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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Following on from the Power stories, now into Passion ... and nothing lasts forever. Feedback, as always, is welcomed.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1937 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The music had a beat to it that called at the feet, and the lights, set up just for the fair, made the stars dim. Barkers called out to the people to come and try, and several ships sat next to Serenity a ways off.
“Don’t be all night,” Mal warned. “I need everyone back here – sober – ready for cargo tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry about us, cap’n,” Kaylee called, her arms linked one in Simon and the other through River’s. “We just gonna have a good time.”
“I’ll get them back in plenty of time,” Simon confirmed.
Freya, standing next to Mal at the top of the ramp, watched them amble off, and nodded towards a most unlikely couple. “Doesn’t that just bring a tear to your eye?” she asked, nudging Mal.
Mal looked at Zoe and Jayne, walking together, if not actually 'together'. “Don’t worry, she’ll probably kill him before the night is much older.”
Freya smiled. “It is definitely not something I ever thought I’d see.”
“Seems unnatural, don’t it?” Mal descended the ramp then turned and held out his hand. “You coming?”
Freya smiled and walked towards him, but as she stepped off the edge something jarred and she doubled over slightly in pain.
“You think this is anything close to a good idea?” Mal asked, waiting for her to recover but not seeming too anxious – she was still capable of causing him some serious harm.
Freya took a deep breath and stood up carefully. “Doc said a little light exercise would do me good.”
“My own recollection is that what he said was that it was on your own head,” Mal pointed out.
“Yeah, well, he didn’t tie me down to the bed, so it’s the same thing.”
As they walked slowly towards the fair, Mal keeping his pace down to hers, he said conversationally, “You know, I've often wondered about that myself.”
“Tying you to the bed.” He very carefully didn’t look at her. It didn’t stop her from elbowing him in the stomach.
“In your dreams, Malcolm Reynolds.”
“Oh, usually,” Mal said, massaging the sore spot.
Kaylee and Simon had found their way to a tattooist, who was currently operating on a somewhat unwilling patient who was having a small scroll permanently drawn on his shoulder. From the look on his face, it wasn't exactly painless.
“How do you suppose Freya ever managed to get that one done on her back?” Kaylee asked, her head on one side.
Simon was watching closely. “There’s no need for it to be painful. A shot of lignocaine would be enough to dull any feeling.”
The man looked up at him, and it was hard to tell which was worse – the discomfort he was in or the realisation that Simon knew what he was talking about.
“Freya’s tattoo is special,” River said, coming up behind them. She had a cotton candy on a stick, and was picking clumps of pink sugar off and sucking them from her fingers. “It’s not just ink – but prayer.”
Simon was startled. His sister was so much better now, since Miranda, but sometimes she still said things that didn’t really make sense. Although in this case he was inclined to believe her.
Kaylee was still watching the tattooist. “Shall I have one?” she asked mischievously. “Maybe a small flower, or a heart.”
“Why not have Serenity done in all her glory across your buttocks?” Simon suggested scornfully. “You wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week!”
“It would certainly stop all the shuttling backwards and forwards,” River said, her mouth full of pink cloud. “You keep me awake.”
“I'm sure we could find ways round it,” Kaylee said, putting her arm through the young psychic’s.
“I don’t doubt it,” River said, giving her brother her usual look, and they all moved off towards the merry-go-round. “Inara would have enjoyed this.”
“Oh, honey,” Kaylee said, “she couldn’t pass up that offer. Two weeks on a private island? Hell, I’d go!”
“With me, I hope,” Simon put in.
“Ooh, yes!” She let her thoughts roam. “Sandy beaches, blue sea, something ice-cold in a tall glass, that would be some way to spend –“
“Simon?” A voice rang out over the crowd. “Simon Tam?”
Simon stiffened, and said, “Keep walking.”
A man hurried after them. “Simon? It is you, I know it is.” He caught hold of Simon’s arm, turning him around. “I knew it was!”
“Eric?” Simon was astounded. “Eric Lon?” He clapped the other man on the arm. “It’s been years!”
“Medacad. You always were one of my favourite pupils,” Lon agreed. “And even then you were way ahead of the rest of us.” He turned to Kaylee. “And who is this delightful young lady?”
“A friend.” Simon noticed that River had vanished into the night, and was glad.
“You dropped out of sight – what happened?”
Simon studied his friend, but noticed no sign of guile: he really didn’t seem to know what had happened. “I wanted to see a bit more of the ‘verse,” he said. “I seemed to spend all my time in the ER or operating – I thought there must be more than that.”
Lon looked appreciatively at Kaylee. “So I see.”
Simon bridled a little. “What are you doing here?”
“Very similar, dear boy. Very similar. Travelling around, seeing the sights. Although I do seem to spend more time than I would wish cooped up in rather cramped accommodation. What ship are you on? Perhaps they have a vacancy.”
Kaylee was about to speak, but Simon jumped in quickly. “Oh, I'm slumming it,” he said, noting the hurt look that flashed across Kaylee’s face, and mentally apologising. “Just a small transport, and there’s barely enough room for the crew, let alone passengers. It was cheap, mainly.”
“Cheap? With your money? Oh, you must be insane!”
“No, Eric. But out here it’s better not to show you’re wealthy – there’s some very disreputable characters around.”
“Yes, so I've seen. And all of them wearing guns, too. Do you? Wear a gun, I mean.”
“Me?” Simon forced a laugh. “I wouldn’t know one end from the other.”
Lon appeared to see another face in the crowd that he recognised, because he half-turned, saying, “Well, I must be getting on. Friends waiting for me, you know. Perhaps we can get together tomorrow?”
“Where are you staying? In town?”
“I'm not sure.”
“Well, I’ll find you, I'm sure. It’s not like this is such a big place.” Lon smiled widely and strode off.
“Slumming it?” Kaylee asked, still smarting.
“He was asking too many questions,” Simon said, taking her arm. “I didn’t want him to know everything.”
“Is he dangerous?” Kaylee was suddenly apprehensive.
“I don’t know. He’s just …” Simon stopped and looked at her. Suddenly he felt guilty for spoiling her good time. “No,” he said quickly. “No, he's not dangerous. He’s just boring. Come on. I’ll buy you something pretty to wear.”
She brightened up immediately. “Ooh, something with flowers?”
“It’s just not challenging.” Freya was looking at the spinning wheel of the sharp-shooter stall, where playing cards were tacked, with an ace amongst them. “There’s no skill in it.”
“Then we make it more challenging.” Mal put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face away, then picked up the pistol from the front of the stall. She reached out for it. “No, left hand.”
“You want me to stand on one leg too?” she asked, mildly sarcastic.
“Only if it makes it more challenging.”
She shot him a look but cocked the gun. “How many shots?”
The stall holder piped up, “All six. See if you can hit the ace.” He started to pump the foot pedal, and the wheel began to turn. He made it go fast, not liking the look of these two strangers much, and keeping well out of the way of any wayward shots.
Freya glared at Mal then steadied herself. She lifted the gun and pointed it behind her, closing her eyes to get her bearings, then firing. One, two, three, four, five, six … fast and hard. One after the other they thudded into the wheel. She opened her eyes again and turned back. “Well, how did I do?”
The stall man stopped the wheel, then stopped himself. “How the hell …”
Even Mal was impressed. There on the ace, one in each corner and two so close together in the centre as to be almost indistinguishable, were six bullet holes. “Huh,” he grunted.
The stall man’s hand shook as he lifted down a small shaggy toy dog, handing it across. He swallowed. “Nice shootin’. Where’d you learn to do that?”
“Can’t everyone?” Freya said, smiling sweetly.
“No.” Mal considered briefly having a turn himself, but decided he probably couldn’t better that. “I'm hungry. I'm considering letting you buy me something.”
Freya laughed, but as they turned to go they came face to face with a raggedy child, a girl of about seven or eight. She was dressed in threadbare clothes, no shoes, a layer of grime covering her skin. She was staring at the toy in Freya’s hand. They exchanged looks, then Freya smiled and handed it over. The girl went running off, the toy clutched to her skinny chest.
“She’ll only sell it,” the stall man said, sniffing loudly. “She’s one of the lost.”
“Lost?” Freya repeated.
“Families come here to look for work, can’t find much, don’t have the money to go further. They just kind of hang around doing whatever they can to make ends meet.”
“Don’t we all?” Freya breathed, then said louder, “Well, if she gets a meal out of it, I don’t mind.”
Mal looked at her. There was always something new to discover about Freya. “I begin to think you’re just a big softie at heart.”
“I am,” Freya agreed. “And in good company too.”
Mal wasn’t quite sure how to take that, so instead took her arm. “Food. I’m in serious need of food or there might be collapsing here.”
She laughed and they wandered towards the appetising smells from the food stalls. As they moved through the crowd, a man barged into her, banging his elbow into the barely healed wound. She gasped, doubling over and holding her stomach. Mal this time immediately put his arm around her, supporting her. She swore in Chinese, hard and long, as she waited for the pain to subside.
“You never used to swear like that, Elena,” the man who had barged into her said.
She looked up at him and glared coldly. “You have mistaken me for someone else.”
“And you should be a mite more careful about who you go around barging into,” Mal added. “It can get you into a whole mess of trouble.”
The man ignored Mal, something he wasn't used to. “Elena, of course it’s you.” He put his hand on her arm.
She raised her eyes, and the steel in them made him drop his hand immediately. “I said, you are mistook.”
The man took a step back. “My apologies.” He watched as the other two walked away, the man supporting the woman as much as she would let him.
“Eric?” Simon came out of the shadows. “What was all that about?”
Eric Lon turned and looked at the younger man. “That was Elena Rostov. I'm sure of it.”
“Rostov?” Simon shook his head. “No, you must be mistaken. I've heard of the Rostovs: everyone has. What would one of them be doing out here?”
“I know I’m right. I met her once, a long time ago. That was Elena Rostov.”
Back on Serenity Freya was examining the scar in the infirmary mirror. “I think it’s okay. Just sore.”
“I can find the young doctor, if you want,” Mal offered.
“No need.” Simon walked into the infirmary. “I thought I’d find you here. Are you all right? Here, sit down.”
It showed a measure of the discomfort Freya was in for her to meekly climb onto the examining table and lay back. Simon rolled her top up and gently probed the area of the wound. The scar was red, a little hot looking, and obviously uncomfortable, because she sucked her breath in when he pressed too hard.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Not healing as well as the other side, but there’s no damage, although it is a little inflamed. I think it would have been better for you not to have gone out, though.”
“Maybe you should have tied her down to the bed after all, doc,” Mal said, drily.
Freya pulled her top back down and sat up, swinging her legs off the edge of the table, ignoring him. “Thanks, Simon.”
“It looks sore, though. Do you want a painkiller?” He reached for a hypo.
“No, thanks. I'm not that keen on needles.”
“Is she all right?” Kaylee asked from the door. Mal looked round: his crew were standing looking into the infirmary.
Freya smiled. “You shouldn’t have come back on my account,” she admonished gently. “You were all having too much fun.”
“Zoe lost all our money anyway,” Jayne put in. The woman in question gave him one of her looks and he backed away a millimetre.
“Who’s Elena Rostov?” Simon asked suddenly.
Freya jerked, looking up at him. “What?”
“Eric said you were Elena Rostov. Who is she?”
Freya gazed into his face, serious, doctorly. She sighed. “No-one.” She pushed off from the bed, jarring her stomach again but she ignored it as she passed the others, heading for the cargo bay and the bunks. She reached the bulkhead door before Mal spoke.
“Freya.” It wasn’t a request.
She stopped, her hand on the wall. Closing her eyes she paused, very still, then opened them again to gaze into the bay, looking but not seeing.
“What’s going on?” Jayne asked, but he was ignored.
“Freya,” Mal said again, this time in a gentler tone.
She started to speak as she turned, looking at all of them clustered outside the infirmary. “Elena Rostov is dead. She died in the fire at the Academy.” Her gaze stopped on Mal. “But she’s who I used to be.”
“Did I miss something?” Jayne asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” Kaylee whispered, then turned to Simon. “Who’s Elena Rostov?”
“Eric Lon told me. He bumped into Freya –“
“You knew him?” Mal interrupted, surprised.
“He was a tutor of mine in medical school. He says he met Freya once.”
“I don’t remember him,” Freya admitted.
“So if Elena Rostov is – sorry – was you, I’d sure like to know who the hell Freya Nordstrom is,” Mal said, crossing his arms.
“She was my best friend.” Freya dropped into one of the easy chairs, favouring her stomach. “We met first day at the Academy. They put us in the same rooms.” She smiled at the only happy memory she had of that place. “We hit it off straight ways. I couldn’t believe my luck.” She even chuckled. “We told each other everything, and she admitted she had been going to be Companion. It was her life’s dream.” The smile faded and her voice took on a cynical tinge. “But how could she turn down the offer of an education like the one they said we’d get?” She felt anger building, and took a deep breath to calm herself before continuing. Mal, watching her closely, realised the effort it was taking to stay in control. “They were good as their word in the beginning. Treated us like we were special. Whatever we wanted, we got. It was only after a few months …” She couldn’t finish.
River nodded, holding onto Simon’s am. She, more than anyone there, knew what Freya had gone through, why she wouldn’t talk about it. To the others, though, this was a revelation, and Jayne and Kaylee exchanged astonished looks.
Finally Freya continued. “When it all went wrong we kept each other sane. Until the day she didn’t come back. I knew they'd gone too far – I heard the screams in my head.”
“She died?” Mal asked quietly into the silence.
Freya nodded. “I felt it happen. And there was nothing I could do.” There was such deep bitterness, such bleakness that they all felt it. “At that moment I knew we had no chance of survival.”
“But you did survive,” River put in, squeezing Simon’s arm. “Like me.”
“Sometimes I wonder.” Freya drew a leg up onto the seat and hugged her knee.
Mal stirred, stepping forward and squatting in front of her. “So you lied to me about being called to be a Companion? That was Freya?”
She looked into his face and he was surprised to see her eyes were wet. Freya – Elena – whoever - didn’t hardly ever cry. “No, Mal. I never lied to you. I was going to the training school – that’s one of the reasons we became so close so quickly.”
Simon was shaking his head. “But a Rostov. They’re an important family in the Alliance.”
“I can’t help that,” Freya said. “Can’t help what I was born to.”
“Our parents used to dine with them,” Simon went on. A dark look suddenly crossed his face. “They were the ones who recommended the Academy.” He cursed, unexpectedly, and looked at his sister.
“I didn’t know about it,” Freya promised. “I was already dead.”
“I remember my father saying it was such a shame they’d lost their daughter. That was you?”
“I used to be. But after the fire, when my healer told me I had to choose a new name, I could only think of one.”
“Freya Nordstrom,” Mal supplied. “But didn’t that little girl have family of her own?”
Freya shook her head. “Her parents died when she was barely a year old, and she was brought up in an Alliance house. I had no worries of anyone coming to me and expecting to find someone else.”
Simon had been thinking. “The Rostovs are still alive. Shouldn’t you have told them?”
Freya half smiled. “I don’t think that would be such a good idea. Like you said, they’re staunch Alliance supporters. I doubt they’d be too pleased to learn that their daughter is not only alive, but that she was a Browncoat, fought for the Independents. They’d never live it down.”
Simon was about to say something else, but Kaylee interrupted. “Won’t that man tell them anyway?”
Simon nodded. “I’ll find him now and speak to him. Try and persuade him.” He hurried towards the bay doors.
“I’d take that as a kindness,” Freya called.
The others followed Simon, apart from Freya and Mal, who said thoughtfully, “So are you rich?”
“Elena Rostov was. Freya barely has two credits to rub together.” She took a small handful of bills from her pocket.
“You still carry it with you?” Mal asked, surprised.
“Jayne’s still on board.”
“Did you see him?” Kaylee asked as Simon walked back into the cargo bay.
“Mmn. I found him in town.” The young doctor took a deep breath. “It took some persuading, but I think he’s not going to tell anyone.”
“What’d you tell him?” Mal asked, coming down the stairs from the bridge.
Simon looked up. “I said that there had been a rift in the family, and they had disowned her. It would be a scandal if anyone found out she was here, out in the borders. Could ruin their reputation.”
“Guess that’s pretty true, apart from the disowning part,” Mal said approvingly. “And he bought it?”
“I think so.”
“But?” Mal prompted. “There’s a ‘but’ hanging around there somewhere.”
“I’m just wondering if it wouldn’t be a good thing to leave this planet as soon as we can. In case he takes it into his mind to come and have a little chat.” Simon glanced towards the infirmary and the guest quarters. “We’re still wanted fugitives, and I'm not …”
“I’m not sure I’d trust Eric Lon not to consider turning us in.”
Mal nodded, his thumbs hitched into his pants. “I think you might be right. But we ain't going anywhere until noon. Cargo ain't arriving until then.”
“Then River and I will stay on board.” Simon sighed. “No point in making trouble come to us.”
“Freya’ll stay put too.” Mal headed back towards the bunks. “Sooner we’re off this rock, the better.”
“Why don’t you trust him?” Kaylee asked, watching Simon as he tidied up, putting things back in their proper place, almost caressing them as he did so. He loved being a doctor, it was so obvious, even out here in the black.
He turned to look at her. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “It’s just a feeling.”
“Did you trust him before?” She crossed her arms, looking at him with an expression so like Mal’s that he had to suppress a grin.
“I guess. But there’s always been something … “ He struggled to find the right words. “Eric was always ambitious, would do almost anything to get on. He didn’t stay long once I’d finished my training, but he was always on the look out for the next step. He wasn’t going to be happy without an appointment to the Medical Elect.”
“That would be good?”
Simon nodded, leaning back on the counter. “I once aspired to that.”
“And instead you get to come and play with us,” she said, moving closer to him so he could smell her scent, a mixture of engine grease and warm skin. “Miss it?”
“Sometimes,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But I’ve got something a whole lot better.” He put his arm around her waist and pulled her to him. “I wouldn’t exchange this, wo di lian ren. Not for all the prefectures in the Alliance.”
She giggled a little. “Good to know,” she murmured.
Freya walked out of the common area into the cargo bay, intent on the book in her hand. She was trying to get her head around the different families in it, but so far failing miserably, as she had always failed. Still, the coincidence of the names was …
She turned as she heard crying outside, looking into the bright early morning sunshine, squinting to see what had made that sound. Just beyond the bay door was a man holding the arm of a child, and she was trying to get away from him. It looked like the girl from last evening, the one she’d given the toy to, one of ‘the lost’.
“Hey, what’s going on?” she called, heading towards them.
The man looked up, a scowl on his face, then let go of the child and strode off.
Freya stepped to the ground, favouring her stomach a little, and said, “Are you okay, sweetie?”
The child stared at her for a moment then ran off. Freya followed, wanting to make sure she was okay, but after only a minute she realised she could no longer see the child, and came to a stop.
“Excuse me?” A young man came up to her. “Can you tell me where I can find a ship called Serenity?” he asked.
Freya smiled at him. “Sure,” she said, half-turning to the Firefly sitting behind her. She felt a sting on her arm, like an insect, and looked down, surprised to see the man with a hypo in his hand. “What the tyen shia …” She couldn’t finish – a noise like a train was filling her ears, and she only half-felt falling and being caught before the dark fog in her brain drowned her.
“She ain't on board, sir,” Zoe said, rejoining the captain in the cargo bay.
“Mal!” Simon shouted from outside. He was running towards them, carrying something, River at his heels. He held it out. “It’s hers – I saw her reading it before.”
Mal took the book, staring at the lurid cover and the title of War and Peace in large red letters. “How long since anyone saw her?” he asked, holding his emotions tightly within himself.
“Breakfast …” Simon offered.
“Yeah, me too,” Jayne said, moving his gun in its holster. “Not since.”
“I saw her reading in the common area,” River said, shaking her head. “She’s too far.”
“Too far?” her brother asked. “What do you mean?”
“Is she off-world already?” Mal said.
“I think so,” River admitted. “But I can’t …”
Simon looked at Mal. “It’s the Naxom. It affects River’s ability to see Freya.”
“Do you think someone snatched her, sir?” Zoe asked quietly.
“Til we get a better idea, I think that may be the case.” He looked at the others. “Get to the town. See if you can pick up anything. I’ll call in a few favours, see if I can –“
“Mal.” River said his name almost in a whisper, but it stopped him cold. “I found this.” She held out her hand, palm up, something lying in it, glittering.
“Tah muh duh,” Mal murmured, lifting the chain, the small silver Firefly hanging brokenly from it.
Freya awoke slowly, aware of a throbbing in her skull. She was also cold. As she returned to full consciousness she realised she was locked to a bed, metal slats above and below her that that dug into her flesh. Her bare flesh.
“You’re awake. Good.” A face moved into view. Eric Lon.
“What the da-shiong bao-jah-shr duh la doo-tze do you think you’re doing?” Freya struggled against the metal across her chest.
“Lie still. You’ll only hurt yourself. Although I see that isn’t exactly an unusual occurrence.” He pushed at the barely healed wound on her stomach, and she took in a sharp breath. “Young Simon Tam, he does good work.” He looked into her face. “I was going to turn him in, but somehow I think you might be the greater prize.”
Freya gritted her teeth as he pressed harder. “I hope it’s worth getting killed over.”
“Oh, it will be. The Alliance will be amazed that you’re still alive. They’ll give me just about anything to have you back.”
“I doubt it.”
“Oh, don’t underestimate yourself, Elena.”
“Freya! My name’s Freya.”
“Your name is what I choose it to be.” He leaned closer, his face dark and determined. “Afterwards, you’ll agree with me.”
Despite herself, Freya shivered. “After what?”
Lon nodded to a technician standing by a console. “Turn her.” The bed began to revolve on its axis, until she hung face down, unable to see what was happening. Lon continued to talk quite conversationally. “I have a notion those quaint little symbols have something to do with your control. Shall we see?”
“Sir, should we be doing this?” the young technician said, his voice trembling a little. “I mean, those people she was with –“
“Get out,” Lon said, not raising his voice. “I don’t need you here.”
The technician hurried from the room as Lon picked up the pipette from the metal trolley.
Unable to tell what he was doing, the first touch of the liquid on the top cartouche made her scream as it ate into her flesh. She bucked against the restraints. Through the haze of pain she seemed to hear her own voice: “Power.” Then the burning began lower. “Passion.” And finally in the small of her back, making her feel as if her whole body were aflame. She screamed again as the voice in her head said: “Enlightenment.” Mal’s voice seemed to ask: “Why those three?” As she sank into the agony she heard her own voice: “With great passion can come great power. But without enlightenment the world is dark.”
“Captain.” Zoe touched Mal on the arm and he jerked awake, and for a moment he couldn’t remember where he was. Then he realised he’d fallen asleep at the dining table, his head pillowed on his arms.
“What? What is it?”
“A wave, sir. About Freya.”
He was on his feet in a moment, his chair falling back, running before it had even hit the floor. He leaped up the steps to the bridge. On the vid a young man was looking back at him, an unhappy expression on his face. “Captain Reynolds?” the man asked.
“That’s me. You got news of Freya Nordstrom.”
The man leaned closer. “She’s on this ship. I'm sending the co-ordinates now. Hurry. You don’t know what he’s doing to her.”
“Who the hell are you?” Mal asked, gripping the console.
“It doesn’t matter. I won’t be here when you come. But don’t wait.” He closed the connection and static filled the screen.
Mal switched the vid off, turning to stare at Zoe.
“Do you think he’s on the level, sir?” she asked.
“Call them back,” he said. “Get the others back here now. We’re going.” He sank into the pilot’s chair and pulled up the co-ordinates, a small moon more than a day’s full burn from where they were.
You could get used to anything. She’d said that to Simon, not long ago. But she didn’t want to get used to this. Her back was on fire, and she was mewling with the pain, desperate to move away from it but unable to do so. She couldn’t even curl into a ball and protect herself. A voice kept talking in her ear, one voice, filtering through the fog of suffering in her mind, dripping words and suggestions like slivers of ice into the conflagration in her soul. She wanted it to stop, to beg and plead for release, for someone to help her, to stop the darkness that was gathering.
They came up on the blind side of the moon, little more than a rock. By this time Mal had planned, discarded, and planned again, until all he wanted to do was go in with all guns blazing. For the past day he’d said nothing, just sat on the bridge staring out at the stars, his temper wound up so tight he was in danger of snapping. He’d eaten the food Kaylee had prepared, brought to him on a tray by Zoe, but hadn’t moved. Now, though, down in the cargo bay as the doors opened he checked the cartridge in his gun, settled his shoulders more securely in his brown coat, and looked around his crew. They were all there, even Kaylee, ready to go get Freya. He nodded and they headed out.
“It don’t look like they’re overly guarded,” Jayne said, dropping back down behind the rock next to Mal. “There’s a back door, easy to get in if Kaylee can pop the hatch.”
“I can do it,” the young mechanic said, her voice trembling just a little, but determined to help.
Mal nodded. “Jayne, Zoe.”
The big merc led Kaylee away, Serenity’s first mate following like a ghost.
Mal watched them go, then headed for the main airlock, River and Simon with him. As they stepped inside the open door, though, guns opened up and they had to quickly duck back.
“Captain,” River breathed, nodding towards a door set in the wall just a few metres further in.
“You know where she is?” Mal asked, ignoring the shooting in front of them.
She looked into his blue eyes, hard like ice. “Second level, aft.” She glanced at Simon. “Keep him safe and I’ll take care of these.”
Mal nodded, tensing. River took a firmer grip on the two guns she carried and ran out into the room, going into a forward roll before leaping lightly to her feet and firing.
“River -” Simon began, but Mal pulled him forward, going through the door.
“Simon, stick with me,” Mal ordered. The young doctor nodded unhappily.
They moved through the ship, encountering little resistance, and what there was they wiped away, leaving it bleeding on the decks.
“Mal, that’s the infirmary,” Simon said as they crouched down behind a bulkhead, waiting to get a bead on the man firing on them.
“Go,” Mal said, raising up slightly and sending two bullets into the wall.
Simon hurried through the door, closing it behind him and hearing something thudding into it at head height. He was in an ante-chamber, a large glass window in front of him. He could see Eric Lon within, studying some print-outs. He didn’t seem perturbed by the noise outside, and Simon realised the room must be soundproof. He moved to the door, palming the entry pad.
“Where is she, Eric?” Simon asked, stepping into the room.
“Simon?” Lon’s jaw dropped. “How did you …”
“Where is Freya?”
“You mean Elena.”
“Her name is Freya,” Simon said quietly, firmly, drawing his gun.
“I thought you didn’t carry a weapon,” Lon said, backing up.
“And I thought you were a good doctor.” Simon held the gun steady, not moving it an inch. “Where is she?”
Lon’s eyes darted to a door set into the far wall. “How did you know where to come?” he asked.
“Information,” Simon said.
“That damn technician,” Lon said to himself.
“He didn’t like what you were doing. What have you done to her, Eric?”
“I just … do you know how much the Alliance will pay for her? Do you have any idea what I’ll get?”
Simon didn’t get the chance to ask. Mal, coming into the room, his eyes blazing, fired.
“Where, Simon?” Mal asked, not watching the body fall as Zoe and Jayne followed him inside.
“Over there.” Simon nodded, unable to drag his eyes from the dying man.
The door to the cell opened, and bright white light fell in a bar across her face and body as she lay in a foetal position on the floor.
“Freya?” A man’s voice, and a body silhouetted against the light. “Doc!”
Someone knelt by her head, smoothing sweat-soaked hair from her face. “It’s okay – I'm here. What’s that smell?”
Another joined them. “I need light.”
“Get those lights on!”
Suddenly the cell was bright.
“Oh my god.”
“What the …” The man swore in Chinese, long and hard. “What have they done?”
“It looks like acid. I’ll need to neutralise it before we get her back to Serenity.”
Serenity? The word fought through the fog in her mind. Serenity? It seemed familiar.
“Zoe, find the antataxquin. Should be some in the med bay.”
“Is she going to be all right?”
“I don’t know. This, this is bad. What they did. When I get her to the infirmary I might know more, Mal.”
“Mal?” She forced her lips to move. “Mal?”
Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity, hero of the wars of independence, leaned down as close as he could to Freya’s face to hear the small voice. “I'm here, darlin’. You’re going to be fine. And they’re all dead.”
“Doc?” Mal asked as Simon finally came out of the infirmary.
Simon sighed. “I've done what I can. I was really worried – the acid had gone deep, and I was concerned about her spine …”
“Spine?” Jayne sat up straighter. “She gonna be able to walk?”
“She was lucky – the acid didn’t have time to burn that far in. But if we’d been any later …” He didn’t finish, he didn’t need to.
“But she’ll be okay,” the big man prompted.
“She’ll heal, if that’s what you mean. Physically, anyway. Psychologically, I don’t know what Eric did to her. But … I can guess.”
“He tortured her,” Mal said.
Mal remembered his bullet taking the man in the throat, and wished he had hit him elsewhere. He should have taken time to kill him. “Is there anything else you can do?”
“Make her comfortable. I can’t replace the tattoo, Mal. That’s gone. I can accelerate skin growth, maybe use a graft on the worst areas, but she’ll never be … she’ll always have the scars.”
“But she’ll live.”
“Then that’s … thanks, doc.”
Simon watched his captain stare into the infirmary, and wondered whether he truly understood. Then he realised he did, more, maybe than anyone else.
Simon could only patch, not replace the tattoos. As Freya healed, it wasn’t only the scar tissue building on her back that pulled and tugged at her. So did the darkness that had once threatened to overwhelm her. She grew afraid. Externally she was okay, acting normal, laughing with Kaylee, sleeping with Mal. Only River watched her with eyes that were big, aware of the fight going on inside her, the battle to stay sane.
Then one day, on Persephone, she took Mal to bed. He was surprised, to say the least, but not unco-operative. They were waiting for cargo, nothing to do but general maintenance work, and he had the time. But it wasn’t their usual love-making. When they finally lay in perspiration soaked sheets, she felt tears flowing down her face, turning away from Mal so he couldn’t see. She waited until his breathing eased, and he slept the sleep of the post coital, watching his face relax. Through her tears she recorded every line, every inch, recalling from her memory his blue eyes, so often angry but so often tender. But now the decision had been made.
When Mal woke he reached for her, but her side of the bunk was empty. He wasn’t too concerned at first, but then looked around the cabin. Her clothes were gone. And her bag. Now he began to feel something at the nape of his neck, a raising of the hairs on the back of his head. Throwing back the cover he slid out of the bunk, going to open the drawer where she kept her stuff. It was empty. Even her incense burner that sat alongside his shaving gear was gone. There was nothing left of her.
He swore. Struggling into his pants, he threw a shirt onto his back, neglecting to button it, pulling his boots on as he activated the switch to open the door above the ladder.
Manhandling Zoe out of the way, he ran towards the cargo bay and out into Persephone’s heat and light. People stopped to stare at the man standing in the dust, his shirt open, his braces flapping. But Mal didn’t see them. He was watching a transport ship take off from a distance away. As sure as his heart was still beating, as sure as he felt an emptiness inside, he knew she was on board. That she was leaving Serenity.
Sunday, October 8, 2006 2:03 AM
Sunday, October 8, 2006 5:39 AM
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 4:43 PM
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