Blue Sun Rising
“So, have you visited Sihnon before? Amanda asked lightly as she poured the tea into delicate china cups.
“I was born here,” Inara said. “Although it has been a number of years since I’ve visited.”
“Ah, such a pity that your stay will be such a short one, then,” Amanda said. “Sugar?”
Distractedly, Zoe tried to pay attention to the conversation, but her eyes didn’t seem capable of pulling away from the more heated exchange that was taking place on the other side of the patio doors. Caruthers was waving his hands about, as MacLeod paced, his face animated and intense. It was like watching a totally different person.
Have Alex and Mr MacLeod known each other long?” she asked impulsively, as she watched MacLeod put his hands on his hips and glare as an unrepentant grin appeared on Caruthers’s sharp features.
“Long enough,” Amanda said, with a mischievous smile. “And you?”
Zoe blinked. “Excuse me?”
“How long have you known Alex?”
“Oh…not long,” Zoe muttered. “And not very well, actually, he’s a passenger on our ship.”
“I see,” Amanda drawled knowingly, and Zoe’s eyes narrowed.
“And what about you, Amanda,” Inara interjected smoothly. “Have you known Alex long?”
“For a while,” Amanda admitted. “He’s a very interesting character, is he not? Never a dull moment when he’s around.”
“Interesting,” Inara said lightly. “He said something very similar about you.”
“Did he, now,” Amanda said, her gaze sharpening. “Isn’t that a coincidence?”
“Isn’t it?” Inara agreed, as she took another sip of her tea.
“You know, you never did say why you accompanied Alex here,” Amanda said, the question left unspoken.
“Oh, I think its best we wait until Alex joins us before we discuss that, don’t you?”
Amanda laughed humourlessly. “Then you truly don’t know Alex very well, do you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Zoe asked sharply.
“Oh, nothing,” Amanda said dismissively. It’s just Alex usually prefers to keep his cards close to his chest. In my experience, one should not listen to what he says, but what he doesn’t…more tea?”
Zoe frowned as Amanda took her silence for assent and poured more tea into her cup; had that been a threat or a warning? She exchanged a look with Inara, who gave an almost imperceptible shrug.
“If I may ask,” Amanda said, turning her attention once more to Inara. “Why is a companion, especially one so obviously well trained, taking passage on a border world cargo ship?”
The hairs on the back of Zoe’s neck went up. Neither of them had mentioned what kind of a ship they were travelling on. How on earth did she know – and why on gorram hell did she let us know she knew? The woman was not a fool; Zoe doubted she’d let the information slip by accident. Was she hoping that they’d let something slip themselves? Possibly.
Inara, however, was not so easily shaken. “You seem remarkably well informed, Amanda,” she said smoothly. “However, my reasons are personal and are not something I discuss lightly.”
Zoe risked another glance through the patio doors and frowned once more. The grin had left Caruthers’s face, and was now replaced by a worried scowl, as MacLeod spoke to him in a low, urgent tone. She wished she could make out the words, but the glass doors posed too much of a sound barrier.
“Ah, yes, they seem to be winding up,” Amanda said, her voice suddenly tense, as she rose to her feet. “Please do excuse me.” Zoe watched warily as the woman glided quickly to the patio doors and slid them open.
“Gods, Mac, you know as well as I that if the Alliance got wind of-”
The patio doors once more slid firmly shut, and Zoe let out a frustrated huff. “This is ridiculous,” she said. “We have Alliance troops on our heels, and what are we doing? We’re having high tea with a thief, while Caruthers is obviously working his own agenda. We should never have let him out of earshot, gorram knows what he saying to this MacLeod person!”
“Yes, indeed, but what choice do we have?” Inara said, as she delicately wiped the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “This is his arena, not ours… and Amanda is a fascinating woman, don’t you think? I suspect she’s companion trained; it should be interesting working with her.”
“If she works with us, you mean,” Zoe said flatly. “I’m not so sure this was a good idea.”
Inara sighed. “What choice do we have? We need a thief,” Inara said. “A good one,” she added quickly, when she saw the expression on Zoe’s face. “One that’s intimately knowledgeably with high end security systems - and while Kaylee can be remarkably inventive, we can’t expect her to circumvent a system as complex as the one we’re about to attempt.”
“How can we be sure that this Amanda person can do it?”
“Look around you, Zoe. We’re sitting on Londinium regency chairs, and drinking earl grey tea out of old earth china. Something tells me she doesn’t pay for this lifestyle by cutting purses. No, Caruthers was telling the truth, she’s the real thing. It’s what he’s not saying that’s bothering me. But I can say the same of you and Mal, can’t I? What are you using to lean on him?”
Zoe tensed in her seat. She hated lying to Inara, but Mal had promised their silence in exchange for Caruthers’s help. “I can’t tell you, Inara,” she said honestly. “It’s part of the deal.”
Inara nodded. “Well, at least you didn’t try to spin me a tale, like Mal did,” she said wryly. “The man is a terrible liar.”
Zoe felt a grin spread across her face. “You don’t know the half of it, I remember this one time on-”
“Time to leave.”
Zoe started in her seat, and looked up to see Caruthers standing at the now open patio door. “Where are your friends?” she asked tersely, as she looked over his shoulder.
“Amanda is packing,” he said shortly. “Come on.”
“And your friend MacLeod?”
“He arranging our travel arrangements,” he said impatiently.
“He’s coming with us?” Inara said, raising an eyebrow.
“Not exactly, he’s dropping us off at our rendezvous before… never mind, we need to leave. The Alliance know where we are.”
“They do? How-”
“No time for questions,” he said, as he strode back out into the garden, not even bothering to look over his shoulder to see if they were following.
The drawing room door burst open, and Zoe automatically reached to where her gun usually rested, as Amanda strode into the room, a small anti-grav cargo unit hovering at her heels. Zoe relaxed slightly, even as her eyes took in Amanda’s transformation. Gone was the floating, silk dress and wrap, to be replaced by pants and a blouse, a long coat skirting her ankles. Her hair was now pulled back from her face into a neat ponytail and her boots clicked on the polished wooden floors.
“Ready to go?” she said, her tone businesslike as she made for the patio door. “We don’t have much time, I’m afraid, the house’s security scanners picked up an Alliance cruiser’s flight pattern overhead. They’ve launched two landing shuttles, and somehow I doubt they’ll be carrying goodwill gifts.”
Zoe blinked as she made out a now familiar outline in Amanda’s coat as she brushed passed them. Good grief, did that mean what she thought it did? “My, my, what a big sword you’re carrying,” she drawled as she fell into step beside her.
A flash of humour crossed through Amanda’s eyes. “Alex said you were sharp,” she said. “I see he wasn’t exaggerating.”
“The Alliance shouldn’t have caught us this quick,” Inara said, as she kept pace with them.
Amanda nodded in agreement. “They were tipped off.”
Zoe raised an eyebrow. “By who?”
“By someone who really should have known better,” Amanda said tersely.
“By MacLeod?” Zoe asked, remembering the expression on his face when they’d arrived.
For a moment, an expression of genuine surprise crossed Amanda’s face. “What? Oh, good grief, don’t be ridiculous, why would you…” Amanda took a deep breath. “No, I suppose I can understand why you’d think that, but no, it wasn’t Duncan. He and Alex go back a long way. They may squabble like a couple of eight year olds fighting over the last piece of candy, but they’d never betray each other.”
The deep thrum of an engine caught Zoe’s attention, and she raised an eyebrow as she saw the ship that was now squatting on the estate’s landing pad. “That wasn’t there when we arrived.”
“Yes, well, I can hardly keep it out in plain sight, can I?” Amanda said impatiently. “It doesn’t exactly pass the city’s air traffic regulations.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Zoe drawled as her eyes passed over the ship’s sleek design. “Must have set you back a pretty penny.”
“Worth every credit,” Amanda said, as they neared the ramp. “Especially at moments like this.”
A sonic boom rattled through the sky and Zoe eyed the sky uneasily. “Guess we’re not the only one’s breaking the city traffic regs, today,” she observed dryly.
“Oh well, I suppose I’ve lived too long on Sihnon, anyway,” Amanda said wearily, as she threw a last glance over her shoulder at her home, and Zoe felt a brief moment of guilt. It seemed, of late, that anything Serenity touched turned to dust.
The sonic boom registered on the ship’s sensors as Methos entered the bridge, and he quickly glanced at the readings before turning to Mac. “I still can’t believe the idiot did that,” he said. “I know the man can hold a grudge, but this is ridiculous.”
“You haven’t seen him over the last decade,” Duncan murmured, as he ran through the engine’s check system. “The war hit him hard.”
“I don’t see why,” Methos snarled. “From what I remember, Wright was Alliance.”
“Do you know why?” Duncan asked.
“I’m sure you’re about to tell me.”
“Word is he married; actually settled down for a while…then the war happened.”
Methos closed his eyes. “No, don’t bother finishing,” he said. “I think I know where this is going.”
Duncan nodded. “Wright hasn’t been the same since,” he said. “He’s even begun to take heads again.”
Methos’s eyes snapped open. “Since when?” he demanded
“Took William’s head six years back, and Ngumbi’s about eighteen months ago.”
“Bugger.” It had been an unspoken agreement, among those of them that had left Earth, that the game would be left behind them. Oh, sure, there was the odd genuine disagreement that ended up with someone losing their head, but headhunting for the sake of headhunting?
With only forty of them risking the journey, the spectre of being the last one of their kind in the colony, living alone amongst mortals, wasn’t exactly appealing, and they all knew that a return ticket wasn’t on the agenda for some time to come. While certain kinds of technology had improved greatly over the last five centuries, FTL technology hadn’t made the leaps and bounds that everyone had expected when they’d first made the trip.
“Nevertheless, I can’t believe he supplied them with both yours and Amanda’s locations,” Methos muttered.
“There’s no other way they could have known, Methos,” Duncan said quietly. “You haven’t exactly been sociable since your last identity change; there’s no way Alliance intelligence could have deduced our connection without his help.”
“Ai-yah. Tyen-ah!” Methos griped. “What else has the bloody man told them?”
“Nothing much, I suspect,” Duncan said. “Or I have a funny feeling I would be strapped to an examination table by now.”
“But how long before he does, Mac?” Methos asked quietly. “If we pull this off and get the Alliance off our tails, how long before he decides to take matter into his own hands…and don’t tell me the Alliance wouldn’t hunt us down in a heartbeat if they knew what we truly were. It doesn’t matter what kind of dirt we dig up, the temptation would be too much… you should see what they did to that River girl. It isn’t pretty.”
“He’ll have to be dealt with,” Duncan said quietly.
Methos sighed. “Damn it, I always hoped it wouldn’t come to this. That he’d calm down, at some point, and let the matter pass.”
“You can’t blame yourself for this, Methos. It was an accident. None of us could have known…”
Methos snorted. “Oh please.”
“Oh yes, I forgot,” Duncan mocked. “You haven’t felt guilt since the eleventh century…pull the other one, old man, it’s got bells on. If it wasn’t for the fact you feel responsible for Susan’s death, you’d have taken his head years ago, instead of avoiding him like the plague.”
Methos shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Let’s drop it, shall we?”
A sharp hiss came from the ship’s COM system. “ We’re aboard”
“Strap yourself in,” Duncan said through the COM, as he took his own advice. “This is going to be a bumpy ride.”
“ Relax, this isn’t the first time this ship has tangled with an Alliance shuttle. Keep our altitude low, and they won’t be able to get a bead on us.”
Methos raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like Amanda has been keeping busy the last few years.”
“The war really shook her,” Duncan said, as he lifted the ship from the landing pad. “Reminded her too much of her time during World War II, and she’s not too fond of the direction the Alliance government has been taking since. You saw her reaction to what happened on Miranda.”
“She’s afraid that this time the Reich may have won,” Methos observed.
“Do you blame her?” Duncan asked.
“They’re a bit heavy handed,” Methos allowed. “But I don’t think they’ve gone that far yet.”
“Only a few minutes ago, you were worried that they were going to dissect you into tiny little pieces.”
“To be fair, that’s been a worry of mine since medicine has cracked the Human DNA strand,” Methos muttered. “And they were a few so called ‘free’ democracies, back on Earth, who had a rather dubious track record with that sort of thing, too.”
“But they didn’t have the same stranglehold on the population as the Alliance,” Duncan said lowly. “And they’re already rewriting history. Have you seen any of the children’s schoolbooks, lately? Forget the trash they’ve written about the great ‘exodus’, you should see what they’re writing about the Unification war. Little steps, old man, little steps.” The ships onboard computer beeped and Duncan made a face as he looked at it. “Speaking of which, we’ve just got a ticket.”
Methos laughed. “I think that’s the least of our problems, don’t you?”
A smile snuck onto Duncan’s face, but was quickly wiped off as the radar proximity alarm went off. “We’ve got company,” he said grimly.
“Oh, lovely,” Methos sniped. “I forgot to ask, is this ship armed?”
“Let’s try to keep the body count to a minimum, shall we?”
“Oh, believe me, that’s exactly what I have in mind.” The ship dove, and Methos’s eyes widened as the planet’s surface suddenly came hurtling towards them. “What the gorram hell are you doing?”
“Dropping altitude, what does it look like I’m doing?”
“There’s a difference between dropping altitude and crash landing, you crazy Scot!”
“Nervous, old man?”
A hollow boom skittered along the hull, and Methos bit down on a curse as his eyes scanned the ship’s system data. “Negligible damage, he said. “But we can’t take too many more of those.”
“Wasn’t planning to,” Duncan said, as the ship levelled off. “We’re nearly the rendezvous point with your ship’s shuttle.”
“If we land, we’re a sitting duck.”
“I’m hoping we can lose them ahead.”
“How-” The ship dived once more, this time into a shallow canyon and Methos studiously tried to avoid making any more smart remarks, just in case Mac decided that now would be a good time to plough the dirt.
“Remember that skimmer you passed in the loading bay?” Duncan eventually asked.
“Yes, why-” Methos blinked. “You can’t be serious!”
“You’ve got a better idea?”
“This is going to be like that time on Dayton’s Moon again, isn’t it?”
Duncan smirked. “It’s either that or a parachute.”
“Bloody crazy Highlander,” Methos muttered, undoing his belt nonetheless. “I better not wake up in a morgue again, that’s all I can say.”
The good old days!” Duncan teased.
“When you used to get me killed on a nearly weekly basis. Ah yes, the memories,” Methos sniped as stabbed the bridge’s door controls.
.”Methos!” Methos looked over his shoulder, only to see Duncan's sudden, serious expression. “See you on the flipside?”
Methos smiled wryly. “You know me, Mac, always the survivor.”
[Trans: Ai-yah. Tyen-ah: Merciless hell]
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