Spartan's Quest – Chapter One

Author owns no rights to Firefly, and intends no infringement. Stories are for entertainment only, and no money is paid him for their creation:)

--

The assassin crouched in the shadows, her sword at the ready. The target traveled this way every day, she knew, having watched him over the course of a week. If he maintained his normal schedule, he would be along just about. . .

He appeared right on time, and she smiled thinly. Always punctual. Today, he would pay for that. As the target neared, she crouched lower, ready to spring. She let him pass by, unaware of her presence. When his back was to her, she struck.

Leaping high into the air, arms extended, she slashed the sword towards the target's neck. As the blade was mere inches from it's destination, however, her target turned suddenly. His hands shot out in a blur of motion, trapping her blade between them in a vise-like grip.

Caught off guard, the assassin could not recover her balance. Even as she tried to plant her feet on the ground, her target spun to his left, his right hand forcing the blade from her hand with appalling ease. He continued the spin, dropping to the floor, and his left leg swept out, taking her feet from under her before she could gain her footing.

River Tam looked up at her target, biting back a curse.

"Well, that didn't go so well, did it?" Janos smirked at her, looking down at his student/fiance/lover.

"How did you know?" she grimaced, rising from the floor.

"You're wearing perfume," he grinned, helping her to her feet. "One of my favorites, in fact."

"Go se," River muttered, and Janos delivered a very Jayne like laugh.

"Hey, look on the bright side," he smiled. "Had it been anyone else, it would have worked."

"Had it been anyone else, it wouldn't be a challenge," she shot back, but grinned up at him. Jayne leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose.

"You really are doing well, River," he told her. "You've only been at it. . ."

"A few months, yes, I know," River growled, stamping her foot on the deck beneath her. "I should be better than this by now."

"River," Jayne sighed, "your body is still adjusting. Your speed, your reactions, are still un-coordinated. Your mind," he poked her forehead gently, "is still using the patterns from your old self to establish what it needs to do. Until it can adjust to how much faster, how much stronger you are, it will continue to overcompensate. I promise you, it will get better. It just. . ."

"Takes time," she sighed theatrically. "Your saying that over and over doesn't make me like it any better, Jayne."

They had agreed that, for now at least, it would be Jayne and River. Not Lord and Lady Janos. Not aboard ship. Just Jayne and River. Like it used to be.

Jayne had failed to return from the mission he had led three months ago to destroy the last facility of the program that had been responsible for the damage to River's brain, and her being transformed into a living weapon.

Everyone had assumed he was dead, destroyed in the blast that had virtually eliminated any trace of the facility, leaving a smoking crater nearly two kilometers across.

But, Janos was a very special man. A man who was all but immortal. He had known, somehow, who and what he would face in the underground complex, and had planned for every eventuality. Including his death. Or his survival.

River had been the sole heir to the estate and fortune that Janos/Jayne had accumulated over the centuries he had lived. In a letter to her, delivered by Malcolm Reynolds after the mission, Janos had explained those plans.

So, two weeks after his 'death', River had left the estate, aboard the corvette Athena, and traveled to Capital City, to a small restaurant owned by a very old friend of Lord Janos. There, her Spartan had returned to her. In the flesh, so to speak.

Only Primeter Vatorian, Janos' oldest and most trusted friend, and Inara Serra, who had taken over the management of Jayne's home on Londinium, knew that Janos was still alive, other than the small crew aboard ship.

In fact, only the people directly involved in the mission had known that Janos had not returned, and they were sworn to secrecy. Most were like Janos, and the rest were the 'family' that had been the crew of Serenity.

Not even River knew, as yet, how Janos had managed to escape. She had asked of course, but his only answer, so far, was a smile.

"Well, I don't know 'bout you," Jayne said, "but I'm hungry. Let's go see what Martha's whipping up in the galley."

"Sounds like a fine idea," River nodded. Like Jayne, River was also all but immortal. Unlike Jayne, she was only twenty-one years old. Her adjustment was still an ongoing thing, and one of the changes made by her. . .transformation. . .was a greatly enhanced metabolism. She ate almost as much as Jayne did now, though she was still the one hundred pound waif she'd been before.

"You might need this," Jayne told her, retrieving her wooden practice blade. "I mean, if you were gonna attack someone, or anything."

"One of these days, dear," River didn't quite snarl, "I'm going to wipe that smug grin off your face."

"But not today," Jayne smirked.

--

"Morning, My Lady," Prim said as Inara walked into the private dining room of Flumenea Somnium, the estate of the 'late' Lord Janos. She smiled beautifully.

"Good morning, My Lord," she curtsied. It was a small game the two played, teasing each other with titles.

"Sleep well?" he asked, pouring her a glass of orange juice as she fixed a small plate of fruit for her breakfast.

"I did, thank you," she nodded, sitting down near him. The two had been growing steadily closer over the last three months, and sat in companionable silence as she ate. Inara was nearly finished when Kaylee and Simon walked in.

"Morning, 'Nara," Kaylee beamed. "Prim."

"Good morning, Lady Frye," Prim smiled, and Kaylee blushed, as usual.

"Prim, you ain't gotta keep calling me that," Kaylee told him. "I ain't no lady."

"I beg to differ," Prim replied seriously. "While you may lack the social graces and training of the so called 'nobility' of this day, your spirit, your heart, are as noble as any I have encountered. You are, in every sense of the word, a lady."

Kaylee's face was so red that Inara wondered if she would catch fire. Simon kissed her on the cheek, smiling.

"What he said."

"You guys just make a girl go all mushy, you know that?" Kaylee fixed her breakfast, as did Simon, and the two sat down across from the older couple.

"Have we come any closer to identifying any of the remaining students?" Simon asked after a few bites. Inara frowned.

"No," she admitted. "We've looked at literally thousands of missing persons' reports, but found nothing that matches any of them. Or even comes close. I am beginning to fear we may never find out who they are. Who their families are."

"Have you managed to make any progress with them?" she asked. It was Simon's turn to frown.

"No," he shook his head. "They are all nearly catatonic. I mean, they respond to instructions well enough. You can tell them to do something, simple things, I mean, and they respond very well. But none have spoken a word since their arrival. I. . .I fear, honestly, that they never will. I'm still trying, of course," he added. "But. . ."

"Anything you need," Prim told him, "or any assistance you require, can be had, Master Tam. Lady River left explicit instructions that no stone was to be left unturned in this matter."

"I'm considering that," Simon admitted. "I plan to spend today going over the reports from our work so far. If I can come up with a specialist that might be of use, I think we should try it. But I'm not certain what kind of specialist we need."

"Whatever you decide, it will be done," Prim assured him. "And the extra staff you requested for the hospital should be arriving today."

"Good," Simon nodded. He had asked for help in dealing with the former students of the Alliance 'program' that had so traumatized these children. Orderlies and nurses to maintain the round the clock care that normal housekeeping staff had been assisting with so far.

"It's probably going to be a long term need," he warned.

"It does not matter," Prim told him firmly. "Lady River's instructions were clear."

"I was just thinking of the costs," Simon admitted. His sister sometimes didn't think of those things.

"I assure you, Master Tam," Prim said drily, "your sister has very deep pockets."

Simon snorted at that, nodding in agreement. River had told Kaylee once that she was convinced that Janos had no idea what he was worth, financially.

"Well, I hope we can figure something out."

Prim nodded, thinking on Lady River's other instructions. To him.

There were eight students missing from the special holding cells, Prim, she had said on the day of her departure. If they are still alive, I want them found. Whatever it takes.

Prim had been working on that himself, but so far with little success. No one wanted to admit any connection with the facility, or the 'Program' as it had been known. And any records they had maintained were destroyed in the explosion that had more or less evaporated the facility.

"Well, I have work to do," Prim announced suddenly, standing. He leaned down to kiss Inara lightly, and then walked from the room. Kaylee giggled.

"He's right swai, Inara," she said softly, eyes twinkling.

"Yes, he is," Inara murmured, her face heating.

--

"Badger, how many times I gotta tell you? We do a job, we get paid."

Malcolm Reynolds was peeved. Serenity had taken a routine cargo job for the little weasel, and now he was trying to get outta paying. Mal hated that.

"Well, mate," Badger smirked. "Like I was sayin', the goods didn't arrive on time, and the buyer was a bit put off by that. Cut my pay, so I 'ave to cut yours. Just business."

"We had the cargo there a day before you said it had to be, Badger," Mal shot back. "Ain't my fault that you had the wrong day. That's your doin'. That means it comes outta your end, not mine. Now pay up."

"Maybe I can slide ya some extra work, mate," Badger grinned. "You can make up the loss there. There's a sweet gig on. . ."

"We ain't doin' that kinda work these days, Badger," Mal shut him down before he could get started. "And I want the rest of my money."

"Ya know, mate," Badger grinned. "You just ain't that intimidatin' 'thout ole Jayne along."

Neera Trivett, Mal's new gunhand, stepped forward. Without a word spoken, she raised the crowbar in her hands. Badger smiled.

"Gonna 'it me with that, are ya?" he asked with a smirk. Neera smiled, and took firm hold on the crowbar.

As Badger looked on, the crowbar began to bend. Slowly and steadily the bar went from a straight tool to a U shape. When the ends were touching, she casually tossed the ruined tool down on Badger's desk, smiling. Then she stepped back.

"I got me a replacement for 'ole Jayne', as you can see," Mal smirked. Badger had gone rather pale.

"Wo de mah," Badger whispered. "You wantin' a job, luv?" he asked the Amazon. Neera's smile was predatory, to say the least.

"I got a job," she told him. "I make sure that the Captain gets paid." Badger's face lost the rest of it's color then.

"'ey, I was gonna pay 'im!" he looked alarmed, and offended. "Just 'avin' a bit o' fun, luv," he tossed a bag across to Mal. "No 'ard feelins'." Mal scooped up the bag, and checked it.

"Pleasure doin' business with ya, Badger," he smiled. "Need something else, something legal, done, give us a wave. Ta ta, mate." With that, Mal, Neera, and Zoe left the still goggle eyed Badger's office.

"That was worth every minute of time it took," Zoe laughed, once they were outside. "I don't think I've ever seen Badger more rattled."

"I have that effect on people, sometimes," Neera said, deadpan. Mal chuckled.

"Sometimes? Hell, woman, you have that effect on me all the time!"

"But that's different, Captain," Neera replied huskily, and Mal's spine tingled at that.

He and Neera had followed the 'no shipboard romances' rule he was so adamant about for at least a week. After that, she had simply moved into his bunk, and that was that.

Mal knew that he was a whistle stop to the Amazon. She was one of 'them', as he put it. Like Jayne, Neera was far, far, older than she looked. But she was as wild, and as beautiful, as she was strong and intimidating. Despite himself, Mal had found he was not only attracted to the woman, but enamored with her as well.

It had surprised him, in all honesty, coming on the heels of a messy split with Inara. He had been sure that he loved the beautiful former Companion. It had hurt him that she'd chosen to stay behind, working for Jayne. It had hurt more that it was his fault.

But even Ianra had never stirred Mal's blood the way Neera Trivett could, and did. No woman ever had. He found it both exhilarating, and frightening.

"Well, since we got paid," Zoe cut into his thoughts, "what now?"

"Well, there's a job hauling cattle for. . ."

"No cows!" Zoe said at once. "You promised."

"I also promised honest work, as you may recall," Mal shot back. "So far, we've been true to that. And life's been a might easier for it, you may have noted."

"Well, you haven't been shot since we left Jayne's," Zoe replied neutrally. Mal's face reddened at that.

"No, I have not been shot," Mal huffed. "And I'd really prefer it stayed that way."

"So would I," Neera opted in, winking at Mal. "I like you just the way you are."

"So it's unanimous," Mal nodded. He shot a look at Zoe.

"It is unanimous, ain't it? Zoe?" Zoe looked thoughtful.

"Well, unless we're hauling cows," she finally said. "If it's you gettin' shot, or the cows? I don't know, sir. I really don't want to haul any more cows."

"Zoe," Mal warned, and the warrior woman finally lost her stoicism.

"Well, since we ain't got Simon with us any more, I guess it's best you don't get shot," she laughed. "Cows it is."

"Well," Mal hedged, "we might find something else, we give it a day or two. I don't really wanna haul cows either."

As the three arrived back at the ship, Lucas Miles was waiting in the cargo bay.

"Willie said tell you there was a wave for you, boss," the young man said at once. "From Prim, sir," he added. Mal nodded.

"Okay, Lucas, thanks. We shiny?"

"Yes, sir," he nodded at once. "Can hit the black when you like, we're good to go."

"What I like to hear," Mal nodded. "I'll head up to the bridge and see what Prim needs."

"Think I'll tag along," Neera said suddenly. "I wouldn't mind talkin' to Prim, myself."

"Well, then," Mal offered her his arm. "Let's us go."

Mal walked up to the bridge, where his new pilot, Wilhelmina 'Willie' Farrington was waiting.

"Wave came while you were out," the little blonde woman told him at once.

"Lucas told me," Mal nodded, eyeing the woman.

Willie had attended the same flight school that Wash had. She was twenty-three, and Serenity was her first real job as a pilot. Mal had been skeptical, but her marks were high. Not so high as Hoban Washburne's had been, but impressive none-the-less. After a trial run, in which she'd done well, Mal and Zoe had discussed it, and decided to offer her the job. So far she'd done far better than they'd hoped.

Mal went to the Cortex screen, and entered the code for Jayne's estate. In seconds, the screen opened up, and Prim was looking at them.

"Ah, Malcolm," Prim smiled. "How are you?"

"Doin' fair, Prim," Mal nodded. The two men hadn't always got along, and even now their 'relationship' was strained at times. But Mal had a grudging respect for the man. "What can we do for you?"

"Hello, Neera," Prim smiled, seeing his old friend. "Captain Reynolds keeping you out of trouble?"

"Me? Trouble?" Neera put on an innocent face. "Captain Reynolds is taking very good care of me, Prim," she purred, and Prim laughed lightly.

"I'm sure," he replied.

"You were telling me what you needed?" Mal interjected, ears reddening.

"Yes, I was," Prim nodded. "We have a rather delicate job that needs doing, Malcolm. One Neera is familiar with, in fact. You likely are as well."

"There were eight students missing from the 'Special Holding" cells in the Facility," he told them, and Neera stiffened at that. She had carried the only student in the hellish area out in her own arms. A traumatized girl of sixteen.

"Lady River," Prim went on, "left instructions that every effort was to be made to locate those children, if possible. I've been making some discreet inquiries, but so far I've turned up nothing. No one wants to admit any connection to the 'Program', as it was called, and thus information is difficult to come by."

"And you think we can help?" Mal asked dubiously.

"I hope so, yes," Prim nodded. "It's an open ended job, I fear, as I have no idea how long the search might take. Nor if it will ever be successful. I'd like you to come here, and pick up Givens, and at least one section of the Team, for backup. Your search will be fully funded, of course, in addition to your pay."

"I. . .I don't know what else to try, Malcolm, in all honesty," Prim admitted. "But someone has to try and help these children, if they're still alive."

Mal stood there for a moment, considering. It was a job that needed doing, there was no question. And Neera's body language suggested more than a passing interest in the mission as well. And it meant no cows.

"We can be there in," he looked at Willie, who flashed him four fingers. "Four days, Prim. Good enough?"

"Absolutely," Prim replied at once. "I will have everything ready for you. Thank you, Mal. This is very important to Lady River, and I don't want to disappoint her."

"Well, I wouldn't want to let little Albatross down, myself," Mal smiled fondly. "I can't promise we'll get any further than you have, mind," he warned. "But we'll give it a try."

"That's all I can ask," Prim replied. "I'll make sure you have clearance to land at the estate."

"Do that," Mal nodded. "We'll see you in four days." He broke the connection, and looked at Willie.

"Get ready to take us outta the world, Willie. I wanna be there soon as we can."

"Already plottin', boss," Willie nodded, looking at her nav plot.

"Thank you, Mal," Neera said quietly, where only he could hear. "I. . .I really appreciate this."

"You're welcome, darlin'," Mal smiled at her. "Best tell Zoe we ain't haulin' cows," he chuckled.