The More Things Change

by Cathy Roberts
Written for my "Aliens" prompt for the 2011 Mag7 Bingo at Mag7DayBook. Could be considered a crossover with "Falling Skies". Other stories in this universe can be found at Cathy's LiveJournal.

As best as J.D. could remember, the one thing that his mother always complained the most about was that he didn't have enough sense to know when to be afraid. He'd always shrug that off, but to be fair, until he'd come out west, there hadn't been all that many times when he was really and honestly scared. There'd been the time that he'd gone ice skating with a group of friends, and the ice had cracked under them. But, none of them had fallen into the icy water, so the fear had been quick and useless. He'd been afraid as his mother was dying, but that was more because he didn't know what to do without her in his life, and not from being scared to the bone.

Since coming west though, J.D. had found plenty of times when he'd been scared, starting with being manacled and waiting to be killed by cannon shot, then with seeing Buck take a sword to his chest. Hell, the whole time in the Seminole village had been scary, but a good kind of scary, the kind that made you feel alive. And for some reason, he'd never felt all that much in danger as long as he knew that Chris and Vin were around. J.D. knew that had to do with the first time he saw the men; the two of them walking down the middle of the street to save Nathan from being hanged. Both of them calm in the face of what they knew they had to do. That was the kind of courage that J.D. had only read about, but never really seen. The fear he felt now, though, wasn't the kind of scary he'd felt before. Nope, what he was feeling right then was the kind of scary that made you pee in your pants and wish you'd never been born.

This was the kind of scared that kept a person alive, but it wasn't the kind that saved a friend. And if J.D. had any chance at all of saving Vin, then he had to get past this fright, and do what needed to be done. Oh, he could clearly hear Buck in his head, telling him to leave right then, get help and come back. But, J.D. knew that if it was Buck, or any one of the others here, then he wouldn't leave. He'd do what needed to be done.

Lord, but he was tired. J.D. leaned against the wall of the stable, indulging in the brief rest. After the bugs had attacked Eagle Bend, everything had gone to Hell pretty quickly. They had bugs in front of them, those spectacular flying wagons coming up behind them, and it was nothing but chaos. J.D. had fought back his fear as he watched Vin go down, and he still regretted not being able to get to his friend right then. But, at the time, J.D. was trying to keep a woman and her child safe, people that Vin had pointed out to him. To leave them then, to save Vin, wouldn't have earned him any thanks from the man, J.D. knew that much. Not that Vin wouldn't have appreciated being freed, but not at that possible price. So, J.D. had made a mental note of which bug it was that was dragging Vin away, got the woman and child to safety and then tried to get back to his friend. And by then, it was too late. The town was on fire, people were screaming even more than before, and Stains looked to be in shock. J.D. had told the man to get out of town, to regroup. Then he kept looking for Vin. It didn't take all that long to find the bugs and their prisoners, and Vin was among them. So, J.D. did what he could, following behind them as they made their way back toward home, where the larger ship had stayed, wishing he had some way to warn Chris and the others. He hoped that Stains would go to Chris, and if so, then help would be coming. But, J.D. also knew that he couldn't depend on Stains having the sense to do that, not the state the man was in when J.D. last saw him.

Once back to town, the bugs had penned the prisoners up in the corral, under guard. J.D. had sneaked around the best he could, and even caught Vin's eye at one time. The slight nod of Vin's head had told J.D. that he was doing well, even if he had no idea just what it was that he was doing. The next day the bugs had started to move people into the bigger ship, and J.D. had still waited, watching to see what else happened. He'd left subtle signs around town, so if Chris and the others came, they'd know that J.D. was there, but right then, all J.D. was thinking about was that what he needed to get on that ship.

He'd scrounged some food from the kitchen of the boarding house, and kept watch on the comings and goings of the bugs. The bugs seemed to be active no matter if it was night or day, and J.D. had stayed awake most of the night trying to see if there was a way to sneak into the ship. Now, two days later, J.D. saw the possible opening, and he just had to rest up a bit before making an attempt. He'd grabbed a few naps now and then, but had mostly kept awake, not wanting to be taken by surprise if any of the bugs decided to take a stroll around town.

J.D. pushed off from the wall and stretched to his full height, getting the kinks out of his bones. He then found himself biting back a scream as a hand settled on his shoulder.

"It is exquisitely good to see you again, Mr. Dunne," came a southern drawl from just behind him. J.D. breathed a sigh of relief at hearing Ezra's voice, since that meant the others were also nearby.

Turning, J.D. couldn't keep the grin from his face. "Hey, Ezra. I guess that Stains made it out to Chris's place?"

"Indeed he did. We had been led to believe that you and Mr. Tanner were captured by the bugs."

J.D.'s grin quickly turned to a frown. "They got Vin. I could have caught up with Stains and the others from Eagle Bend, or I could follow the bugs. I pretty much hoped that Stains would head here, so I chose to follow the bugs and see what we could do to rescue Vin." J.D. gestured toward the large flying ship that loomed just outside of town. Even knowing that he was in the stable and not outside, J.D. still couldn't help but feel vulnerable as he pointed out the doors to the thing. "They got Vin in there, along with everyone else. They kept them in the corral for a bit, then herded them inside."

Ezra nodded at J.D.'s news. "Mr. Wilmington will be delighted to learn that you're here, and not in that monstrosity of a ship. If you'd care to follow me, you can let Mr. Larabee know what you've discovered and we can finalize our battle plans."

J.D. and Ezra silently made their way to the other side of town, where Chris and the others were waiting. As they reached the group, J.D. wasn't too surprised to see Stains and some of the others from Eagle Bend there, too. As Ezra had predicted, Buck was delighted to see J.D., grabbing him in a bear hug and lifting him off the ground. Josiah's greeting was almost as boisterous. But, it was the nod from Chris and a firm grasping of his lower arm, followed by a simple pat on the back that meant the most to J.D.

J.D. nodded toward more of his friends, having never doubted that Chanu and Coeehajo would come, and then found himself being pulled a few feet away by Chris, so they could talk without being overheard. Buck, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan quickly followed them.

"What's been happening?" Chris asked.

J.D. quickly told the others what he'd observed as he'd followed the bugs. "Since they all went in, I haven't seen anyone leaving the ship," J.D. added. "Not even the bugs that went in. The only bugs I've seen are the ones that were outside when the others went in."

Chris nodded, his eyes grim. "You know what door they use to get in and out?"

J.D. shrugged. "Wouldn't really call it a door, as such. It looks more like the side of the ship sort of ripples and disappears. I couldn't get close enough to see how it did that. But, I know the spot on the ship where it happens."

Chris nodded again. "That helps a lot, J.D. You and Vin have been here more than once since the bugs attacked. Think you can get your hands on some dynamite?"

J.D. slowly smiled. "Oh, yeah. I can definitely get my hands on some of that. And some gunpowder, too. The bugs seem to know that guns can hurt them, and they take them from the people that have them. But, they don't seem to have figured out that the guns use gunpowder."

"Well, brothers, I think it's about time that those insects got a little lesson in demolition," Josiah said. He then turned toward Chris. "You thinkin' about trying to get some of that on their ship?"

Chris smiled, but it wasn't a happy one. Instead it was one that made J.D. feel very, very glad about being on Chris's side in this fight. "That's exactly what I've got in mind, Josiah. And I'm also thinkin' they need a lesson in artillery."

Chris then looked at Ezra, and J.D. would've sworn that there was now a gleam in the man's eyes that he hadn't seen in quite a while. "Think you can get a range on the cannon without needing to fire it?"

Ezra seemed to think about it for a moment, and then damn but didn't he get that same gleam in his eyes as what was in Chris's. And once more, J.D. found himself very glad that he was on the same side as these men. "It can be done. The ship is a large enough target. The first shot might miss," Ezra admitted, "But the second one won't."

"That's good enough for me. You're in charge of getting that set up where you need to be. How many men do you need with you?"

"I'm going in the ship," J.D. quickly interrupted, not wanting to be include with Ezra's artillery. After all he'd been through, both alone and with Vin, there was no way in Hell he'd not be there when they got his friend back.

J.D. suddenly felt self-conscious as five pairs of eyes looked at him. For a brief moment, he felt as he had back in the Seminole Village, the moment that Chris had told him he could fight beside them. But that moment passed, and J.D. knew that he was not that same boy. He'd grown, sometimes painfully so, but the others needed to see that he was no longer that wet-behind-the-ears boy from the east. Vin had seen it, so it shouldn't be all that hard for the others to see it, as well.

"Of course you are," Chris softly said. "I never expected otherwise."

After that, plans were quickly refined. Ezra left after having decided that he could use Coeehajo and Yosemite, leaving the others free to take the fight to the bugs. J.D. was given the task of taking a group to gather the dynamite and gunpowder, while some of the others went after medical supplies and bullets. They were to meet back at the stables in an hour.

As J.D. headed out with his small group, his mind went back over what Buck had told him while Chris and Ezra were making their plans for the cannon. Not counting Ezra and the men helping him, they'd come to town with close to twenty men. They had sent Colonel Anderson and his men well on their collective ways to Hell with just seven of them and some ill-equipped Seminole villagers. There was no way they'd not do the same to those damn bugs, that much was the same. What wasn't the same though, was that amongst those seven back then, was a boy. J.D. had chafed a lot at being treated that way, but looking back now, he knew it was true.

Once again, he'd be fighting for his life, and the lives of his friends as well as those of strangers, just like in the village. The biggest difference was that now he was fighting as a man. He'd lost the woman he loved, as well as some good friends, and to what? Creatures that had more legs than God should have ever given them, and who couldn't even talk. Just made those chittering noises and looking like something that should be crushed under a boot. Well, Anderson and his men were far tougher than some huge bug, and J.D. knew that they'd win this time, too.

Buck had given him some good advice back then. Asked him if he was scared, and when J.D. had admitted that he was, Buck had been glad. Told him that fear would keep him sharp. Well, if that was truly the case, then he was the sharpest of them all right then. Because, a grown man or not, J.D. wasn't ashamed to admit that he was scared to the bones, and he knew that feeling wasn't gonna go away until this was all over and the seven of them were reunited. Because if J.D. knew one true thing in life, it was that when the seven of them were together, there wasn't anything that they couldn't do.

J.D. and his group made it back to the stable before the others, which was fine with J.D. It gave him some time to himself, time to try to find a place of calmness within, like Vin had tried to teach him. Call up the wrongs, think on your enemy, then find that calmness. Let it embrace you, becoming a part of you, just as natural as breathing. And when you were calm, then you went after the enemy. Because to go after your foe when you were all het up about what they'd done to you and yours was just asking to be killed straight away.

J.D. had no intention of being killed. Not anytime soon, and most definitely not straight away. He felt that they could win this, and win it without losing too many more people. He and his group had returned with several bundles of dynamite, and five small kegs of gunpowder. Enough to blow up the whole damn town, and hopefully more than they needed to take out that bug ship.

The others quietly arrived, nodding to one another as they came in. J.D. took a deep breath and felt that calmness enter. They were as ready as they'd ever be. He was ready.


J.D. turned toward Buck, wondering what kinds of advice the man would try to give him now. He was pretty sure that Buck had already told him everything he knew, and twice at that! "Buck."

Buck looked sad, and J.D. barely had time to wonder why before Buck shook his head. "I'm sure sorry about this."

The next thing J.D. knew, Buck's fist was coming at him, making hard contact with his chin. As darkness pushed the shock of the attack away, J.D. could feel someone gently lowering him to the ground, and the last thing he heard was someone, Buck probably, telling him once more how sorry he was. So true, he thought, tried to say, but wasn't sure that the words ever made it out, all of you are a damn sorry excuse for friends.

What surprised Vin the most about being captured wasn't so much the capturing itself, but that the bugs had taken his gun and the hatchet he'd been using. And that was it. They hadn't searched him, or any of the others. Vin still had his knife, and that was an advantage that he knew he could put to good use. All he had to do was be patient and bide his time. While he could have made his escape at just about any point between Eagle Bend and back to town, or even once in town, Vin chose not to do that. He wanted to be inside of that ship and put an end to this once and for all. He hoped that J.D. was still alive, and had gotten back to Chris's place, and that they would all be ready to take the ship. He knew Chris, knew the way the man thought, and Vin had no doubt at all that Chris would be there. In the meantime, there was plenty that Vin could do on his own.

Despite the crying of the women and children as they were herded into the ship, Vin didn't find it all that scary. He'd never been on a ship of any kind, but Josiah and Ezra had described plenty of them, and Ezra even had a drawing of one in a book, looking all pretty and fragile as it floated on the ocean. This thing wasn't all that different, 'cept for being made of metal, like his gun, and not of wood, like a regular ship. Just as when he'd made his first trip inside of an Army fort, Vin looked for weaknesses in the structure itself and the people in it. Since it wasn't made of wood, it couldn't burn, but Vin saw plenty of places where a person could hide once they got away from the bugs. Seemed that some things never did change much, Vin mused. Back then, his home had been invaded and destroyed by a superior force, and he'd been taken away. Only difference was that in his past, it had been white men, beings like himself, and this time, it was bugs. It was still something that didn't understand him or care much about him. That was okay though, because Vin knew how to deal with that kind of an attitude. And this time, he had the ability to keep that superior force from destroying everyone and everything he cared about.

Vin watched intently as the bugs herded them all into one round room, then touched the wall and the wall closed and the room moved. Then it stopped and the wall opened again. Vin made note of where the bugs touched, knowing he might need to make room move when it came time to getting everyone else out.

They were then herded into another room and left alone. That suited Vin just fine. He reckoned that at least one bug would be back to check on them, so he had to get ready to move when that happened. Vin quickly and quietly moved from huddled group to huddled group, finding out which men might still have their knives on them. It was only four, but that was enough.

"When them bugs come back, we'll get the jump on them," Vin explained. One man looked puzzled, the other three simply shook their heads.

"We can't beat them," the oldest of the men said, and the others nodded. "You were there, you saw what they can do. They killed..." the man swallowed and closed his eyes, and Vin didn't have to ask to know what the man was remembering.

"If we take them by surprise, then we can beat 'em." Vin assured the men. "I've killed plenty of 'em, just using a hatchet and a shot-gun. Hell, most of the time with just the hatchet. They'll most likely only send one here to check on us, and four of us with knives can take out one of them with no trouble at all."

They still shook their heads, and Vin tried to not get exasperated at their lack of understanding or faith that the plan could work, so he finally resorted to telling them all to just follow his lead. He'd get them out of there, and the others, too.

It was a bit of a wait, but eventually a bug did come to check on them, and Vin and his knife made quick work of it. He got the people back to the round room, then one of the women started right in on making the room move. Seemed the women weren't as dazed as the men. Stopping it in the right place was a bit more tricky, and at one stop, a bug entered. Like the one before it, the bug didn't live long. This time, though, the other men helped out, having finally caught on to Vin's plan. Finally believing that Vin's plan would work.

They found the right place to stop, and Vin got the group back to the entrance. One of the group, Vin thought he was a preacher from Eagle Bend, assured him that he could get the wall to open. Vin nodded and headed on his way. He needed to find the rest of the people, and to kill off as many bugs as possible along the way. The ship seemed even bigger inside than it had looked from outside, and Vin had no doubt that the ship was riddled with those damn creatures. He reckoned that the more he killed now, the better chance Chris and the rest of them had once they got there.

Vin was looking for another door when he heard a skittering sound on the metal floor, and realized that something was headed his way. And more than one, from the way it sounded. He quickly weighed his options, then turned and headed back the way he'd come. He was willing to take on more than one of them, but not more than two. He might take some risks from time to time, when the stakes were high enough, but he wasn't stupid enough to try to take down the whole bug army by himself.

Keeping close to what he thought was the outer wall, Vin had gone past where he knew that outer door was, and he was relieved to find it closed and not a sign of anyone else in the hallway. Now, if those folk can just stay free, he thought, then all would be well, or at least, better. Suddenly the wall to his left began to move, and Vin flattened himself against the wall that wasn't moving, ready for anything, or so he thought.

What he wasn't ready for was the smell that came out of that opening. Vin had smelled death, and in many different stages, and that was what he was getting wind of right then. His gut churned, but not from the smell, but rather from the idea that the smell might account for where some of the captives had gone.

When no bug came out of the opening, Vin edged toward it, and peeked around the corner. He found himself looking into a room that seemed to run along the length of the wall. Not a wide room, but narrow and long, and not much decoration at all, just like the rest of the ship, except there were big metal tables here, four of them. And piled up against the walls were bodies in various states of rotting. Vin recognized a few of them, those whose faces he could still make out. Most of them were older folks, at least that's the way it looked to him.

Vin did venture into the room, in the off chance that one of those bodies might not be dead, but nobody called out for help. He nudged one with the toe of his boot, wondering what that was that seemed to be attached to the body's back and neck. It didn't budge, and Vin considered whether or not it was worth it to get a closer look. The bodies reeked, and he really didn't want to touch them. Vin was just starting to turn to leave when he heard a whooshing sound, like the outside door had made. He held his knife at the side, knowing that it was too late to run as two people came into the room from one end. At least one of them was a person, a young girl that Vin recognized from one of the farms between there and Eagle Bend, a pretty little thing with red hair and green eyes, and she had often reminded Vin of Casey. He had to think for a minute, trying to remember her name. It was the Flannery spread, but what was her name? Amanda. That was it.

What walked in with her, that weren't no person. It was tall, and had long, thin arms and legs, and a waist like a wasp. A head was supported on a neck that looked far too thin to be able to hold up anything. Vin could see eyes, and holes that he supposed was its nose, but that was about as close as it came to looking like a person. The skin was a shimmery color, somewhere between silver and gray, and the first thing that popped into Vin's head when seeing it was that it reminded him of snakeskin. It stared at Vin, and Vin stared back, wondering just how many more of the non-person things were in the ship, and what power they held in the bug army.

"It is time for you to be one of us. Get on the table," Amanda said, her young voice breaking the silence. She motioned to the nearest table as the bug moved to the wall and began to touch it in several places. "This will not hurt you."

Vin took a half-step backward, his eyes quickly darting from Amanda to some of the dead bodies and then back to her again. "I'm sure it won't, cause I ain't getting on no table."

Amanda cocked her head to one side, then she frowned. Her gaze grew hazy then, as if she weren't really there. Then she nodded. "You have nothing to fear. We have tried enough joinings to know that you are young enough that the joining will take." She gestured to the bodies on the floor. "You will not end up like those."

Another step backward, and this time Amanda and the tall bug also stepped forward, something long and ugly in what Vin thought was its hand. Amanda turned slightly, to look back at the thing, and Vin noticed something coming up out of the neckline of her dress, along the back of her neck. It was the same thing that he'd seen on that body, and what the bug was now toting. The girl nodded at the bug, then turned back to face Vin.

"Do not be afraid. Once you have been joined with us, all will be well. You will like being one of us."

The Hell he would! Vin took two steps backward, thinking that right then, the best move was to get away from the crazy girl and the tall bug. He knew how to kill the regular bugs, but had no idea what to do about the tall one. He knew the tall bug should die, but wasn't so sure about Amanda. The idea of putting down a rabid animal didn't bother Vin none, but the idea of having to do the same to another human being...that didn't sit too well with him. Oh, he'd do it if he had to, had done so more than once, but that didn't mean he liked the idea all that much.

Vin knew he was getting close to the door out, but he wasn't quite ready to turn his back on the pair. And a good thing it was, too, because the tall bug suddenly darted forward, one of those spindly arms reaching out for him. Vin brought his knife up, and less than a minute later, the thing was on the floor, hopefully dead, and Amanda was screaming and rushing forward, hitting at Vin's chest while he tried his best to make sure that she couldn't get anywhere near his knife.

"No! You cannot kill us. You should be one of us, not against us." Amanda said, her voice still the same monotone that it had been before. Vin knew that wasn't right. The way she was hittin' at him, she shoulda had some emotion in her voice, maybe even tears. But there was nothing there, and even worse was that there was nothing in her eyes, either. Vin knew that whether or not he liked the idea, she'd have to be killed, too.

He could hear the skittering sounds again, and needed to move quickly, or else risk getting' caught in the room by the bugs. As he brought the knife forward, aiming for a heart thrust, there was a loud boom, like with something exploding, and Vin could feel the floor shimmy a bit under him. He hoped that noise meant that J.D. had gotten back to Chris and the others, and that help had finally arrived. Because if it didn't, then he sure as Hell didn't want to know what else could be in store for him.

Vin bent down and quickly wiped his blade clean on Amanda's dress. Standing, he took another look around the room, then shuddered as he wondered if it might have been his fate to end up as just another rotting body cast aside against the wall. He could now hear yelling and some gunshots, sounded like shotguns, and he slowly grinned as he recognized the voices of Chris, Josiah, Buck and Nathan.

Vin headed back into the hallway, but by the time he reached the opening to the outside, it was too late to participate in the quick battle that had taken place there. The bodies of the bugs littered the floor, and Vin looked quickly from the bodies to the group of men he knew as well as he knew himself, noting that the brief battle hadn't even made them break a sweat. It did his heart good to see Chris and the others there, including Chanu and some of the townspeople, but it worried him that J.D. wasn't there. Had the kid been killed after all?

"Vin!" Chris finally noticed him standing there, and the man quickly stepped forward until just inches separated them. They grasped hands, and then Vin was a bit surprised to find himself being hugged by Chris. "J.D. said you weren't hurt, but I had to see for myself."

As Chris released him, Vin took a slight step back, not wanting a repeat of that hug, not from Chris, anyway. Buck and Josiah were more the hugging kind of people, but they just stood there, grinning right along with Nathan. Vin normally didn't like to be in close quarters with another person, but that had never irked him with Chris. Nope, with Chris, it just seemed natural to be in one another's pockets, but hugging had never happened before. Vin's worry about J.D. was now eased, even though he was still curious as to where the kid had gotten off to. The most important thing was that most of them were now together, and there was work to be done. "Well, Hell, Chris, it took you long enough to come looking."

"We had to wait for everyone else to get back," Chris replied as the others now gathered around. "Ezra, J.D. and Coeejaho are with the cannon."

There was a quick look exchanged between Buck and Chris, and Vin knew that something was up. Since it was Buck doing most of the looking, Vin figured it had something to do with J.D., and he hoped the kid wasn't hurt. Still, there weren't time to waste with trying to find out. If they got out of there alive, then Vin figured he could ask about what was going on.

"Sounds like Ezra's doin' a fine job with that thing. Aiming a bit better now than how he did back at the Seminole village." Vin figured that was a safe thing to talk about, and when nobody exchanged pointed looks, he found himself slightly relaxing.

Josiah chuckled, "Well, this is a bigger target."

"The folks from Eagle Bend get out okay?" Vin asked, and the others nodded.

"The door shut before we could get in, but they told us how they got out. So, any more bugs to kill?" Chris asked. He looked over at Josiah, who patted the small keg that was in the crook of his arm. Vin then noticed that everyone except Chris was toting something. If it weren't a keg of gunpowder, then the man had dynamite. His friends were itching for a fight, and Vin was sure they weren't gonna get disappointed.

Vin shrugged. "Prob'ly. But there's somethin' besides those bugs. Follow me."

Vin led them back to the other room, where they all immediately put their hands over their mouths and noses to block out the smell. Once more, Vin didn't bother. He took them past Amanda and to the tall creature.

"I think that this one, and most likely more like it, are the ones in charge. It seemed to be tellin' Amanda what to say and do. They wanted to put one of those things on me." Vin pointed to the thing attached to the back of Amanda's neck and also to the one on the floor by the bug.

Nathan knelt to examine the one on Amanda. "It looks like it's imbedded into her spine," Nathan finally reported.

"That's what I thought," Vin said. "And from the way she talked, when they put it on you, you either die or become their puppet. She called it joining."

Nathan stood, then went over to the wall and began to examine some of those bodies. Vin continued, "She mentioned that I was young enough that it would work. Seeing as there's so many people in here, I'm thinkin' that the older you are, the more likely you are to die when they try it, only the tall things can't really tell how old we are or somethin'. I don't know if the people they join can really tell them anything about the rest of us, or if it only works the other way 'round. The thing never spoke, and Amanda seemed to be sayin' what it wanted her to say, and nothing more."

Chris was still standing by Amanda's body, and he caught Vin's eye. "She's been stabbed."

Well, no shit, Vin thought, thinking that if Chris was asking if he'd done it, then the man must be blind or something. After all, Vin was standing there with his knife still in his hand, and there weren't any knives laying around on the floor. Still, as Vin looked at Chris, it did seem as if the other man was waiting for an answer of some kind. Vin nodded, "I killed the thing. They're much easier to kill than the other bugs, probably why we ain't seen none of them outside the ship. She was comin' at me before it hit the ground, though. You wouldn't think a little thing like her could put up much of a fight, but she was givin' it all she had."

Vin looked around at the others. "We might have to kill the other people, if they react the way she did." They needed to know, and be ready, for the fact that they'd have to kill people they knew. Maybe even cared about, especially in Chanu's case, since several of the people from the reservation had been captured.

"We don't know that everyone else will react the way she did," Chris said. "And if Nathan can get that thing off them, then we should do all we can to get them out of here alive."

Nathan got to his feet. "I can't see any way of getting that thing off. Vin's right. Anybody else with one of these things on 'em, there ain't gonna be any way to save them. We don't know just what all's gonna happen when we kill the bugs and the rest of those things."

There was a moment of weighted silence then, as the group contemplated those words, and the fact that Nathan was basically telling them that it might be better to kill the people who'd had those things put on them. Finally, Chris nodded and Vin felt a sense of relief that the man seemed to accept what might need to be done. For all that he was a feared, and often fearless, gunfighter, there were times when Chris could be downright reluctant to do what needed doing.

Vin decided that they needed to get focused on what had to be done. "From what I can tell, this place ain't any taller than it looks on the outside." They'd all had looks at the place, and when compared with the rest of the buildings in town, had guessed it was about five floors tall, and as long as the town itself. "Seemed to me those little flying wagons were coming and going from the next level down from the top. We should make sure they're stopped from gettin' out, or destroy them all together."

"Ezra figured that out, too, and he's aiming for where those wagons go in and out," Josiah said.

"We still need to make sure that the bugs in here can't get out using those wagons," Vin insisted. He wanted them dead, all of them, and the idea of any of them escaping just didn't set well with him.

"We also need to think about finding where they steer this from," Buck added. "I've never seen a pilot house or anything like it on the outside, but maybe there's something similar to that in here."

"And there's gotta be a boiler room of some kind, too," Josiah said. "I don't know about anybody else, but I'm not going to be too appreciative if this thing moves while we're still in it."

Chris sighed. "All good points, but I don't like the idea of us splitting up. How about we clear this floor, take out what we can, then go look for where those flying wagons are stored? After that, we can go look for the pilot house and the boiler room."

Vin nodded, liking that idea. Like Chris, he didn't much cotton to the idea of them splitting up again. They'd always worked well together, and he did wish that J.D. and Ezra were with them. He didn't know what some of the other men could do, but, Chanu, Yosemite and Stains were good in a fight, and Ezra and J.D. had their own jobs to do. That cannon was better used outside, and Vin knew that Ezra was the best person for that job.

"Let's go." Vin turned to head toward the other door in the room, where the thing and the girl had entered, confident that the others would follow. "They came from this way, so we should start there. Like I said, the tall things are soft and easy to kill, so save the shotguns for the bugs."

A hand on his arm stopped Vin's progress, and he turned back to look at Chris, wondering why the man had stopped him. There was an odd look in Chris's eyes, and Vin felt slightly flustered at that, because there wasn't really time enough to try to figure out what Chris had on his mind.

Turned out though, that Vin didn't need to take that time. Chris smiled slightly at him and nodded, just like he'd done when they first met. Vin smiled back, once more ready to walk into Hell with Chris. Ready to walk into Hell with all of his friends. With them by his side, he knew that the Devil himself had cause to worry.

"I reckon these bugs would be a lot happier if they'd never stopped here," Chris said, a full-blown grin now on his face.

"I reckon you're right on that, Cowboy." Vin gestured toward the door. "You want to go first?"

"I was thinking we'd go together." Chris stepped up beside Vin. "Let's show them bugs a thing or two about our own hospitality, shall we?"

Vin grinned back and shook his head, but he wasn't going to deny that showing those bugs a good bit of hostility didn't appeal to him. With Chris at his side, and the rest of his friends behind him, Vin stepped through that doorway, more than prepared to get a little 'Old Testament' on those bugs, as Josiah would say.