," Viktor said. "She came here a few hours ago, trying to buy this one back." "Where did she come from?" John demanded. "A Firefly," Niska said. "He calls it Legacy. She is pilot, there." "Legacy?" John said, his face blank. "That ship is less than thirty thousand miles from here." The Operative's grip on Niska's collar loosened, and he lowered his sword. A look that Jacob might have called a post-coital radiance bathed the Asian man as he smiled. Jacob finally understood just how deep the shit he was in sank. This man was obsessed. "I have to thank you," John said, taking in the three men. "And to showcase my appreciation for the information, I must tell you something," he smiled, then, a smile just as craven and mad as Jane's ever were. "You all have just outlived your usefulness." Viktor was an astounding draw, Jacob knew. He once pulled and fired so fast that it couldn't even be seen in a frame-by-frame replay caught on a security feed. He made for his holster with all of the skill and speed that he was renowned for, but the Operative beat him to the punch, so to speak, and did so easily. John's flashing blade bit through the front of Viktor's throat, making him pitch back. The shot which should have peirced the Operative's chest instead flew into the cieling. Niska tried to back away, but with his legs all humped from when he got stabbed by the lovely miss Serra, he didn't make it far. So not far, in point of fact, that in a single motion, John swept forward, slamming his sword into the old man's breast. Impaling him. "You are a cockroach," John said, to the old man who stared with surprise and outright shock plain on his old-farmer's face, "which needs to be crushed. A festering pustule blighting the world which I will help to create. You are a cancer, which I will excise. That, Adelai, is the real you. Congratulations, on meeting yourself." John placed his boot on Niska's chest and pulled the blade out with more than strictly the minimum required force to remove the blade from the old man's body. He let the bleeding, paralyzed visage crash to the floor plating, and tore off one of Viktor's sleeves, wiping the blood off the blade. When John looked back up, his eyes were afire with zealous madness. "You led me on a merry chase, Jacob," John said, cleaning the last of the blood off, then holding it toward Greyson's throat. "But you chose to fight a war which was already lost. Still, you, at least, are deserving of the taste of virgin steal. Unblemished by infidel's blood." "You're a lunatic," Jacob rasped. The blade lowered, dragging its point down Jacob's ravaged torso, not to cut, but rather like sombody letting gravity turn the blade slowly down. "That is merely a point of view, one that does not concern me any longer." He drew the blade back, and Jacob knew if he didn't give himself at least a few more seconds, it was all going to burn. "Killing her won't stop this," Jacob blurted, taking a dangerous chance. The blade halted in its motion. "We all know. The truth what lay hid in Anne's brain. We all know it. And more will, soon enough." A look of abject horror flit onto John's features for a moment, quickly replaced by steely resolve. "Then," John said, letting the sword tip touch the ground, "the deaths will begin with hers." John whipped his sword up, preparing it for a lethal plunge, and Jacob closed his eye, bidding a farewell to Anne, and the rest of his crew, for that matter. Then the strangest damn thing happened. The station exploded a bit. Jacob heard the steel bit into the locking mechanism for his binds, and the devices, confused, popped open as the entire structure plunged into darkness. He tumbled out of the binds and stumbled away, as quickly and as quietly as his savaged body would take him. Had to escape. Get away. He heard metal strike metal somewhere behind him, then a scream of frustration. "I will kill her, Jacob," John screamed into the blackness, a wail of frustration and madness. "I will kill her!" <> "How much further?" Zane asked, clutching his thigh where a bullet nicked him. It was all manner of painful. "Farther. Further is metaphorical, farther is physical," Casher corrected. "Well, however the hell far away we are," Sylvia interrupted them. "It's a problem that we can't see what's right next to us. Since neither can Niska's, talkin's generally a bad thing to do, so shut the hell up!" Zane shook his head, staring out at nothin'. Weren't nothin' to see, was so damned dark. Whatever shootin' Anne did, must have hit the primary generators of this place. They had been climbing the structure for a while now, floor by guarded floor, but the place had been sent into a double uproar just before the lights went out. Appearantly, the newest guest of the house had been ungracious of his host's hospitality. In the stabbing way. Zane continued to limp after the barely percieved forms of Casher and Syl. He had just walked into something when dim lights finally flickered on. Syl's arm was barring across his chest, and the long braid she'd tied her hair into was over her shoulder. After a brief scan in both directions, Syl moved her arm to Zane's back and herded him forward. After so long shooting in the dark, literally, he noted, it was almost painful to have to endure even this dim light that was provided. Syl glanced at the core, descending into the guts of the 'plex, and filled with all manner of once-moving, or even spinning metal, now stilled with the power outage. He glanced up. There it was; Niska's window was on one of the highest levels of the structure, and not far from where they all stood. "There!" Zane pointed. "Two floors up." "Zane!" she hissed. "You want Niska do hear us?" A nearby bulkhead slammed open, and Zane dropped to the floor. "Close enough," the mechanic muttered as his wounded thigh impacted the deck. He stared down the sights of his gun, letting lead fly as the guards tried to pour through the portal. While his own shots didn't do much of anything, Syl and Casher certainly had a much better time of it. In less than ten seconds flat, there were five folk lying dead or near death around the door. "I think Niska heard that," Zane pointed out, accepting Casher's hand up. The mechanic slipped the now emptied pistol into his pocket and reached for another one. Syl was moving through first, clearing each room with her shotgun at the ready, then up the ladder-hole. "Ho!" she shouted, motioning them in. Like a squirrel, she scampered up the ladder, with Casher and eventually Zane in hot pursuit. Sylvia waited at the top of the ascent, staring out the portal along iron sights. "Where are the guards?" Casher asked. "We ain't alone, here," Syl whispered. She nodded over to one side, and Zane leaned out to see what she motioned to. It was one of Niska's guards, all right, but this one was quite undeniably dead. His chest armor was slashed open. Zane saw another one nearby, with a clear stab mark through the middle of his forehead. "Tzao gao," Zane muttered. "It's a gorram slaughterhouse," Casher responded. "The Operatives are here," Syl said. "Just like we expected." She took a step forward, and glanced back, noticing both of them weren't following. "Come on!" she bade, cuffing Casher on the back of the shoulder. The two men moved forward through the swamp of slashed corpses, toward the office where they knew the nightmare would end, one way or the other. Sylvia ducked through the door, glancing every direction she could at one time. "Clear," she said and moved further. "Woh deh mah, tyen ah..." "What is it?" Casher asked. While this place was undeniably the darkest place yet, Zane could see well enought to understand Syl's meaning. The torture room was empty of anything alive, but Zane could easily see both Viktor and Adelai Niska lying in pools of their respective blood. Sylvia entered the room, she swung her shotgun around. "Where's Jacob?" Zane asked. "I don't know," Syl said. "But he's in a lot of pain." "I ain't asking how you know that," Casher muttered. "You know where he is?" Sylvia sighed, letting her weapon drop. She closed her eyes. "Oh God," Elias said, suddenly at Zane's side. "You have got to be kidding me." "What?" Zane asked. Casher gave him an odd look. "She's Linked with him?" Elias said incredulously. "She's what with who?" Casher frowned, glancing around blindly in the darkness. "Who are you talking to?" "It's something telepaths can do," Elias said, leaning in very close to Sylvia, his face tense. "It creates a bond. It has some benifits, which I believe you've witnessed, but carries a cost." "What cost?" Zane asked. "Really, Zane, you're starting to confuse me," Casher muttered. Elias opened his mouth, but Syl's eyes flew open, focusing on the insubstantial eidolon of Elias. "What are you doing here?" she asked, and Elias' panicked, vanishing as instantly as he appeared. Syl scowled at Zane then turned toward the back end of the room, where the lights faded to utter blackness. "You both are starting to damage my calm," Casher growled. "Casher, get over here!" she shouted. Zane dashed around the restraints dominating the middle of the room, taking in Syl with her hands on the captain's ravaged chest. He stared with glazed eyes right through her, and the pool surrounding him was easily as large as the others nearby. Syl seemed to be straining against something, and Zane watched for several tense seconds. "What's happening?" Zane asked. Finally, she dropped with a grunt. "It's not working," she whispered. Casher found his way to Jacob's side, pressing his large fingers to Greyson's neck. "His pulse is fading. He's bleeding out," Casher said. Somewhat unnecessarily, but since the large man couldn't see the blood he was crouched in... Syl's face grew stony, and she pressed her hands back onto Jacob's chest. This time there was a long pause, then a loud gasp emerged from Jacob's throat. The gasp became a scream of pain which Sylvia mirrored perfectly, each arching their back. The scream tore at Zane so horribly that he felt like it ripped his soul a bit, before Syl slumped down, flopping against Zane and totally unconscious. Jacob's one eye slowly rolled down, looking between the two of them. "Thank God," Casher said, still glancing shakenly between where Syl had screamed and where Jacob now lay. "We thought we'd lost you." "I was goin' somewhere?" Jacob rasped. "Very nearly," Casher asked. "Zane, how's Syl?" "Zonko," the mechanic replied. Casher whispered a curse. "Fine. We're going to have to carry her," Casher murmured. "I'm feelin' mighty tired," Jacob whispered. "Might just catch a bit of sleep," Casher tensed a moment, then Jacob's hand landed on his. "One thing, though." "What, sir?" "Y'all gon' be here when I wake up?" the captain asked, oh, so very softly. "Most definitely, sir," Casher replied. "Now we've got to go." <> John scowled at the door. He'd failed again. Just like so many times before. He'd been trapped on that skyplex for more than an hour after Legacy had slipped right through his fingers. He didn't know how they managed to cripple both the skyplex and Vendetta, but they'd managed to get away as cleanly as she always did in the past. He considered turning back around and heading back out into space, but Legacy could be anywhere, by now. He pushed the door open, and she was ready for him. She was playing along her fingernails with her sword, to be perfectly clear. She didn't look up at him, focused entirely on her razor-edged manicure. He simply stood and waited. "You humped it up, didn't you?" his fellow Operative asked neutrally. John remained silent. Her ministrations on her fingertips stalled for a moment. "Didn't you?" "There was a... complication," John said measuredly. She glanced up at him, her green eyes filled with scorn. "A complication is getting shot," she said flatly, and he noted that she was rather obviously not hiding the wound which lay very close beneath her breast. "A complication is losing a lead. A complication is damaging that gorram ship." He took a step forward, and she whipped the blade out toward him, halting him with its tip pressing his soiled tunic. She smiled darkly at him. "What you managed to pull, that's a god damned disaster." "There were events outside of my control," John said calmly. "Your obsession over this woman has cost you a lot of standing among your peers, Ishmael," she said. "Many of them now look upon you as an object of scorn." John seethed a bit at her use of his former name. He seethed even more at not having her's to rebut her with. He opened his mouth, but she cut her off, standing from the bed. Her robe slipped partially from her shoulders, coming very close to baring her to whatever observers this building would hold. None, at the moment, he noted. "I was assigned to reign you in," Jane said strongly. "To bring you back into the fold. Perhaps restore a bit of credibility to your career. You, on the other hand, have fixated on this woman, to the exclusion of all other work. Yes, her secret is dangerous, and yes, it must be contained, but there are other, equally critical tasks that could use the attention of those like us." John finally smiled. "There is another complication," he said. "You mean another disaster?" she frowned. "She told the rest of the crew," John stated. "You heard this from?" she pressed. "From her husband's torn and bloody lips," John confirmed. Jane's blade dropped from his chest, and her fair features pulled into a dangerous rictus. "That would classify as a disaster, and for once, not yours," she said. She turned back to her bed and pulled the robe off, letting it drop to the floor as she pulled the dress back over herself. It was not a sight John hadn't seen before, so he didn't bother looking away. When she settled the garment over herself, she smiled, a brilliant, mad smile. "I was placed as your keeper," Jane said. "But I believe in the world we will create, an the tasks which must be done to create it. Anne is a threat, and she will be dealt with, but she will be dealt with MY way. You will do as I say, when I say, and how I say. You follow my lead, and I will allow you your little vendetta." She took another step toward him, brushing her nose against his as she smiled ferally. She ran a delicate finger down his jaw. "And Ishmael; when we find Legacy," she said, "we kill them all."

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