I focus on the square of light at the end of the corridor. I can see part of the room beyond the jammed door, and that's what I aim for. I run straight down the hallway, ignoring the shouts and gasps from the shocked people behind me. I don't care about their concerns, their worries. I care only that Simon is bleeding to death on the floor, and I need to get his medical kit from the room and close the door before the Reavers can get in. Keeping the others safe is the only thought in my mind.
As I approach the door, and its small opening, my muscles tense. My shoulders bunch, drawing inward. I crouch in my strides. I tell my thighs and calves to be ready to spring, like a jungle cat about to leap on its prey. I lean my upper body forward, stretching my arms above my head in a perfect diver's pose. Then my leading leg bends at the knee, my trailing leg pushes off with the foot, and I am sailing through the tight opening like a thrown javelin.
I land in a roll, springing up into a crouch. I whip my head from side to side, my hair haloing out around me, looking for any threat to my mission. Nobody here. Yet. I hear the Reavers still wrenching at the windows and slamming against the door. They know we're in here, and they're hungry. I can also hear the firefight raging outside. Reavers howling their crazed bloodlust. Alliance Feds screaming their terror. Guns firing everywhere.
There, Simon's med kit is sitting on top of a crate. Over there, the panel I need to activate to get the door shut the rest of the way. I grab the med kit on the way to the panel. I'll use the controls, and get back through before it can close me out. I'm fast enough. I'm slender enough. I can make it. Remember, no power in the 'Verse can stop me, right?
I set the controls and hear the clang and grind and squeal of metal parts working against each other to operate the door. I turn and run, but the outer door has lost its integrity, and the room is flooding with Reavers. I can still make it to the door, I know it. I prepare my body once again for the leap, ceasing to be a girl and becoming instead the jungle cat I envisioned before. Next, I will be a bullet, flying unerringly through the air between the closing panels of the door. Then I will be a wheel, rolling over the ground gently, absorbing the impact of the failed flight. Then I will be a rocket shuttle, shooting straight up from the ground as if I'm bound for space. Finally, I will return to my true form, and be a girl again. Then Simon will have the things he needs to stay alive – the bandages and medications to rescue him from the draining blood and potential infection.
I crouch, my leading leg bends at the knee, and suddenly there is a wrenching sensation of lost inertia. I am a ship, steaming full ahead, but my anchor is caught on the seabed. I can see the faces of the others, anxiously waiting for me to come back through the opening. Then I see sheer terror in their eyes, and I know it's not an anchor holding me back, but a Reaver. Multiple Reavers. There are at least three or four reaching for me, grabbing me, already salivating at the wonderful scent of clean, live flesh.
I throw the bag through, and try vainly one last time to reach after it. Perhaps, if I want it bad enough, I'll be on the other side of the door, like a wish come true. I see them reaching for me, too, probably thinking the same thing. Maybe, if they want it bad enough, they can have me in their arms, safe behind the blast doors from the horrors they're sure await me. I can see the pictures in their imaginations, freeze frames from a ghastly Cortex vid, things they know, instinctively, will befall anyone caught by the Reavers.
Then the sensations hit me, and I realize this isn't some other person the Reavers have. I'm not an impartial observer waiting on the fate of some faceless stranger. This is me. River Tam. I will not fall to a bunch of slavering Paxillon mistakes. I was tortured for years in a secret Alliance facility, under cover as an Academy, ingrained with the instincts and training necessary to come out of this type of situation in one piece. Let's see if the years of torture, and the resulting year of madness, pay off.
Twisting my body, pulling my arms and legs in toward my torso, bunches the Reavers holding me together too closely for them to react properly. One still has an arm around my waist, which holds me up and gives me the leverage for what I'm about to do. I wrench my wrists free of the grips on them, and then launch them back outward, putting out the eyes of the Reavers who had grabbed me. I know this won't stop them, but it will slow them down just long enough to make a difference.
I reach behind me, grabbing the head of the one who has his arm around my waist. He was about to take a bite out of my ear, which I cannot abide, as I am very fond of my ears. I dig my fingertips in under his jaw bone, and slide my thumbs inside his mouth. With a sickening ripping sound, and a pop of bone disconnection from cartilage, I rip his lower jaw off and use it to blind the next one to step in front of me. I quickly snap the blinded one's neck, dropping him to the floor like a fifty pound feed bag.
Reaching my index and middle finger into the nostrils of the Reavers holding my legs, I manage to rip them away from me long enough to step out of their greedy grasp. Running toward the wall, I hear more and more of the monsters coming into the room, forming a crowd that will be hard to navigate in. I place one foot on the wall, followed by the other, and push off, back flipping behind the nearest Reavers pursuing me.
I snap the neck of one while I kick the other into the wall hard enough to shatter his skull. The first one was holding a jagged sword, which I catch before it hits the floor. I've always preferred blades to bullets. There's something more poetic about them. More graceful.
The blade, once intended to run me through, instantly becomes an extension of my arm. I know the weight, I feel the imperfect balance. The jagged edge is already dripping with someone else's blood. It will run with much more before I'm done.
I spin in place, drawing not only on my Academy training, but also on my many years of ballet before that. I am a lethal dancer, pirouetting to a murderous cacophony of screams and howls. I whip the sword out with my left hand, slicing through the flesh and bone of unexpecting Reavers. In the wake of my blade, my right hand catches the arm of one who ducked in behind the arc of the swing. I reverse the momentum of my weapon, yanking the creature closer at the same time. I expect another easy death, but I don't realize he has a weapon until he whips it around to parry my strike.
The killing blow has been deflected, but I still graze his scalp. He jerks his head backward, an instinct not yet burned out of him, and I use the momentary distraction to take his weapon. Thus doubly armed, my opponent is easily dispatched.
The new weapon I hold in my right hand is of a solid piece, well balanced and sharp. It is an axe, thick blade on the outer side, perfect for sideways or overhead swings, small, hooked blade on the inner, ideal for catching and snapping the blades of opponents. I like this weapon. It gleams through the thin sheen of blood already coating it. It, too, will draw much more before I am done.
The number of opponents is staggering. However many I chop down, there are always more to take their place. The world for me has become a haze of blood and screaming. Dead and dying bodies litter the floor of the chamber, and part of my attention must be given always to my footing. If I trip over a splayed limb, if I fall amongst those I've felled, I will have no hope. They will swarm me, and I will die. Horribly.
I continue to slice, swing, thrust, parry. Some of my opponents have bladed weapons like the ones I've already acquired. Some have guns, but none fire them. They want the pleasure of taking me alive. Either that, or they've exhausted their ammunition on the Alliance forces outside. Some of them have no weapons at all. They charge in bare handed, hoping in their mindlessness to be the one lucky enough not to be cut down before reaching me. None of them are.
I have a vague awareness, buried deep within my consciousness, that I'm getting blood and brain matter all over my beautiful dress. I hope Simon understands. I don't want him to think he can never trust me with nice clothing again. The dress is tight, almost slinky. I felt sexy in it. Until all the gore covered it. Now I feel like a warrior, wearing the badges of my office with pride. I hope, when this is all over, that Simon is willing to buy me another one. I want to feel sexy again. It was nice.
Somewhere deeper, I can feel the Captain. He's fighting the Operative, and he's in pain. I can't take the time to delve deeper into this observation, so I don't know exactly what's going on. All I know is that he harbors a sense of extreme urgency. He knows how important it is to get that Wave out. People need to know what happened on Miranda.
Suddenly, a Reaver rises up directly in front of me, within the arc of my swing. He's too close to cut down with my long-reaching weapons, so instead I put my knee in his groin, hard. I've given myself enough time to take a step backward, and I send my axe in an underhand swing, directly at his doubled-over form. The blade bites hard enough to lift the beast's feet from the ground, and I wrench the blade free while his body is still airborne. I kick at his torso, and send him into another one, buying myself a precious second or two of free space to my front.
There are still too many opponents to my back and sides, so I launch into another pirouette, spinning my blades around me in a shining, deadly ring. I am a violent whirling dervish, free of distraction, ignoring any sensory input that won't help me end this fight. I am in a fighting trance, ignoring the dizziness of my spins, the sickening smell of blood that permeates the air, the extrasensory feelings I can still perceive from the people in the sealed off corridor.
Suddenly, though it seems I've been fighting this battle my whole life without variation, I detect a change. The sound level has dropped somewhat. The press of bodies is not so tight. I know what's changed: There are no more Reavers coming in through the door and windows. Those in this room are all that appear to be left. The sounds from outside have stopped, as well.
Is it a trick? It seems inconceivable that they would stop now, after spending so much time and life wearing me down. Not that I'm tired, of course. I could go on like this for hours, or so I tell myself. It must be a ruse, to lull me into complacency and carelessness.
No, I realize a few moments later. There are only four Reavers left. I can make quick work of them. I'm tired of fighting, I realize. I'm so glad this is almost over.
One of the madmen charges forward, foolishly raising his blade above his head with both hands. As he swings his weapon downward, I step out of the path of his charge and parry his attack with my sword. With my axe, I cleave off his left arm. He howls in agony, but retains a right-handed grip on his blade. Brave. Foolish. I spin, arcing my sword upward, and his head rolls free of his neck. The body remains standing for just a moment, then drops at my feet.
The three remaining Reavers seem to have a small bit of sense about them, and they charge me all at once, hoping to overwhelm me with numbers. Silly men. If scores of you couldn't stop me, what's to make you think three more can?
The first is easy. He swings from the side, from his shoulder. Too slow. Like the Captain fighting Atherton Wing, this contest is stacked in my favor. Unlike that fight, however, I'm not foolish enough to let luck or stubbornness play a part. I block his swing and kick out at him. I'm about to run him through, but there's another weapon cutting down from above. The second Reaver has an axe, similar to the one I hold.
I spin my axe up, using the small, inner blade to catch the haft of my opponent's weapon as it descends. At the same time, I'm parrying a thrust from the third man, who carries a sword like the first. I tug back on my axe, ripping the handle of my opponent's weapon out of his hand. Thus disarmed, I kick him backward, out of the way of the two armed men remaining. He is a minor threat now, best saved until last.
The first Reaver is back in position, having recovered quickly from my kick. He makes an overhead swing, while his comrade thrusts at me from the other side. I spin to my right, neatly avoiding both attacks, and reach out with both weapons to slice the ribcage and shoulder blade of the first. He screams in agony and drops his weapon. Continuing my spin, I bat the third man's sword away with my axe, and use the opening to send my blade into his chest cavity. He gurgles as he falls, blood filling his punctured lung swiftly.
I turn back to the first Reaver, and finish him with a quick chop to the neck, slicing his carotid artery neatly. His hot blood sprays me, just one more stain on my already ruined dress. Turning to face the last Reaver, I find that he's picked a weapon up from the pile of bodies on the floor. It's basically just an oversized knife, not even worthy of being called a sword. He charges me with a wordless scream, and I raise both my blades crosswise over opposing shoulders, axe to the left, sword to the right. I wait until the last moment, when he is just inside the killing arc of my swing, and I whip both weapons across my body, slicing him in a clean X.
I end up facing the blast door, blades held low to my sides, as the last of my opponents falls before me and the door comes smoothly open. The Feds outside must finally have overcome the rest of the Reaver fleet and cracked the security protocols to open the doors. I hear giant harpoons being shot through the wall behind me, and suddenly there is no more wall. Sunlight floods the room, and I hear the cocking of many guns, the shout of many voices.
None of that matters, though. The Captain is standing in that hallway. He made it. The Operative is defeated, and the Wave sent. Or perhaps it is the other way around. The Wave is sent, defeating the Operative. I can tell he has lost the convictions he once held. He is a different person now.
I know his troops are asking for the kill order. They're terrified of me, almost as much as they were of the Reavers. They don't know what to do with me, so they're hoping their commander will let them finish it quickly. They don't like complications, and I am a major one.
Then, like a breath of fresh air, I hear the Operative's voice, denying these frightened men their opportunity. We're not to be killed. I'm not afraid of being taken into custody, though. Even if I couldn't read the Operative's intentions, I still have my blades. They could never take me alive. They could never take me at all.
No power in the 'Verse can stop me.