thewarbingminstrel: (Katherine "Champ" Blacklott)
[personal profile] thewarbingminstrel
Episode eight has a new character! Jacy!

And now, on to the good stuff! Forgive the errors, I'm sure they're in there. I wanted to get this up ASAP, so I'll fix them as I go.

And remember, I'm not Joss Whedon. No, this is just a dream...


Comfort to me is the warm embrace of a man. Strong arms circling my waist, lips pressed to mine, and a firm…lap…to grace. I had been comforting myself in preparation of the difficult tasks coming to me that day. The man beneath me was a prime candidate for love making. Though he was crew, he was also so damn attractive it was bothersome.

I had been kissing him for the better part of the hour, and I had no intention of stopping. Not for now. It was strange how it had all started. We had bonded over the months on the mutual anger of what had transpired on the “euphoria” cologne night. I was upset that Hale had taken advantage of me, and he was upset that he could not remember anything.

He stirred against me, his big hands caressing the small of my back. “Let me know if I am going to fast…”

I rolled my eyes. “Give me break, Case.”

Gordon smiled at my broken English, something that I had never found any humor in.

“We do not have much time for this,” I told him, doing my best to control my heavy breathing. “Fin is wanting me to go into town for interrogations.”

“You still have not told me why she is sending you alone. It is going to be dangerous.”

“I asked to do it alone. And she trusts me. She and Hale are busy charting course to Valgrind with Zoe and Mal. I decide to take chore of finding where Champ went off to.”

Case paused when I brought up the missing crew, squeezing his eyes shut. “Yeah. Champ. And Ghost.”

“I should not have brought it up,” I sighed, frustrated with his loss of concentration. “It is not loss cause, Gordon. There is many chances we will find them soon. Our leads tell us they are alive. Maybe not in good sorts, but alive is what matters.”

“I would not count my ducks before they’re hatched. They have been taken by the worst kind of folk. Being gone for so long. What if…she…they…aren’t…”

“Do not think that way. We cannot give up on them. Champ would not give up on us. All we have go on is they are no use to debtors if they are dead.”

He pressed his brow to mine. We stayed like that for a long while, silently mourning the absence of our comrade. Soon he began to comfort me by tracing the outlines of my face. And after that, it was back to our play, the awkwardness replaced with renewed heat.

It was heaven, the pilot and I building up a heady friction within the confines of our clothing.

It was all moans and groping and a lot of tongue for starters. Then it was grinding, sweaty and more elated. I could not remember the last time I had teased a man to the brink. Case was swimming in my passion. I was dipping a light toe into his, testing his waters, his resistance to my power.

Gordon moaned my name into the crook of my neck, and my thighs trembled. Huh. Alright. To be fair, maybe he was not the only one effected by all of this playing. I could excuse it and say that it had been a long time for me. Or I could tell the truth. I was infatuated with the pilot. However, I was determined that this new development would go no where.

Well, no further than this.

That was the original plan, anyhow. Gordon had somehow got it into his head that we would be taking the heavy exertions to his bunk. And though I had lightly protested all of the way to the threshold, he still managed to get me behind closed doors and rid me of my shirt. And since that was gone, I saw no point in wearing any pants. And once those left, well…

I would like to take this moment to state that at least this time the sexual acts were of my clear, sober choosing. And not out of some drug inhibited black out. This time, I remembered everything. And just to make sure that I would be able to recall every nuance and detail, we did it twice.

Case and I are nothing, if not thorough.




I stopped cold in my tracks, suppressing the urgent need to shake. Turning slowly, I looked over to the doorway I was passing. Niska was lounging in an overstuffed chair, a glass of spirits in one hand and a cigar in the other. Behind him were two intimidating looking men, stoic and deathly silent.

My uncle had been hanging around my home for three days now. He was making himself welcome, and for some reason my parents did not see fit to dismiss him. So he ate in our hall with us, insisting that I partake with them at each meal. He called in an opportunity to catch up with long apart family. Except for now. Now he wasn’t playing the part. Niska was eyeing me like an ancient shark, eager for the long awaited kill.

I was not going in that room. Not a chance. Not with his henchmen along side him.

So of course that was what he bade next. “Come to me.”

“No.” My answer was instantaneous.

Niska rose a brow slowly at my defiance. “No?” he repeated.

I shook my head.

Niska laughed hard, but the sound was not pleasant. Instead it was raspy and grating, and afterwards it forced him into a series of horrendous coughs. He took a slow sip of his drink, his hand trembling visibly.

“Why?” he asked, his voice strained.

“Because. I do not trust…” I stopped before finishing my sentence. But the last word hung in the air between us. You. I do not trust you.

“Oh? You do not like the scary men?” Niska said. “These two are of no worry to you, Lidiya. They are my personal confidants. I keep them with me for counsel and protection. An ailing old man cannot have too many friends, now can he?”

I was not sure how to answer that, so I said nothing.

Niska was growing impatient. I could see it in the twitch of his long stare.

“Very well,” he finally said on a elaborate sigh. “If I make the scary men go away, will you come have a seat with me?”

I wanted nothing more in that moment than to refuse him. However some part of me, some resolute part, wanted to have my sadistic uncle reveal to me what he knew of Chunjing. It could end up being helpful. Let me know if I was in the frying pan or the fire.

Nodding once, I stood back and awaited the henchmen’s dismissal.

Niska surprised me by keeping good on his word. He one handedly waved off the two and they left, each keeping their eyes forward. However they did not go far. They retreated down the hall, their eyes on the door.

I supposed that was the best I was going to get, so I pressed a hand to my heart for courage before stepping passed the threshold.

“Close the door.”

This was getting scarier rather than better. I was in the company of a sick, sick man. A man who, I knew, had no qualms with killing those who got into his way. But I had no other options at this point, save to go through with what I had already chosen.

So I closed the door.

As soon as we were alone, I felt it. I was no longer completely at his mercy. As he had stated, he was an ailing old man. His body guards were no longer within earshot. This was my house. He was on my turf. I had to show him exactly who was in control. With a cool air about my demeanor, I walked determinedly to the seat across from him. I perched there lightly, right at the edge. My hands folded in rest underneath my chin. “What can I do for you?” I asked him.

“You can do plenty for me, Lidiya. First and foremost, you can tell me where is your sister Vanya?”

So. He did suspect Vanya. Or perhaps he was merely trying to connect the dots.

“Didn’t mother tell you?” I hedged. “She is off somewhere in the socialite circles of New Melbourne. But who knows by now. She is rarely in the same place for long. Though we are expecting to hear of her secret engagement any day now. She has been courted by a wealthy suitor for quite some time. Hopefully he will be able to curb her wayward-”

“You lie as flippantly as Nadia.”

I forced myself not to give anything away. Though I did feel my blinking slow and my breathing even. Somehow, someway, I was staying level headed. “Pardon me, uncle?”

“You know exactly where Vanya is. Yet you pretend ignorance. You will tell me now. Where is your sister?”

“I told you. New Melbourne. As far as I know, anyhow.”

A silence stretched between us. I stayed calm. He was having a harder time of it. Something just beneath the surface of his ashen, elderly skin was visibly alive with anxiety.

“You are playing games that do not suit your intelligence, niece. We both know how smart you are. Be smart now. Tell me what I want to know.”

“I am not sure what you want to hear.”

“The truth.”

“I told you the truth. I do not know where she is.”

Niska sighed, his eyes going to the door briefly before returning to me. “It is too bad you make me send my friends away. They are so much better at interrogation than I am. They have had years of practice. Professionals, you see? Very reliable men. They know just when it is time to quit, just when someone is ready to break…”

“You want to know where Vanya is so badly that you threaten me?” I gave him a disgusted look. “Why? What do you want with her?”

“The same thing I want from you. Answers.” He wheezed a bit, and I was afraid that he would go into another coughing fit. I was loathed to be in here longer than I absolutely had to be.

“You have only asked me one question.”

“Fine. You say you know not where your youngest sister is? I believe you. I tire of roundabout conversation.”

Niska paused for a moment, and I started to wonder if that really was all he wanted to know. But in some ways, what I was saying was the truth. For all I knew, Vanya and Fin and the rest of the Chunjing crew had already sped off to save River.

My uncle was far from done with me. He sat forward slightly, his aging body unbalanced in the large chair.

“I will tell you something, niece. There are people out there. Not so nice people who try to make my business difficult. I think that you know who these people are, and you befriend them. This is very unwise, babushka. I fear for what could happen to you if you do not stop your ways. Think of what you have here, huh? A life? Opportunities for marriage. Food in your belly and warmth in your bones. All of those things can disappear in flash. So quick you can lose everything, little girl. And all for what? What do you have to show for your connections?”

Sitting back again, his arms opened in mock welcome. “If you really want adventure or prestige, all you need to do is come to your old uncle. I have plenty of things on table to offer. Just ask. I reward you well for your time with me. So come now. No more games. Tell me everything, Lidiya. And you will live good life. Tell me nothing…” he drifted off in implication.

I took a slow, deep breath. My mind raced with everything that I could say to throw him off of the scent, everything I could do for Chunjing. “Here’s what I know…”

He rubbed his hands together. “Yes?”

Before I could continue, the door swung open slowly. Both Niska and I turned to see Luli standing with a tray.

“Excuse me,” she bended in a small, adorable curtsy.

“What is this interruption?” Niska’s ire was growing dangerously swift.

“The Lady of the house insisted that you have this healing tea,” Luli explained quickly, walking into the room. She placed the tray of drink and cups onto a nearby table. “She also requests that her daughter come to her immediately, as she has something of importance to discuss with her.”

Luli’s gaze was darting between Niska and I.

“Tell her Lidiya is busy.” Niska dismissed her.

“Oh no, it will be my head if Miss does not come with me.” Luli insisted, which was out of character for a servant.

Niska noticed it as well. “You overstep!…”

“I had better see what she wants.” I started to stand, suddenly eager to vacate the room.

Adelei was shocked into a sputter. “We have not yet finished our discussion!”

“We will have to continue later. Forgive me.”

He was not used to hearing the word no. His face was dour, his posture stiff. He said nothing more though, as I left. Just stared in silent contempt at our departure.

“What were you thinking?” Luli accused in a harsh whisper as we departed Niska’s guest quarters.

I could feel the blood rush inside of me, pounding throughout my veins in a nerve wracked thrill. “What?” The word passed my lips in a hushed voice, matching Luli’s tone.

“You were alone with that murderer!” Luli grabbed my arm and tugged me along quickly, down an opposite corridor from my mother’s usual haunts.

I frowned as she led me towards the servant housing. “How did you even know where to find me?”

“When it comes to who is in the confidences of that swine, I make it a priority to know.”

What kind of talk was that? I did a double take as Luli searched every corner before taking me into her room. She slammed the door behind us, locking it.

Her sleeping arrangements were simple: small cot in the corner of a feeble sized room. A grate of a window let in a stream of dying light. A closet housing minimal space, which would matter if she had more than five dresses to rotate. A trunk filled with more linens, under garments and cleaning supplies. Nothing speaking of warmth or security. Nothing permanent. The space was efficient for sleeping, not a place to occupy yourself with your own company. Instantaneously I felt a pang of guilt. My lover, sleeping in such meager means.

Luli walked to a table and lit a oil lamp. The room soon glowed brighter with ambient light.

“I do not understand what is going on,” I told her. I stood close by the door, arms crossed in front of my chest.

She kept her distance, beginning to pace a bit. She listened at the grate, probably making sure that no one was passing by. She evened her breath, she played with her hair. I was doing my best not to become entranced by her, which is something that I was frequently want to do in her presence.

“I know about the things that Niska has done,” she said simply.

That was not much news. Most people new of the horror stories where the mob side of my family was involved. Said mob made it a point that those stories would be spread.

“Of course you would.”

“Lids, he is a bad man.”

I grunted. “I know. But I am involved now. He knows I have connections with some of his enemies. Hell, he probably knows I am working for Affinity. But I am not going to know for sure until you let me finish my talk with him.”

“Once he gets what he needs from you, he will end you.”

“He cannot do that here,” I told her confidently. “I am surrounded by my father’s watchmen. Not to mention you, my personal body guard. Niska may be evil, but he is not stupid. If nothing else he will try to get me out of here before killing me.”

“Do not make attempts to say what he will do and what he will not do. He is completely insane! And you have no business talking with him alone!”

“I was hired to help Fin-”

“At what cost? At the cost of your safety?”

I was not sure what to say. I instead scratched my head before asking, “What is it that you know? Something that I do not?”


“Luli. I have been a part of this family for all of my life. I know about the underground trades and the seedy deals that have been made under my mother’s nose. I know about the slave market and the unmarked guns and the gang affiliations.”

She stormed up to me. “But do you know about the killings? The blood sought out of vengeance? Do you know about the murders that break apart families and leave people destitute? About the rival competition he sought, decimating not only the threat but their connections as well? What about those who were left to the streets? Penniless? Doomed to serve from house to house because they lost everything and everyone? What do you know of that, ai ren?”

I did not know what to say at first. Flabbergasted, I shook my head slowly from side to side.

“And how could you?” she continued. “There is no way that you can understand. Niska does not only remove those in his way. He leaves no witnesses. He kills men, and then waits for the opportunity to go for their families. Their friends. Their children.”

At the last word she shook violently and a tear tracked a path from the corner of her eye to the point of her chin.

“What do you mean?” Was all that I could force out. “How…do you know that and I don’t?”

Luli realized that she had lost her temper. She tried to compose herself, but she was shaking far too wildly. Her usually prim countenance was broken. She looked terrified. And lost.

I reached out to her, but she backed away. “What do you mean?” I asked again, forcefully this time. “Are you speaking from experience?”

“I have said more than I intended to say.” With a broken voice Luli stepped away farther. She walked to her cot and sat on the edge, lifting a quilt onto her lap. The colors were vibrant and beautiful, the most detailed item that she had in the entire room. I forced myself to take everything in. The open case. The few clothes. The broken woman seated on the bed, silent tears shaking her shoulders.

That is when I forced myself notice. Luli did not only look like she had too few things to call her own. She looked as if that were done purposefully. Most of her belongings were still stashed away in that single trunk, as if she were not planning on staying put anywhere. I stared at that trunk for a long time. Then I stared back at the bare walls. The lack of furniture. The parcels that were left packed. Again at the lacking wardrobe.

When I looked back at her, suspicion was crippling me to the spot. Luli’s normally placid features looked stricken with agony. The tears continued to drip in the silence, the only sound her harsh breathing and my own heart beat slamming in my ear drums.

“Luli. What have you been keeping from me?”



“I can’t believe you decided to come out here with me.”

I eyed my partner with scorn. What did he think that he was doing? Case had barely made it out of his sick bed. And here he was following me around. I was not sure what I thought about it. But if I thought anything of it, it was probably that he should be sitting at the helm of Chunjing, waiting to take off. Not out here in this messy business. My concerns, of course, were of the nature pertaining to me and my comfort. Not of his illness. How could that be, when I had no feeling for the man at all?

“I just thought I would lend a hand in finding Champ and Adamina. After all, I have gotten by long enough without towing my share.”

If he was looking for a compliment, he would not find one here. Instead I took larger strides to escape him. I had a slight height advantage on him. But that did not deter him. He easily kept at my side.

“You are of understanding that this mission is highly dangerous, da?” I queried. “I mean, there will most likely be fighting.”

“I am prepared to deal with the consequences.” Case said. But his words were unstable. And his tranquil poise shook a bit. It was only a flicker, but I was beginning to do well at picking up on such expressions.

I stopped to glare at him. He took two steps ahead before noticing and stopping himself, back tracking to where I was now rooted.

“If you end up getting sick again, we will be stuck on this rock for God only knows how long!” I pointed at him. “I forbid you make yourself ill once more.”

“I will be fine.” Case said, holding his palm up. “I swear.”

“How will Ghost or Champ ever be found if you stay out of commission? You are only pilot we have.”

“Are you worried about me?” he asked, his voice going a little deeper.

The urge to hit him was overpowering, so I instead stomped on his foot. He jerked, but stopped when he realized he could not feel the blow through his heavy boot. He laughed good naturedly. I scoffed.

“Do not worry about me, Vanya. I can take care of myself. I am a big, strong, handsome man. Some have gotten by on less.”

I felt my brow lift in a high arch at him. “Does sex always make you this affable?”

“Sure. It is a good work out, it pumps your endorphins,” his voice went deeper. “And you are quite the skilled little imp. Right now, I feel motivated. Confident. I feel as though I could take on the world, and the world would limp away hurting.”

He acted that jovially all of the way to town. I was skeptical. As I had stated, the last thing we needed was our pilot sick again. Hale was damn near ready to fly the boat himself in order to get to River. And Fin was doing everything in her power to keep him from doing just that. We had a few more answers to seek out before hopping into orbit. Once we got those answers, we would be better suited to get work done.

We were just entering the town’s nearest pub when Case’s radio buzzed. He fished the receiver from deep within his pocket and answered. “Yes?”

“Case. Have you spotted them yet?” It was Sebastian.

“No, not yet,” he answered. “Haven’t even started asking around yet.”

“Give us word the instant that you do. We are running on precious little time here.”

“I assume Finy is the one having you relay that message?”

“You will be pleased to know that I cleaned up her language a bit.”

“Right. You will be notified directly. Over.”

A laugh. “Over, and out.”

“Careful with that thing,” I warned him, lowering his arm to his side. “We are suspicious enough being outsiders and all. One look at that and no one is going talk with us.”

“Sorry. I have just always wanted to say ‘over’ on the radio feed…”

“Play your little games later. We have working now.”

The two of us split up. Casually, we made our way around the bar. I sniffed around the gambling tables. Case got himself a mug of drink. Before long we had intermingled with the locals. They did not seem to mind that we were from out of town. Some were eager to talk about the trouble they had been having with a certain infamous mob. Others were even eager to gossip about Josef and Patty. I heard a lot of talk about people disappearing in mysterious ways after owing the big boys money. A lot of it sounded like tall tales, but other stories were more on the legitimate side. One thing was for sure: these men were not ones to tussle with. And they worked for someone that no one quite knew the name of. A puppet master of the shadows who kept the locals on this moon good and intimidated.

I was in the middle of debating whether or not I should ask about credit for gambling, when the old timer I had been talking to grabbed my upper arm to shut me up. Two bandaged men walked into the dusty opening. They both looked pretty beaten up, but browbeating none the less. Their scowls were identical. And when everyone seated got quiet, I knew for a fact. These were the men I was looking for. I looked to the local I had been talking to for confirmation. He nodded. It was them alright. The two we had been searching for.

They strolled in leisurely as if they owned the place. And for all that I knew, around here they did.

I stood slowly, starting to make my way toward Gordon. He was facing the bartender, but seemed to anticipate my approach because he turned around to face me before I reached him.

When Josef and Patty spotted Case, they each froze in time. It took me a minute to register the looks on their faces before I realized. It was fear.

Two giants afraid of the smaller Case? But why? They each bristled, on their guard. I saw Case smile mischievously.

“Nice to see you again, boys.” Case’s voice carried across the near silent room. He sounded unruffled, also menacing. I had never heard him sound that way before. Apparently he knew these men. And he did not like them. Gordon cracked his neck, then his knuckles in turn.

I looked the mobsters over again, trying to take everything in. Both were massive and burly, both were identical in dress. Even when it came down to their bandages. One had a bruised eye and what looked like a broken nose. The other was missing a tooth and his jaw was swollen. I did not recognize them. But Gordon did.

And they were now running from him at a speedy, clumsy clip.

“Vanya!” Case hollered as he went after them. “Come on! We need to get them before they contact their boss!”

We took off after them, our strides matching in urgency.

“How do you know them?” I could not wait to find out the answer.

“Those are the two who were rough housing Ghost!” He shouted back over the breeze whooshing by our ears.

That was it! They were the men who had accosted Ghost in the alley! The men who Gordon had beaten unconscious all on his own.

Reacting instead of thinking further, I ran with Case out of the pub and through the dusty streets, in pursuit of the goons who might know where Adamina and Katherine were.


Affinity was shocked, that much was obvious. She looked from me, to Gordon, to the two men tied to the chair. Josef and Patty were bound and gagged, both had extra whelps on their already bruised skin and were giving everyone wary glances.

“I don’t understand. How did you get them here?”

“It wasn’t easy.” Gordon said. He was holding a bloody fist, a gray pallor about his visage.

I was staring at him as if I had never seen him before. The way he had fought. It was… legendary. I now saw why Ghost had been so amazed as well as appreciative of Case. He was some kind of supreme warrior. The caliber of his fighting had been breath taking. Like poetry. With fists. Nothing else he had said or done previously had enamored me to him more than now.

But he did not look well. He was swaying slightly. And I could not help but feel that soon he would be ill. So, as friendly and covert as I could, I snuck an arm around his waist and tried to keep him standing.

“Why are they gagged?” the captain asked. “Were they making noise?”

“They were…crying.” I answered.

Hale chuckled into his fist. “Crying?” Fin’s eyes looked like they were about to pop out of her head.

“Yeah.” I said. “One of them hit me.” I showed them the dark mark on my left cheek. “Case sort of lost his cool after that.”

There was silence for a moment while Fin’s eyes darkened and Case nodded solemnly.

“Are you alright?” Hale asked.

His concern bothered me. “I’ve been hit before.”

“Yes, I’m sure, but these men are built like tanks. His fist alone looks like a balled up steak-”

“Case took care of it.” I said in finality.

“You got them here. Well done.” Fin seemed unable to string anything better than that together, and she looked back to the goons with a gleam in her eye. “I assume you two are willing to talk?”

Both of them nodded.

The gags were removed. And Fin, fearlessly, leaned in eye level with the captures. She jumped right into the thick of things without preamble.

“Are you the men who took Adamina Prickett about three weeks ago?”

“Yes.” One of them, Josef or Patty, answered.

“And was she with someone?”

“Yes.” The other answered quickly. “Another girl.”

“What did she look like?”

“Big girl. Red. Loud mouth.”

Everyone in the room let out a collective sigh. Sebastian, who was in the corner, closed his eyes with relief. “Katherine,” he whispered into the air.

“That girl was my crew.” Fin’s voice quavered with fury. “Who told you to take her?”

“Our boss said to take Prickett and anyone who tried to defend her. After we got our asses kicked by that mad man,” he jerked his head fearfully at Case, who still stood there holding his fist. “He tell us to bring nine more men and make sure Prickett did not get away. So we follow orders!”

“How much does Prickett owe you?”

“Enough to garner attention from our boss.” he hedged.

“And where did you take them?”

They hesitated.

“Where did you take them?” Fin repeated, more loudly.

Being that the men were tied together, they had a hard time looking at one another. But they had a go at it anyway, trying to judge whether or not to answer straight away.

“We cannot tell you!” The one closest to Case shrieked when he took a single step away from me. “Our boss-”

“Your boss isn’t here.”

“But we’ll be dead men!”

“What do you think will happen when it gets around that we’ve captured you? Do you think your boss will let you live anyway?”

“Your friend is not alive by now,” Patty said. “You may as well give up-”

He was cut off with a gust of an impending blow. When it landed, his groan of pain echoed in the kitchen.

Case stood back after administering the well aimed hit. Patty went limp in his binding, his eyes squeezed tight with pain. Josef gulped.

“Being that my pilot is rearing to dole out more of our hospitality,” the captain said. “I think that you should reevaluate where your loyalties lie.”

“You would sick that dog on two defenseless men?” The goon was squirming in his seat.

“Says the man who used nine other men to take two women off this rock.” Hale jeered evilly. “Where are they? We want exact coordinates.”

“You would be fools to try and find this place. It is guarded. No way in, no way out.”

“We’ll take our chances, now tell us!” Fin shouted.

Josef looked almost smug now. But the look was quailed by his still ebbing fear of the nearby Case. He did, however, lift his head up and say as clear as he could…




Jei-Jei smiled and did a little point with her toe, as if she were about to break into a little dance. She was burnt from the hot sun and wearing a tattered dress, but she was alive. That was more than anyone was expecting.

“River? THE River?” I was unable to shake my shock.

“You know each other…” Ghost muttered. “What are the odds?”

What were the odds, indeed? River Tam. The very woman my crew was searching for. Right in front of my eyes. And smirking at me as if she were in on some private joke that I was missing.

“Who brought you here?” I hurried over to her, lowering my voice.

River shrugged a shoulder, her mysterious smile still lighting her face. “I have always been a wanted woman.”

“But…!” I was not sure what to ask her. She was unharmed, as far as I could tell. So did the men outside the gate know about the mountain of treasure walking around the vicinity? “Do they know who you are?”

“Yes.” She answered airily, as if it were no concern.

“Are you sure?” I stressed.

River Tam looked up to the sky. She took a deep breath, as if she had been waiting to say this for a while.

“And she looked up in her dreams and saw what was to come. And thus, it was a land with rough hands and forced flesh. She knew her future was to bring pain to those who loved her and kept her for years. The hunter would come. And they would kill for her. But she could not bear the thought of one of them being killed for her in turn. One who always showed her kindness. So she picked herself up when she felt the devil’s ship land. And she embraced her fate in willing arms.”

A frustrated puff vacated my lungs. “Wonderful!” I said sarcastically. As if I knew what the hell that meant. All I could gather from that babble, in the midst of my frustration, was that Hale’s cracked aunt left the Tam home on purpose.

“Don’t worry. The auction as stands has not peeked the greed handler’s hopes. Her head is not yet purchased. And in the meantime she can be Jei-Jei to the broken ones who did not foresee this land. And she will build with them and make with them. And be them.”

River walked away without any more explanation. I turned to glance at Ghost, who was looking puzzled.

“Well, we found her,” I barked. “Only, there’s no gorram way I can tell my crew that!”

“That is the woman that Captain Reynolds is looking for?”

I nodded, staring off in the direction that River had left in. “Its her.”

Something uncoiled in me, and I held a hand to my head. The helpless trapped feeling was all consuming. Revolving in a slow turn, taking in the surroundings, my eyes darted determinedly to every corner I could see. It was now even more important that I got out of here. I had to get in contact with Affinity. They had to know where to find us. They had to come here. Otherwise, who knew what hell was about to break out? It could be days, for all I knew. But somebody was going to keep River here until they got their moneys worth out of her. And then they were going to hand her over to anyone who wanted her bad enough. And if Hale’s and the Crew of Serenity’s admonitions were anything to go on, there were plenty of people who wanted her bad enough.

I had to dig deep down inside of me and find the part of myself who wanted to live. And then search the other part that wanted to complete Fin’s mission and keep River Tam out of danger. But right now, I was in danger. And I was not one to protect anyone in said current status. Hell, I didn’t even have enough strength to stand in the boiling sun without swaying slightly. In what universe was I going to be somebody’s body guard? Injured. Ill. And weaponless. I was as close to a bodyguard as Sebastian Hart was to being a Sheppard.

Gorram. Would I ever even see them all again?

The large gate swung open slowly. Everyone who had been working stopped abruptly.

Ten armed guards walked inside. They each held their weapon up.

“Get in line!” the men roared, intimidatingly loud. “Form a line! Now!”

Everyone flurried over quickly. I was surprised for the first time by how many people were actually there. Men and women of all ages. There had to be at least thirty people, including me and Ghost. If it weren’t for the gun barrels pointed at each of us, I would consider attempting an uprising. I looked to the gate. They fearlessly left it wide open. Anyone who tried to make a run for it would get shot before they flinched in that direction.

However, the men were not militarily trained. I could tell that much from what little I had seen. They managed to get everyone lined up evenly, however many of them were not watching one another’s backs. And the way they shuffled, their fingers dangerously close to the triggers, alerted me to the fact that they were not as confident as they seemed. Perhaps it was the fact that they knew they were outnumbered.

“Hands where we can see them!” A large dark guard swung his rifle, intending to hit those who were not listening to instructions fast enough. “Palms forward! Eye level Now!”

Ghost brushed my arm with hers as she rose her hands to her temples.

“Stand apart!” Another guard, this one with a quavering voice, began shoving people about a foot away from each other. “You know the drill!”

I stepped away from Ghost before we were forced apart. Her arms were unsteadily shaking, the prickling of tears did not seem too far away. She was not used to having a gun aimed at her.

Neither were a lot of the others. From what I could see, the simple threat of the armed men was enough to force everyone into cooperation. The only people who seemed not to be flinching were me, River, and a handful of middle aged men.

I knew the hell that River had seen before. I didn’t know about the others. Me, myself? Well I was thankful for the first time that Finy had us chasing reavers all over the ‘verse. Because of that it seemed that not a lot could shake me up anymore.

Hey, its not a brave front if you delude yourself momentarily into feeling it, right?

Keeping a cool head, I watched them. Their formation was sloppy. Unplanned. They threatened more than anything else. Occasionally someone would get kicked or hit with the butt of a gun, but it did not seem like any of the men really had the stomach to make an example of anyone. They hollered and shouted, all gruff and buff, for five minutes before standing back, eyes toward the gate.

“Clear!” The large dark one shouted. “Everyone is accounted for!”

A lone guard walked through the threshold. From his gait alone I could tell that this was the man to worry about. He was large and muscled, like the rest of the armed men, however he carried himself differently. He walked like a man who had killed before.

He dragged in his wake a woman. She was tugging against him resolutely but he paid her as much attention as if she were a fly.

The woman was thick and brown. Her long raven hair hid what I knew were native features. She had blood on her, but I could not tell where it was coming from. The new guard threw her hard to the ground, and her hair split over her face, revealing almond shaped eyes, apple cheeks, and plush lips.

I visibly started. No one noticed but Ghost. She turned slightly.

“Got a new one for yer lot.” The man spit at the ground in emphasis. “Show her the ropes. Get as much work out of her as you can. Weak as she is, I doubt she’ll last three weeks. Then again, I’ve said that about a lot of you filthy pigs, haven’t I?”

His eyes scanned the line. Twice. Then rested on me.

“Ah. Look whose up finally?”

Leering, he stomped directly over to me. I held his gaze, doing my best to ebb my fear mingled fury with harsh breaths.

“Feeling better, ya?” He circled me like a hawk. “All up and ready to join the fun?” He stood before me again, chucking my chin hard with his fist in a brutal gesture. It was pointless, because I had yet to blink let alone look away from him.

“You are in luck. Because you are here to work, and we ration your meals, you will be losing a lot of weight. Perhaps we will make you super model, ya?”

His words were like ice, but I did not care. What could words do to me that this caring environment already hadn’t? Need I remind him that I was not here by choice?

Perhaps he noticed my bold portrayal. Or maybe he just had a sore side for me. But when I did not answer him in turn or even dare to blink the hulk head butted me. Pain overrode my senses and I fell to the ground hard. My already pounding head increased in volume. The surrounding guard made sounds that were a mix of shock and laughter.

After I slunk to my knees, he kicked his booted foot into my side. I shouted in pain and covered my midsection, shrinking away from what might have been a further expression of his rage.

“Let this be a reminder to the rest of you! You only get so much sick time. Your time here is to be spent building this community! If I catch any more of you sleeping on the job you will be taking a much longer nap than you would like! In the dirt!”

Great line. I shuddered.

What he lacked in eloquence he made up for with being utterly petrifying to the locals. No one spoke as the hulk gestured to the rest of the guard. They followed him out of the village without looking back.

Once the latch on the gate sounded, people swarmed. Some ran back to work. Others went to the dark haired woman in the middle of the road. And a few others, bless them, came to my aid.

But I was ignoring my pain for now, putting it on the back burner. I struggled against their hands and headed to the woman who was being supported by two smaller women.

“Wait! Wait!” I heaved myself closer until I was within arms reach of them. I grabbed the girl being supported by others. Her head lolled over, but her eyes were open.

“Hey! Can you hear me?” I said to her, my breath heavy.

Her voice was raspy, blood trickled out of the corner of her mouth, but she nodded. “Katherine.” She whispered.

“You know her too?” Ghost sounded amazed.

My turn to nod. I pushed those carrying her with the tips of my fingers. “Get her to a bed. I’ll take care of her.”

“No, Champ! You need to rest again.”

“You heard him just as well as the rest,” I shot back at her. “If I rest for more than a few hours I’m dead. He made it perfectly clear-”

“They do the guards based on rotation. According to Jei-Jei. You probably wont even see him again. And considering that he damn near put you in the same place that you were in when you arrived here-”

“I’m fine,” I lied. The ache in my side was nearing unbearable. My eyes were blurred from the hammering in my brow. However if I did something useful, like help out the friend who was being tended to, maybe the easy work would help me recuperate faster.

“Just do as I say, Ghost.” I leveled her with a look that garnered no further argument. She helped me to follow in the newcomer’s wake.


“Where am I?”

I did not jump at the first coherent words my patient had used in hours. Instead, I broke into a large, satisfied smile.

“Welcome back. Do you remember anything?”

“No.” she said at first, twisting slightly away from the cold compress I held to her blackened eye. “Oh. Wait. Yes. I remember walking through a crowd. And…and I saw…something. A man. Following me. I didn’t recognize him, so I tried to get away from him. And when I rounded a corner, there was an entire group waiting to jump me.”

“Do you owe anyone money?”

“Who doesn’t have debt these days?”

I scoffed. “Right. Well, sorry to break it to you, but you owe the wrong sort people.”

“That is far from news. Katherine. Trouble seems to find me everywhere I go.” She eyed me knowingly.

I held my hands up. “They call me Champ nowadays. And I didn’t get you into this one, Jacy.”

“I ‘spose not. What are you doing here anyway?”

“I wish I could tell you. I got mixed up protecting someone I shouldn’t have stuck my neck out for. And that’s the short version.”

Jacy Callahan was one of my closest friends. True friend, not just a working buddy. I knew her from my home town. Her family had taught mine so much. Healing, quilting, growing things. When I had left it was hard for one reason. And that reason was Jacy.

And now we were here on the damn rock. Both of us helpless. My resolve to find a way out came even swifter while my courage wavered all at once. How in the hell were we going to get out of this?

I explained to Jacy everything that I could about where we were and what I knew. I told her about Ghost and I told her about River. She listened to me talk with a grim look on her face. I was sure that I was mirroring it.

“We do not have a lot of choices here, do we?” I asked her.

Jacy was sitting up, leaning against her knees. “Only one. Ambush.”

“Jacy. We have no weapons. We barely have people standing upright.”

“It’s that or sit duck and wait for a rescue. How likely do you think it is that your crew will make it here in the next week? You’ve already been here how long?”

An ache seized my chest.

Jacy continued.

“Maybe they aren’t coming, Katherine. You need to assume that at this juncture. Because if they don’t, you will be stuck here until the monsters here do you in.”

The thought that Affinity would cut her loses and leave Ghost and I here had not occurred to me. I visibly crumpled in my seat. My jaw stiffened.

“They have to come.”

“No they don’t, Katherine. You are just a crew member. Replaceable. Expendable. Can you honestly say that you have one friend aboard that ship?”

“They’ll come for River. Even if they don’t come for me.” I said, surety making me brave. “They will.”

“For all they know, she’s dead. And they have no way to find out where we are. Give it up, now, friend. And lets think of a plausible way to get out of here.”

I stared at her as she spoke about ways to get the jump on the guards, a hollow feeling resounding in my chest.

Maybe they weren’t coming? What if they weren’t?



“Get them on the ship.”

Mal’s voice was overtly authoritative as well as confident. Two things that I was not really feeling right now.

I nodded and stuck my boot to the back of Patty. He stumbled up the walk of Chunjing, grumbling behind his gag. Sebastian made sure that they got inside and they continued down the line. Hale took over their procession from there. No one was letting them get away.

I locked the safety on Hoban the hogleg and proceeded up the walk of Chunjing. Mal and Zoe were getting the crew of Serenity assembled. We had our coordinates. We had our ammo. And food was packed. We were ready to roll.

I walked up to Seb, who placed a hand on my shoulder. I returned the favor.

“Are you ready to kick the door down at Valgrind?” I asked him.

He winked at me. “Piece of cake.”

The words were braver than any of us felt. But it did not matter. This was happening. The two ships were gassed and equipped. And even though there was a high chance of failure we were not backing down.

“Ghost. Champ. River. We’re on our way.”
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thewarbingminstrel: (Default)

June 2014


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