BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

JANE0904

Curiosity - Part 1
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A little adventure for Serenity's crew ... what curiosity can do! And it's in two parts because it's pretty long, so bear with me. Feedback, please, as I really appreciate it.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2424    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

“Captain?” Kaylee stood by Mal’s elbow. “Can I speak to you?”

Mal put his coffee cup down. “What is it, little Kaylee?”

“We’ll be passing by Phoros, won’t we?”

“In a coupla hours, sure.”

“I’d like to go see my folks. Tell them about the baby.” Kaylee patted her only slightly rounded belly.

“Well, we can’t stop – we have deliveries to make on time, and the folks waiting don’t like tardiness,” Mal said, looking up at his mechanic.

“I wondered if Freya maybe could take me in the shuttle?” Kaylee asked hesitantly.

Freya, in the kitchen pouring herself a coffee, looked up in surprise.

“Well …” Mal considered.

“I don’t mind,” Freya said, coming to the table. “We can rendezvous later.”

“We’ve got a pretty tight schedule, but … okay,” Mal agreed. “I guess I can’t stop you if you want to go home. Just don’t be late getting back – something’s sure to need fixing before too long.”

Kaylee grinned. “Thanks, Cap’n.” She hurried out before he could change his mind.

Freya sat down, gazing at him contemplatively. He took another mouthful of coffee, waited a moment, then said, “What?”

“You big softie.”

“Maybe.” His lips twitched. “But I ain’t sure I could take Kaylee moping about the boat if I said no.” He nodded in the direction she had gone. “It’s bad enough her being cheerful all the time: weepy and hormonal would be so much worse.” He smiled. “You okay with taking her?”

“No problem. Have you ever met her family?”

“Nope. Never came up before.”

“I wonder what they’re like?”

“Average working people, I suspect. Just a fluke they got one like Kaylee.”

“Damn lucky for you,” Freya pointed out.

“Yeah – she keeps Serenity flying.” ---

Kaylee sat in the co-pilot’s chair as Freya brought the shuttle into atmo. “Where do you want me to land?”

“Docks will be fine. I sent a wave to let them know I’d be coming, so someone will be waiting for me.”

“You worried about what they might say?”

“Some,” Kaylee admitted. “But I am a grown woman, and I can make my own decisions.”

Grown woman? Freya glanced across as the girl beside her, but somehow couldn’t bring the two together. She pulled the com link down. “Phoros, this is shuttle two from the Firefly transport ship Serenity, requesting permission to land.”

“Firefly shuttle, what is your business here?”

“Just visiting. A day, max.”

“Dock 94, east side.”

“Thanks. Anything I should know?”

“Nothing major. Usual postings – just check out the Cortex.”

“Thanks again, Phoros control.”

Freya brought the shuttle into a controlled landing, setting down at the dock with barely a tremor. “Okay,” she said, switching everything off. “Now what?”

“We go look for them.”

Not that they needed to look far. As Freya opened the airlock, half a dozen people swarmed up to the shuttle. “Kaylee?” called the older woman, her still dark hair piled up on her head.

“I think it’s for you,” Freya murmured, standing out of the way.

Kaylee, a grin as wide as the ’verse on her face, ran down the steps and hugged the woman. “Momma!”

Freya, not having had access to a family for a very long time, stood back, slightly embarrassed, as Kaylee was overwhelmed by everyone else.

Eventually they let her up to breathe, although her mother kept her close, hugging her daughter. “And is this Captain Reynolds?” her mother asked.

“No, this is Freya. She’s one of Serenity’s crew, like me. She brought me in the shuttle.”

“That was nice.” Kaylee’s mother smiled.

“No problem.”

“Come, come. We’ve got food, and your father is waiting to see you.”

“Is he okay? I thought he might –“

“Just busy. You know how it can be. Most of the time there’s nothing, then you get so much you can’t get it all done.”

“I know what you mean.” Kaylee couldn’t stop grinning. “Just like Serenity. You wait for ages for something to need fixing, then you’re working all hours to keep her in the sky.”

“Same old Kaylee,” said one of the young men. “Always got her head in something mechanical.”

They all started to lead Kaylee away, then the mother turned back. “Are you coming?”

“I thought I’d stay with the shuttle. Make sure …” Then Freya saw the look of pleading cross Kaylee’s face. “No, of course I’ll come.” The pleading turned to thankfulness, and Kaylee allowed herself to be pulled along. ---

Kaylee’s father was quiet throughout the meal, watching his daughter with a serious eye. As they finished, he sat back and spoke to Freya. “What do you think of this Simon?”

Freya looked at him, surprised. She swallowed her last mouthful and said, ”He’s a good boy. Man.”

“Is he going to do the right thing?”

“Pa! I ain’t asked him to!” Kaylee interjected.

“He should know his responsibilities.”

Freya put in, “He does.” There was an uncomfortable pause. “He’s medic on Serenity,” she offered.

“Then how did he let this happen?”

“I don’t think it was a case of letting anything happen,” Freya said soothingly. “It just did.”

There was an awkward pause, then Kaylee’s mother said, “So how long have you been on Serenity?”

“Nearly two years.”

“And how long have you known our Kaylee?”

“Oh, a lot longer. It must be, what, xiao mei-mei, six years?”

“Nearly seven.”

“Wow. I suppose it is.”

“I’m sorry to say we ain't heard of you,” Mrs Frye said, casting a somewhat disapproving look at her daughter.

“Momma, you know I write every chance I get,” Kaylee said blithely. “And I’m sure I’ve written about her.”

“Not that I can recall.” Mrs Frye looked back at Freya. “And what did you do before?”

“Well, I had my own ship. But things change.”

“Yes, they do. Children grow up, for one thing.” Kaylee’s mother looked at her with a mixture of affection and concern. ---

“What have you got?” Mal asked as he climbed the short flight of stairs to the bridge.

“Picking up some kind of signal. Too small to be a ship, but might be interesting.” Hank glanced out of the window. “And it’s not out of our way.”

“Best guess?”

“Jettisoned cargo. Some ships used to stick a beacon on cargo if they had to leave it behind, so they could pick it up later.”

“Used to?”

“Too many pirates around nowadays.” Hank managed to say this with a straight face, which Mal appreciated.

“Perhaps we should take a look. Make sure it’s not valuable. Someone might be needing it.” Mal matched his pilot’s tone.

“Could return it to them, if we can find them.”

“Absolutely. How far is it?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Bring us alongside it. If it’s too big to get into the cargo bay we’ll go take a walk to see what it is.” ---

Hank was good – he scooped the stack into the cargo bay outer doors, setting it down gently before activating the gravity again. Mal opened the inner doors.

“Well, look at this,” Mal smiled. “Seems to be a safe of some kind.”

“Maybe there’s gold inside it,” Jayne suggested, a glint in his eye.

Mal squatted down by the metal canister, running his hand over the outside. “Seems almost new – I wonder how long it’s been out here?”

“Well, the signal is an old type,” Hank said. “That style hasn’t been used in a decade or so, so I guess it could have been hanging around that time.”

“How come no-one found it before?” Jayne asked.

“We’re a mite off the beaten track. Mal wanted us out of the usual traffic, so that’s where we are. And that beacon’s been weak all along – I don’t reckon it was a high spec in the first place. Probably just something was tacked on to meet regulations.” Hank rubbed his hands together. “So how do we get in?”

“Do you want me to get the torch?” Jayne offered.

“Well, it’s late,” Mal said, standing up. “And as we don’t know what’s inside we could damage it.”

“How?”

“What if it’s paper money?” Zoe put in. “One whiff of that torch and it could all go up in flames.”

“I get’cha.”

“So how do we open it?” Hank asked again.

Mal crossed his arms. “We don’t. Kaylee’ll be back tomorrow morning, and we’ll wait for her. She can probably open it with a toothpick, easy as pie.”

“Mal –“ Jayne began.

“Decision’s been made. If it’s worth anything it’ll keep. And no sneaking down to try your hand when we’re all asleep.”

“Now what makes you think – “

“Because I know you, Jayne.” Mal fixed him with a stern look. “Do I have to lock you in your bunk?”

“Oh, okay.” Jayne gave in very ungracefully. ---

It was late. Everyone but Hank was asleep, and he was dozing on the bridge, unable to rouse himself to get to his bunk. Down in the cargo bay the stack was sitting on the floor, looking totally innocuous, until a light ran across the panel on the front. Then, very slowly, a grille slid open, and vapour began to slide out.

As the gas mingled with the atmo, it spread throughout the ship. Mal, alone on his bunk, still in his pants but shirtless, turned over and sank into a deeper sleep. Jayne stirred, tried to open his eyes but lay back again. Hank, up on the bridge, slid sideways and hung half out of the pilot’s chair. Even River, waking, aware of something not right, found it impossible to rise, and fell back on her pillow, her eyes closing against her will. ---

Freya left the small house, finding Kaylee’s father outside on the porch, smoking a small cigar rather absently. He turned at her approach.

“Ma won’t let me smoke these in the house,” he explained, lifting the cheroot. “Says it stinks the place out somewhat.” He turned back to studying the horizon.

Freya stepped closer. “Mr Frye … I know you’re worried about what will happen if Simon leaves, that Kaylee would be on her own, bringing up a child alone. That won’t ever happen.”

Edmondos Frye turned again, standing squarely facing her. “You can promise that, can you?”

“Well, for one thing Simon would never leave Kaylee – he loves her too much.” Mr Frye did not look convinced. Freya went on, “And if he tried Mal – Captain Reynolds – would make sure he took a long walk out of a short airlock, with no suit.” Freya stepped closer. “Mr Frye, we’re a family, and Kaylee’s the heart. The Captain may be the head, but Kaylee’s the heart, and she keeps us beating. And none of us would ever knowingly allow Kaylee to be hurt.”

“You called her xiao mei-mei.”

“Did I?” Freya thought back. “I guess perhaps I did.”

“Is that how you feel?”

“Oh yes.” Freya was emphatic. “Kaylee’s the little sister I never had. We all feel like that. And no matter what happens, we’ll always be there for her.”

“I guess that’s all a father can ask.” He carefully stubbed out the cigar on the wall, knocking the ash off so he could put the remainder in his shirt pocket. “Are you staying the night?”

Freya shook her head. “No, we have to get back. Serenity will be waiting for us.”

“But you will stay for supper.”

Freya wondered if she could take more food, but smiled and said, “Yes. Of course.”

Mr Frye smiled and went back inside.

Freya stayed put, staring at the buildings around them. Factories belched smoke some distance off, but this area was mostly residential. Plain buildings, like the one Kaylee’s family lived in, set cheek by jowl. No matter that Serenity wasn’t that big, but it seemed bigger than this whole town. Something to do with being out in the black, no doubt. Space was a hell of a lot bigger than anything she could ever imagine.

“Thanks,” Kaylee said from behind her.

“What for?” She turned, smiling at the young woman.

“Talking to my dad.”

“No problem.”

“You really think I’m the heart of Serenity?” Kaylee blushed a little.

“Were you listening?”

“Bad habit, I know.”

“You might hear stuff you don’t want to.”

“People don’t mean half the things they say anyway.”

“Still cheerful, huh?”

Kaylee laughed, seeming more relaxed than she’d been in days. “Come on, food’s ready.”

Freya groaned. “You know, the amount of food around here, I'm surprised you’re not all round as pigs.”

“Oh, this ain’t usual,” Kaylee said quickly. “This is just for us.”

Freya was disgusted with herself that she hadn’t guessed it already. “They won’t go short because of it, will they?”

Kaylee shrugged. “I've already given my mom some money.”

Freya reached into her back pocket and pulled out a thin wad of cash. Peeling a couple of notes from it, she held it out. “Here. Add this to it.”

Kaylee shook her head. “No. Freya, you don’t have to.”

“That ain’t the point. Take it.”

Kaylee took the proffered notes. “I know where my mom put the other – I’ll put this with it before we go.”

“Good.” Freya took the young mechanic’s arm. “Now, let’s go eat. And I’ll see if I can let my pants out one more notch.” ---

Serenity’s shuttle two lifted off smoothly into the darkening sky, rapidly breaking atmo and gaining the stars again. Kaylee, sleeping off the food, muttered something then settled back more comfortably on the bench. Freya smiled – that had gone surprisingly well. Now just to get back. ---

“Good to be home,” Kaylee said, looking out towards the dot that was Serenity.

“Yeah, it surely is.” Freya glanced at the young woman. “More home than home?”

“It’s … mine.”

“I know what you mean.” She lifted down the comlink. “Shuttle two to Serenity, requesting permission to dock.” She released the button, but there was only static. “Serenity, this is shuttle two. Anyone awake over there?” Still there was just the hiss of space.

“What is it?” Kaylee asked.

“What’s shipboard time?”

Kaylee calculated. “Around 8. Early.”

“That’s what I make it. Someone should be up.” She tried again. “Serenity, is there a problem? Hank? Mal?”

“She’s not moving,” Kaylee said suddenly. She pointed out of the window. “Serenity ain’t moving. And it looks like she’s powered down.”

The young engineer was right. As they rapidly approached, they could see the glow that should have lit the Firefly’s engine housing was absent, and the ship hung motionless in space.

“I'm taking the shuttle in.” Freya didn’t take her eyes off Serenity. “Buckle up.”

Kaylee slid into the co-pilot’s chair as Freya manoeuvred the shuttle over the left stabiliser, settling the small craft into place.

“Kaylee, stay in the shuttle.”

“Why?”

“Just do it”. Freya drew her gun, checked that it was fully loaded, then very cautiously, very tentatively opened the door and looked into Serenity. There was no sound, no noise at all. Even the usually inaudible hum of the engine had stopped. Auxiliary life support must be functioning, though, as there was no discernible drop in temperature.

Freya slid around the door, moving quietly along the gangway, watching the bay below. She climbed the stairs to the bridge, but it was empty. Despite her calm exterior, she could feel the adrenalin beginning to pump, and she was ready to fight. Only there was nothing to fight. No indication Serenity even had a crew.

All the doors to the bunks were closed, and opening Mal’s she managed to look in far enough to confirm the bed was empty. The blankets were on the floor, but of the man himself there was no sign. His gun was hanging where he left it. She exhaled quietly.

Hank and Jayne’s bunks were likeways empty, but as Freya looked into Zoe’s she saw the bed was occupied. Dropping to the floor she checked no-one was hiding, then felt the first mate’s neck. A pulse, good and strong. Freya felt a frisson of relief, which died when Zoe refused to wake up, even to vigorous shaking. “Tah muh duh!”

“Freya – River’s in her room but Simon’s gone!” Kaylee’s frantic voice filled the ship over the com. Swearing volubly, giving her exact opinion of Kaylee’s inability to do as she was told, as well as the possibility she had just let uninvited guests know they were here, Freya scrambled back up the ladder and hurried through the dining area, pausing only to briefly check the engine room before hurrying down to the passenger dorm.

“Kaylee, what part of stay put didn’t you understand?”

“Simon’s gone!” Kaylee’s normally bright face was creased with worry. “And I can’t wake River.”

Freya glanced at the girl on the bed. Just sleeping – at least, that’s what it looked like. “Zoe’s the same. Have you checked on Inara?”

“No – I came straight here.”

“Come on.” Freya lifted a warning finger. “And stay close.”

In Inara’s shuttle they found the Companion also dead to the world, but breathing deep.

“This don’t make sense,” Kaylee said, shaking her head. “Why can’t we wake them?”

“Something happened here, that’s for sure.” Freya holstered her gun and looked pensive.

“Why take the menfolk?” Kaylee was beginning to wind herself even tighter. “What would they want with them?” She turned wide, fearful eyes on Freya as a horrible thought occurred to her. “You don’t think they pushed them all out of the airlock, do you?”

“No. No, I don’t. If they wanted to kill them, why leave the women?”

“But it –“

Freya took hold of the young woman’s shoulders, looking deep into her eyes. “Kaylee, I can’t be having this from you right now. I need you focused.”

“I'm worried about Simon. All of them. I want them back.”

“I know.” Freya let a beat pass. “So do I. But right now we need to get Serenity up and running again. Then we can go get our men.”

“We don’t know where to start looking.” A tear rolled down Kaylee’s face.

Freya gently wiped it away with the heel of her hand. “Then we find out. Get Serenity powered up – I'm going to check the sensor logs. And we think positive, dong mah?”

“Okay.” Kaylee nodded. ---

“Son of a bitch.” Freya sat in the pilot’s chair, wrestling with the controls. She had heard the engines start just a few moments ago, on the edge of her hearing, and now power was coming back, but she couldn’t get to the information she needed.

“What is it?” Kaylee asked from behind her.

“They’ve wiped the logs. Masterly job too. Nothing since before we left.” She stood up and started to pace.

“Let me look.” Kaylee moved fast and experienced fingers across the console, then nodded. “You’re right. It was good.” Then she looked up. “What about the shuttle? Inara’s, I mean? It has logs of its own, not connected to Serenity.”

Freya pulled the young engineer close and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “I knew Mal kept you around for something.”

They hurried back to shuttle one, where Inara hadn’t moved. On the small bridge Kaylee slid into the chair, activating the controls. She brightened a little. “Yep, they forgot. Or didn’t think.”

“What can you give me?”

Kaylee pushed a few more buttons. “Exterior view. They stopped to pick something up, it looks like.” The vid screen glowed to life, and there was a view of Serenity’s hull. Her bay doors were open, and something was heading inside.

“Not very big. Can you enhance it so we can see better?”

“Nope, that’s it. Good as it gets.”

“Well, I didn’t see anything like that in the cargo bay. You?”

“Not a thing.”

“What else?”

The image on the vid screen seemed to shimmer slightly as the log forwarded, then slowed to show a ship docked.

“Go back, slowly. Did they hail us?”

Kaylee shook her head. “No. And we didn’t hail them either. They just locked onto us.”

“Can you give me internal sensors?”

“Sorry, Frey. Not for Serenity.”

Freya watched the ship docking with their boat. “How long were they here?”

“Ten minutes. Maybe twelve.”

“Long enough to get the men off, nuke the logs and go.” Freya spoke thoughtfully. “Can you tell me where this all happened?”

“Got the co-ordinates right here.”

Feed them through to the bridge. “Gives us some place to look. Oh, and Kaylee?”

“Yes?”

“Take a good gander at these pictures. No-one’s been thrown out of an airlock.”

Kaylee smiled a little at last. “Point taken.” ---

Mal struggled to open his eyes, then wished he hadn’t. Bright lights flashed in his vision, and a wave of nausea passed through him.

“Lie still,” a voice said. “It’ll pass soon enough.”

Mal managed to look around. It had been Simon speaking. “Doc? You okay?”

“Groggy. But that’ll pass too.”

Mal nodded, then truly wished he hadn’t as he threw up next to him.

“Great,” Jayne muttered from a little way off.

“It happens,” Simon said quietly.

“I did,” Hank put in.

Mal wiped his mouth on his sleeve and sat up, looking around him. “Everyone okay?”

“Everyone who’s here,” Jayne put in. “The girls ain’t.”

Mal stopped, surprised. “You’re right.” He tried to stand up but failed. “Where the hell are we?”

“Far as I can tell, some kind of cell. These guys have been here for a while.”

“What?” Mal peered into the darkness and finally made out another half a dozen men in the room, clustered together into a corner.

“Then there’s this.” Jayne indicated his neck, and the metal ring that surrounded it.

“What did they hit us with?” Mal asked, fingering the metal torque around his own neck. There was a gap between the terminals, but not enough to get it off.

“Zytocholine gas,” Simon put in. “At least from the after effects. And the smell, of course.”

Mal sniffed his sleeve. “I thought that was me.”

“No, it’s a phantom smell. Not real. Just in your brain.”

“So … I can’t move away from it.”

“Sorry, no,” Simon explained. “It’s used to dispel rioters, or more accurately, to put them to sleep. It disrupts the neural pathways, stops the –“

“Doctor, you lost me at the smell.” He touched the metal again. “And is this what I think it is?”

Simon nodded. “A pacifier.”

“Great,” Mal said with no humour at all. “Slavers.”

“Then where’re the girls?” Jayne asked. “I never heard of slavers not taking women.”

“That’s just what I'm considering.”

“Maybe they’re somewhere else?” Hank suggested.

“Maybe. But at this moment I can’t conjure a reason why.”

“At least Kaylee’s safe,” Simon muttered.

“And if they’re waiting for ‘em?” Jayne asked, testing the pacifier. “You think Freya’s going to go down without a fight?”

“We did,” Hank put in.

“Yeah, well.” Jayne pulled on the torque.

“Don’t,” advised one of the men in the corner. “These things aren’t just – he tried to take it off.” He nodded towards the wall, a spot furthest from anyone.

Serenity’s crew glanced at each other, then Mal got to his knees and crawled closer. “Tah muh duh.” The man lying against the wall was dead – no way he could have been anything else with nothing above his shoulders. Mal felt the nausea rise again, but swallowed it back. ---

Freya was back in her and Mal’s bunk, freshening up. As she dried her hands, she turned from the sink to look at the bed. Mal had had it widened after she’d moved in with him, as more than once one or the other of them had nearly rolled onto the floor. He hadn’t had it changed back when she left – maybe he believed she’d come back some day. Or just hoped. Or maybe it was just to remind him what a woman could do to tear your heart out. One way or another, when he had invited her back in, only a short while previously, it was to old familiar ground. Her stuff was back in here as well – her figurine and incense holder sat next to his shaving equipment, and her clothes were in a heap on the other chair.

She stepped forward and picked up the blanket, hugging it to her face for a moment, breathing in the scent of him that still lingered. “Mal, one day your curiosity is going to do to you what it did to the cat,” she said to no-one at all. “Just don’t let it be today. I’ve only just found you again – don’t you dare die on me now.”

“Freya,” Kaylee said over the com. “We’re coming up on the co-ordinates.”

Smoothing the pillow, Freya folded the blanket neatly and placed in gently on the mattress. Then she stood straight, her back firm, and headed back up the ladder, her face determined. ---

Serenity slowed, her retros firing, and came to a halt. After a short while the door opened from the cargo bay and Freya stepped out of the airlock into space, the very slight push moving her slowly towards the stack. She grabbed on. “Kaylee, I'm here. You getting a good picture?”

Kaylee, on Serenity’s bridge, looked at the vidscreen. “Can you get a little closer?”

“Okay.” Freya moved her helmet, the small camera mounted to one side of the face plate, closer to the stack. “How’s that?”

“Shiny. Can you take the front off?”

“Not sure. There’s no screws.”

“Put some weight behind the main plate – it should pop easy.”

Freya did as she was told, managing to get her gloved fingers into a gap, and Kaylee was right: with a little pressure the main plate flew off into the black. “Okay, I'm in.”

“Go to the main array.” Kaylee shook her head. “You know, this would be so much simpler if you’d let –“

“No,” Frey interrupted. “For one thing I'm not bringing this on board because we don’t know what it did last time. And secondly, I am not putting you into a suit, not in your condition.”

“I’d be fine.”

“So if something happens you want me to tell Simon that?”

“Oh. Well, maybe not.”

“Right. Okay, I'm at the main array.”

“Plug the D-unit into the pin lock.”

“Can’t see –“

“It’s on the left. Behind that green light.”

“Yep. Got it. Damn, it’s tricky in these gloves. Tzao gao!”

“You okay?”

“Nearly dropped it. Okay, it’s in.”

Kaylee played an arpeggio on the keyboard, and lights flashed across the front of the stack.

“Something’s happening.” Freya watched the display. “Kaylee, should it be doing this?”

“Um, no. Frey, I think you’d better get back inside. Now.”

Freya pushed off quickly, the image on the screen whirling drunkenly as she turned until it fastened on Serenity, coming up awfully fast. Then she was inside, closing the doors. “Kaylee, I'm in.”

The young engineer flicked a couple of switches, bringing Serenity to life, starting to pull her away from the stack. “Kaylee, what’s happening?” Freya asked, feeling the artificial gravity reasserting itself.

“Hold on to something,” Kaylee said quietly.

Freya looked up surprised, then felt Serenity rock beneath her boots. “Kaylee …”

“It blew up. Whatever it was, it blew up.” Kaylee sounded almost surprised. “If we’d had it on board … it would have taken us all with it.”

“Anti-tampering device,” Freya said as she undid her helmet. “Did you get the info we needed before it went?”

“I got something. Just checking it now.”

“I'm on my way up.” ---

Freya stepped onto the bridge. “So? What’d we get?”

“Nothing.” Kaylee was clearly upset, and Freya’s face tightened, but the young woman went on, “But it sent a signal somewhere.”

“Like a distress?”

“Something like.”

“So they may be coming to see what happened.”

“Maybe.”

Freya put her hands on the girl’s shoulders and squeezed gently. “Hope, Kaylee. It’s hope. We’ve still got a chance here. Now, you’d better move. We need to get Serenity somewhere safe, ‘cos they’re not gonna be so stupid as to not recognise a ship they just boarded.”

“But –“

Freya leaned down. “Kaylee, focus. Remember?”

“Focus. Yeah.” ---

As the ship approached the remains of the stack, Freya brought the shuttle from the lea of the nearby moon, and hailed it.

“This is shuttle two from the transport ship Serenity. Glad to see you! We could sure use a little help.”

The vid screen in front of her flickered, then showed a man, a friendly smile on his face. “What’s the problem?”

“We’re lost.” Freya laughed. “No, our nav sat’s gone down, and we need a pointer. Trying to find our ship.”

“You’re a long ways out from anywhere. What ship is that?”

“A Firefly. Serenity. We were visiting Phoros, and came back, but … you ain’t seen her, have you?”

“A Firefly? Not seen one of them for a long while. Didn’t know they still ran.”

“Some do. Got a good mechanic. Not that she’s helping too much – we can’t even raise Serenity at the moment. Been trying for a good long while too, so we’re mighty happy to see you.”

The man on the screen nodded to someone off vid, then looked back. “No problem. Probably best if you dock with us, and my people can take a look, see what we can go about your nav sat.”

“Thanks – we’d be most grateful.”

“Come alongside. And I have to say, we’d be pleased to have a little female company for a while.”

Freya brought the shuttle to the airlock with barely a jolt, and the other craft locked on. ---

“I’m Liam Roarke,” the man in front said, holding out his hand. Freya shook it, then glanced at the four men standing behind him.

“Didn’t think we were that dangerous,” she said, nodding down at the weapons they all carried.

“Couldn’t be sure ‘til we saw you,” Roarke, tall and stocky with a shaved head, said. “But I think we’re probably safe.” He grinned at Kaylee in a downright friendly fashion, who managed to smile back. He turned and nodded at his men, who disappeared into the guts of his vessel, leaving only one other.

“We ain’t pirates, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Freya stated.

“Nope, shouldn’t think you are. But you know what it’s like out here.”

“That all your crew?”

“Don’t need any more.” Roarke put his hands on his hips. “We’re a small salvage operation, don’t need that many guns around. You hungry?” he asked. “We got food if you are.”

“Could always use a meal,” Freya said, nodding and smiling.

“Good. If you’ll follow my man here, I’ll be with you shortly.”

“Thanks.”

The man led them through a couple of doors, then said, “After you.”

Freya went through the indicated doorway, Kaylee close behind. As the door closed, she kicked out at the man hiding behind a curtain, catching him in the belly, then as he doubled over drew her gun and clubbed him on the back of the head, turning in the same movement and shooting the first man, who was about to do the same to her. Kaylee leaned against the wall, watching the fight. The third man thundered out of the other room with a roar, firing his gun, which stopped as Freya put a bullet in his throat. He fell, poleaxed.

“Kaylee, you okay?” Freya asked, barely out of breath.

“I'm fine. How did you know …” Kaylee was stunned.

“Instinct.”

“Are they –“

Freya checked the man she’d cold-cocked. “Must have hit him harder than I thought,” she muttered. “They’re dead.”

“Oh.” She looked up. “Now what?”

“We have a little talk with the captain of this heap.” Freya led the way out into the corridor. “Any idea where his quarters might be?”

“This is a Saroyan, like the boat you used to have,” Kaylee pointed out.

“Really?” Freya looked around in surprise. “Been retrofitted, then. I didn’t recognise it. In which case …” She moved towards the stairs. “Stay behind me.”

“Wasn’t intending on going anywhere,” Kaylee muttered, a little asperity in her voice, and Freya smiled.

She moved fast through the ship, coming up to the captain’s cabin in no time. The last remaining crewmember was outside, and fired as she turned the corner. Freya ducked back, but then rolled fast forward, coming up to her knees, the gun in her hand spitting. The man fell against the cabin door, which burst inwards. Freya was on her feet and stepping over the body in a moment.

Roarke was standing in the main room, shock on his face. He went for his gun but Freya’s voice cut through the air. “Don’t. Not unless you want your blood spilled.”

Roarke stopped moving, then slowly raised his hands. He stared at her. ”Two of you? Just two of you to bollix up my operation like this?”

“Just one, actually.” Kaylee said from behind Freya, look apologetic. “She’s good.”

“Seems she is.” The slaver looked at Freya. “Can I put my hands down?”

“Depends. What were you planning on doing with them after that?”

“Not a lot. Just going to sit down, take the weight off my feet.”

“Do anything stupid and I will end you.”

“Oh, I believe you.” He moved slowly, carefully, and sat down behind his desk, far enough from the table itself so as not to hide his hands. “What do you want, by the way?” He looked at her closely. “Or do you usually go around attacking innocent ships?”

“Innocent?” Kaylee asked, her voice high. “You’re slavers.”

“Time-honoured profession, little girl,” Roarke said. “Been going on a thousand years.”

“Don’t make it right.”

Freya ignored her. “I’ve only got one question. Where did you take the men from Serenity?”

“That damn Firefly?” Roarke was disgusted. “I knew we should have blown it up.”

“Just be glad you didn’t.” Freya moved a step closer. “Now, you’re going to tell me where they are, or I shall just have to take some target practice.” She lowered her gun a little. “Would you prefer to do without your left kneecap, or your right?”

“Okay, okay.” He lifted his hands in surrender. “Don’t see the harm telling you. I did get paid, so the job’s over. Besides, I don’t think I’ll be doing this run anymore. Mite too troublesome.”

Freya pulled the trigger, the bullet slamming into the bulkhead just an inch from his head. “Where.”

“Tetris. Got a regular order for folks.”

Freya’s mouth tightened. “Tetris. You mean the mines.”

“Yep.”

“Well, that part explains why you only took the men.” Kaylee looked at her, but Freya didn’t explain. “But not fully. Why didn’t you take the girls? You’re a … purveyor of people. Didn’t think you’d be so selective.”

“We’re not. We’d have come back – were on our way. Women like that – crazy not to. Get a good price, too.”

“Good price,” Freya echoed. “What did you use on them?”

“That’s three questions. Don’t think we agreed on three.”

“Just answer. I don’t have all day.”

“Zytocholine.”

“Zyto –“ Her finger tightened on the trigger. “You used that niou-se stuff on my crew?”

“Easy, cheap and reliable.”

“Do you have the antidote? To the gas?”

“No. We don’t need it. Don’t feed them, just transport them. Easier to have them asleep ‘til they get there. And the market on … well, they’d have the antidote for the women.” Roarke looked at her. “Now what?” he asked. “How’re we going to deal with this?”

“Not rightly sure.”

“You could just get off. Not me nor my men would stop you.”

“Your men ain’t in a position to.”

A flash of anger crossed his face. “Now that’s just unkind.”

“They tried to kill us. Didn’t really have any choice in the matter.” She didn’t sound at all regretful.

He licked his lips. “So it’s just me?”

“‘Fraid so.”

“Then let me go. I’ll be no more trouble to you.”

“Think you’re going to stay slaving?”

He laughed. “Oh, I'm thinking on taking up a different line of work.”

“Probably for the best.” Freya turned to Kaylee. “Best get back. We’ll tie him –“

Kaylee’s eyes widened, and she shouted, “Freya!”

But the other woman had already begun to turn, her gun lifting and firing in the same movement.

The slaver slammed back into the wall, the gun he had slid from under the table flying from his fingers. He slipped to the floor, his eyes glassy, unseeing, blood beginning to show at the front of his shirt over his heart. Freya reholstered her gun, her face impassive.

Kaylee looked at her friend, as always astounded and shocked that anyone could kill like that, without even thinking about it. She couldn’t, and knew she never would.

Freya moved between her and the body, reading her face all too well, wanting to explain it wasn't as easy as that, that it never was, but knowing she wouldn’t believe her. “Kaylee, think they have a self-destruct?”

“If not I can probably rig something. Wouldn’t take too long.”

“Do it. I want this piece of gos se out of the sky.”

“Sure thing.” She went to go but stopped. “You don’t think there’s still anyone on board? Slaves, I mean.”

“I’ll check while you fix things up, but I doubt it. Looks to me like they were on their way back out.”

“Right.” Kaylee glanced over Freya’s shoulder and shivered.

“Kaylee, get going.”

“But Tetris? I know the name, but –“

“Tetris is one of the border moons, way out. Almost to the edge.”

“But why only men? I don’t get it.”

“The terraforming did something. There’s …” She shook her head. “Kaylee, we don’t have time. Do what you need to – we have to get back to Serenity.” ---

Kaylee was sitting next to River, holding the young girl’s hand as she slept. Freya looked in.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Shiny.” Kaylee sort of smiled, but it wasn't her usual, good-humoured grin. “I was just … why aren’t they waking up?”

Freya sighed and stepped into the cabin. “It’s the gas.”

“But shouldn’t it have worn off by now?”

“That’s the hitch. You need the antidote. That’s why slavers use it. The gas … well, the effects don’t just go. Without the antidote they’ll just go on sleeping.”

“But that means –“ Kaylee stared at River, appalled at the implication.

“They die,” Freya confirmed. “We’re going to have to sort out some drips, keep them hydrated, but that’s about all we can do.”

“Ain’t we got anything that would work?”

“No.” Freya rubbed her face, trying to make the tiredness go away. “It’s a specific antigen, not too common. And that yu bun duh slaver didn’t say where he was taking the girls, so I have no way of knowing where … Don’t see as we have a choice.”

“So we have to …” Kaylee wiped a tear from her eye.

“We’ll get the antidote, Kaylee.” Freya put her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Don’t think otherwise. The mines will have it, and we’ll get our men at the same time.” ---

Mal wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, trying to staunch the sweat that ran down his skin. Instead he left a smear of black above his eyebrow. Leaning on his pickaxe, he looked around. Jayne was attacking the wall with a ferocious will, letting out all his aggression on it, while Simon and Hank were picking up the resulting lumps of ore and filling a hopper. Mal had to smile, just a little. Simon’s fine clothes, even under the coveralls they had been given to wear, were now just as bad as the rest of them.

“Get moving,” one of the guards shouted.

Mal looked at him, calculating the likelihood of burying his pickaxe in the man’s head, but he didn’t get a chance to find out. The pacifier around his neck flared into action, a light jumping between the terminals, and a pulse of agony blasted through his skull. He groaned and fell to his knees.

The overseer looked down at him. “You understand now? You work, you get treated okay. You don’t work …” He pressed the button on his belt again, and the pacifier threw another wave of pain across Mal’s head. This time he slid to the floor, gasping for air. The overseer pointed to Simon and Hank. “Pick him up. It’ll wear off soon.”

Hank and Simon hurried over, sitting Mal up against the wall.

“You okay?” Hank asked.

“Oh, hunky-dory.” Mal’s voice was dry, husky.

“Stay still – it’ll wear off quicker,” Simon advised.

“And I thought maybe I might go dancing.”

“Well, that’d be funny, but it wouldn’t do you any good.”

Mal gave him a look, but the young doctor just gazed back.

“Everyone else, back to work!” the overseer demanded.

Jayne glared at him, but swung the pickaxe even harder, dislodging a great heap of ore. ---

They were sitting, being allowed to rest for a while, drinking the bitter water provided. Mal dropped his head back, staring up into the rock above.

“Are you okay, captain?” Simon asked. “The pacifier can –“

“I'm fine, doc.” Mal looked back into the young man’s face. “A bit of a headache, is all.”

“Try not to antagonise them,” Simon advised. “The cumulative effects of the stun can be dangerous.”

“I know I'm going to regret asking,” Mal said wearily, “but how dangerous?”

“It can weaken the walls of the blood vessels in the brain. Cause a haemorrhage.”

“Great.” Hank, lying on the ground trying to get some feeling back into his arms, spoke indignantly. “So either a cave-in gets us, the pacifier explodes, or we die from a stroke.”

“There’s plenty of ways to die,” Mal said. “Trick is to avoid them as long as possible.”

“What’d you think Freya and Kaylee’re doing right now?” Jayne asked.

“If they’ve got any sense they’ll be hightailing it away. But since I suspect neither of them to have the sense they were born with …” Mal didn’t finish.

“Looking for us?” Simon suggested.

“I don’t doubt it.”

“In Kaylee’s condition –“ Simon shook his head.

“You think that’ll stop her?” Mal asked.

“No.” Simon sounded almost harsh. “No, I don’t think it will.”

“Back to work,” the guard called, stepping over the rocks toward them. “Or …” He touched the pacifier control at his belt. ---

That night, or perhaps day – it was impossible to tell the passage of time down in the mines – they sat in the cell they shared with the other miners from their group, and contemplated their future.

“All I'm saying is that if one of us took out the guard, we’d have a better chance of getting away,” Jayne insisted.

“Before or after they blow your head off?” Simon asked. “There’s too many of them, and they all have control units.” He had been taking mental notes while he had working. “You saw what it did to the captain – we wouldn’t have a chance.”

Mal leaned against the wall and let the throbbing in his head drown out their bickering, just hoping the pacifier hadn’t done any permanent damage.

“Maybe the girls can find us,” Hank offered, trying to play peacemaker. “We know Freya and Kaylee weren’t taken, so if they got back, found us gone …”

“Freya’d come looking for us, that’s for damn sure,” Jayne agreed. “Not sure how they’d find us.”

“It wouldn’t help if they did,” Mal finally put in, opening his eyes. “I think I've figured out where we are.”

“So? Where are we?”

“Tetris.”

“Tetris?” Jayne shook his head. “Do I know that place?”

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve been here before, once, a long time ago. Soon after I bought Serenity. We brought out supplies for the workers.” He leaned forward. “I recognise the logo on their uniforms.”

“Tetris?” Simon repeated. “Why does that seem familiar?”

“It might, if you knew anything about the problems that happen with terraforming.” Mal shook his head. “We don’t want Kaylee or Freya anywhere near this place.”

“I still don’t –“

“Haven’t you wondered why we ain’t seen any women down here?” Mal asked.

“I thought they were just … wait a minute. Yes. The mines on Tetris. Of course.” Simon looked up, his face blanching under the dirt. “Wuh de tyen, ah. They can’t come here.”

“What are you two talking about?” Jayne asked.

“Terraforming can cause … all manner of problems,” Simon said slowly. “The air down here in the mines, the ore … it reacts with the neural network, causes –“

“It kills women,” Mal interrupted, not wanting Simon to get all scientific and doctory over it.

COMMENTS

Thursday, October 12, 2006 1:31 PM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, very exciting but also full of tension and worry about what will happen next. How will Freya and Mal rescue the boys if the gorram mine will kill them? And how in the nine hells are they going to get the antidote for Zoe and River? Great story, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, October 14, 2006 1:00 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Hoowee that's just nuts! The guys are trapped in a mine as slaves, half the female crew is unconscious and Kaylee's seriously preganant...definitely a spectacular cliffhanger, Jane:D

BEB


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Monied Individual - Part XIX
“His name’s Jayne?”

“What’s wrong with that?” the ex-mercenary demanded from the doorway.

“Nothing, nothing! I just … I don’t think I’ve ever met a man … anyone else by that name.”

“Yeah, he’s a mystery to all of us,” Mal said. “Even his wife.”

[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank's not out of the woods yet, and Mal has a conversation. Enjoy!]


Monied Individual - Part XVIII
Jayne had told him a story once, about being on the hunt for someone who owed him something or other. He’d waited for his target for three hours in four inches of slush as the temperature dropped, and had grinned when he’d admitted to Hank that he’d had to break his feet free from the ice when he’d finished.
[Maya. Post-BDM. The Fosters show their true colours, Jayne attempts a rescue, and the others may be too late.]


Snow at Christmas
She’d seen his memories of his Ma, the Christmases when he was a boy on Shadow, even a faint echo of one before his Pa died, all still there, not diminished by his burning, glowing celebrations of now with Freya.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A seasonal one-off - enjoy!]


Monied Individual - Part XVII
Jayne hadn’t waited, but planted a foot by the lock. The door was old, the wood solid, but little could stand against a determined Cobb boot with his full weight behind it. It burst open.


[Maya. Post-BDM. The search for Hank continues. Read, enjoy, review!]


Monied Individual - Part XVI
He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Kaylee finds the problem with Serenity, and Jayne starts his quest. Read, enjoy, review!]



Monied Individual - Part XV
“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]



“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]


Monied Individual - Part XIV
This wasn’t how an ex-companion did things. Perhaps she’d been hanging around a certain Firefly captain for too long. He listened at keyholes as if it were a competitive sport.

[Maya. Post-BDM. The crew go to the Spring Lights Procession, Mal gives some good news, and Sir Warwick puts in another cameo. Read, enjoy, review!]


Monied Individual - Part XIII
“It’s a family tradition, Mal.” Eugenia patted his hand. “No matter who marries into us, whatever their name, the moment they say ‘I do’ they become Rostovs. So you are Malcolm Rostov. It has a fine ring to it, don’t you think?”

[Maya. Post-BDM. A chapter of Mal and Freya, and a small revelation from Eugenia Rostov. Read, enjoy, review!]


Monied Individual - Part XII
Hank had to shake his head. In this day and age, when the entire output of every quill, pen and two-fingered monkey thumping on a keyboard was available on the Cortex, this statement of wealth and power was way over the top. He loved the feel of paper himself, turning the pages to get to the next twist, scanning the print to try and guess the next turn, but even his collection wouldn’t fill more than a shelf here.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank thinks about Zoe, Zoe thinks about Hank, while Freya and Mal have lunch. Read, enjoy, review!]