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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Although Mal and the crew may have thought they'd cheated fate, it looks like it's taking one more pot shot at them. But they have allies in places they don't even know about, allies with their own agenda.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1476 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Disclaimer - characters/premise/etc. not mine, thanks ME and Mr. W.
Author's note - and there you were thinking I couldn't manage another plot twist this late in the day. I just took that as a challenge. With luck, next chapter will be the last. Deep sigh.
Things Fall Apart Chapter 13
On board Alliance Cruiser Orion
General Mengitsu sat in his ready room, scrolling through the hastily compiled reports his staff had submitted in an attempt to explain what had happened at Nexus 7, all of them failing miserably. The General glanced at the time in the top right of the screen. Little more than an hour since the Reavers had deserted the station, leaving nothing but vapor trails, wreckage and one small, unarmed, and apparently unharmed Firefly-class freighter behind.
“None of it makes any sense,” the General muttered.
The General glanced up at the Lieutenant Colonel who stood attentively at the other end of the room and let some of his frustration show.
“Have we had a report from the ships we sent after the Reavers yet? I thought I asked to be updated on the quarter hour.”
“Yes sir, we have had reports. They have found nothing yet, sir.” Lieutenant Colonel Stuart thought for a moment, knowing that the question he needed to ask was going to annoy his superior and mentally bracing himself. “Sir, do you wish to continue the pursuit?”
“What?” General Mengitsu asked, staring at the screen again.
“Do you wish to continue the pursuit, sir? We have a ship following each of the Reaver ship’s trails, but they have made little headway, and it leaves us dangerously exposed here. Should some of the Reaver ships double back-”
“I am aware of the dangers, Lieutenant Colonel,” the General interrupted. “There really is no further need to remind me of them.”
“I apologize, sir.”
“This is ridiculous!” The General stood up and took a couple of quick paces away from his chair to stand staring at one of the tasteful murals hung on the walls, currently showing a soothing scene of a lake in the middle of snowcapped mountains. “What the hell happened here?”
The Lieutenant Colonel decided to take that as a rhetorical question and kept silent.
There was a soft, low chime and the General turned, saying sharply, “Enter!”
The door slid open to reveal a younger man in uniform. The Sergeant saluted smartly and said, “Sir, the last of the evacuated soldiers have been taken on board.”
“Good,” the General said. “Then we can begin questioning the crew of this Serenity.” He said the name of the Firefly with some distaste. He didn’t know whether it was intended to be ironic, a genuine memorial to that ghastly incident, or the Captain was blithely ignorant of the connotations, but whatever the reason he’d already decided he didn’t like the man. “Have them taken to the interrogation rooms immediately. I want Governor Xuan’s men made available too, you are to inform him as such.”
“Sir?” Lieutenant Colonel Stuart said quickly, “The Governor has asked if he may have a word with you urgently.”
The General’s eyes narrowed. “I allowed Governor Xuan to accompany us as a personal favor, considering his family circumstances. That is as far as my favor extends. I do not have the time to see him now.”
“Yes sir, but he said he wished to discuss the matter of the Firefly with you directly.”
“And he will, as will the rest of his men and the crew. But it will be on my time, not his. By the way, I want the ship’s data logs, and I want it thoroughly searched.” The last remark he directed at the Sergeant.
“Dismissed,” the General said, and the Sergeant turned smartly on his heal and left.
Lieutenant Colonel Stuart hesitated, and the General sighed in exasperation. “What is it?” He demanded.
“Are we arresting the crew of Serenity, sir?”
“Not yet,” General Mengitsu said in a quieter tone. “Not yet. But something does not feel right about this. Anyone who survives a Reaver attack either has the luck of the very Devil, or they are the devils themselves. I want to know which it is. Dismissed.”
15 minutes later on board Serenity
“Now wait a gorramned minute!” Mal said, standing in the middle of the cargo bay, facing about ten armed Alliance troops poised to enter his ship. “You mean to tell me that we rescued your boys off that piece of fei-oo, risked our lives to get the Governor’s family back to him safe and sound, an’ you’re arrestin’ us?”
Behind him, Jayne growled and spat, crossing his arms to keep from going for his gun. Zoe was frowning, glancing between the troupes and Mal, then back over her shoulder at Wash.
“You are not being arrested,” the Sergeant facing them said, flushing with irritation. “We would like to question you and your crew about what happened on the Nexus 7, that is all.”
“An’ if we refuse?” Mal asked.
“I would have to insist,” the Sergeant replied grimly.
“So you’re arrestin’ us,” Mal retorted.
“Your cooperation will make this whole process a lot easier,” the Sergeant said as though he really could not understand what the problem was.
Mal put his hands on his hips, making several of the Alliance troupes tense. Mal’s eyes narrowed. They were awfully twitchy for people supposed to be dealing with friends.
“My crew has been through hell these last couple of days,” he said in a quieter tone of voice, hoping to ease the tension a notch or two. “It’d be no more’n decency to let them get cleaned up a little, maybe get some rest first-”
“There’ll be time enough for that later,” the Sergeant said shortly.
“I won’t have my people treated like criminals,” Mal said more firmly. “Look, there’s no need for this. You’re jus’ gonna be hearin’ the same story from each of us anyways. Let me answer your questions an’ leave my crew out of it.”
“We are to question every member of this crew, Captain, including yourself.”
On the catwalk above the cargo bay, Duvenage watched the exchange with calm interest. He turned and slipped silently down one of the passages, unnoticed by anyone below.
“It isn’t necessary to question every member of my crew,” Mal said through gritted teeth.
“We will decide what is necessary,” the Sergeant replied a little pompously. “Do not make the mistake of believing this is a request.”
“Mal,” Zoe said in a low voice, but he held up one hand to forestall her, saying,
“I’d like to speak to Governor Xuan. Perhaps he can help us come to some agreement.”
“The Governor’s men are to be questioned too,” the Sergeant replied shortly, glancing up at the catwalk where Duvenage had been moments before and frowning to find him gone. “The Governor has assured us that they will cooperate with our investigation.”
“Then question them first,” Mal said quickly, “let my people have a couple of hours R an’ R before you start interrogatin’ them. This ship don’t run by herself, I need my crew. You got a lot of people to be askin’ questions of. Seems a mite foolish to have us all coolin’ our heals while you’re workin’ your way down the list. Ain’t none of us going nowhere anyways, not with all them Reavers out there. It may surprise you to know that we were more’n a little pleased to see you.”
The Sergeant’s eyes narrowed as he regarded Mal. The Alliance officer instinctively didn’t trust him, but he also felt some sympathy for the obviously exhausted, ragged and bloody group of people gathered in the cargo bay of the little freighter. He saw no reason to hurry the questioning himself – a couple of hours rest could make little difference at this point – but his orders were clear. He was only glad that Governor Xuan’s anger at the way his employees were being treated would be aimed higher than himself. The Governor was not a good man to have as an enemy, not if you intended to have any sort of career in the Alliance anyway.
“Captain, as I have said, you and your crew are to come with me directly for questioning. I can make sure that your stay with us is as brief and comfortable as possible, but if you continue to resist-”
“Sergeant, may I have a word?” another voice broke in. The Sergeant looked around, startled. A man he had not seen before had appeared on the catwalk, a Shepherd by the looks of him.
“Who are you?” The Sergeant demanded, taking in the fact that the man was obviously wounded – one arm was in a sling – and the cautious way he moved, frowning with concentration as he made his way down the stairs. The man looked up, and the gaze that he leveled at the Sergeant was direct and determined.
“I am called Shepherd Book,” the Shepherd replied, reaching the bottom of the stairs. “I am traveling with these people, and I wish to speak to you on their behalf.”
He came across the cargo bay, walking slowly but steadily so as not to startle any of the men aiming guns at him.
“Preacher, this ain’t the time for one of your sermons,” Mal said quietly, a little annoyed by the Shepherd butting in but relieved also to have a few more minutes to try and think his way out of this mess. The Shepherd turned a knowing glance on Mal.
“Ye of little faith,” he chastised. “This is the perfect time for a lesson. Every obstacle in our path is merely another test. Sergeant, I would like to you consider my request that the crew of this ship be allowed to take some time to rest and heal.” As he spoke, he handed the Sergeant his ident card. “Please run this through your system. I have this Captain and his crew to thank for saving my life. I think there are several of your Alliance soldiers who feel the same way. This crew deserves to be treated like heroes, Sergeant, not like criminals. Surely we can come to some compromise?”
Puzzled, but disarmed by the preacher’s manner, the Sergeant took the Shepherd’s ident card and inserted it into his reader. His eyes widened. He glanced up at the preacher and said cautiously, “Shepherd…Book?”
The preacher smiled and inclined his head. “That is what I am called,” he agreed. The Sergeant looked at the screen again, frowned in confusion, and cleared his throat.
“Shepherd, I understand your concern, but I have my orders-”
“And I understand how important it is that you complete your investigation, but you have Governor Xuan’s request – and mine – that this crew be given a few hours to themselves to recuperate. They have undergone a terrible ordeal – voluntarily – to rescue Alliance personnel in circumstances that defy belief. I know what I am talking about when I say that it was about as close to hell as a man can get without damnation. Considering the circumstances, it is a very reasonable request. Shall we give them, say, as long as it takes to get back to Helan? By then I am sure you will have finished questioning Governor Xuan’s men, and your own. I really must insist that you forward my request to your General, Sergeant.”
The Sergeant stared at the Shepherd, looking as though he wanted to say something but was not quite sure what. His men looked at him and back at Mal and the crew in confusion.
“I can put your request to the General,” the Sergeant agreed finally. “I cannot promise anything,” he added, and walked out of the cargo bay, gesturing to his men to fall back as he did.
As the Shepherd turned back to join Mal, Wash, Zoe and Jayne, Wash looked from Mal to Book and asked, “What the diyu just happened?”
“We got a little help from a higher power,” Mal said with a slight smile, and asked Book, “How’d you know to get up here?”
The Shepherd glanced over his shoulder to make sure that the soldiers were out of earshot.
“Duvenage,” he said briefly. “He told me what was happening. Seemed to think that there was something I could do to help.”
“That man knows too much,” Mal commented blandly.
“He knows just about enough, if you ask me,” Wash said. “Where is he now?”
“He’s got his own to worry about,” Zoe replied. “Sounded like they were treatin’ the Governor’s men to a little military-style hospitality too. Alliance are pretty pissed that we stole their thunder.”
“Have to admit, I kinda like that aspect,” Mal said with a grin. “Trouble is, it’s gonna get us a whole lot of attention we didn’t have before.”
“What we gonna do about that? I ain’t intendin’ on spendin’ all my money on some fancy-assed lawyer t’ keep outa jail,” Jayne said irritably.
“That ain’t gonna happen, so long as no-one get’s nervy and starts spoutin’ their mouth off,” Mal said with a glare at Jayne. “Just speak when you’re spoken to an’ don’t feel the need to say more’n they ask for. We’ll get through this.”
“But they want to speak to all the crew,” Wash said significantly.
“Not everyone on this ship is listed as crew, dear,” Zoe said to her husband under her breath.
Wash said patiently, “I know that, but someone’s gonna be askin’ questions, right? I mean, those soldiers didn’t stitch themselves.”
“Then we’re just gonna have to see if Badger’s contacts are as good as he said they were,” Mal replied with a shrug.
Jayne grunted in disgust. “That tamade hundan’d sell his grandmother if he thought someone’d pay.”
Mal shrugged one shoulder, his expression grim. “Yeah, but he weren’t the one fixin’ the idents. A good forger only gets to be a good forger if he keeps his customers comin’ back, not if they’re sittin’ doin’ Alliance time. Just hope they’re worth the money I made our good doctor pay for them.”
“Sir, most of Badger’s contacts crawled from the same dung heap he did,” Zoe said in a low voice. “Those documents be fine for gettin’ through customs on some border moon, but the kinda scrutiny the Alliance military is likely to give them-”
Mal and the others turned around, finding the Sergeant stepping through the doors to the cargo bay with several of his men behind him, looking like hounds that’d been beaten off a fox.
“You have your request,” the Sergeant said briefly with a nod at the Shepherd. “The General has agreed that the Firefly will be escorted back to Helan, and your crew may rest until then. But we will be questioning you once we reach the base, do you understand?”
“Yessir!” Mal said sharply with a loose salute. “We’ll be ready, refreshed an’ waitin’. Give your General our thanks for his consideration.”
The Sergeant glowered at him for such irreverence, but before he could leave again Duvenage’s voice called, “Sergeant, wait a moment please!”
Everyone looked up to see Duvenage coming down the stairs, striding across the cargo bay without giving Mal and the crew so much as a glance. As he approached the Sergeant he said, “I would like to come with you. I wish to be present when you begin questioning my men.”
The Sergeant looked annoyed. “That will not be necessary, Commander. Our investigators are perfectly capable of conducting themselves with the required degree of professionalism.”
“Nevertheless, I would like to be there,” Duvenage insisted in his usual calm manner. “As this is merely an investigation and not a criminal proceeding, that is perfectly acceptable, is it not? I intend to ensure that you have our full cooperation, Sergeant.”
The Sergeant chewed on this, then nodded sharply and turned to go.
“Duvenage,” Mal said quickly, stepping forward and holding out a hand to forestall his abrupt exit. “Just wanted to say thanks. It was good workin’ with you.”
Duvenage appeared to hesitate, then took his hand. “Likewise,” he said, “But it is I who should be thanking you and your crew. And I intend to, once we reach Helan.”
“Well, we’ll have to see how that goes,” Mal said. “Alliance’ve got some questions they’d like us to answer, may take a while.”
“Hmm,” Duvenage studied him thoughtfully. “Good luck with that.”
“Oh, I be feelin’ we’re gonna be needin’ more’n luck,” Mal said wryly.
The security chief met the Shepherd’s gaze for a moment over Mal’s shoulder. “Seems to me you’ve already got more than luck on your side. Keep flying, Captain.”
He ducked through the cargo bay door and left Serenity.
8 hours later, on board Alliance Cruiser Orion
Duvenage entered the Governor’s quarters, closed the door behind him and paused, keeping himself from sagging back against the wall through sheer willpower. He had just spent the last eight hours sitting with each of his men in turn as the Alliance took statements and questioned them about the events on board Serenity and Nexus. The Alliance’s questioning had come very close to interrogation, and it had taken all of Duvenage’s skill – and that of the men he’d trained – to ensure that the information they provided was enough to satisfy without prompting further investigation.
“You look like death warmed over,” someone commented, and Duvenage looked up to see his employer standing in the doorway leading into the living area. He smiled slightly.
“Thank you for that observation, sir.”
“Come through, sit down,” Governor Xuan said, standing aside. “I don’t intend to keep you long. No point me killing you after you’ve survived a Reaver camp.”
Duvenage went through to the other room as instructed, saying as he did so, “I’m glad to hear it, sir. Actually, I’m feeling a little better than I did coming off the Nexus.” He looked around the room, turned to the Governor and touched his ear. The Governor cleared his throat, putting his hand over his mouth, then asked, “May I offer you a coffee? If am to keep you from falling asleep on me I feel I’d probably better.”
“Yes, thank you sir,” Duvenage murmured, taking a seat. Their brief exchange of cues had informed him that the room had been checked for surveillance equipment, and that there were both camera and audio devices present. “How are your grandchildren?” He asked to fill in the silence. “Both well, I trust.”
“Very well, thanks to you and the Captain,” Governor Xuan smiled as he busied himself with the coffee machine that he always took with him on his travels for just such occasions, a small luxury that served a dual purpose with the addition of a jamming device in its base. It would disrupt the surveillance enough to allow them to talk more freely. He switched it on, and the smell of fresh coffee permeated the room. “Yuxi is in a stable condition and resting comfortably. They say that the surgeon who treated him was exceptionally skilled and he should make a full recovery. Wai-Lan is with her mother, who refuses to leave her side for even a moment. I believe that with a little time and care, my granddaughter should be well and happy again.”
“I am glad to hear it,” Duvenage replied. “But it is not only myself or the Captain you have to thank for their safe return.”
“Mmm,” the Governor agreed as he handed his security chief a cup of coffee. There were some names he had no intention of mentioning until they were back on his own boat, jamming device or no jamming device. “It will be interesting to see what shows up in your blood sample,” he said, changing the subject briefly. “What I really want to know is where the Reavers managed to get hold of the drug. If it is what we think it is, it would only be available in specialized facilities. Some of our most recent information suggests that the Serendipity had extensive research and development capabilities. I must make sure that we have someone on the clean-up crew, perhaps we can learn a little more about what they had planned for the Alliance’s flagship,” the Governor said as Duvenage sipped his coffee. “Tell me, what our General Mengitsu and his men are after?”
“They are looking for any information that could possibly discredit the Captain of Serenity and his crew, you, myself, and my men. They want someone to blame for this debacle, and they’re not too fussy about who,” Duvenage told him without much concern. The Governor grunted, his expression showing just a hint of irritation. “And Heaven forbid the blame should go where it belongs,” he muttered. “Ah well, the General has never liked me too much anyway. He thinks I interfere. And as for our good Shepherd,” the Governor’s sudden grin surprised Duvenage, who seldom saw his employer displaying such emotion. “That man has nerve! I wouldn’t have credited it if I hadn’t seen the ident myself. We lost track of him after he took his vows and entered the monastery, but I certainly never imagined I’d bump into him again out here. Do you have any idea what he is doing with this crew?”
“I cannot say,” Duvenage replied. “It seems unlikely that he would have chosen them deliberately, or they him. The Captain has no love for men of God, and our good Shepherd appears to exhibit a genuine belief in what he preaches. However, we know that fate plays us some strange hands. Perhaps he believes that this is his God’s way of allowing him to redress past wrongs.”
“So you believe that he is practicing what he preaches?”
Duvenage studied his coffee and thought for a moment. “I…do not think that he would deliberately harm any of the crew. I believe that he is trying to protect them. But it is a strange coincidence that he is on this particular ship.”
“It is stranger still that he risks revealing his identity to come to their aid,” the Governor remarked. “He went to some pains to disappear.”
“He and the crew have formed a genuine bond,” Duvenage replied. “He appealed to me directly on their behalf on the Nexus. In fact, the crew evidence quite extraordinary loyalty towards each other and their Captain.”
“They would have to, to even consider doing what they did,” the Governor muttered. “And what about this Companion? I am concerned that both she and the Shepherd appealed to you. I hope you are not becoming careless in your old age.”
Duvenage took a sip of coffee and frowned. “The Shepherd I believe suspected me for being one of your employees. He still has people within the Alliance who may keep him informed, although I understand that he has had little contact with any of them for some time. It may be that his new found loyalty has prompted him to renew some of the old ties. As for the Companion, I believe she made the appeal as a last resort. You know that Companions undergo training not dissimilar to my own. That is what makes them such useful sources. I imagine that Ms Serra surmised something of my training, drew conclusions about my work, and took a calculated risk.” At the Governor’s questioning look, Duvenage elaborated. “Should I have reported her to the Alliance, she would have some immunity from suspicion as a result of her Companion status. Her loyalties are to her House first, not to the Captain. She could also claim that she made the appeal out of gratitude for the substantial risk the Captain and his crew took in rescuing her. That and the House’s influence would likely protect her from any accusations of collusion.”
The Governor grunted, “The House Madrasse has too many ears, and I do not like that she may be able to identify you.”
“I use an alias in the House, my name would mean nothing to her,” the security chief said to reassure his employer before adding, “I would like to consider recruiting her.”
The Governor looked surprised. “For what purpose? I thought you said we had enough Companions providing us with information. And you know what politics is like in the House, we can never be sure of anyone’s loyalties.”
“That is where Ms. Serra becomes interesting,” Duvenage explained. “Actually, I have been considering her since she left the House. Having had some time to observe her and this crew, I believe that she could be invaluable to us.” The Governor raised an eyebrow, intrigued, allowing Duvenage to continue. “We have no-one out here on the rim with the kind of access to those who hold power that we need. We are dealing with the warlord mentality, petty fiefdoms, people who have no reason to trust the Alliance or anyone connected with it. We need to know where loyalties lie, who can be trusted, who can be bought and for how much. We need to know how strong the Alliance’s influence out here is, and how strong the residual support for the Independents may be. This is where the Companion’s alliance with Serenity’s Captain could prove invaluable. It gives her credibility with anyone opposed to the Alliance that we could never hope to have.”
“But she left Serenity,” the Governor pointed out. “She left our Independent hero, Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Does that not mean her loyalties lie with the House?”
Duvenage shook his head. “She left Serenity, yes, but I believe it had nothing to do with her loyalty to the House. I also believe that I could persuade her to return.” He smiled a little. “In fact, I think she may be looking for a reason to do so, one that would outweigh the considerations of her profession and the strictures of the House.”
The Governor was silent, staring into space as he considered. “You make a good case for it,” he conceded. “Perhaps I will offer Ms. Serra passage back to wherever it is that she intends to go from Helan. That would give us both a chance to study her more closely, and I’m sure it would delight my granddaughter.” He smiled indulgently. “Wai-Lan has developed quite a regard for the Companion, and I believe that Ms. Serra is very fond of her. That could prove useful. First, however, we have to make sure that our Independent Captain remains independent. We have some preparations to make.” He stood up purposefully, and Duvenage noted the slightly smug look on his employer’s face.
“What did you have in mind?” He asked.
The Governor smiled as enigmatically as his employee. “The lesser of two evils.”
Friday, April 16, 2004 2:32 PM
Sunday, April 18, 2004 3:06 PM
Wednesday, April 28, 2004 7:27 AM
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