Legacy 3:10, The Agony
Saturday, June 2, 2007

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.


First and foremost, I have to say Thank You to the illustrious writer Mal4Prez, who gave me the backdrop for the current arc, and the idea for the story I'm telling. You're a peach. That said, this story almost got munched a few sentences away from the finish, so it took some creative computering to get it here. Trust me, if I'd have had to rewrite it all, it'd never have gotten done. Sure this portion is going to be a tiny bit shorter than the last few, but consider that it's part of a three-episode arc that I have planned. The parts that don't make sense, or even actively contradict each other, are all part of my fiendish plan. Especially don't get thrown at the end. Trust me, it ends strange, and leaves you hanging. All part of the aforementioned fiendish plan. Finally, I'm hoping it won't be too long before I can showcase the second story in the arc "The Ecstacy, Part 1". With work rearing its ugly head, I don't have as much time to myself as I used to, but I'll get it done as soon as I can.

Serenity, and the 'Verse entire is Whedon's toy, Niflheim in particular is Mal4Prez's. What's left, well, that's mine, now ain't it?

Feedback is bliss. Give me bliss.

The Agony

The weights hit the floor as Sylvia let out a yelp. Sloppy, a little voice in her head chided at her. Trying too much, too soon. She almost heard the muscle tearing as the mass got away from her. Now, she was going to have to deal with the consequences. Which meant subjecting herself to Friday. “You should be more careful with that,” Zane said idly from the back of the Mule. “You could hurt yourself.” “Too late,” Sylvia muttered. Zane turned to her, holding his tool out over the edge of the massive, intimidating vehicle. A pale hand reached up and snagged it before vanishing back behind the Mule's bulk. “I wasn't just talking about the weights, Syl,” Zane pressed. “Where we're going, you're going to need to check that distraction you've been wandering around the last few days with.” Sylvia scowled. “People keep saying that.” “Why exactly are you people so afraid of this planet, anyway?” Fiona's voice came from the Mule's far side. The two of them had become thick as thieves in the month since she'd come aboard. It wasn't entirely unexpected; they both had similar mechanisms of thought, they both loved to tinker with things, and Zane was steadily increasing her vocabulary in a way that would make her father turn red with apoplexy. Sometimes, even Syl forgot that Fiona was technically royalty. “There's a lot of reasons for that, Fi,” Zane said tightly. “Amongst them, it's the only other planet in the 'Verse that reminds me of home.” Fiona's head popped around the corner, staring up at the mechanic. “Personally, I'd find that somewhat comforting,” she offered. Zane smiled, if hauntedly. “You've obviously never been to Paradise, sweetheart,” Zane answered her, his voice sotto. “That's the third non-answer I've gotten about Niflheim,” Sylvia complained. “Jacob keeps saying 'maybe later', and Anne just stares at me like she knows I'm carrying a transmittable disease,” not that she'd altered that habit in the slightest for a month, at least, “and everyone else doesn't even know what Niflheim is.” Zane took a deep, purging breath. “It's... hard to explain.” “Then try hard,” she ordered. Zane shook his head, then his glance strayed up to the catwalks. Jacob was standing almost directly overhead, which was disconcerting because she hadn't sensed him approaching in the slightest. Was he getting as quiet in her head as he was in his flesh? It was a disquieting notion. “Niflheim used to be a nice spot,” Jacob began, his voice flat. A smile lit upon his lips. “I used to go there with my family and the Baihu's, on our old ship.” She watched quietly as he began his slow descent down the stairs. His arms raised, almost a shrug. “It wasn't the finest spot, to be sure. It wasn't an Ariel, or even a Santo, but it was a nice spot. There were about ten million people living there, they could look to themselves, keep themselves without any help from above, generally make a good life for themselves. When I was a kid, there was this little watering hole we used to land next to, and I remember Uncle Yuan used to cannon-ball right off the ramp into the water, which was clear as glass...” Jacob trailed off, taking a seat on the bottom step, his eyes locked on some point beyond the mere confines of the cargo-hold. “If it was so nice...” Sylvia began, but Jacob suddenly picked up again. “Then came the Wither,” she could hear the capitalization in his usage. “About... fifteen? Has it been that long?” Zane nodded. “Fifteen or so years ago, something screwed up on Niflheim. The air went from warm and damp, to hot and dry. Everything went dry. Plants died; near all of them did, in point of fact. The world lost its water, and then it lost its crops. People started to starve. Millions died in the first years. You see, the folk living on the ground are practically owned by the cartels which claimed Niflheim as their own, so they couldn't just move somewhere better when the going got tough. They had to stick it out, with dying crops and disease flying on the baking air. I don't think I need to clarify how exactly that went.” “For clarity's sake, would you?” Sylvia asked. Jacob looked up, and she could see a ghost in his eyes. It was the ghost of a childhood memory that had been brutally murdered, and its corpse displayed on his dinner table. “At first, we were transporting lumber away from Niflheim, and crops and whatnot,” Jacob pressed on. “When the Wither hit, we didn't know about it. We just didn't get called to Niflheim for a few years. Then, we get the call, and we're transporting emergency rations to the planetary capital. I didn't understand. Why would Niflheim need emergency food? Well, then I saw the planet as we drew close. Now, seeing Niflheim, having seen it Before,” Sylvia again heard the capitalization, “it was a nightmare sculpted on a planetary scale. There was a family that my father did business with, fairly regularly. We tried to hunt him down, but we learned that his wife had during the Wither, and he'd gone to the city, trying to survive with his son. While we tried to find Roy, or even Bucky, who'd know where he was, the riots came through. They knew we had food, you cotton? And they were all manner of desperate to get their hands on it,” Jacob sighed, his chin dropping to his knuckles. “That was when Julie got shot. It was the first time I saw somebody get shot before. They gave me a bad cut, too,” he gestured vaguely to his right side, “somewhere hereabouts. It would have left a wicked scar... I'd never been around people so desperate that they'd go, as a unit, violent. Reavers weren't even stories, back then, you know? So this was something I hadn't prepared for. We ended up ditching the food and taking a loss, and went back into the black to lick our wounds.” Sylvia waited for him to continue. She didn't want to read him, because, first of all, she was afraid of something that would make him feel that much raw, unprocessed pain. She couldn't see how bad that was. She'd been around desperate people back on Silverhold, particularly when the Fires went through and scorched the plains black. It couldn't possibly... “And on the way back...” Jacob continued, voice again flat, “...that's when the fire happened.” “Oh, my god,” Sylvia whispered. Jacob gave a sharp look, but it softened quickly when his conscious mind realized who he was targeting. At least, thats what she hoped was the process. “I'm convinced that's why Julie didn't get away from the blast. 'Cause she was barely able to walk, you know? Only Manny got out of the riots unscathed. And me...” He held up his right hand, for some reason, but didn't say another word on that track. Instead, he moved onto another one, his voice regaining some of its life, if not pleasantly. “I guess now, I just sort of equate Niflheim with what happened after. But still, I haven't ever shook that look I'd seen in their faces. That need. That frantic rage. Sometimes, I can still see it when I'm having a nightmare.” “That makes sense,” she whispered, tensing her soar arms. “As dire as it was, back then, it's gonna be all-gorramn-hell more nasty when we touch down in the evening,” Jacob said, rising to his feet and striking the dust from his pants. Not that there was any, but he did it nonetheless. “We're going in there, fully kitted up, spend as little time as we possibly can, and get out before the horde finds us. And they will. Pretty much everybody who's left on Niflheim is living within five miles of our drop-site.” Sylvia frowned a moment. “What about those people? What do we do about them?” she asked. Jacob scowled, reaching for the pack of cigarettes she now knew rested in his pocket. He lit one up almost mechanically. “Not a damn thing,” he responded, voice empty. “There's nothing we can do. Get in, get out, and hope like hell they don't see us coming until we're on our way the hell out of dodge. The Cartels don't like private interplanetaries, and they're willing to sell a ship out to the mob for a bent nickel if the mood hits them,” Jacob exhaled a broad cloud of grey smoke. “Keep your eyes peeled, your head down, and shoot anybody you see running toward you.” Sylvia recoiled at that last part, but she could tell, both by his face before he turned and walked back up the stairs, and by the sensation that ran through the bundle of his emotions nestled in the back of her psyche, that he was deadly serious.

Blue blinked away the dust as he set his feet onto the alien soil. It had been nearly a year since he'd become ensconced in the monotonous grind of Londinum, and in a queer sort of way, it felt good to be back out, in the field. The dry wind and swirling dust almost seemed to welcome him back. It was a strange delusion, but it still struck him. Pulling his protective eyewear down, he took a step down, onto the landing pad. “Do you feel it?” Freja asked from his side. He glanced to her, trying to discern exactly what she meant by the comment. It was sometimes infuriating to be so poor at telepathy. “Feel what, pray-tell?” Blue asked. She wrung her hands, a habit she'd picked up almost immediately after he stopped requiring her to wear the Guard. It didn't seem to affect her any other way, so he considered extending it to the others. Considered, but wanted more evidence. “Desperation,” she answered. Of all the Supervisors who remained, she was the best at telepathy, although she was hardly the best amongst the Supervisors entire. It was as though all of the best and brightest had decided to mutiny as one, leaving the curs to fight over the splinters of their former master's table. Infuriating. He shrugged, reaching out with his mind, and not feeling much of anything. Not particularly unexpected, in his case, considering he'd always been lackluster in the area. “From the looks of this...” he gestured about, “capital spaceport... I'd say they have every reason to be desperate.” Freja didn't respond for a moment, as though carefully picking out the words she dared proceed with. “It's... more than that, Coordinator.” “How so?” “I don't know how to explain it, Coordinator,” she meekly muttered. Even though she decided to remain with the Corporation, something had changed in her, too. When he'd first met her, nearly ten years ago, she was the 'gifted' daughter of a rich magnate, and every bit of arrogance she could muster had hovered around her like a fog. But now? “Is it dangerous?” “Air is dangerous, Coordinator, if given enough time,” she responded. Blue rolled his eyes inside their protective goggles. “Do you think he's here?” Blue pointedly asked. Freja took a deep breath, but shook her head. “I don't know, Coordinator. If there's one place he could hid, I believe it would be here, though.” Blue nodded briefly, then motioned his Agents forth. Until now, Agents deployed in the field went so attired in an utterly sophisticated manner, their blue Guard hidden underneath a tailored suit. Now, they were for all intents and purposes doffing their stealth and moving about under layers of bleeding-edge body armor. Bullets were every bit as much of a threat out here as rogue telepaths. He gave a glance around Niflheim's spaceport, and revised that assessment to even more than. “Fan out,” Blue ordered his almost inhuman appearing Agents. “You know what your target looks like, and what he is capable of. Capture him if at all possible. If it is not, you're authorized to use deadly force in preventing his escape.” The Agents glanced between themselves. They'd never known that their fancy guns might be used to kill one who used to be their charge. He hadn't felt the need to bring it up, during the voyage, seeings as some of them had... unhealthy attachments... with the deserters. “Follow my orders,” Blue insisted quietly. The Agents, in uneven fashion, nodded their acknowledgment and dispersed, two at a time, into the city streets. “Coordinator, if it's not too much to ask...” Freja meekly whispered. What the hell happened to her, he wondered? “What is it, Freja?” he demanded. “I need to get away from this place...” her eyes came up, and in them he could practically see the desperation she had gone on and on about. “...It's too much! I don't know how anybody could stand it.” “Are you saying you aren't capable of performing your duties?” he asked. She paused, then slowly nodded. “There's a reason I said that he could hide here... because I wouldn't want to spend any time here at all, if I had the choice not,” she answered stammeringly. Blue ground his teeth, shaking his head and noting the dust which fell from its place caught in his hair. “You have a job to do, miss Hocheb,” Blue stated. “I suggest you bury your discomfort and...” “Please,” she pleaded, her eyes tearing. Blue sighed. If there was one thing which could always twist his arm, it was a genuinely crying woman. It got him every time; luckily, he could tell when they were being anything less than genuine, so only the honest ones could affect him so. “Fine,” he acceded. “Take the skiff some place less unpalatable to your delicate sensibilities.” Freja practically wept with relief, and actually gave Blue a very unexpected and awkward embrace before she took off, at a dead and undignified sprint, for the small craft near the edge of the cluster. Blue's party, not large by any measure, had the spaceport to itself, which was quite unusual, considering the latter could have fit the former within it a good forty times over. “Is it just me, or is she acting a bit unusual?” White asked, descending the ramp to Blue's back. Blue turned and shrugged to him. White was still of few words, which meant that statement had been eating at him for rather a long while. “Quite,” Blue admitted. “But you haven't exactly been a paragon of neurological fitness, yourself.” White glanced down to his left arm, crooked into his coat-sleeve like a sling; it moved with all of the enthusiasm of a chunk of slaughtered meat. “Doesn't bother me much,” White dismissed. But it did bother Blue. White was another Supervisor, although of much longer tenure than Freja Hocheb, and like Freja, his disability sprang into existence the very day the Coordinator vanished on his not-even-remotely-explained duty. In fact, every Supervisor he had brought with him, which was all but one who remained in service to the Corporation, had developed some sort of physical, mental or psychological infirmity on that dire day. He didn't like the coincidence. “You knew him, didn't you?” Blue prodded again. “Where would he hide?” White chewed his words for a while, before shrugging apologetically. “I can't say. Might've talked a lot, but he didn't say much.” Blue let out a sigh, which was luckily intercepted by the dry wind before it could be heard. This was going to be harder than he anticipated. Niflheim, barren as it was, was still a gargantuan haystack in which a needle could be secreted. He turned to White. “Tell the others to spread out, and keep in groups of no less than two,” he ordered. White nodded, then turned to enter the auxiliary ship the rest of the 'Supervisors' were huddling in. Blue watched as the greying telepath moved off into the distance before turning. He almost started when he beheld Hunter behind him, standing still and silent as a corpse. Hunter sometimes seemed to cease breathing, from time to time. For a mundane human, Hunter still managed to unsettle Blue, a feat seldom repeated by anyone. “Flying by the seat of your pants isn't the best solution,” Hunter drawled. His voice was gravely, like he'd spent his young days as a swallower of rasps, since swords weren't readily available. Exactly what Hunter's past consisted of was something of a mystery, even in the Corporation. Blue didn't even know how Hunter lost his right eye. “Our intelligence is fragmented,” Blue admitted, “but we have to act on it.” “I seem to recall a couple of bad wars got started on that sorta thing,” Hunter pointed out, through a slow smirk. “If you have a better plan?” Blue demanded, but Hunter held up his hands disarmingly. “I thought not.” “If I may offer you just one piece of advice?” Hunter asked, pulling a pouch of chew from his pocket. “What is it, Paul?” “Be sure the shadow you're chasing,” he warned, stuffing in a cheekful of tabacco, “is not the one you cast.” Blue scowled, but Blue was already pulling on his protective helmet, making him look just like any of the other Agents sweeping the streets. Of course, he never operated in pairs, as was doctrine. It would doubtless cost him everything, one day. Blue moved back into Blue Sun One, the ship of the Coordinator, and shut the airlock behind him. For a moment, he was transfixed on the crest of the Corporation that came together as the doors slid shut. “Nul Potentum ab Universitas,” Blue whispered, “demorirum ipsum. No power, indeed.” In the morning, the hunt would begin in earnest. Until then, he would have to wait. Just like he always did in the past.
Sylvia had to swallow to get the bile back down into her stomach the instant the Mule reached the city limits. Jacob turned to her for an instant, but quickly went back to scanning the wide-eyed crowds who stared in dumb fascination at the relatively high-tech device which suddenly entered their lives. “How bad is it?” Zane asked, leaning forward. He, too, looked a little strained, but it was for a different reason, she assumed. “It's... the worst I've ever felt. Even in that Reaver ship, their terror was acute and sharp, and nothing like this,” she explained. Discovering talking kept the nausea at bay, she continued. “There, it was a sharp spike, driven into your temple over and over, eventually stopping as they either died or were turned. Here, though... It's like I've been tied by hemp ropes and pulled so tight that the ropes are at the point where they're just about to snap, and held there. Every one is fraying... That's as well as I can explain it.” Daniel shrugged uncomfortably. “Couldn't you have been a bit... less specific?” Sylvia shook her head. “I just don't want to be here any longer than I absolutely have to.” “A good attitude to hold,” Jacob muttered from his seat beside Zane, who was currently piloting. “I don't see why anybody would have anything sent to a place like this,” Dan complained sullenly. His hands ran over the submachine gun nervously, as though he was trying to school himself from hefting it. “Nobody would expect anything of worth to be on Niflheim. Everything with a worth greater than that of a turd is in the rings, and the rings are Cartel territory,” Jacob pointed out. “Still, they could have picked a safer spot. Like Canton. It's safe, it's quiet...” “Not on Jayne Day,” Zane quipped. “I can't believe that guy's got a town,” Jacob chuckled, even as his eyes still scanned the crowds with almost paranoid fervor. Zane let out a laugh. “You have one, too,” Zane pointed out. “Don't remind me,” Jacob murmured, shaking his head all the while. Silence stretched out for an uncomfortable duration, before Jacob turned and glanced at the those in the Mule. “Well, isn't somebody going to fill this awkward silence? I'm feeling a bit uncomfortable, here.” Sylvia took a deep breath, trying to ignore the roiling of her stomach. “How's fatherhood sitting with you?” she asked. Jacob let out a chuckle, and from the sound of it, an honest one. “I sleep four hours a night, I regularly find myself and my wife covered in vomit and less pleasant substances, I feel like I'm going to go bald with worry every moment of the day that he's not in front of me,” he recited, and a grin quickly flashed onto his face. “And I wouldn't give it up for anything in the 'Verse.” Sylvia nodded. “And how's Anne doing?” Jacob's grin didn't alter. “She's doing great. Hell, she's with Achilles all the time.” “Really?” she asked. Jacob's grin turned instantly into a frown. “Yes, really. Why wouldn't she be fine?” he asked. Zane interrupted, but pulling Jacob's attention forward. “Is that it?” Zane asked, pointing at a fairly large building which stood amongst its destitute peers. Jacob scowled for a moment, then nodded. “It has to be,” he said, waiting just long enough for Zane to slow to a halt before swinging himself out of his seat and onto the dusty ground. He cast his hand up behind him. “Syl, Danny, you're with me. Zane, keep the motor warm for us.” Syl didn't bother nodding, instead joining the captain on the dirt. She took a step forward, but his arm now moved to bar her way. “What is it?” she asked. “Look down.” Syl did as she was asked. She could see what looked like scuffed bootmarks walking parallel to the outer wall. She leaned down. “The boots?” she asked. Jacob nodded, leaning closer still. “These are all heading in one direction, and there's overlap,” he pointed to the edges of the prints. “Somebody's trying to walk in his footprints, and almost succeeding. If it weren't so gorramned dusty, he might have gotten away with it.” “What does it mean, Jack?” Daniel asked, hand nervously pressed to his sidearm. “It means somebody else is here. Probably patrolling,” Jacob looked back to his nephew. “And don't call me Jack.” “So, what do we do?” Dan asked. “Wait for 'em to come 'round again?” Jacob shook his head. “Building's too big. Might take 'em far longer than I want to be here. Truth be told, I'm somewhat shocked that things've gone as well as they have.” “Well?” Syl whispered harshly. Jacob didn't respond, instead pushing the wide gateway into the building open. The lights, as he almost expected, were all off. It was to be expected; anybody with power now had something worth stealing, so if one wasn't humble, he was quickly humbled. She followed as he strode into the vast room. Crates, old and dusty, all containing nothing more than timber held together by dry-rusting nails, lined the floor, almost forming a lumber labyrinth. Syl glanced to and fro, but couldn't see a soul. Add to that the deafening cacophany of abject desperation, such as she could barely hear herself think, and in a twisted way, it seemed that they were alone in the world. “Didn't they say there'd be someone to greet us?” Dan asked, following the two of them as they moved slowly between the ply-wood walls of the maze. “They did,” Jacob acceded. “Maybe they're like us, a bit afraid of some unexpected unpleasantness.” “Here's hoping,” Dan muttered. “Jacob,” Syl quietly whispered. “What is it?” “Your dreams are getting... strange,” she confided. The captain just stared at her for a moment, probably and understandably off guard. “Yours aren't much saner,” he pointed out with a smirk. “Powers of autonomous flight notwithstanding,” she pressed, “Niska. You've been dreaming about him.” Jacob scowled, but didn't speak. “You've never talked about that day. Not to me, nor Friday. Hell, I'd wager you've never even said a word to your wife on it,” she continued. “Might it be because I don't see the reason for her to be terrified by that monster any more. He's dead. He did bad things to a lot of people, some good, a lot bad, and now he's dead and there's nothing else to it.” Syl shook her head. “That's a lie, Jacob.” Jacob's face tightened into an angry frown. “Adelai Niska is dead.” “He tortured you, Jacob,” she whispered, pitching it so it wouldn't carry to Daniel, who'd taken a position just ahead of them. “He tortured you to death, then brought you back to life so he could do it again.” “Yeah, he did that.” She shook her head. “And you're just going to ignore that? As though it didn't happen?” “There's nothing anybody can do about it,” Jacob pointed out. “It happened. Nothing can change that. Now, the man who did it is dead... He is dead... so I shouldn't be...” “What was that hesitation?” she asked. “Excuse me?” he asked. He motioned around. “Not to criticize your timing for a psychoanalogical session, but we're kinda in the middle of a job, Syl. Keep your wits about you.” “What happened back there?” she asked. “There's something you aren't telling us.” “There's a lot of things I don't tell y'all,” Jacob countered. “Something important,” she amended. Jacob halted in his step, then sighed, but didn't pursue the point even one more step. “Guang cai!” Dan exclaimed. “That has to be it.” Jacob took a few steps to catch up with his nephew, and nodded slowly. Syl moved closer to see it herself. It was a box, metal where all others were wood, pristine where all others were degraded, and expensive enough to outcost the rest of the building's contents combined. Of course, it'd have to be, if it really held what Jacob thought it did. Strike that, it'd better had. “Safe and sound, and not hair touched,” Dan smiled. Jacob wasn't smiling. He was standing, his jaw slack and his eyes down, just behind Daniel. She looked down, and couldn't see what he was looking at, but something else caught her eye, peeking out of the darkness inside the warehouse. A still, bloody head. “Daniel, don't move. Not an inch,” Jacob ordered. “What?” Dan asked, confusion coloring his young features. “Call in Zane and let's get this thing moved,” he said, turning toward the box. As he did, Syl heard a thin ringing, and she saw what had had held Jacob's attention. A tripwire, grenade-pin at its end, slid almost poetically slowly through the air. She didn't have time to tell them what she saw. She didn't even have time to utter a single word. She barely had enough time to reach out and grab Jacob's shoulder. He helped her out on the most important thing she failed to do, though. His lips formed each syllable as though his face were encased in setting concrete, and the sound to her ear was distorted and long. “GET DOWN!” his roar, setting Daniel's face white as he understood the ramifications an instant too late. Remarkably quick, he dived, even as Syl began to bear her captain – so much more – to anywhere safer than here. She almost wept with frustration before his body began to move, twisting through the air in his own adrenaline-fueled dive to relative safety. Now, all of them were careening away, but she knew the soft embrace of the unhindered air would only hold them for so long. She closed her mouth, her eyes. In her heart, she prayed. Anything but this. The sound was like nothing she'd ever heard. A bomb, exploding into the silence, was doubly a shock, because she hadn't expected it. She felt the searing heat slam into her, the force instantly redirecting her away from the course she'd naively set for herself and deposited her in the destination it had wanted to see her rest all along. The crates buckled under her momentum like the dessicated toothpicks they were. Then, there was stillness. There was silence. “Jacob?” She tried to ask. The word didn't come out right. She tried to lean onto her arm and hoist herself up. Her arm didn't obey. She tried to look down, but even her neck seemed to have taken a subversive edge. There was nothing but the hole in the roof, and the sky beyond it, and the silence around her. She almost wet herself with relief when she saw somebody block the hole in the roof. Somebody was alright. They'd take her back to the ship, and she'd heal up and everything would be normal again. Well, she was still hopelessly in love with the least attainable man on the ship, so normal was relative, but there would be... Sylvia didn't know this woman. The woman, gaunt as a ghoul, leaned down, her cheek twitching. She had to have been much fuller, once, because her gown hung off of her, and her hair hung in dirty threads. Her sneer exposed rotting, pitted teeth. Oh, god, she suddenly thought. Is this it? Is this how we die? The ghoul smiled, then, leaning forward with a cruel looking shard of metal. The world swam, and time began to dissolve. Darkness swallowed her whole, and everything went away. Was that it? Was she dead? What the hell sort of heaven was this? Beep. Beep? There was no beeping in heaven. Beeping was reserved strictly for hells, both special and mundane. Her senses felt leaden, and her skin still felt like it was afire. She couldn't be dead. She still hurt. Hurt meant alive. One eye slowly, painfully, slid open. Friday breathed a sigh of relief. “It's good to see you're alright,” she said. “Although it certainly took you long enough.” “Wh...wha?” Forming words wasn't easy. Friday turned back, slowly offering her something to drink. “You were comatose for a very long time, Syl. We thought you weren't going to make it.” “D... Da...” “Daniel?” Friday asked, brow raised. “He'll be fine. Just a little shook up. He was the lucky one.” “L...” Friday sat down, her face grim. “I'm sorry to tell you this, but after that mine went off... things went badly. Zane tried to help, but... I'm sorry, Syl. He didn't make it.” Syl felt a tear roll down the side of her face and into her ear. Friday raised the table into its more chair-like configuration. “I did as much as I could, Sylvia. I swear I did. But there's only so much I can do when a man comes through those doors with that many bullets in him! I just couldn't...” she halted again, tears now running down her own face. “I couldn't do anything. At least it's over, now. It's all over...” “Wha...?” she forced herself to enunciate. “What... hap..pened?” “Jacob went back for you,” she whispered, her voice beginning to break. “And they got him. They were so... angry. They knew he had a ship, but he couldn't take them... So... they cut out...” “Is she awake?” Jacob's voice sounded from outside the infirmary. “Yes, captain,” Friday choked, trying to regain herself. “Can I see...” his voice caught. “Can I come in?” “She's strong enough,” Friday stated. She rose from her seat, and took a long step toward the door. “Let me help you.” “NO!” Jacob roared, sending a shock through Sylvia's tired body. Friday took a step back, almost in alarm. “No... I'll do this myself.” There was a squeak as he rose from the couch, followed immediately by a crash and the sound of books sliding onto the floor. This was then succeeded by his quiet curse. Shuffling steps brought him closer until she could see his hand grasp the edge of the doorframe. Her heart rose as he pulled himself in. Then shattered as he rose to face her. He had no eyes. “And you thought you didn't mean anything to me,” Jacob wheezed, a sarcastic smirk upon his eyeless face. “I guess we proved that wrong.”
“What is it now?” Blue demanded, his weary eyes casting about in the early morning. White hadn't said a word, but the look on his face spoke volumes. “First you drag me out of bed at that ungodly hour, now you have me trekking down the streets of Niflheim like a peasant.” “It's something,” White began, but gave up, offering a shrug instead. Blue ground his teeth behind his dust saturated scarf. He'd learned within minutes that it was the only thing which kept the horrid, tiny-grained grit from entering every orifice in his face. Most everybody who had to travel the streets wore something similar, in the city at least. Not many dared come near the Agents, and their flashy ships. Blue didn't blame them. “If this is a wild-goose chase, I swear that I'll have you whipped,” Blue muttered to the other telepath. White didn't take it as the threat it was intended as, though; it simply rolled off his back, like insults and threats always did. “Ain't that,” White responded. The pair turned a corner, and took in the sight. Blue was unabashedly amazed at the carnage which had unfolded. The warehouse had been staked tall with crates, many of which seemed to have been recently shredded by gunfire and explosions from within. Bodies lay on the ground, both of Agents, and grubby, emaciated locals. Blue squinted at the carnage. “What in the name of all that's holy happened here?” Blue asked. White shrugged. “Agents found the target. My guess, though, he'd gathered... 'friends', and he sicced 'em on us. Must have scrammed in the maelstrom.” “How many?” Blue asked. “Sixteen that matter,” came White's answer. “Six that don't.” “Just six? There's no way six rubes could have done,” he gestured around him, “this!” “It was just six,” Hunter's voice entered from the doorway. “And you shouldn't underestimate the power of a desperate yokel. Gerhard Haihan was widely regarded as the greatest swordsman who ever lived, under any star. He won at least a thousand duels, against the greatest of opponents. In the end, he lost in a fight against a street-urchin who was fighting to earn money for food.” Hunter pulled his helm off, surveying the damage. Of course Hunter would survive. The man was a God damned cockroach. He offered a grim smile, “The power of motivation is something often overlooked. However these people,” he gave a filthy corpse a kick, “did as they did, they must have had some extraordinarily potent motivation for doing it.” “Robbin' armed soldiers ain't bright,” White muttered. Hunter nodded, flipping one body over. “The very opposite of, in fact,” he uttered a laugh. “Whatever they were doing wasn't for money or food, which is the primary destination of most schema in the vicinity.” Blue leaned forward to ask another question when another blast went off, startling all but Hunter into flattening against the meager crate-wall. Hunter uttered a feral growl. “Of course, they'd just have to rig up a few more gifts for us...” “Who tripped that?” Blue yelled. When there was no response, he repeated himself. Finally, an answer came in guise of a fairly embarrassed, slightly shaken looking Agent.”Didn't anybody here run a proper IED sweep?” “We're here for the target, not to cherry-pick bombs,” Hunter grunted. “But still: Common sense, people!” “There's more bodies over...” the shaken Agent managed before his haze broke and he tumbled to a knee. Blue rolled his eyes. “Get Johanne to look to him,” Blue nodded toward the slumping Agent. “White?” “With you.” Blue strode off, whence the Agent came, and found the still-smoking remnants of what the Agent had snagged himself on. White leaned down, inspecting what remained, and shook his head with almost-condescension. Blue raised an eyebrow, but White didn't offer his opinion. “How many do you see?” Blue asked, peering through the suspended dust and drifting jetsam. “Three. No, four,” came White's reply. He shoved one over. “This one's tore up plenty.” “He must have been standing next to that one,” Blue pointed to another exploded mine, “when it went off. It tore him apart.” White nodded his acceptance of Blue's estimation. “And these two must have come to his aid,” he said, pointing to the other two bodies, laying not far away. One had obviously succumbed to a spear, which still had him propped up from the floor. The other's demise wasn't immediately obvious. Before he moved away, Blue turned back to the man impaled. The face was fairly familiar, but with the bashing it had taken, either before death or immediately after, Blue couldn't quite place it. “What caused all of this damage?” Blue asked, gesturing toward the massive crater which dominated the center of the room. White shrugged. “Bomb,” he offered. “I've seen the after-effects of a number of bombs in my years,” Blue pointed out, “but never have I seen a hole quite like this,” he finished, standing with his toes to the edge of the crater. It's edges were perfectly smooth, such that he believed it could cut paper like a sword, by the paper's weight alone. He ran his fingers along the inside surface. Smoother than glass. “Big bomb,” White amended. “Nasty bomb.” “Whatever it was,” Blue said heavily, ”it caused no few fatalities.” Blue let White ruminate that as he crossed around the twenty foot chasm dug abruptly into the ground. Half way to the other side, he almost tripped over another body. Half of a body, anyway; its lower extremities were totally absent. With a scowl on his face, he reached down, grasping a fistful of the blackened, scorched hair and heaving the half-body supine. “Son of a bitch,” he whispered. It was a face he recognized instantly. The hair had been blonde, once, but the eyes were still that haunting shade of blue-green, frozen in an expression of utter panic. “What did you find?” Hunter said, his presence interrupting a scant instant before his voice filled the wind-lashed warehouse. “Somebody... familiar,” Blue responded grimly. How? The Coordinator had promised that he'd deliver her to him, but... Blue couldn't hold in the black chuckle. Of course he said he'd deliver her to him. Posthumously. “Her name was Sylvia. She was a... promising potential I was trying to locate.” “Well, I guess you found her,” Hunter said, a chuckle following the clap on Blue's shoulder. “Shame about the condition.” Blue turned slowly, using every fiber of his being to restrain himself from doing something permanent and deleterious to his mission. “Take her outside of town and bury her. Leave the rest of them to the roaches, or whatever it is that still lives here that consumes the dead.” Hunter gave a surprised look. “Excuse me? You want us to...” “Bury her,” Blue ordered, taking a step toward the shorter man and leaning down. Just a hair away, he could feel the urge to crush this man, and literally everything nearby, into splinters and paste. “That's an order. Are you going to disobey a direct order... mister... Hunter...?” Hunter scowled, glancing between his paymaster and the bisected body on the ground. Finally, he shrugged. “I don't see the point, though. This is just more manpower we're forced to delegate to a task besides why we came here.” “Then DELEGATE!” Blue roared. Hunter leaned back, then shrugged and strode away, unquickened in his pace. Blue felt his own teeth begin to grind. He thrust his hand out, pointing out a passing Agent. He heard something crack as he did so, but ignored it, beckoning the Agent forward. Almost at a dead run, the Agent presented himself. Blue noted that the bullet-proof plating on the front of his helm's cowl was crossed with stress-fractures. You really have to calm down, a portion of his mind calmed, before you do damage to something you can't replace. That particular portion of his mind wasn't in the forefront at the moment, though. “What information have you on Baern?” he demanded. The Agent quivered for a moment. “None new, Coordinator. He has doubtless gone to ground.” “Find him,” Blue ordered. “I don't know that we can,” the Agent said carefully. “He could be anywhere on this planet, and this planet is not exactly Quartuph-small.” Blue closed his fist around the base of the helm's air-recycler, dragging the Agent in close. “Then you will search, every cranny and crevasse, until you find him,” he began quiet, but his voice rose in volume with every word until the last came out in a roar, “do I make myself perfectly god-damned clear?!” “Yes, Coordinator,” the Agent whimpered, running away as soon as Blue's grip loosened. The little voice, irritating presence that it was, was again railing for control, but Blue had no desire for control. He slammed his fist into a nearby crate, reveling in how it caved under the might of his hands alone. He barely even registered the pain, or that his hand came back bloody. Now wasn't the time to control himself, and bottle his reactions. Now, for Blue, it was time to let the rage burn.
“She walks at last,” Fiona said, a small smile haunting her features. Very small, and very likely forced. Sylvia couldn't tell. It was infuriating, especially because she'd always had a general idea how people were feeling, even when she wasn't trying to read them. There were exceptions, of course, but with some, like Fiona, or Zane, it was clear as day. Well, not Zane any more. Sylvia forced a smile of her own, shifting her weight onto the cane Friday had provided her. It had been surprisingly difficult to move. The doctor had gone into an extremely detailed account of why exactly that was, but Sylvia had tuned her out, distracted by the turn life had suddenly taken. Zane dead. Jacob blind. They hadn't even gotten the cargo. That was the final nail in the coffin, according to Friday. Now, they were blacklisted by both sides of the conflict, making finding jobs just on the blind-side of impossible. From the food she'd had to force down in the last few days, it was fairly obvious they'd fallen into dire straits, again. Shame to admit it, but she'd gotten very comfortable eating meals that contained some sort of food. “I got tired of the scenery in the infirmary, pleasant though it is,” Sylvia replied, her voice still not entirely of its usual timbre. Nothing about her was. It was as though everything she was was shoved into a blender, then somebody pieced her back together with lackluster results. “I'd offer you a place to eat, but we're a bit short on chairs,” Fiona said. She was right. Many of the chairs which had sat around the room were conspicuously absent. Sylvia must have had a confused look on her face, because Fiona gave a shrug. “Times have been tough, so Jacob... well, Anne actually, sold some of the furniture to make ends meet.” “How magnanimous of her to share it with the rest of us,” Syl said flatly. Fi's expression was likewise flat. She didn't know what Sylvia knew. She couldn't. She was free to be blissfully ignorant of the new mother's sociopathy. “What we're eating now is the last of the Mule,” Fi said, offering what was left on her plate. Just looking at the packaged protein and food-like substance made Sylvia feel a bit queasy. “You can keep it,” Syl said, moving to the nook, throwing open the door. The room was completely barren. She scowled, then turned and took a seat on the edge of the table. “It looks like he's sold off everything that hasn't been bolted down.” “Tell me about it,” Fiona groused. “If you want hot food around here, now, you have to warm it over a candle.” “And yet you stay?” Syl asked, confused. Fiona was royalty. She could go back to a life of luxury any damn time she wanted to. The look the woman gave Sylvia was almost wrathful, though. Fi half-stood, before she caught herself. “I'm sorry,” she muttered. “You were out when....” “What?” “Something... bad... has happened,” Fiona whispered. “I can't go back. There's nothing for me to go back to.” “What happened?” Sylvia asked. The pilot looked up, her bright eyes glistening with near-to-shed tears, and Syl regretted the question. Syl shifted her weight painfully. “No... never mind. It's not important.” Fi sighed, glancing up as Daniel peeked his head into the galley. Sylvia tried to show him a smile, but his awkward movements were even more pronounced than before. Like he was afraid to ever set his foot down, he was. She could remember exactly why. “Up and about?” Dan asked needlessly, his eyes darting about constantly. Syl shook her head slowly when he craned his neck to peer into the nook. Who would rig booby-traps on Legacy? Silently, she chastised herself. Everyone was going through a hard time. “How's the family?” she nodded toward the fore walkway. Dan shrugged uncomfortably. “Jacob isn't moving around much. Not that I can blame him... Anne's his shadow. She won't let him out of her sight for more than a minute. And Achilles... well, I hope he's alright. I haven't been down there, so I can only assume that Anne's looking to him.” “That's the bad thing about assumptions,” Sylvia grated. “They tend to get a body killed.” “Sheh ma?” Dan grunted. Syl took a purging breath, and turned back to the new pilot. “Where are we going, anyway?” “Lilac,” Fiona answered. “It never declared for the Confederacy, so it's technically a neutral planet. Of course, we're going to have to deal with the gorramned Templars there.” “The Templars?” Sylvia asked. She hadn't heard much about them, other than that they exist. “Religious zealots,” Jacob's voice suddenly appeared. Syl turned to see him ascending the aft stairwell. She hadn't even felt him coming. His hands quested for the wall after he cleared the final step, yet his tentative steps still landed with tenfold the confidence of sighted Daniel's. Anne appeared a moment later, taking his other hand and holding it to her bosom. “Their official mandate is to destroy the 'Reaver Threat', but they've taken it upon themselves to annex several Rim worlds and lord over them. Just a power play, I say.” “Jacob, let's get you back...” Anne began, but Jacob turned, as though to shoot her a look. The wind of cloth covering his empty eye sockets robbed the look of it's vigor. She halted regardless. “She asked a question,” he said simply, “she'll get an answer.” Jacob moved slowly into the kitchen, and Fiona quickly and silently gave him her seat. He took it without note, most likely never realizing it had been filled. His sightless gaze moved toward Syl again, and she felt a chill run through her. This is because of me, she thought. She didn't want it to be, or to think about it, but what was, was. She was just going to have to live with the fact that she'd blinded the man she loved. Jacob picked up again. “I'm surprised you hadn't heard about this. It's been on all the news.” “I haven't kept up on the news, Jacob,” Sylvia replied, trying to force her voice to be light. Inside, she felt anything but. “Considering most screens I could have seen it on would have bounced back my image to all the wrong people. Some of the people on this ship are still 'wanted criminals', remember?” “Be that as it may,” he muttered, and quested out with his hands. He shot a scowl to where he guessed Anne was standing. “You said you had dinner ready for me?” Anne looked around, and her eyes narrowed into lethal slits when she beheld Fiona, now red with embarrassment, holding a mostly-eaten plate of food. She held it out, and Anne snatched it away with an almost feral hiss. She placed it before her husband and guided his hands to the fork. Fi mouthed the word 'sorry', but Anne's reply, an equally silent 'get out', sent her out of the kitchen in a hurry. Anne ground her teeth for a moment, then turned towards the aft, and started walking. As she moved, her surprisingly powerful little hand latched onto Sylvia's own, and dragged her stumblingly out of the kitchen. Syl didn't voice any complaint, as she couldn't seem to force the words past her throat. “Why?” Anne demanded. “Be more specific,” Sylvia counted, her voice croaking. “Why haven't you healed him?” Anne clarified, her other arm closing tight around Sylvia's shoulder. “I know you don't like me. I think I have a good idea why. And frankly, at the moment, I don't give a fried-dog's anus-burger what you think. You can heal people. You've done it before.” “I tried,” Sylvia admitted. “Bullshit. You never did.” Anne snarled, leaning toward Sylvia, who for once, couldn't pull back and stare down at the diminutive woman. “Don't you think I tried the instant I could? You were there. I damn near popped a vessel trying, but nothing happened,” Sylvia responded, her voice a harsh whisper. Her head hung, and she shook it sadly. “It was like there was nothing there to heal.” A muscle twitched in the smaller woman's cheek, but she said nothing. “Then you're worthless to me.” “Anne!” Jacob shouted from the galley. She leaned back, finally letting Sylvia adopt a less uncomfortable posture. “What is it, bao bei?” she asked. “How long has it been since you checked on Achilles?” He asked, his tone a touch accusatory. Anne made a grandiose, if silent, scowl, and turned to Sylvia. “This isn't over, bitch,” Anne promised. “It never is,” Syl replied, a smirk on her face. Anne stewed for a moment, before moving quickly back toward the fore deck, and down into Jacob's room. Jacob's head leaned toward the fore, until the sound of the lift descending filled the air, then he turned toward the aft. “You can come in, now,” He said. “She's not going to be back for at least an hour.” “Excuse me?” Syl asked. “Anne. She might forget about my son from time to time, but when she's with him, she forgets everything else,” He said, lifting a scrap of protein to his teeth. There were, again, several missing. Friday must simply never gotten around to replacing them, which was strange in and of itself, since she delighted in tormenting Jacob on his proclivity towards losing teeth. Then Syl remembered. No money, no new teeth. Things must be more desperate than she'd garnered. “I don't like the way she looks after him, Jacob,” Syl said. “She don't just ignore him when she ain't around. She practically ignores him when he's suckling at her teat.” “Everybody's got their flaws. It's just gonna take Anne a while to pick up that motherly habit,” Jacob muttered. An exasperated groan escaped Syl's mouth before she could bottle it, and he turned to her. “What is it?” “You just don't see it, do you?” she demanded. “See what?” he asked. “Your wife,” Syl said, struggling to find the proper words. When tact failed her, she opted for bluntness. “She's ruttin' insane, is what she is.” “She has her moments,” Jacob murmured, still focused on his food. “You aren't listening to me,” Syl said, moving to his side and pulling his attention up to hers with a hand cupped on his chin. “She's out of her mind, Jacob. I've known it for three years, now.” “She's had a hard life,” Jacob said, his voice neutral. “That sort of thing is going to damage how a person...” “There is a distinct difference,” Syl stressed, “between damaged, and broken.” “And you're saying that she's broken?” Syl nodded, then realized her mistake. “Yes. And she's been broken for a long time.” “Not news to me,” He said, turning back to his food. Syl just stared at him for a while. Not news to him? How could that be? She asked him as much. “You didn't know her when I met her. She was on the edge of flying apart. I promised that I'd put her back together. I intend to keep that promise.” Jacob took a drink of water, a frown on his face. “Even if it kills me.” Syl shook her head. “It's dangerous leaving your son with him. She'll do him no good, that I can guarantee you.” Jacob slammed his fork onto the table. “And what would you have me do?” he shouted to her. “Run off into the sunset with you?” Sylvia was speechless. “Don't be so shocked; I'm not blind,” Jacob scoffed. Then he realized what he just said, and waved his hand as though dispersing what he'd just said. “Well, yeah, I am blind; but I'm not stupid.” “How long did you know?” Syl asked, her throat suddenly dry as a desert-baked bone. “Niska,” Jacob answered. “I knew then, hanging on that rack, that you were in love with me.” Jacob let out a laugh, which caught Syl by surprise. “What?” “I'm sorry. It's just that you'd already told me that exact thing, weeks earlier, and I didn't believe you. I was drunk, and you were spouting crazy as you were wont to do, at the time. I guess I should've seen it coming, eh?” a bleak smile pulled at Jacob's lips. “And you didn't say anything?” Syl responded woodenly. “Because I wasn't sure I had anything to say,” he answered. “I love my wife, Syl. You should know that. Still, I'm flattered. Hell, more than flattered; if the situation were any but the one I'm dealin' with now, I'd have taken you up on your offer a year ago.” “Really?” she asked. Jacob let out a long, sad sigh. “But that's not the way of the 'Verse, now is it?” he let out another mirthless chuckle. “It was the so-called 'good book' that said, as you sew, so shall you reap. Jesus was talkin' 'bout love, but it applies to misery with equal aplomb. We've all got our crosses to bear, and that,” he nodded toward his quarters, “is mine.” “I'm sorry,” Syl whispered. “I wish I hadn't...” “Don't feel bad,” Jacob said, his sad smile back on his blinded face. “You'd probably have gotten bored of an ugly old slab of meat like me in a couple months.” She shook her head slowly again. “Never. It's not nearly as hard as you think it is to love you.” “Yes it is. You just don't know it,” he said. He rose to a stand. “But it's not as hard as you think to be loved. You just need to learn how to survive, despite everything. Even if it leaves you with nothin' but you.” “I wish there was something I could do,” Syl said. “About your eyes, I mean.” “You've already done more than enough,” Jacob said, sadly. He leaned forward and planted a kiss on her forehead. “Now, I've got my burden to shoulder. Just promise me you'll be here to help me burden it, when the time comes.” “For you, anything,” Syl responded. “I love you.” “Of course you do,” Jacob answered, leaving her alone in the kitchen as he made his slow, blind way to his quarters. Eventually, she felt her knees starting to give, and she let herself fall into his vacated chair. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream and rail against the universe for its cruelty. She pressed her hands against her knees, trying to stop their heedless shaking, but found as little purchase there as she had here. As she worked her shaking legs, something her mother said hit her with the force of revelation. “You'll get what you want, and it will cost him everything.” Was this what she wanted? To love, and be loved, and yet be able to do nothing about it? Inwardly she wondered what the hell kind of masochist she must be. Again, she tried to muster the tears to cry. None came. There were no tears left to cry. Sylvia had simply gone empty.



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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?