Author's Note: Very short prologue for the next arc.


Prologue: Sunrise

Illumination descended through breaks in the clouds far to planetary east, casting a sliver of pale white light over the red stones. It reached over the landscape, lighting rock and sand and the faintest whisps of silver-gray clouds, along with a spray of equally red blood.

It touched, clung to, and reflected off the graceful, rising arc of bright, shimmering red as it described a delicate rise and fall, a twisting, spiraling elegance of escaping life that chased a falling body. Dust rose as the dying figure hit the dark red dirt, and the blood pattered down onto the stone and into the sand and across his clothes like so much rain.

One.

There were shouts and yells, mixed in with cries of confusion and more than a little disbelief.

That left an opening.

The blade that had created the delicate spray of blood struck again, in time with a quick step forward. This cut went from the middle of the neck down to the left pectoral, slicing through a lung and tearing open the heart as it wound it way through its victim. The man stumbled backward, pistol falling to the dirt, screaming in pain.

Two.

Another step, and the blade arced across, rising and falling in a swift, almost dismissive backhand. It buried into the bicep of the man behind the second, and a flick of the wrist had it coming back across, striking the wrist of the man's gun hand. Even as he began to cry out in agony, the blade weaved upward and thrust out, driving into its victim's throat. Blood spilled over the man's fine clothes as he gasped, and then the blade slid free with a slick, quiet hiss of steel on flesh.

Three.

Five seconds had passed since the blade had been drawn.

Twenty-two men remained, only now they were aware of the danger, and now they had weapons ready. They were confident, better armed, well-trained, and certain they could win.

They had no idea what they were up against.

The blade whistled, bullets blazed, and a sun rose on another bloody morning in the 'Verse.


About one hundred kilometers away, the sun was rising on another patch of reddish landscape, a lengthy plain of light scrub set amongst dark-colored boulders and pale red sand and dust. The wind skittered along, picking up granules and tossing them about, while small insects flitted among the stones and dirt. Light skipped off their own russet carapaces, making them look like jittering drops of blood crawling among the rocks.

"How long you think 'till they get here?" asked the bulky man looming to the north of one particularly flat rock, shielding his eyes with one hand. He felt the sun and the wind against his skin, and while it wasn't unfamiliar, it was still a mite unpleasant.

"Can't say when," replied the other, peering southward. He grimaced, squinting in the mounting sunlight, and looked back north, making a point to turn easterly as he did so. "'less they found trouble, should be making contact by little past sunrise, local time."

"You think they found some?" Jayne Cobb asked, grunting as he kept up his vigil, eyes sweeping northward and easterly, and stopping whenever his eyes moved too far west.

"Not a speck compared with what we've got," Malcolm Reynolds replied. Hands planted firmly on his waist as sand breezed past him. One hand rose up to scratch an itch on his chest.

"Don't like it," Jayne muttered, frowning. His hand moved down his side, to the pistol he should have been wearing. "Didn't like this job anyhow."

"Speaking from retrospect, Jayne?" Mal asked, though he agreed. He missed the weight of his sidearm, and especially his longcoat. Either would have been a good comfort now.

"I ain't arguin' with the take," Jayne countered. "Got an armful o' pretty, mostways thanks to Kaylee."

"But," Mal said, catching that tone in Jayne's voice.

"But . . . gorram it."

"When Serenity gets here," Mal said. "I'm gonna suggest you let Kaylee go in first. Get what needs got. Don't want to scare the womenfolk none."

"Ain't nothin' I got gonna scare Zoe. Kaylee maybe, but she's seen plenty already. 'Nara, might offend her sensibilities. Xi gui, already told her I'd show her if she kept that name-callin'."

"You threatened to what?" Mal saidm turning around and glaring directly at Jayne.

"She wouldn't shut up 'bout them girl's names, so's I told her I'd prove her I got man-"

"Is there any way you could be more of an ape?" Mal asked, turning and looking back south with a shake of his head.

"Doc said somethin' similar once," Jayune muttered, and that made Mal wince. Last thing he liked to think of was himself and Simon speaking similar.

"Well, you're not going on the ship, not without some pants on."

"Yeah, yeah," Jayne muttered, scratching his exposed posterior with his free hand while he searched the horizon with his other.

Mal scowled as he and Jayne kept up their vigil as the sand blew past, both men standing stark naked in the middle of the blood-red desert.

Again.

"And Jayne, keep your eyes pointed north," Mal reminded Jayne, to which he grunted.

"I ain't sneakin' none," he growled, tone a bit hurt and angry.

"See you ain't. Got enough traumatizing for one day." Mal paused, and glanced westward, his voice softening. "How you holdin' up?"

"I'm fine, Cap'n," said Kaylee, her voice distant. She was seated on a large flat rock, looking away to the west. With the exception of the singed, finely-tailored carpet draped over her shoulders, she was as naked as the two men.

Yeah, Mal thought, scowling as he went back to his vigil. This job had gone real well.


-


Author's Notes: As I said, this prologue is very short. I recently suffered a computer crash and lost two whole chapters' worth of material, forcing me to go back and rewrite this arc. I've revised a great deal of this one, and part of that included creating this prologue. This arc is pulling a bit from "Trash," particularly the post-caper intro, and also adding a little bit more. I'll be playing a little bit with perception and time in this story arc, as well.

Not sure how regular updates will be on this one, as there are some Real Life issues I have to contend with. Hopefully they won't impede the process too much.

And yes, this prologue opens with a lot of questions needing answering. They will be answered, I assure you.

Until next chapter . . . .