BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:18, A Game of Bluffs
Thursday, March 16, 2006

On their way to a Rim world at Harkens bequest, Legacy comes across a ship damaged and on the drift. The ship, though dark, is not nearly as dead as it lead the crew to believe, and the game grows more complex with every turn of the cards.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1303    RATING: 7    SERIES: FIREFLY

The next episode finds Legacy in the black, flyin' toward a little nowhere moon, when it stumbles upon a ship driftin' derelict. For those of y'all what bought the S:RPG, you'll immediately recognize the ship, and its crew, and for those what didn't... well, they'll be back, eventually. This episode also brings even more of the telepath mystery into the open, and marks the triumphant (well, almost. Kinda. Maybe) return of Friday to the 'Verse. Finally, something that Sylvia did a few episodes ago now comes to fruition. Watch for it, you'll understand when it comes. Maybe. If not, I'm bein' far to cryptic, and y'all really ought let me know that. The Aces and Eights are owned by Margret Weis Productions. I'm just usin' them a little. Feedback is love. Love me. LOVE MEEEEE!

A Game of Bluffs

"Alright," Monday said, staring at the contents of her pan. "Now what?" Zane rolled his eyes, letting out an exaggerated sigh if impatience at his charge's appearant total inability to cook for herself. Hell, the first thing he had to teach her was how not to burn water to a crisp, a task which should have, in his opinion, inspired songs and poems by its sheer difficulty. She'd been slowly getting better, he admitted. While he still didn't trust her to cook for him, he was more than willing to use the rest of his crewmates as test subjects for her culinary experiments. "Now," Zane said with that tone of mock patience, "you turn on the stove and don't fuss with it." Sylvia was shaking her head slowly, her face caught somewhere between worry and pain. She'd been like that since she'd arrived, and she hadn't moved since taking that seat in the nook. Just as well she was about. Whenever she was in the room, Elias was pretty much afeared to show himself. Monday made her way to the table and sat herself down rather heavily running her hands over the hair which she somehow managed to muss simply producing dinner. "I don't know how you do it," Monday groused. "Especially once you start talking to people." "Yeah," Zane pointed out. "Last time you did that, you split your hand open real good. And somehow managed to get all that butter and rosemary in there. I'm tellin' you, that there was a botch worth recordin' for posterity." "My, you're certainly bringing out the big-boy words today," Monday snipped prissily. Zane grinned, determined not to rise to her jibe. Sure, he was a slave off a nowhere moon, what never saw a single day of proper education, but surer'n hell that didn't make him some half-wit back-birth bumpkin to get cussed on and belittled. "A witty saying proves nothing," Zane quoted. In truth, he didn't have a damn clue who Voltaire was, but Elias got off on a tangent about him, and Zane, lacking a consistant way of shuttin' him up, was forced to listen. "Might want to mind your vittles, though." She too failed to rise to the challenge, simply offering one of her practiced smiles. It was becoming rather like a game. She'd insult him, he'd rebuke her, she'd inevitably launch a counter-barb, which he would deflect. Whoever got flustered and stormed away was the loser. So far, he was undefeated. Sometimes bein' perky and cheerful grated on folk. Sure'n merry hell it did on Monday Yiao. She was about to speak again when her attention caught on something coming from behind Zane. It was a low move, both in a conversation and in a fight, both of which were true, coincidentally; The change of focus made the opponent look away, giving the trickster a moment's opportunity. Not to say he wouldn't do the same himself, of course. This time, though, he didn't turn. "What are you doing out here?" Monday asked, concern heavy in her voice. Zane realized that she wasn't faking in that moment. There was only one thing, these days, which earned that tone, and sure enough, when he glanced over his shoulder, he witnessed it. Friday looked like hell, pale and drawn and gaunt. Like she hadn't eaten enough in a damn long while. Her dark eyes were downcast, as well, only taking furtive glances up and around her. Once again, Zane was very happy that he wasn't Syl, forced to know what was goin' on in that poor woman's brainpan. "I had to get out," Friday answered. Meekly, which didn't bode well. "It was too... confined." "If you wanted out, jei-jei, you should have told me," Monday fussed. When she moved to her twin's side, though, Friday brushed her off. "I have to do this," the doctor said. "Do this by my own." "You don't have to," Zane said softly. At hearing his voice, Friday flinched starkly away from him, her eyes suddenly wide as if he'd grown big ruttin' fangs and menaced her. Monday caught and soothed her sister, taking her slowly past the kitchen and down into the crew bunks. Zane shook his head. Half the crew was either nuts or injured, or some combination of the two. "So much for teachin' her to cook," Zane muttered to the effectively empty kitchen. Sylvia truely didn't seem in a mood for talkin' t'anybody at this juncture, so he simply lifted the pan from the stove and set it aside. Wouldn't do this ship any good to burn perfectly good food. When the task was done, he sat himself back down at the table. The table hadn't seen much use in recent months. With Jacob gettin' more and more paranoid every passin' day, he was taking more of his meals in his bunk. Friday had her meals delivered by her sister, who always ate with her. Anne was as likely to eat here as with her man, and Sylvia... well, she sometimes forgot to eat alltogether. The only one assured to be at the table was Casher, and the man wasn't perfect company. Sometimes the mechanic was floored at how a man could make it this far in the 'Verse with social skills that lacking. He was hardly crude, but he was... off, he guessed. After sitting what seemed like more than enough time it would take to quiet a fearful sister, he stood and went over to the nook. Syl still failed to acknowledge his existence, starin' as she was toward the front of the ship. She was also mutterin' something he couldn't quite make out, less he got a great deal closer than she was like to allow. He was about to have a seat on the curved couch when he realized it was red and sticky, and smelled of metal. "Wuh de tyen, ah," Zane hissed as he ran fingers through it, noting how they came up slick and red and warm. Without pausing, he threw himself forward, running out of the kitchen and down onto the catwalks. Below, the boss and Casher were practicing their forms, this time with fake swords, as Jacob tended towards. Zane caught himself on the railing for a moment. "Casher!" he shouted. "Syl's got some trouble." "Not now, Zane," Jacob said without looking away. "No, it's bad, boss," Zane pressed. "If she ain't bleedin', it ain't bad," the captain retorted, scowling as Casher's weapon lowered. "She is bleedin', boss." Casher needed no more than that to drop his false weapon and make his way up, leaving a scowling Greyson to watch as they left. Just before Zane returned toward the kitchen, he noted that Jacob had started his way up the catwalks. When he returned to the kitchen, the scene was pretty much the way it was before, with her rockin', an' mutterin', and all manner of unsettlin' stuff. And bleedin', which damaged his calm more than all the rest taken together. For sure she weren't bleedin' when she arrived, and she didn't have anything on that outfit that she could cut on herself with. Casher scooped her senseless self up and carried her down to the infirmery, a task which wasn't exactly new territory for this crew. Zane noticed that as they went down into the lower ship, she was starin' at Jacob the whole time. "Good God," Casher said when he'd laid her out on the slab. "What is it?" Zane asked. "Look at her wounds!" Casher said, going a little pale. "What about them?" Jacob asked. "Look," Casher said, holding up Sylvia's hand. It had a long, very deep cut in it. When he turned the hand over, Zane realized the cut extended from the palm straight through to the back of the hand. Like it had been impaled. "That's..." Casher didn't respond, pulling off the sleeve of the shirt off of Syl's arm. When the arm was revealed, it too was savaged. Zane felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. "And if I were to check her leg, I'm sure I'd find similar injuries there. And inside her... uh." "Lady-bits?" "There too," Casher said. He turned to Jacob. "You mind explaining to me why the hell this woman has the exact same injuries Friday recieved when she was assaulted?" Zane's head spun a moment. "It's like when Anne got shot," he muttered. Casher didn't quite seem to understand. "Back when this crew was barely put together, Anne caught a bullet in the skull." Casher glanced at Jacob. "And she survived," he said flatly. "How?" "Sylvia's got some special gifts," Zane explained. "Back when she was just startin' out, she had a way of pullin' in our hurt and makin' it her own. She did that with Anne, takin' her splattered brainpan and fixin' it up, even though it damn near killed her in the process. Did it with our last 'public relations' fella, too." "She's a Surrogate?" Casher said, pulling out a suture from the cabinets. Zane nodded, and Jacob glanced between them. "And what in the hell's a Surrogate?" Jacob asked peevishly. "It's what it sounds like," Casher said. "From what I read of Friday's file, it's a person who heals others by sympathetically accepting them into her body." "I guess it was a good thing she snagged that file," Jacob muttered. Casher continued to suture the muttering telepath, even as the intercomm came to life. "Honey," Anne's voice announced. "We've got a problem." The two shared a glance, and Jacob made his way up into the ship. "Don't let me hold you here," Casher murmured, now somewhat engrossed in his work. Zane went up onto the bridge, following where he knew Jacob would be headed. Sure enough, Jacob was leaning between the consoles, one hand on the gunner's station, the other on his wife's shoulder. Zane let himself fall into the gunners seat. "What's the problem?" Zane asked. "There's a lot of flak out there that ought not be," Anne said, hands skimming along the controls. Zane thought he caught a glance of something out there. "Hit the light," Zane said idly. Jacob scowled at him, but Anne did so without even looking. The spot swept the debris field, sliding across something bigger than the average chunky bit. "Wuh duh ma," Zane whispered. "Put the spot there again," Jacob said softly to his wife. She adjusted the light until it fell upon the drifting bulk of the ship once more. "Do you recognize that ship?" "Who wouldn't?" Zane remarked. "Ain't a gambler in the 'Verse don't know that ship." "Then whose is it?" the captain asked. "That there's the Aces and Eights." <> It wasn't for the first time that Jacob was grateful to have his own vacc-suit. When he'd worked on his last ship, there were four suits for a crew of thirty. Needless to say, they got fairly foul in a hell of a hurry, and not may saw fit to clean 'em after they were used. The pleasant odor of nothing filled his nostrils as he turned back toward the doors, and particularly to Casher, who couldn't fit into any of the suits his boat had to offer. "Anne, ring the doorbell one more time," he said. "Shr ah," she responded, sounding muted and electric, much as one would expect considering the only sound a body could hear in this sort of a suit was that what got piped in by a speaker. He waited a long moment. "Anything from that?" he asked. "Not so much as a jot, love," she responded. "Pick the locks," he said. "Don't kick the door 'less that don't work." There was another long pause, which he used to get his light turned on. He cast a glance toward Zane, his only companion, since Syl was still a bit shaky from whatever the hell it was happened to her earlier. "How'd you know this ship, anyway?" Jacob asked, if simply to avoid the silence. This was the least pleasant of a vulture's duties, picking a dead ship apart, especially when it was so recently dead. If there was atmo in this ship, it'd likely reek of rot. "Aces and Eights is the personal ship of Jack Leland," Zane answered. "Swankiest boat this side of the El Dorado. I hear he skips the Core six months of every year, lives the low life for a bit to keep him humble." "That's kinda kuang-juh duh," Jacob muttered as the outer door hissed and the locks released. He stepped forward and hauled the door open. He cast his beam through the door. The cavernous hold beyond was black. "Jack is a bit... eccentric," Zane said, stepping through the breach. He cast his his own spotlight around the large room. The stairway leading up was smashed on one side, its stairs leaning drunkenly away from their connection to the rest of the ship. "Gorram Core-born sissies," Jacob muttered to himself. "Always got to get in a fella's way." "You know," Zane said, moving to the relatively undamaged half of the stairway, "you didn't exactly have to come over here." Jacob smirked. "Somebody could be hurt," he said flatly. "You mean they could have something you can steal?" Zane retorted. "Didn't hear you complainin' overmuch when I picked you out for this," Jacob noted. "I wanted to see the ship," Zane replied. "Not quite like this, though." Jacob rolled his eye, immediately regretting it as his headache spiked from distracting to blinding. He felt his knees weaken a moment, and he had to catch himself on the hand-rail to keep himself from plummeting to the deck. Zane looked back at him. "You alright, boss?" "Shiny," Jacob gasped, taking a moment to swallow some of the bile which had risen into the back of his throat. When the pain had diminished somewhat, he opened his eye and dragged himself a bit further up the stairs. Zane shook his head, then grasped the front of his helmet, decoupling it and pulling it off. "Gorramit, Zane," Jacob shouted. "One of these days, you're gonna do that in a hard vaccum, get sucked out, and I ain't gonna clean up what's left." Zane smirked, tucking the helmet under his arm, as he pulled a pry bar out of the tool belt his suit had built onto it. The mechanic pried the doors open, and stepped inside. This hallway seemed to be shaped like a cross, and Jacob was now wishing he had a gun on him. Side by side, they moved forward to the crossroads. It was just about then that Jacob's headache returned. Not entirely surprising, considering he found himself kicked in the back of the knee and slammed to the deck. Two pistol barrels were now pressed against his faceplate, and he kicked himself inwardly for having to get greedy. Shoulda just floated on by. "Son of a bitch," Jacob muttered, as a hard-eyed Asian woman pulled his helmet off. "Didn't think you'd be stupid enough to come back for us," she said, her dark, almond shaped eyes trying their very best to impale him to the deck plating. While she was Asian, it was there that her similarity to the twins ended. This one was lithe and the bare arm pressing the gun to Jacob's cheek pulsed with ropy muscles, and her hair grew no further than her jaw. Holding the gun to Jacob's forehead was a lefty with an fairly obvious prosthetic right arm. Well, it was only obvious because the numerous bullet holes in it didn't bleed any natural color. "Neither did I," Jacob snipped. "These aren't them," came a voice much closer to where Zane had been standing. Jacob glanced over there cursing his blind side and having to crane his neck. A tall, wiry man in cowboy boots had his mechanic up against the wall, a revolver to Zane's temple. "We don't exactly have the time or freedom to dink around on this, Rawhide," the one-armed man said, his voice more than a little angry on top of his worry. Rawhide, as this man called him, took a step back, letting Zane set his booted feet back onto the floor. Didn't move his gun away, though. "I ain't killin' a man don't deserve it, Maxx," Rawhide said. "Them's just vultures, here to pick the bones." "You picked the wrong corpse, berk," Maxx, the one-armed one, replied. "Berk?" Jacob laughed. "I've been flyin' in the black since you was..." "Not unless you were flying as a fetus," Maxx retorted. "Um," Zane rose his hand. "What happened here, exactly?" The Asian woman and Maxx both turned to the mechanic. Rawhide shook his head, setting his pistol back into his holster. "That," Rawhide whispered, "is a damn confusin' story." <> Sylvia winced as she flexed her hand. It ached terribly, as did several other places on her body she'd rather not have had to think about. The galley on the Aces and Eights had been filled to capacity, every seat filled, leaving Zane and Hwa Ling, the Asian woman, standing. Even Friday was in attendance, with Monday beside her keeping her calm. Still, Friday's eyes flit between every man in the room as if watching dangerous animals. "So," Casher said, leaning against the back wall with a pad of paper engulfed in his large hands. "Start from the beginning." Jack Leland removed the cold pack from the lump on his head, wincing out at the group. "Well," he said, speaking slowly. Probably from the concussion. "We were headed from Qartuph to Santo. You know how it is; flying the wild black yonder in search of adventure and excitement." "I reckon you weren't lookin' for excitement of the killin' kind," Jacob noted. "Indeed not," Jack replied. "A ship came up on us, demanding that we stop, and prepare to be boarded. Usually, I don't have to deal with that sort of nonsense, but I figured it couldn't hurt to play along. So Maxx lets them board, and they come on board." "Who?" Casher asked, furiously scribbling on his pages. "I am not exactly sure," Hwa Ling replied. "They wore no identifying marks or sigils." "No marks?" the mousy looking man at the corner of the room asked. Syl had heard other folk on this crew call him Time-Bomb, and she really didn't want to know why. "What about those gloves?" "Gloves?" Syl asked, sitting up straighter. Jack nodded. "There were three of them. Just three. Two with blue gloves, one with black." "Two by two, hands of blue," Sylvia whispered, surprising herself. "One by one, consume the sun." She glanced around the room. All eyes on her. Lovely. "Don't mind her," Jacob muttered. "She's a little leaky in the brainpan, but she's done well by us." "Well," Maxx took up, fiddling with the damaged prosthetic that he had laid out on the table. "They had some little stick thing which made us all feel like our heads were going to explode, and they threw us in the weight room for a few hours. All but Jack," Jack shuddered a moment as Maxx said that. "So, what happened?" Jacob prompted. "I tricked the lock," Hwa Ling answered. "We got out, and the blue-gloves started shooting. That's how the captain got," Maxx shot her a look, and she rolled her eyes. "We ran them right out the airlock, and they tried to get away." "So," Time-Bomb said with a rather disturbing grin, "we hastened them along with a hundred-pounder to the ass. Royally hobbed their engines, which didn't do us much good. When we tried to power up and be on our merry, we figured out what they'd been doing with that hour." "Sabotaging your engines," Zane said. "Exactly," Time-Bomb replied. "We engage our engines, only to have them blow out behind us in a cloud of scrap metal. Five minutes later, you arrive. Which, by the way, unsettled us greatly." Jacob stood, unsteadily, Sylvia noted. She could feel the amount of agony he was in, but he didn't want anybody to help him. Dangerous. If she didn't get him to see reason, his wouldn't be the only life to be forfeit. "Fine story though that is," Jacob said. "It ain't any business of ours." "Yes, it is," Sylvia interjected. Jacob scowled at her. "How'd'you figure?" Jacob asked. "What are the chances that we would just happen across the one point of intersection on both the Santo-Qartuph and Liann Juin paths?" she asked. "Trust me." All eyes turned from her to Jacob. "Fine," he muttered. "How long'll it take to fix them engines of yours?" Time-bomb shook his head, pinching his nose above his glasses. "Months, if we're very, very lucky." "Fei-hua," Zane replied. "You an' me could get this boat limpin' along in no time. Ain't perfect, but it'll let you hit Santo, if in a few days more'n you figured." With that, the two mechanics launched into a flurry of shop-talk, which even she couldn't hope to decipher. She understood a language not spoken by human tongues, and still... Well, it was shop-talk. It was certainly exacerbating Jacob's headache. "Who were those people?" Maxx asked, fitting his arm back in place and trying it. It didn't seem to work too well, so he pulled it back off. "Another long story," Anne said. "One only Syl here's able to explain." Sylvia nodded. "Which one of you is telepathic?" she asked. "Tele... what?" Rawhide asked. "That's something out of science fiction," Jack pointed out. "Not so much," Sylvia said. "Those people are a part of an organization funded by the Blue Sun Corporation. They are... handlers, you might call them. They retreive subjects for human experiments." "And where does the telepath part come in?" Hwa Ling asked with a condescending smile on her hard face. "That's what the organization does. Somebody in the group must have learned that one of you is either telepathic, or has a capacity to become so," her gaze fell on Jack, who stared at her suspiciously. Other eyes turned to him as well. "What?" Jack said. "I'm not..." "Neither was I," Syl said. "These people will keep coming until they get what they think is their's." "This is preposterous," Hwa Ling said. "Insanity spouted from a font which you," she pointed to Jacob, "already admitted is not of her senses." "I've seen what they do to men and women like her," Friday said, her voice quiet, her eyes on the floor. "They take them away, break them to pieces and put them back together however they please. They open up their skulls and cut into their brains. Drugs and nightmares, ending in madness." Hwa Ling frowned. "This is madness." "Isn't it just?" Jacob said, suddenly finding himself slumping. "Devil?" Maxx said, and a slim woman moved up next to him. "This is bad," she said, speaking so quickly it was almost hard to pick out her words. "There's something very bad going on with his right eye. An abcess or something like it. Why didn't your doctor deal with this?" Monday frowned. "She hasn't exactly been in the proper state for surgery, of late," she said acidically. Sylvia shook her head. Monday was overprotective by a half, right now. Which was an oddness, or so she'd heard from Zane, considering when she'd come on board, the two fought like cats in a sack. The thin woman only identified as Devil pointed to Casher. "Get him up. I gotta get him onto the table double quick and under the knife or he's going to lose that eye, and the devil take me if I'm telling a lie." Sylvia frowned. Jacob didn't have a right eye. Casher didn't hesitate, though, scooping his captain up and carrying him out of the galley. Syl watched as Devil pulled the door closed behind her, and Jack stood from his seat. "I'm a big enough man to admit when I need advice," Jack said, removing the pad from his head and wincing at the yellowish stain on the fabric. "And I'd say that I need some right about now. You seem to know what I'm up against. So tell me; how deep is the shit we're in?" "Very deep," Syl said. Quiet. Quiet. They do not suspect. She almost grunted in shock. She glanced around the room, trying to figure out where that had come from. A whisper. She'd strained herself so hard to hear one that she'd actually pulled a muscle, and when she stopped trying, one just slipped in. Only she couldn't tell in the slightest where it came from. "What was that?" Sylvia asked. Hwa Ling gave a slanted look to her employer then turned back to Syl. "I was asking how you seem to have evaded these... gloved-men," she repeated. "Luck," Anne said. "And the fact that they ain't all we're runnin' from." "You do seem to have an astounding ability to accumulate enemies," Maxx smiled. "Like that other fellow. You know the one, Jack?" Jack stared blankly at the captain. "The ex-soldier? Brown coat? Down on his luck? Lookin' to buy a ship?" Maxx continued. Jack was still silent. Syl glanced to Zane, who was now staring suspiciously at Leland. "Reynolds," Hwa Ling said. "He was too righteous for his own good, then and now. Frankly, I'm surprised he's still alive." Zane rose from the huddle he and Time-Bomb had formed. He cast a smile at Jack, which Sylvia suspected for some reason was false. "You know," Zane said. "I hear you play a mean hand of poker. Mind havin' a game 'fore we shove off?" Jack stared for a moment, his face slack. "I'll think about it," he said. "Sure. Later." Syl caught his arm as he turned back to the other mechanic. "What was that about?" Syl asked. "A hunch," Zane said guardedly. "Excuse me." Sylvia let him go, and stood from her seat. She still ached in places she couldn't mention in polite conversation, and she literally limped toward the small infirmery. She slid the door open as Devil's furious. She started a moment noting that Devil's thick head of brown hair was now laying in a heap in the corner, and the woman's shaven pate glistened under the lights. Syl could see the use in that. Keepin' a selection of wigs would make it damn near impossible for anybody to pick her out of a crowd. Devil's rapid-fire verbatim had shifted into overdrive as she applied a moppy thing to the side of Jacob's missing eye. She could see white, syrupy fluid being pulled away. "What the hell's goin' on in here?" Sylvia asked. Devil glanced at her as the last of the fluid was drained away. "Why was his eye sutured shut?" Devil asked. Casher stared, mouth open as he stared down at his captain. "I thought it was rather obvious. He lost his right eye two years ago," Syl answered, holding onto the table to keep herself steady. Gorram, what a pain to have. Devil shook her head. "No," she said, running a hand over her scalp. "No, he rather obviously didn't." Sylvia hobbled another step into the room, and gasped in shock as Jacob's two brown eyes stared obliviously at the cieling. <> "Do you have my engines running?" Jack asked, as Zane scrubbed the dark and staining substances off of himself. He figured nobody'd crawled around there for a good long while. One couldn't just leave an engine like that be without proper tuning. "Well enough, should get you to Santo inside three days," Zane replied. "What about that game?" Jack frowned a moment. "Fine," he answered, heading up the stairs. Zane cast a glance toward Hwa Ling, who stared back impassively. He nodded toward Jack, and she raised her eyebrow. He did it again, and she glanced pointedly at him, obviously not quite getting what he was looking at. He nodded once more, exaggeratedly. She finally rolled her eyes and moved after her employer. Good. The games room was the one place least shaken up when the ship blew its own ass off, with just one beam dipping down over the door makin' most people of any height need to duck to get in. Other than that, the room was just ducky. The two men sat on opposite sides of the table, with Hwa Ling lounging on an off-kilter sofa, which had found its way next to the pool table. "So," Zane said. "What's your game?" Jack paused, the deck of cards in his hands. "You know what? You're the guest, you pick the game." Zane pointedly didn't glance to Hwa Ling, forcing a smile instead. "How about Boros Hold'em, no Wilds and double on the river?" "Sounds fine," he said, sliding the deck across the table. Hwa Ling sat up straight, a concerned look on her face. Zane kept his eyes dead forward, shuffling and dealing the cards. Zane stared his opponent down over the cards which lay flat against the table. "Check," Zane called, and Jack did likewise. Zane laid out the flop. He schooled away his scowl, noting that he had precisely nothing matching up with the three cards laying face up. Still, he laid out chips as if he had something, not overwhelming, but appreciable. Like last time, Jack matched him chip for chip. Zane laid out another card. Finally, a match for his three, but no luck on his seven. He laid out even more chips. Jack matched him again. Zane laid down the river card, and forced a subdued smile, despite its utter uselessness to him. He laid out more chips than before, and Jack scowled. "You really feel lucky?" Zane said. Jack sighed, and threw down his cards. Zane forced another smile, noting how Hwa Ling scowled suspicously. Zane also picked up Jack's cards, almost gasping in shock when he realized just how badly Jack should have beat him. Jack dealt the next hand, which Zane won just as overwhelmingly. Which worried him, and the bodyguard, greatly. Which set Zane to thinking on his tactics. For the next two hands, he let his tells out. In both cases, he won as easily as before. Hwa Ling was now staring at Jack carefully over steepled fingers. One more hand, Zane decided, as the deck was handed back to him. This time, he loaded the deck for a matched hand. As the match went on, he showed every tell he could without jumping up and down and throwing his cards at Jack's dark face. When the hands came up even, and Zane raked in the 'winnings', Jack didn't protest. "Alright," Zane said. "I think we've had enough fun for one night." "We certainly have," Hwa Ling said, pulling a gun out of God-only-knows-where and pressing it to Leland's head. "What the hell are you doing?" Jack asked. Zane stood up, leaning over the table. "It's called Texas Hold'em, there are never wildcards, and you can't double on the river card. Ever. Besides that, you didn't even know the rules, how to read a tell, or that even hands split the pot." "That was singularly the most pathetic game I've ever seen you play," Hwa Ling spat. "So the question seems to be thus: Who the hell are you, and what have you done with Jack?" The false Jack didn't say a word. "How did you know?" the body guard asked. "Call it a hunch," Zane replied. "Jack Leland never turns down a game, and this man would have, weren't we all starin' at him." She didn't move a jot as Zane pushed off from the table and moved to the door. "Syl!" he shouted. "We kinda need you up here. Now." Zane waited a while as the blonde telepath made her slow way through the ship. The hurts she had, wasn't too much of a mystery why it took so long. Once again, he was glad he was not only not a telepath what ate up other people's hurt, but not a woman as well. When she finally made her way through the door, she looked a bit shaken up. "What's the problem?" he asked. She gave him a small smile, then shook her head. "Anybody tell you about Jacob?" "Hell no," he replied. "Been up to my ass in the engine for the last six hours." "Well," she said quietly, still not able to see into the room. "I caught a whisper." "You did?" he said, inviting her in. "Yes. There's somebody on this ship who isn't what... it's him ain't it?" she said as she saw Jack at gunpoint. "What does she have to do with this?" Hwa Ling asked. Zane gave Sylvia as significant a glance as he knew how, and she smirked a moment, before stepping forward. "You can't fool me," she said to the un-Jack. "You can fool your guard, and your mechanic, and your con-artist doctor, but you can't fool me. I can see what lies beneath. Beneath the skin. Not your skin, is it?" "I don't know what you're talking about," Jack said, seeming to forget that he had a gun to his head. "You thought you could slip down the chimney. Steal the presents and the stockings, all the ornaments from the tree. Leave the little boys and girls crying when they realize you stole their Christmas," she said, slipping into her crazy-woman persona so damn quick it made Zane more'n a little proud. "But Cindy-Liu was awake, wasn't she? Caught you as you tried to steal her games." "This woman is insane," the not-Jack muttered. "Heart three sizes too small. Head not on, quite right. Knew the lies, but couldn't tell them quite right," Sylvia continued, moving to loom very close to the doppleganger. She ran her sutured hand down his cheek. "They ended up singing in the end. But not him." A blade appeared in Sylvia's other hand, slowly drawing closer to his eye as she smiled maniacally. "Guest of honor," she whispered, "head of the table at the feast. Carved up with the roast beast." "You won't catch them," the imposter said. "They'll be back on Qartuph before these engines can get you half way there." "Shiny," Sylvia said, slipping her knife away. She leaned back, a self satisfied smirk on her face. "You can shoot him now." "Nice to see you're up and running again," Zane said. "I ain't," Sylvia admitted. "Didn't get one thing off him outside that whisper." "Then how did you?" Zane asked. She smiled at the imposter who was being dragged away by Hwa Ling. "That was an old cartoon I saw. Seemed to work, though." Zane shook his head. "You sneaky little monkey." She grinned back, proudly. "I know." Jacob's form appeared, backing his way along the hall, with one hand over the long scar running down his face. "Somebody mind tellin' me what in the hobs of hell is goin' on?" "Jack ain't Jack. Real one's not far off our course," Sylvia said. Jacob scowled, holding himself up on a wall for a moment until Anne took her place under his arm. "And what exactly's the percentage in that?" he asked. "A friend in high places with money and connections?" Sylvia offered. Jacob rubbed his missing eye for a moment, then let his hand drop, shrugging. "I guess. You feel like bein' a big damn hero today, love?" Jacob said. Zane pulled back for a moment with a gasp. "Sounds good to me, hon," Anne replied. The two of them moved back down the halls, leaving Zane and Sylvia standing in the Aces' games room. Zane pondered a moment, before resting a hand on Syl's shoulder. "What I wanna know," he said slowly, making sure he didn't stutter, "is what happened to the boss' eye." <> It stank. The room he was held in stank with sweat and other less pleasant bodily leavings, which had been collected in a bucket sitting a few feet away from him. The room was tiny, not even wide enough for him to lay out in. He could hear what was happening outside, but he couldn't see anything besides a thin ribbon of light which managed to penentrate the room. Jack Leland was not happy with these accomodations. He was definitely not going to recommend them to his friends. Maybe to his enemies... "This is taking far too long," the young one groused. "That hit severely damaged our engines," the woman explained, with extremely strained patience. "It is miraculous that we are even moving at all." "This task seems more trouble than it is worth," the last one, an older sounding man, muttered. "How do you say that, agent?" the young one demanded. "He was not chosen out by the Coordinator," the man said. "Not all are," the woman noted. Jack ran a hand along his nose one more time. The bleeding had stopped, which was a fortunate thing for him. He didn't like the thought of having to lean over the bucket, already filled with his vomit, until he stopped... dripping. "It is not your business to question our orders," the young one said. "Did you feel anything at all from him?" the woman asked. "Well... no. But that means nothing but that he has not been activated." "Bi zwei," the man said shortly. There was a long pause. "What?" the woman asked. "Nothing," came the reply. "For a moment, I thought there was an odd heat-bounce off our wake. The rear sensor pylon must have been damaged." Jack shook his head in the darkness. What in the hell were these people talking about? Why had they stormed his ship? And, rather importantly, who in the sweet merciless hell were they? "As it stands, the planet is almost eighteen hours away," the woman said. Something high overhead clunked loudly, as if a giant marble had been dropped onto the ship. "What was that?" exactly the question Jack was asking himself, at the moment. A loud hiss sounded, and a gunshot filled the tiny space. A high hum began to sound, filling Jack with dread as a worrying pain began to work its way back into the base of his spine, but the hum terminated quickly as another gunshot sounded, much closer this time. There was shouting and tramping feet. And something he almost smiled to hear. The clicking of stilleto heels on the deck plating. The gunplay ended, and there was a long moment of silence. "Open it, now," Hwa Ling, ever the faithful servant, hissed. The door slid open, blinding Jack for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the sudden glut of light. "What's in there?" an unfamiliar woman's voice asked. "Just a bucket of puke," Hwa Ling said. She then turned from Jack to the steel recepticle in the corner. "Oh, and a pail full of vomit, too." Jack put on his most winning smile. "When I said you need to work on your sense of humor, I didn't mean insult jokes." "You specified no such thing, mister Leland," Hwa Ling said aloofly, offering her gloved hand. He hesitated a moment before taking it. He doubted he'd ever be able to tolerate people in gloves the way he had before, after this. He took the hand, and his bodyguard helped him to his feet. "Are you injured?" "Not terribly," Jack said, testing his aching muscles. He couldn't even stand up straight in that cell. He glanced around the cockpit, spartan thing that it was. The youth was laying in a pool of his own blood near the front console. The other two, who wore the blue gloves, were being held down by a man of gargantuan figure whom he vaguely recalled and by Williams. Maxx smiled with relief, seeing his employer able to move. "Would somebody mind telling me what's going on?" "That," the blonde woman who was leaning next to the black-gloved one's corpse said, "is a long story." "Well, stories are always fun," Jack said. "There's adventure, intrigue and a damsel in distress." "Distress?" the woman turned to face him. She was fairly pretty, but the shotgun she shouldered gave him a moment's pause. The man next to her was torn nearly in half by a shotgun blast. "Between the two of us, I'd say it was you who was the damsel." "I like to express my feminine side, every now and again," Jack said, not missing a beat. The woman smirked, then pulled out a few wires. "We're going to let you go," she said, facing the older man. "Mostly because there's no proper need for killin' you. Him, yes, but not you. Now, you fly back to Blue and you tell him he'd best leave us the ruttin' hell alone. If I see you again, I'm like to kill you." "You're going to let them live?" Jack asked, a bit incredulous. "They..." "...are not worth it," she finished. She glanced back at the pair. "Be thankful it was me an' not Jacob what came on board. Mood he's in, he'd likely shoot you without so much as a how'd'ya do." Jack gave a glance to his bodyguard, who rolled her dark eyes and led him forward to the airlock. Leland had a moment of shock as he beheld his own beaten, bloody face staring back at him. "What the hell?" he asked, and Rawhide shoved him bodily onto the ship. The rest of the people were making their way off this little huai di chuan and into another ship. "You can have that back," the woman said. Jack noticed that every time she moved, she did so stiffly, as if simply placing one foot in front of the other caused great discomfort. "Just 'cause I'm feelin' so generous today." "Would somebody like to explain to me what just happened?" he asked as the outer door was shoved shut. "You got took, and replaced by a double, seems to me," a man with damp gauze over his right eye answered. He looked like he'd seen more than his fair shair of thrilling heroics in his time, and his right arm was currently around the waist of a firey looking minx standing beside him. It was then that Jack noticed the looping leather cord around both of their necks. Married. Oh, well. Jack glanced up. "This isn't my ship?" he asked. "How perceptive," the man's wife said with a slanted smirk. "Welcome to Legacy, Jack." "Real Jack," the man ammended. "I'm Jacob, this is Anne, I see you've already met Casher and Syl." "More or less," he said. Jacob leaned down to his wife and whispered something to her. She smiled and made her way up the catwalks. "You must have had one hell of a day." "Someday, there will be poems and songs," Jack muttered, causing Hwa Ling to shake her head in disgust. She really did need to get a sense of humor. Maybe a humor transplant? Was such a thing possible? How much would it cost? Jacob looked to Sylvia and raised an eyebrow. She scoffed. What subtle communication, these people shared. "Are you kidding?" she asked. "If that man's a telepath then I'm the Queen of Londinum and I wear a shiny hat." "Well, that don't explain why they's after him, then," he growled, turning away. "We'll be back at your ship inside an hour. So don't... touch anything." "Don't mind him," Syl said, heading into the back of the ship. Hwa Ling followed her, and with him basing much of his upright status on her support, was forced to follow. "He's going through a rough patch." "We all do," Rawhide said, settling down to lean against a stack of crates. Jack's path took him to the infirmery, where Sylvia handed something to his body guard. "What's this?" she asked. "It's a copy of all the information we have on what they're trying to do," Sylvia said. "It might help, and it might just as much not. But it'll make it abundantly clear what you're up against." "I still don't understand why you did this," Jack said. "Coming after me, I mean. Wait, what happened to my ship?" "We did it," Sylvia interrupted, "because Jacob, sweet though he may be, has an astounding talent for accumulating enemies. I figure it's about time we started to gather some friends." <> Zane found her where he kinda expected to find her, all crouched out in that corner next to the door to the common. He sat himself on the couch and waited for her to acknowledge him. She didn't. "Syl?" he asked, and her eyes drifted open. "What is it?" she asked, sounding a bit groggy. "We're back on our way," he said. She nodded, and turned toward the wall again. "What's wrong?" he asked, when she started to frown. "It's all gone wrong, Zane. I can't read folk no more," she said, voice despondant. "Is that so bad?" he asked. She glanced at him. "If I recall, when you was just learnin' how to do this crazy niao se, you came down here for peace and quiet." "Focus, actually," she said. "Everything's gone haywire. One whisper. One... I don't know what I'm saying. I never know what I'm saying." "You seem to get across well enough," Zane noted. "But what I can't figure his how you started Surrogatin' Friday, despite the fact her injuries healed up natural weeks ago." Syl stared at her own, sutured hand. She shook her head once more. "I wasn't taking away the injuries of her flesh, Zane." The mechanic nodded, watching as Friday moved slowly and carefully around her infirmery. Monday was still close at hand, and Friday still watched him as if he was somethin' not to be trusted, but she seemed to have come a long way, from the weepin' mess she got left on Bena. "Didn't know you could do that," he muttered. "Neither did I," she replied. There was another long silence, as Zane watched the doctor going about her chores. "He deserves to know the truth," Zane said. It'd been buggin' him, since Elias went on that little tangent a few days ago. "I know," she said, her face falling. "But how can I explain it? What I did... it was just as bad as what was done to Friday." "Shuh muh?" "To do that..." she sighed. "I raped him. I took what I wanted from him and now I've got to pay the price for it." "You..." "I need some time," Syl said, staring forward in the ship. Through the decks and the bulkheads, to where the bunks lay. "I'll tell him when we reach the world. If he wants me to leave. I'll leave." "He'll still have a part of you with him, and you likewise," Zane noted. "Nothin'll ever change that." "I know," she whispered. She took a deep breath, glancing around her. "It's funny. Three years back, I never imagined I'd have a real home, and here I am. I have a home which I'm about to lose because I was selfish and cruel." "You were afraid and in pain," Zane said. "Don't excuse me none," she retorted quietly. Zane threw his hands in the air. "You're just impossible to cheer up, ain't you?" he said with a slanted smile. "I do my best," she responded dourly. Zane kneeled in front of her. "Look, I may just be a mechanic without so much as a single day's education, but I know when people need help. If you need me, I'll be up in the kitchen. Chow's in a half hour." Zane turned and walked away. When he reached the stairs, he had a thought, and pivoted on his heel. "Just one thing what ain't adequately been explained to me..." "What?" Sylvia asked. Zane pointed toward where the bunks would be. "What the hell happened with the boss' right eye?"

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