BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

SPACEANJL

C.C.M Ch 11
Sunday, October 8, 2006

Again, with the delay, again with the apologies...hope it's worth it. The Alliance are here! (Cue fanfares and some of that ticker tape...)


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1833    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Mal mouths ‘Please?’ to Zoe. She shrugs, non-plussed.

Rest of the crew come tumbling up onto the bridge to find out the game plan. Last up are Jayne and Ilargia. Jayne is doing his shirt up, scowls at Mal.

“You pick the worst gorram moments to go finding trouble...”

Mal stares at him. Then he looks at Ilargia. She glares back.

“Just performing one of my useful functions, Captain.”

Mal winces.

“You ain’t gonna let that go in a hurry, are you?”

“No.” Looks out of the window. “But I’m prepared to suspend hostilities for the moment.”

“Don’t suppose you know these folk?” Mal asks. She takes him seriously.

“Sorry, Captain. My contacts are all admin or customs.” Takes a longer, considering look. “That’s a new ship, but an old design. They mothballed that class about ten years back.”

River allows the usual surroundings to fade out around her, puts away the familiar feel and sound of them. Very gently, she stretches out her new senses, a tentative reaching. She’s expecting a weight and clamour of minds, but finds instead vast emptiness, small knots of cognition. There are barely two hundred people aboard that leviathan. Part of her mind begins to ruthlessly devise a scheme of elimination, and she wrestles it down. Some of those minds are scared, young and unformed. They feel like Tyler. A handful are more complex, stronger. She searches for the mind in charge, follows the tendril of consciousness back to the source. A worried man, mind a jumble of concern, juggling ship and crew and mission. She knows this kind of mind, though it lacks the bleak darkness that threads through Mal when he allows himself to relax...

0000

Treutlen, who remembers when you didn’t need an electronics degree to operate your own radio, prods distrustfully at the buttons some more.

“Do you think they got that, Upson?”

“I expect so, Sir.” Upson, one of whose degrees is in electronics, fights the urge to bat his superior’s hands away from the sensitive controls. “They seem to be stopping.”

“Jolly good. I suppose if they hadn’t, we’d have had to use...reasonable force.”

Treutlen’s quite grateful that the other ship seems to have seen sense. For a start, he’s not quite sure where the missiles are. And the overly keen ensign at that station had nearly taken out half the docking portal trying out the guns.

“Best we meet them on their ship. Don’t want them knowing our strength, numbers, that sort of thing.”

Upson looks around the bridge. Some of the seats still have the plastic covers on.

“We definitely don’t want that, Sir.”

The Columbus is new. Very new. Unfortunately, so are the crew. Miranda changed a lot of things. The majority of the elite were wiped out. Not just the men, but the ships. So - older ships were taken out and dusted off. Some cadets got accelerated through their training to make up numbers. Men who lived in dark bunkers, and had more degrees than they ever had girlfriends, were thrust out into the light and promoted on account of their qualifications. And other men, looking forward to nothing more exacting than a retirement in which to play golf, suddenly found themselves in charge of it all.

“You’d best take your sidearm, Upson.”

“I didn’t join the military to shoot at people!”

Treutlen stares at him. Upson flushes.

“Scholarship to L.I.T.” He mumbles.

“Just...take your gun, Upson. We don’t want trouble, but we must be prepared to meet it if it comes.” The determined stance and uplifted chin would look better on a taller man. And a firmer chin.

0000

River gives a sudden snort of laughter.

“Got to tread carefully. Don’t want any fuss.” Her eyes go wide, and she grins. “Not supposed to be here.”

“They got themselves lost?”

“Sheep searching for a lost lamb.”

“So we just give them their ship and go?”

“If they let us. Folks like that ain’t gonna be happy we clapped eyes on it.” Zoe says darkly.

“They got no reason to arrest us.” Tyler is indignant. Turns to his uncle. “Free Port Law says.”

“Free Port...gorram.” Jayne waves his hands, trying to think. “Kid’s right. Law says...”

“Law of the Free Port of Marietta states that we got a right to salvage over anythin’ within the Scrap Belt. Law was ratified by Parliament in 2475 an’ amended in 2512.” Tyler parrots dutifully. “Alliance lets us have stuff, long as we patch up anythin’ of theirs fetches up.”

“How come you don’t know that?” Mal demands of his merc.

“’Cos I never finished school.” Jayne snaps back.

“Got good marks in Civics.” Tyler mumbles. “Some of the history was kinda interestin’.”

Ilargia is bent over the screen, fingers moving across the keys nearly as fast as River. A very scary and official-looking screen, all heraldic stars and wreaths and dragons, pops up. But before anyone can get disturbed, she’s through that, and the screen fills with text.

“One thing they never pulled, oddly enough, was my University Library clearance.” She grins. “All students have access to Londinium’s Central Library. Every legal document of the Alliance is stored there...including the Deadwood Settlement and the Accords of Marietta...”

“How does this help with that?” ‘That’ being the skyscraper parked overhead.

“They can’t arrest us for having that thing on board. As long as we can convince them that we are a legitimate salvage vessel out of Deadwood.”

Mal scans the page under her pointing finger. The kid is dead on. But then, one of the original signatories of the Settlement was a Jasper Cobb. The commemorative picture is very clear. He looks at Jayne and Tyler, crowded shoulder to shoulder and making the bridge a mite crowded.

“I think we got two good reasons to convince ‘em right there.”

“What about us, Captain?” Simon asks. Everyone but Tyler knows what he means. One retinal scan, and they are all sunk. Atmosphere goes tense again.

“We got no place to hide them.”

“So we hide them in plain sight.” Ilargia’s thought makes River grin. “Simon, you go and get grubbied up.” She smirks. “Shirt off and a little grease on the muscles. Jayne, you and Ty get him kitted out like an Arcie.”

Simon chokes faintly, but starts to unbutton his shirt.

“They see that medical bay, they’re going be expecting a doctor...” Zoe warns. Mal gives a sudden grin.

“Reckon I can provide ‘em with one.” Shrugs off his coat. “Gonna need me something fun to wear.”

“I got just the thing.” Zoe sprints, and a few minutes later, comes back with one of Wash’s shirts. Catches Mal’s look. “He’d have laughed his ass off, sir.”

Tyler stands, confused. Mal explains.

“See, it’s best these folks don’t know who exactly we are. Doc and his sister are by way of being in demand by some folks they don’t want to be seeing anytime soon. So we’re playing...’Find the Lady’ with ‘em.”

A frown, then a sudden clearing of expression into a grin, and Tyler shrugs his jacket off, puts it round River’s shoulders. Mal eyes her.

“You find yourself a nook to hide in. Reckon you can keep one step ahead of anyone looking for you.”

Crew scatter. Zoe takes the controls, looks at Mal, who settles his shirt front.

“Reckon this will work, sir?”

“These men, they might seem amusing, but there ain’t nothing funny ‘bout what’ll happen, they reckon on who we got here. Mayhap they done forgotten, the Cortex going quiet an’ all, but I wouldn’t bet cashy money on it.” Mal hitches a grin, and there is the beginning of a gleam in his eye. “How do I look?”

“That was a real ugly shirt on Wash. It don’t look any better on you.” Zoe sighs. Captain has got the mood to play on him. “Maybe they’ll just laugh themselves to death.”

“Here’s hoping nobody gets dead.” A clang and a thump as they dock. Mal gives an elaborate bow. “Reckon that’s your cue, Captain Washburne.”

“Oh, I see. My ship, my fault...”

“But you got that air of command down so well.”

“Learnt all I know from you, sir. Mainly what not to do.”

0000

Captain Treutlen and his First Officer Upson step cautiously onto the deck. They eye the crew. It hardly looks like an assembly of hardened criminals. One woman is actually wearing an apron. The Captain is the toughest looking one there, dark-skinned and stony faced.

Treutlen is a plump little man, with the bossy self-importance that often attends short men. Frowning doesn’t suit him; it’s a kindly face. And despite the look of severity that he is trying to maintain, there is clear relief when he sights the ship.

Upson pulls at the collar of his uniform. He’s paler and younger, with slightly beady eyes and rather more forehead than he is comfortable with. He would be far happier to be back in his nice air-conditioned lab, surrounded by his computers. Zoe, feeling his gaze, turns a steely look in his direction, and Upson’s adam’s apple does a mad little dance. In his deepest secret thoughts, he dreams of being shouted at by officers like Captain Washburne.

The cadre of troops pointing guns round them don’t look any older than Tyler. Makes ‘em rather more dangerous than seasoned veterans, if only ‘cos they might blow their own feet off with nerves. Same worrisome thought has occurred to Treutlen, since he shoos them back like chickens.

“Captain, you have some property of ours...”

“We got some troublesome salvage, right enough.”

There indeed is the Daedalus. Canted onto the deck, and clearly the worse for wear, but mostly intact, sitting in the midst of a disturbing array of cutting equipment and scrap metal panels. A couple of crew members are moving about it, and one fires up a cutting torch with a fine degree of unconcern. Upson moves so fast, he doesn’t seem to touch the intervening deck.

“Don’tcutthat!”

The man flips up the face-plate of the mask, wipes a hand across his already grimed face.

“Just doing what I‘m told, mister.” Shrugs, jerks a thumb. “He tells me what to take out and what to leave.”

Upson turns round. Finds himself looking up. There is no power in the ‘verse can make Jayne look anything other than big and scary. Upson takes an involuntary step backwards.

“Your...student just nearly put a torch through a fuel line.”

“He’s still learnin’.” Jayne shrugs. Squints at the ship critically. “We reckon on taking this back, strip out the guns, amp up the engines, and it’ll make a nice little runabout for some fancy rich kid.”

Upson strangles quietly. A million credit military-spec craft, with go-faster stripes. He wants to snatch the cutting-torch away from this grubby barbarian. Only he didn’t do so well in unarmed combat, and this one is big.

“Engine’s need more’n an amp-up. Reckon they’re Capissen clones.” says a voice at ankle level, and a small pair of boots appear, followed by their owner. She’s very pretty, even under the engine grease, and she gives a sunny smile. “No wonder it went bouncing off a rock.”

A slightly smaller version of the huge and horrible one is eyeballing some of the cadre, fingering his gun. They gaggle together nervously, suddenly confronted by a real spacer.

“Tyler, stop scaring them kids.” Jayne grins, lopes over. This is far from reassuring. Treutlen, who, despite a lack of combat experience, has a deal of common sense, holds up his hands.

“Gentlemen, at ease.” Looks from the boy to the man and back again. “Your...son?”

“My nephew. His first trip out to the Belt.” Another far from reassuring grin. “You got newbies, too, by the looks.”

“Indeed...” Treutlen pulls himself together. “Captain, I would like to formally request that you hand back the rightful property of the Research and Development Department of the Military Council of the Anglo-Sino Alliance of Planets.”

“All that without breathin’.” Jayne murmurs admiringly. Zoe nods, as if considering it.

“I figure we got somethin’ on board we ain’t gonna be able to shift without a deal of trouble, so if you want it back, you go right ahead.”

“We really got to give it back?” Tyler pouts. “There’s mebbe fifty credits of prime scrap in those bent fins.”

Upson makes a sad little noise in his throat. Treutlen resists the urge to tread on his foot. They are here to uphold the image of the Alliance.

“And was this craft...empty when you came across it?”

“No. We put the body in our sickbay.”

“You have medical facilities aboard?”

“Just basic.” Zoe looks past him, and a frown flickers across her face. “Real basic.”

It’s the shirt Treutlen notices first. It’s hard not to. After the sober grey and dark purple of the service, the thing is a walking abomination. Fighting the urge to shade his eyes, he squints at the man wearing it.

“You...examined the body?”

“’Course I examined the body. Man was dead. Crashed his ship into a rock.” Man gives a sloppy, wide smile and leans in. “Hadta put him in a box quick. Startin’ to smell, an’ it was scarin’ the ladies.”

Treutlen leans back. A blast of minty mouthwash does not disguise cheap aftershave and a merest suspicion of cheaper whisky. There are more than a few like him in the Service - men who had seen more than they ever needed to of man‘s inhumanity to man in combat, and crawled into a bottle between times to forget...Some of them crawl out again. Some of them get stuck in the neck. Thought shows on his face.

“Encourages my crew to be careful.” The Captain gives him a look. “There’s some folk as don’t like crewing for a woman, still. Had to take what I could get. But I’m thinking I’ll tip his sorry ass out when we get back dirtside.” Shrugs. “Got a fine hospital back on Deadwood. Only needed someone as can set bones in a hurry.”

“Aw, Cap’n, you know you couldn‘t do without me.” Doctor smirks.

Treutlen steps back. Look the Captain gives the doctor, he reckons on the man being out of the airlock sooner.

They are interrupted by another crew member clattering down the stairs. This girl has the flat-footed stomp of a teenager (Treutlen has two at home) and she slouches in front of him in a way that reminds him of his eldest. Dark hair up in two little buns, and fantastically painted eyes, she looks like one of those cartoon commercials, all big boots and tiny skirt.

“Hey, Pa...”

Mal strangles for a moment (which is probably the most convincing thing he could do.)

“Told you to stay out of the way.”

“Oh, these nice men ain’t gonna hurt us.” She scoffs at him, smiles up at Treutlen. He, unaware that the most dangerous thing on the ship is snapping gum at him, smiles back.

“Indeed not, young lady.”

Girl shrugs in the overlarge leather jacket she’s wearing. Rolls her eyes.

“My Pa is such a worrier. I’m outta his sight for more’n five minutes, he’s frettin’ that I’m up to somethin’.” Swaps her gum round. The accent is pure Shadow. “Anyhow, Aunt Gia says she’s fixed tea if anyone would care for a cup.”

0000

It’s hard to think about arresting somebody when they are offering you a biscuit. Treutlen shifts on his chair, eyes the bright little kitchen. After the sleek, antiseptic lines of the Columbus, the homely little ship is a shock to the eyes. (Though a pleasanter one than that shirt. Shudders and looks away.) It is difficult to equate the idea of criminality with stencilled walls and homemade cakes. The accent is disconcerting, too; the ship’s cook may look like any other civilian out here, but the voice is pure home.

Of a long list of the things Zoe Washburne never thought she’d be doing, sitting down to a cup of tea with an Alliance Captain wouldn’t even have made the list of most unlikely. But she and Captain Treutlen are being very polite to one another, and finding common cause in the bemoaning of the idiocy of superiors and the even greater idiocy under one’s command. A small, harassed figure, who probably had more hair and less lines a year past, this man is so far out of his depth, he can’t even see the surface. And he knows it. Reading between the lines, Alliance forces are spread far too far and too thin, and he’s got a crew greener than spring corn.

“...sent me out, and expect me to produce results. It all comes down to the profit margins for the shareholders.”

“Still the same old concerns, I understand?” Ilargia pours another cup. “I do recall the difficulty with the dividends after that attempted revival of Lassiter technology.”

Mal and Zoe keep quiet and let her run the conversation. She has taken half-heard scraps of rumour, and presents them with an air of complicit authority. It’s an effective ploy; people rush to fill in the gaps with their own knowledge.

Ilargia’s best weapon is the truth. Not all of it. Just enough. An accent straight out of Londinium, a few throwaway lines about government service, a lack of explanation for the presence of same on the ship, and folks leap to all the wrong conclusions very quickly. This is covert country out here. Beyond the sure reach of Alliance law, where you walk softly, and carry a very big stick indeed.

Treutlen, lulled by the accent of home, and a mouthful of the first real cookie he’s had in months, starts to relax. They had told him that out on the Rim was a hard, harsh place, full of criminals and pirates. But these just seem like really nice people. Almost civilised. And after all, what kind of criminals would take their children along on a job?

0000

Upson is all but petting the little ship, urging it onto a makeshift cradle to transport it back. This is clearly his baby. Kaylee approves.

“Once Parliament tendered out the research, the big industrial and commercial concerns take the cream.” Upson sighs. “I’d really like to work for one of the big corporations. Someone like Blue Sun. Unlimited budget.”

“And no public accountability. Until it all goes Miranda on you.” The grimy young man has very cold blue eyes.

Upson looks discomfited.

“I didn’t mean...”

“Oh, don’t mind him.” The sunny little engineer tightens a last strap. “There, that oughta hold it for you. Now, what kind of engines you run on the great big ship of yours?”

0000

A small, odd moment of silence as the two Cobb men carry a stretcher into the bay. It’s Tyler who steps forward. Lays a hand on the bodybag, swallows hard.

“We was takin’ him back to bury him, but if you know his kin, then it’s right you take him home.”

Commander Treutlen opens his mouth, shuts it again. The patent sincerity on the boy’s face stops him.

Treutlen looks at the crew. The thought of arresting any of this little family is ridiculous; they aren’t criminals, just poor people who stumbled across something they shouldn’t. Even if they knew what they were carrying, who would they tell?

Upson coughs gently, murmurs,

“Are you suggesting that we just thank them and send them on their way, sir?”

“That would be a good move, Upson. They have after all merely retrieved a lost pilot for us.” A significant move of eyebrows.

Zoe finds herself shaking hands with a very relieved and genial little man.

“Oh...yes, indeed. Well,” The smile is unforced, “We’ll let you be on your way. Our grateful thanks for your assistance.”

0000

The door shuts. They hold their breath, as the Columbus disengages. Kaylee breaks the silence with a stifled giggle, and then they are all laughing fit to burst, with relief and the sheer silliness of it.

Mal grins.

“Ott’s gonna be too busy avoidin’ the Columbus to be chasin’ us.” Slaps Tyler’s shoulder. “Good work there, Tyler.”

“We got lucky.” Zoe says. “They didn’t want trouble. They’d been smarter or meaner, we’d be dead or in jail.”

“But they weren’t, and we ain’t.” Mal can’t hide a spark of glee in his eyes. “Let’s tell Bernoulli we got his crate.”

“This mean I have to hand back command, sir?”

“You don’t, I’m gonna wear this shirt at you ‘til you do...”

0000

Treutlen sighs.

“If that drunken sawbones knows one end of a scalpel from another, I’d be surprised. He wouldn’t know a cerebral induction coil if it fell on him.”

“One of the cutters was all ready to put a slice right through the fuel feeds.” Upson is still shaken, keeps petting the little ship. “Did something seem a little bit...odd to you, sir?”

“Upson, we are on the edge of space. People like that nice Mrs Cobb choose to come and live out here. Define odd.”

“That ship. The crew...they were probably doing something illegal.”

“Frankly, Upson, I wouldn’t have cared if they were transporting bloody beagles. We have Project Daedalus back.” Treutlen massages his eyes. “And I can send a message to Newmark’s family, tell them what happened to their son.”

He misses his girls. Seeing that scrappy little crew...they didn’t have much, but you could see the family feeling. He couldn’t imagine Abigail or Susie on the Columbus. They are safely back home...He smiles. When he has made the official recording for the Newmarks, he’s going to make an unofficial one for his girls. They can roll their eyes over their foolish old father, but he’s going to tell them that he loves them and misses them. The Black is a big place, and family is important.

COMMENTS

Sunday, October 8, 2006 9:19 AM

SPACEANJL


The library thing happened to me. Everything else has gone by the way, but I am still a Reader at the British Library, even though I've been out of Uni and walking the world for quite a spell now. Technically, I can get my mitts on anything ever published in the UK. (This does include the Domesday Book.)

Monday, October 9, 2006 11:22 AM

ARTEMISPRIME


Well, well. Simon's all dressed up like an arcie. That brings a pleasant image to mind, especially with the naked torso and grease. I could just feel Simon's hatred of that. Though I wonder if Kaylee might find it a little more than desirable.

Ilargia is quickly becoming indispensable to this crew. Her intelligence is proving quite a boon and is useful at helping to save their hides. Should show Mal that she's more than a food/bed warmer.

River as a bratty teen was classic. I can picture her so clearly, complete with gum popping. Brilliant. I would also wonder just what that might do to her romantic intentions towards the Captain. He might be feeling a bit old, but to have her as his "daughter" sets out his age right in front of him.

And it was great to see Tyler proving to the crew that the Cobbs are not idiots and totally dumb. Nor are they lacking in morals. Most everyone needed to see that.

My imagination is roaming on where you're going next with my favourite couple. Can't hardly wait to get there.

Monday, October 9, 2006 11:33 AM

REENIE


It's back! It's back! You can't see it, but I'm doing the "it's back" dance right now. I've been checking most faithfully for updates.

How do I love this chapter? Let me count the ways:

1. River as the typical gum-smacking teen was brilliant.

2. I love Largi calling Mal (or anyone else) out.

3. I think Zoe was/is a very believable captain. In fact, I think you often capture Zoe quite well. She's only around in snippets but they are done true to character.

Sooooo looking forward to what comes next.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006 5:50 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Mighty glad you're back in the saddle again, SpaceAnJL! Definitely loved this chapter, as 'Gia and Tyler really proved their worth in keeping Serenity from another mad chase with an Alliance cruiser;)

And who knows...maybe River's got a bit of kink of her...ya know, a bit "Spank me, Daddy!"

;D

BEB

Sunday, September 16, 2007 11:44 AM

WYTCHCROFT


just catching up on these - and really enjoying them too SA!


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