"You want to explain to me again why she's going, Chuck?" Devin demanded angrily.
Chuck turned around with a sigh of exasperation. "Because it's about time she started earning her keep, Devin. Now let me remind you one more time – you may CALL yourself 'Captain', but I really AM Captain."
And so it appeared. Chuck Bartowski, captain of the Firefly-class transport Serenity. He had insisted that it was time that his sister, Ellie, accompany the crew on a mission. Devin, being her husband, hadn't much liked that idea – after all, he'd gone to the bother of breaking her out of the Academy, and now Chuck was just going to plop her back into the hands of the Alliance!
As if Chuck was reading his mind, he turned to Devin. "Look. There's no Alliance presence on the planet, okay?"
"How can you be sure, Chuck?!"
Chuck was uneasy. He couldn't very well tell Devin about the Intersect, now could he?
"Just trust me. Okay?"
"Not awesome," Devin grumbled as Chuck stalked off.
When Chuck reached the cargo bay, he found the mule warmed up and ready to go, Sarah standing at the pilot's station. Casey was by the back of the mule, loading weapons.
Chuck looked at the NSA agent in disbelief. "I said no grenades, Casey!" he shouted.
Casey looked back at him. "Whaddya mean, 'no grenades'? What if we run into trouble?"
"We're not going down there to reenact the Battle of Serenity Valley, Casey," Chuck said sternly.
Casey narrowed his eyes, but Chuck matched him glare for glare. "Fine," Casey finally grumbled, removing the belt of grenades he had strapped around his waist.
Chuck approached his sister. "You ready for this mission, Ellie?"
She nodded, then spoke matter-of-factly. "Somebody's going to die."
Chuck nodded, his eyebrows raising. "Well, thank you for that cheery thought, my dear sister. On that note, shall we go take care of what we came here for?"
Ellie nodded and clambered on to the mule. Chuck grabbed the intercom box, pushed the button, and said, "How much longer, Morgan?"
"Two minutes, Chuck!"
"That two minutes till we crash, or two minutes till we're safely on the ground?"
There was silence for a moment. "Morgan?"
"Uh, I'd say your odds are 50-50 and pick 'em."
Chuck sighed. "Please don't crash my ship, Morgan."
A moment later, Morgan didn't crash the ship. Not quite. But it was certainly a very hard landing.
"Gorram it, Morgan," Chuck grumbled under his breath, but avoided the intercom.
With two quick strides, he leapt up on the mule. "We ready?"
"Ready as we're ever gonna be, Captain," Sarah replied, getting the same mischievous twinkle in her eyes that she always got when she called Chuck "Captain." It was something she generally only called him in the privacy of their quarters.
"Anna, open her up!" Chuck called.
Anna pressed a couple of buttons, and Serenity's cargo bay doors slid open. As soon as she had the clearance, Sarah throttled up, and the mule rocketed out of the cargo bay.
As they flew across the desert headed toward their target, Casey said, "So explain again to me what we're doing and why I couldn't bring grenades?"
"Robbing the security company," Chuck replied. "According to the Intersect, the primary security company in town has about fifty grand in their vault, and we're going to waltz in and take it."
"Exactly why would a private security company have that much money?"
"The Alliance doesn't want to have much to do with the Outer Rim worlds," Sarah interjected. "So, they pay private security companies to do their policing. Today just happens to be payday, so there's a big pile of cash from the Alliance in the security company's vault."
Casey still looked confused. "Well, what's to keep them from reporting us? I mean, if you'd let me bring some grenades, I could keep them from reporting us…"
"Reputation," Chuck replied. "They report back to the Alliance that they were robbed by a bunch of yokels, and the Alliance drops them like a hot potato."
Casey finally seemed to understand the whole picture. He picked up his shotgun. "Shiny," he said, ratcheting the pump. "Let's be bad guys."
Sarah brought the mule screaming into the town at a high speed. She brought it to a quick stop outside of a non-descript building. Chuck, Sarah, and Casey all scrambled down from the mule, weapons at the ready. Ellie followed tentatively, barefoot.
They marched into the building. Chuck aimed his gun at the ceiling and fired off a round. "LISTEN UP!" he shouted. "Don't do anything stupid, you won't get hurt! We're here for the company's money, not yours!"
Sarah and Casey moved out among the people now cowering on the floor, relieving them of weapons, but leaving their wallets. Meanwhile, Ellie had moved into the crowd, doing some sort of eerie dance-like walk, looking at the people she passed.
Finally, she stopped in front of a large black man. "Him," she said, pointing downward.
Sarah and Casey both crossed to the man rapidly. Casey lifted him up by his collar, Sarah sticking her gun in his face. "The key," she hissed.
"Okay!" he squeaked, complying readily. He reached under his shirt and pulled out a lanyard. It held his ID and the vault key.
Chuck strode forward and grabbed them both from him. "Big Mike?" he asked, looking at the man. "Your name is Big Mike?"
Big Mike shrugged. "What can I say, it fits."
Chuck pulled the key off the lanyard, then threw Big Mike's ID back to him. He stepped across the room to where the vault was.
Inserting the key, he opened the door. Throwing it opened, he revealed –
A one foot by one foot by one foot cube containing maybe two hundred bucks in bills and a few loose gem stones.
Sarah looked inside. "Wow," she said drily. "Finally, we can retire from this life of crime."
Chuck didn't respond. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and it was pretty clear that he was having a flash. Finally, he snapped out of it. Reaching inside the vault, he pressed a button that was hidden above the door –
And the wall slid back, the floor opening to reveal a stairway down. "Okay," Sarah allowed. "That's pretty good."
"Listen up!" Chuck shouted. "We're coming down there to clean you out!"
"I need the password!" he heard back.
Chuck made a face, and looked over at Casey. Casey nodded, aimed his machine gun into the vault, and fired off a short burst.
The three quickly descended. Sarah and Casey immediately started filling their duffel bags with the stacks of cash against the wall, while Chuck started talking to the security guard.
"What's your name?" Chuck asked.
"I'm Lester," the guard replied. "You're not going to kill me, are you?"
"No," Chuck answered, "but I do have to shoot you somewhere so that it looks like you put up a fight. I wouldn't want to have an innocent man's death on my conscience."
Sarah and Casey looked at each other and both rolled their eyes.
"Really?" Lester said worriedly. "Do you actually have to shoot me? Couldn't you just like, graze me?"
"It's gotta look convincing," Chuck replied insistently. "How about the leg? The leg's not too-"
He was interrupted by a scream coming from Ellie upstairs. Running up, he found her crouched on the floor, a look of agony on her face. "Ellie?" he asked, alarmed. "What is it?"
She turned and stared him in the face. "Fulcrum," she whispered.
Chuck's face drained of color. "Wuh de ma," he whispered. "SARAH! CASEY! GET YOUR ASSES UP HERE!"
The two intelligence agents came running up the stairs. "What?" Casey demanded.
"Get Ellie and get on the mule!" Chuck commanded. "We've got Fulcrum comin' our way!"
The word "Fulcrum" brought a collective gasp from the people in the security office. The only thing anybody knew about Fulcrum was that they were a bunch of men who had gone crazy and now ravaged the Outer Rim Worlds with almost wanton abandon.
Chuck sought out Big Mike. "Get everybody inside that vault and lock it," he ordered him. "Stay inside as long as you've got air to breathe. Don't open it until you have no other choice."
Big Mike didn't argue, just nodded. "Everybody in the vault!" he shouted as Chuck ran out the door.
Everybody went – except one. "Jeff, where the hell are you goin'?!" Big Mike yelled.
"I can't go down there," Jeff whimpered. "I have to go with them!"
And he ran out the door. He grabbed onto the back of the mule as it was pulling away, trying to pull himself up.
"GET BACK INSIDE!" Chuck roared as Jeff hung on to the back.
"We weigh too much, Chuck!" Sarah warned, as the mule's acceleration slowed.
"Go back inside and get in that vault!" Chuck yelled.
"NO!" Jeff screamed, shaking his head.
Chuck looked grimly at Casey. Casey nodded, then stepped forward, and punched Jeff in the face. Jeff fell to the ground. Almost immediately, a group of Fulcrum agents who had been running down the street stopped and surrounded him.
Chuck could hear them as they flew away. "Where is the Intersect?!" they all screamed in unison, as the pulled torture devices from under their black jackets.
He shuddered and turned away. He closed his eyes for a moment –
To be continued…