DISCLAIMER: Not mine.
A/N: Apparently I lack any semblance of self-control when it comes to writing about these characters. This is the sequel to The Chosen One, which really has to be read first or this won't make any sense!
Adelei Niska surveyed the man in front of him. Dr Charles Wu was a relic from the now obsolete Academy, as were the rest of his medical team. The man was thin and pale, his sharp eyes and oily black hair giving the impression of an underfed rat looking for its next meal. And in some ways Niska supposed he was.
The Miranda broad wave had shouted out the failings of the Alliance one year ago, and since then the Government had fallen. Core worlds and Rim worlds alike were continuing the slow process of rebuilding the system, and the 'verse was still on edge, tense and ready. Dr Wu had been one of a team of fifteen who escaped before the raids on the Academy had taken place, taking with them any information they could carry and destroying the rest before disappearing into hiding.
It had taken Niska eight long months to discover them, eight long months to bring them onto his payroll. The decimation of the Alliance had cost him dearly, his contacts in the Government no longer available to provide protection for his corrupt dealings, and his business had come close to ruin.
That is until the discovery of an ancient Academy record and a now redacted warrant. He smiled as he remembered discovering the lucrative concept of psychic assassins, knowing full well that his remaining contacts would welcome an army of highly trained killers ready to dispatch, and would pay through the nose to get them. Even more enticing was the fact that the warrant had been for one River Tam, last seen with the crew of Serenity.
Niska scowled as he thought of the trouble Reynolds had once wreaked on his space station. Following the broad wave there had been many attempts to get the "Heroes of Miranda" to go public, attempts that failed continuously. Reynolds' sense of survival was too strong – Niska knew he wouldn't allow his crew to be discovered, wouldn't allow any remaining enemies to exploit their resources. And if the reports were true there were several other small but treasured reasons why Reynolds was keeping his crew and himself hidden.
Reports of ships launching attacks on Reaver territories were bright dots of hope – Niska knew that one day Reynolds' would slip, and on that day he would be waiting.
He was drawn out of his reverie by a polite cough from Dr Wu. "Yes Charles, you haff news for me?" Wu nodded, his face remorseful. "We have lost another potential Mr Niska – he couldn't survive the neural stripping."
Niska frowned. "Zis procedure vas done to others – why does it now fail"? Wu shrugged. "We can't find a candidate strong enough to cope with the stripping and the combat training combined. Their brains are shutting down before we can complete the procedure. We can't keep them alive long enough to be of any use."
Niska narrowed his eyes. "River Tam is still alive, and she survived ze procedures." Wu sighed, this argument was a frequent one. "Sir I've explained before; Tam was something else. No other candidate has ever responded to the stripping like she did, and her body took to the training unlike anything we've ever seen. She was an anomaly."
Niska raised one eyebrow thoughtfully. "Or an answer. Perhaps if ve had her ve could find out vat makes her so special?" Wu nodded. "Yes, she'd be invaluable, but nobody has been able to find Reynolds or his crew. They're like some kind of legend Sir - people all over the 'verse have their own stories about them. There are even whispers of a monster on board, but still nobody knows where they are. How can we possibly capture Tam when we don't even know where she is?"
"Maybe I can help with that." The man in the doorway was tall and dark skinned, his flashing brown eyes holding a hint of madness that interested Niska. "Really? You sink you can catch a member of the infamous Serenity?"
The man smiled, the sharp look heightened by the intensity in his eyes. "I almost did once, an' I'm hankerin' for a second round." Niska waved one hand dismissively. "I haff no interest in employing an outside consultant for a spy, especially one who has failed in the past."
The man's smile didn't falter. "Seems ta me we can help each other out. You want the girl, an' I still need ta catch me a Slayer. No fee, no charge. I jus' need a ship."
Niska narrowed his eyes at the man's overly generous proposal. "Who are you?"
That terrifying smile grew sharper.
"Early. Jubal Early."
A/N: Well howdy kids, how're we travelling so far?