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[personal profile] un_fallen
Raguel begins with some information he got from Gabriel Tam, the last known coordinates of the Bentley flagship, and from there he turns for the closest known Reaver-occupied space. He weaves between systems on the way, doubling back and detouring into moon orbits, asteroid clusters, the dark sides of uninhabited worlds that only see daylight every 30 years or so. Occasionally, he sees a ship or two that looks like a Reaver-taken vessel. None of them are the Shé Xuán.

He'd rather not enter any of what pass for Reaver colonies, if possible. Hard to move unnoticed there. He skirts slowly past an outer line of them, just out of firing range, knowing that if he gets just a little closer, he'll be able to see individual ships through the glass. It's tempting, and after an hour or two he thinks he might be desperate enough to risk it - and then his scanner picks up something behind him. It's distant, but most of the size and class readings match the ship he's been looking for. He turns around to meet it. In a quarter of an hour his readings confirm what he suspected: it is, at last, the Shé Xuán.

The ship is cold when he engages the airlock from his borrowed skimmer. It's never been cold when he was on board before. The sound of loud hissing issues from somewhere, a partially blocked air filter, and the ship smells of blood and decay.

"You'd never put up with this," he mutters. Then the first one lunges at him.


Raguel tries to be civil to the Reavers he finds on the ship; not as many as he'd expected. "Ours is not to condemn," Aziraphael had said, and despite the ample evidence of murders everywhere he looks, there is not actually any direct evidence that these are the Reavers that killed Crowley. But despite his intentions, the Reavers are not cooperative.

The suit only hampers him a little; not getting shot (and the anger at this injustice helps, adrenaline or something, and the next one to come at him makes a dent in the wall) makes a difference.

Logically, he thinks as he tears and burns and ducks, these are likely members of the same raiding party, but physical violence proves ultimately unsatisfying. These are the murder weapons, maybe. He remembers; he used to be one. He feels a strange sympathy for them; tools of a greater force, but not his ultimate target. When the mad screaming of last one is silenced, he wishes the gore off of his suit and turns to business.

He walks the silent halls through each room on the ship one by one, taking his time. It's not difficult to tell where the Reavers came in; the same airlocked door where his skimmer lies is bordered with the scars of laser blasts and small explosions. He's walked these halls before when it was a warm and breathing ship with people - some of them these people - warm and breathing with it. Now some of the lights are damaged and flickering. Dust is starting to collect on abandoned datapads. "Dust and fundamentalists," he says, chuckling a little, then repeats the words just to hear something other than the hissing in the dark. It was a joke, he knows; Crowley used to make it about what was later called Persephone. He never quite got it, but it meant something once.

In some rooms, whole bodies lie where they fell, apparent suicides by poison or laser blast or ritual self-slaughter. "Lucky," he pronounces to their glassy eyes. The Shé Xuán's once-spotless decks are filthy now, pieces of clothing and impossibly large stains of blood mar the mostly-carpeted floors. There is a noticeable lack of desecrated body parts, however, except for the few Reavers that Raguel has dispatched. Raguel figures the remnants are around somewhere. Probably not refrigerated. Barbarians.

He does find that the largest concentration of victims lies in the unlaunched escape pods, and here a running commentary on what he sees is not only useful for his invisible sidekick, but necessary for his own self-control. Few of these bodies are whole, and even Raguel has to pause before picking his way through each tiny pod, noting the full stores of rations, air and fuel that might have taken at least some of them to safety. There is blood on each of the launch handles. The pods are solidly docked, though, not a one even begun the sequence far enough to close the door.

Except for one.

"Always one, isn't there, Crowley?" he whispers over the continued hissing. "Bad guy gets away," he confides. "For a while."

The tiny bay's doors are closed to protect the delicate environment inside the ship, but there's a window looking out onto the empty black where the escape pod had been.

All those planetary defenses that Tam Tam had told him about, the blast doors that wouldn't open, the malfunctions in every system, every one of them were Bentley machines. The eyes of the victims in the pods (those that still had eyes) had held hope of escape. He remembers. More notes, more lists, more talking aloud - with gestures, this time.

A panel directly across from the empty escape pod bay has been ripped open, wires protruding in a huge, ostentatious mess, spattered with blood. He goes to examine it and finds a forest of connections that hardly make sense. Far in the back though, amid the blinking lights, numbers, streams of nonsensical data, are strings of familiar letters and numbers: the ID codes printed on the inside of each escape pod. The light beside the missing pod's number is on. He draws back. The blood scattered here is angled, and the dried pattern on the wall obscures a small mark.

A hole.

A bullet.

Here Raguel hesitates, and all his senses dull into a rushing silence that drowns out even the constant sigh of the air. The brownish splatter fills his vision and his fingers clench and unclench: tight fists, ready, and far too late.

Eventually he lifts a hand to hover over the angled hole, and pulls. The spent bullet lands in his palm, bringing with it something - yes, bone - and he turns to look at the scene behind him with new eyes. The cover to the panel of escape pods lies on the floor across the room, and now clearly visible, the steel has been bent to show the unmistakable imprint of a hand.

He starts toward it and at the last moment, detours toward the door of the empty launch bay. He knows whose handprint that is, unless there was someone else on this ship who could casually leave a handprint behind when wrenching a steel door off its hinges. Anyway, he'd just rather not get close to it. That's all.

His suspicions are confirmed when he looks toward the bullet hole from the escape pod entrance. The angles match; Crowley'd been shot from somewhere around here. And from the looks of things, it was right after he'd made the escape pod functional.

"Maybe they panicked," he mutters to his invisible companion. "Or maybe they were a selfish, cowardly, traitorous son of a bitch."

He's working up a good shield of anger as he strides back across toward the panel, but comes to an abrupt halt at something on the floor. Raguel crouches to pick it up.

Round, black, and miraculously gore-free: a button from a sleek business suit. Cradled in his palm it looks fashionable, expensive, and horribly familiar.

"One of your best," he croaks eventually. "Course, they were all your b--" He stops as his focus widens to take in the huge, bloody stain on the carpet here, merging into the others and lit by hundreds of low-power ship lights, tastefully muted with custom-made covers because Crowley didn't like their industrial glare.

Raguel's expression goes comically blank, then he tears into the nearest restroom, possibly the only clean place on the whole ship. The sound of retching competes with the hissing air for a few minutes.

"Made it," he says hoarsely as he emerges. "Never forgive me if I was sick all over your carpets."

The button, forgotten in his rush, goes into his pocket to rattle around with a couple of tiles. He doesn't return to the crime scene immediately, though (again, because he'd just 'rather not'). Instead, he checks through the few remaining aides' rooms leading up to the bridge.

Papers are thrown around or knocked off tables along with paperweights, staplers, and other office paraphernalia in the rush, but for the most part the rooms are intact. Nobody wanted to hang around and work when there was an oncoming Reaver attack, apparently. One door, battered hard from the outside, seems to have withstood the attack, but when it swings open under his hand there's no one in the room.

"Would've broken it," he says confidently. "Everything's broken eventually." But nothing inside the room seems broken; things are laid out in an organized pattern right down to the lipstick-smeared cup of cold coffee sitting beside a datapad. Everything is in neat, orderly rows and stacks, a sure sign of an organizational mania, except for one pile of folders. His eye is drawn to their bizarre, out-of-the way angle, falling over each other as if disturbed from beneath. He goes to look more closely; E RYDELL and a file number is the label on each one. And beneath them, a wand-shaped object.

He picks it up, but can't figure out what the hell it is. Some kind of electronic device, judging by the casing, but there's no screen and only a single button.

"Let's see, Crowley, a strange stick with a button." He laughs, but his throat is too raw to make it sound genuine. "Seriously? Not very subtle for the master of temptation."

Shrugging unconsciously, he pushes it. Two prongs extend mechanically from the sides of the thing, but disappointingly, nothing else happens.

"Well that was anticlimactic," Raguel observes, and moves on to the bridge.

Again, nothing surprising. The destination is a set of coordinates that the Reavers had put in, right in the middle of that cloud of them he'd been patrolling. He reverses the course - good thing the ship is moving slowly - and checks the beacons on the escape pods. All but one are blinking out their private signals, signals designed not to stop even if there's a crash-landing. And all the ones that are functioning are still attached to the ship; the signal from the missing pod is conspicuously absent.

"Disabled it," he decides. "Premeditated, then. Selfish, cowardly, traitorous, cunning son of a bitch." He looks rather proud of himself for this little outburst, and busies himself examining star charts and the ship's logs to determine what planets were in the pods' limited range at the time of the attack. Then the intercept warnings start going off.

Note: There were two habitable moons in range of that area, that's all.

In less than a minute the intercept warnings are followed by ship proximity alarms. Someone's coming, and coming quickly.

Note: E RYDELL is on the passenger manifest, listed as ELIZABETH. Employee.

He looks at the screens, then at the glass with a wide view of the black. Reaver ships, lots - it looks like half of that cloud of them from the colony. He ramps up the power to the ship's engines, but even so, the cloud of ships is gaining with improbable speed. No time for more, he decides, and runs for the docking area.

It's impossible to say if ELIZABETH RYDELL is still on the ship; even if he found the stockpiled bodies, catalogued all the suicides, he doubts he would ever know. But it's a name, and that's a start. He skids to a halt in front of the airlock leading to his skimmer, but with a grinding wrench of metal the whole thing is knocked away right in front of him by a ship decorated with spikes and leaking containment all over the place. Raguel stares at it through the tiny window as it attempts to dock in the damaged bay. His finger is on the switch that will open the door. Lots of noise now; the Shé Xuán has several free docking bays, all of them in use, and the familiar din of mad, frantic screams fill the corridors (again). There are a lot, and for the first time he's not sure he can make it.

"I'm sorry," he says to his invisible companion, and opens the airlock.


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August 2009

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