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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Following EBB & FLOW, PROGRAMMING and LIFE, the next story in the Mal/Freya line. Fairly long first part to set the scene ... an old friend of Mal's brings bad news. Please let me know what you think, as this one is taking me longer than usual - as well as being harder!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1140 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Mal? You got any ammunition left?” Vinnie asked.
“Some. Not much.” Mal glanced over the top of the dugout. “Why? You thinkin’ we’re gonna need it soon?”
“They’re somewhat pissed at us,” Vinnie laughed. “Don’t think they’re gonna leave it be at this, do you?”
Mal grinned. “Probably right. Are you out?”
“Pretty much. I could use the gun like a club, but somehow I don’t think that’s gonna work for long.”
Mal reached into the pocket of his brown coat. “Here.” He handed over two clips. “We share.”
“And it’s still Sergeant to you, Private.”
Vinnie laughed again. “We don’t get out of here it won’t really matter, will it?”
“And when we do I’ll put you on report for insubordination.”
“Fine. Then you can put me up against a wall and shoot me.”
A slew of bullets whined overhead. “That is a distinct possibility,” Mal agreed. “Tzao gao, why can’t they just go play somewhere else?”
“You were the one said we should come through here,” Vinnie pointed out. “I told you it was a bad idea.”
“You still volunteered.”
“Yeah, but that’s ‘cos I'm stupid. What’s your excuse?”
Before Mal could formulate a suitable putdown, a figure rose up behind them, hefting something onto its shoulder. There was a burst of sound and a flash, then a deep rumble. The ground shuddered.
“Are you intending to sit on your backside all day, sir?” Zoe asked, looking down at them, still with the missile launcher poised.
“You are one beautiful woman,“ Vinnie said, looking her up and down.
She stared at him. “And I intend to stay that way, so I'm heading back. Are you coming?”
Mal grinned. “Lead on, Corporal.”
Zoe shook her head in despair at them. One of these days she wouldn’t be there to bail them out, and then where would they be? She turned on her heel and walked away.
“Think she’s angry with us?” Vinnie asked.
“Can’t be angry with me,” Mal pointed out. “I outrank her.”
“Oh. Must be just me then.”
They dropped behind a small wall and found another soldier waiting for them. “Hey, Sarge,” he said, smiling brightly. “You getting my brother into trouble?”
“Oh, it was no trouble,” Mal said. “It was real easy.”
“Sir?” Zoe materialised at his elbow again. “They are coming?”
“Right.” Mal nodded and hunched down, following his corporal, running along behind the wall back towards their platoon. “How’d you know we were here?” he asked.
“Harry told me,” Zoe said, over her shoulder.
“Sorry, Mal, but I’ve never been able to say no to a beautiful woman. Particularly when she’s holding a gun on me,” Vinnie’s brother said apologetically.
“I already told her she’s beautiful,” Vinnie pointed out, sloshing through a puddle of half-melted snow.
“Woman can’t have too many compliments,” Harry said. “Otherwise they’re liable to shoot you.”
Mal grinned in the darkness.
“Can you see it?”
“Yes, I can see it.”
“Just take hold of it.”
“I’ve got hold of it.”
“Now, pull it.”
“I’m pulling. Nothing’s happening.”
“Give it a moment.”
Mal, stepping out of the dining area, paused to listen to the conversation.
“Kaylee, I’m giving it – no, wait, it’s moving.”
“Just twist it to one side.”
He couldn’t help it. He walked slowly towards the engine room.
“Now take hold of the other end and screw it in.” Kaylee was talking to Freya’s legs where they stuck out from under the coil housing.
“I’m trying – tzao gao!” Freya yelled.
“What? What is it?”
Underneath the engine, Freya touched her forehead where the business end of the regulator had just sprung free from her grip and hit her. She could feel blood. “It didn’t want to go in,” she said, wiping it away with the back of her hand.
“It screws,” Kaylee said. “It doesn’t push.”
“Yeah, I can see that. It just doesn’t -”
“Don’t cross thread it!”
Freya rolled out on the trolley, the offending regulator in her hand. “Do you wanna get down here and do this?” she asked.
“Are you ladies enjoying yourselves?” Mal asked.
“Hi, Cap’n!” Kaylee said brightly. “Just getting Freya used to my girl before I get too big to crawl inside her.”
“And you volunteered for this?” Mal asked, leaning on the doorway and crossing his arms.
“Not exactly volunteered,” Freya admitted.
“You said no, I’m not sure I like the idea of Jayne handling my stuff, and Hank said he would but if he had to fly the ship at the same time …” Kaylee shrugged.
“I was sort of ‘it’ by default,” Freya explained.
“Um, Frey? The regulator? If you don’t get it replaced the engine will blow up?” Kaylee said quietly.
“Okay, okay, I’m going.” Freya slid back under. “But I’m not happy. I am not an engineer.”
“No, you ain’t. You’re also pregnant, so I’d take it as a kindness if you were careful under there,” Mal said. “And get that cut seen to by the doc when you’re through.”
“Cut?” Kaylee asked.
“Mal?” Hank interrupted from the other end of the galley. “Got a wave for you.”
“Who is it?”
“Some guy name of Vinnie?”
“You know, she has a great backside,” Vinnie said conversationally as they traversed the gully.
“Her frontside ain’t that bad, either,” Harry agreed. “You think the Sergeant’s even noticed?”
“I’d’a said he was dead from the waist down if it weren’t for that filly he bedded a while back.”
“Who was that?”
“Don’t know her name. Just saw him saying goodbye to her the next morning, ‘fore we shipped out. Tall, long brown hair. Kinda pretty.”
“When was this?”
“Just after he got made up.”
“Yeah, and how’d that happen?” Harry wanted to know. “How come he gets his sergeant’s braids and we didn’t?”
“Because he knew when to keep his mouth shut,” Mal said, coming up behind them on silent feet.
“Never noticed that myself,” Vinnie said grinning. “Never was such a man for giving his opinion when officers were around.”
“I have a notion to shoot you myself, and not wait for the firing squad to do it,” Mal threatened.
“So who was she, Mal?” Harry asked, going back to the more interesting subject. “This woman Vinnie saw you with.”
“Yeah. She looked kinda nice. Not your sort at all.” Mal glared at him, but Vinnie went on, “Musta been a soldier, though, ‘cos our Mal here don’t go with whores. Against his religion or some such.”
Harry grinned. “Was that it? Was she an officer who was slumming it?”
Mal sighed. They weren’t gonna stop until he gave them something. “Her name’s Freya. With the 22nd. And I ain’t likely to see her again.”
“How come, Sarge? She didn’t ring your bell or something?”
“Or did she manage to play a full symphony on you, Mal?” Vinnie asked, surprising Mal with his astuteness. “Is that it?”
They were passing through the remains of an old building, no roof but tall stone walls reaching up into the grey sky.
“Is our sergeant in love?” Harry added, a wide grin on his face, about to make some other comment when a mortar exploded the other side of the wall, blowing dust and debris over them, making them duck down, coughing.
As the sound died away, amid the ringing in his ears Mal could hear something else, a creaking and groaning, as if something big were dying. He looked up and realised the wall above him was leaning over, and as he watched the first stones began to slip.
He shoved Vinnie and Harry hard in their backs, pushing them forwards, beginning to fall himself, then the light went out as he was buried beneath the stones.
Mal broke into a smile and hurried back through the galley, jumping up the steps onto the bridge. A pale, rather thin face was looking at him out of the vid screen. “Vinnie!” Mal said, grinning. “Hey, it’s been a terrible long time since we caught up last.”
Vinnie nodded. “That it has. Heard tell you were putting down on Aegis?”
“Just for a few hours. Got something to deliver.”
Vinnie grinned briefly. “Ain’t gonna ask what. But I am in the mood to be asking a favour.”
“Can you give me a ride?”
“Sure,” Mal said, nodding. “Where you headed?”
“It … doesn’t really matter, Mal. Just away from here.”
“Have you got yourself in a little trouble?” Mal asked, chuckling to himself.
“It seems as if I might,” Vinnie agreed.
“We’re touching down in …” Mal looked at Hank in query.
“Four hours,” his pilot said quietly.
“’Bout four hours, just outside of town. Can you meet us there?”
Vinnie smiled, more relaxed now. “I’ll be there.”
“Great.” Mal leaned forward. “Harry with you? He still owes me for that bet he lost.”
“No. He’s not. Bit … tied up at the moment.”
Mal wondered at the sudden tightness in his friend’s face, but just said, “Next time, maybe. See you in four hours.”
“See you then.”
The screen went blank and Hank switched it off. “I gather that's someone you know?” he asked.
“You could say that. We went through a lot in the war.”
“Who did, sir?” Zoe asked, stepping onto the bridge.
Mal turned a happy face to her. “Zoe, we’re gonna see an old friend.”
A voice penetrated the dark, and Mal tried to move. Nothing happened. “Tah muh duh,” he whispered, then tried to take a deep breath. Something stabbed him in the ribs and he cried out.
“Did you hear that?” Vinnie asked, pausing as he hefted one of the large stones.
“Yep,” Harry agreed. “Sounds like the Sergeant ain’t dead after all.”
“So I ain’t gonna be able to run off with his Corporal?”
“Don’t look like it.”
The woman herself glared at him. “Slowly,” she ordered. “Otherwise the rest of this is likely to come down and finish the job.”
“Yes ma’am,” Vinnie said, more relieved than he cared to admit that Mal seemed to be alive at least.
They began moving the stones again, some of them so big that it took all three of them to roll them out of the way. Gradually they got closer to the base of the wall.
“Vinnie!” Harry said, pointing.
“I see it!” It was a corner of fabric, brown and grimy. “Mal!” He went to move another block but the wall above creaked and dust sifted down onto them.
“We need to prop this up,” Zoe said, looking around. “If we move anything else it’s liable to fall.”
“What do you suggest we use?” Harry asked, letting his frustration show. “It ain’t like we came prepared with anything.”
Vinnie spoke up. “Harry, over there.” He pointed. The remains of a tree, long dead, its branches stripped until only the stump of a trunk remained.
“It ain’t long enough,” Harry said. “It won’t reach over him.”
Mal groaned again.
“Then I’ll hold it.” Vinnie ran to the tree, trying to drag it. It was heavier than it looked, solid, pock-marked by countless bullets. “Harry.”
His brother nodded and hurried to his side. Between them they lifted the trunk up, carrying it back. With great care they hefted it into position on the wall at shoulder height, taking the strain.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Harry said to Zoe, his face already red and perspiring with the effort.
Zoe didn’t answer, just ducked underneath and began moving the stones. It only took a short while and Mal was finally in view.
“Sir?” she said, touching his wrist.
“Zoe,” he muttered as she checked him for injuries. “Get me outta here.”
More dust filtered down.
“We can’t hold it,” Vinnie said through gritted teeth. “Move him!”
“He’s hurt,” Zoe said, blood on her hand.
“He’ll be dead if you don’t.” The trunk shifted in his hands. “Now, gorramit, Zoe!”
She got her hands under Mal’s shoulders and pulled. Mal yelled as whatever was in his chest was ripped free and he was dragged out of the darkness.
“Can’t hold it …” Harry said, and as he spoke the rest of the wall groaned, shuddered and crashed down into the spot where their Sergeant had just been lying. Dust and old mortar billowed out, covering them as Zoe lay across Mal’s body, protecting him.
Vinnie, coughing and wiping streaming eyes, looked at Harry to make sure he was okay, then hurried across to Mal. “He all right?” he asked.
Zoe got to her knees, opening Mal’s coat. “Looks like he landed on something went into his chest,” she said, fingering the hole in Mal’s shirt and skin before tugging off her neckerchief to pack the wound. Mal groaned again. “But he’s alive.”
“Best get him back, then,” Vinnie said. “We’ll carry him, you take point.”
Zoe nodded and picked up her missile launcher.
“You know,” Harry said, getting hold of Mal’s knees, “he ain’t gonna be pleased about this.”
“What, that we saved his life?” Vinnie asked, lifting the Sergeant under his arms.
“Yeah, but I was thinking more of the fact that we ain’t ever gonna let him forget it.”
Vinnie grinned evilly. “That we ain’t.”
“And they haven’t,” Mal said ruefully. “Every time we get together they go on about how they saved my life, totally forgetting that I saved their first.”
Freya smiled. “Hey, I’m just glad they did.”
“Me too. Weirdest thing, though,” Mal said, shaking his head. “Just dreamed about them last night.”
“Is River rubbing off on you?” Freya asked. “In the nicest possible way, of course.”
“Apart from wanting to rinse my mind out with soap, no, I don’t think I'm psychic. Just …”
“They sound like a pair of rascals,” Freya said, deftly changing the subject.
Mal laughed. “That they are. They’ve got into more trouble between them than the rest of us combined. Half the time they’re running from some trouble or other, and the rest they’re planning how to make a fortune. Although it tends to be the other way around.”
“They don’t sound like they’ve changed.”
“Nope, that’s for sure. There’s an old saying about a leopard and his spots, and I can’t help but think whoever originally coined it had Harry and Vinnie in mind.” His good mood dropped a little. “Which is why I can’t conjure Vinnie being on his own. They’re a double act. One without the other is like …”
“Kaylee without Simon?” Freya suggested.
“Yeah. It’s possible, but not likely.” Mal shook his head.
“Well, in a couple of hours you can find out for sure,” Freya said. “So tell me about some of their other adventures.”
Mal looked up, a grin suffusing his face. “Well, there was this time on New London, when we were all having a little R&R …”
As the cargo ramp lowered, Mal was already waiting in the bay, Jayne behind him packing the crates onto the old mule. Freya came out of the infirmary.
“You sure you don’t want me to go with him?” she asked Mal.
“It’s an easy drop,” Mal said, staring out into the evening.
Jayne looked up, adjusting his gun belt. “Anything you want me to get while I’m gone?” he asked.
“Nope,” Mal replied. “Just deliver the goods and get our payment.”
“Won’t be a problem,” Jayne said. “Hackett ain’t one to try and get the smarts all of a sudden.” He climbed aboard the battered vehicle, gunning it into life, before pulling out down the ramp.
Freya watched him go. “I’m surprised that thing still works.”
“Got a lot of affection for that mule,” Mal said. “Got strong feelings for the vehicle, too.”
Freya stared at him then laughed. “I’ll tell him you said that.”
“That would be mutiny,” Mal pointed out, smiling.
As the sound of the mule disappeared into the fast encroaching darkness, a figure stepped out into the dusk into the light from the bay.
“Hi, Mal,” he said, walking towards Serenity.
Mal stepped down the ramp. “Vinnie. Good to see you.”
There was a moment’s awkwardness, then they hugged, manly hugs that broke apart almost immediately. Freya hid a smile.
“You found us okay?” Mal went on.
“Don’t get that many ships landing here,” Vinnie said, “’Specially one as beat up as this,” he added, looking up at the bulk of the Firefly.
“I gather you don’t want a ride?” Mal asked, raising an eyebrow.
Vinnie laughed. “But I ‘spect she’s a good boat,” he added.
“That she is.” Mal grinned. “But where are my manners.” He moved to one side so that Vinnie could see Freya stepping down to join then. “Vinnie, this is Freya. Freya, Vinnie.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” Vinnie said, leaning over her hand.
“Please, just Freya. Calling me ma’am just makes me feel old.”
“I was brought up to respect women,” Vinnie pointed out. “But I like the name Freya.” He smiled. “Seems to me I’ve heard it someplace before.” He glanced at Mal. “This her?” he asked.
“It is,” Mal said, smiling a little.
“Thought she looked familiar.” Vinnie turned back to Freya. “I like what you’ve done with your hair.”
“Do we … have we met?” Freya asked, surprised.
“Not personally, no,” Vinnie said. “But I saw you once.”
“I’ll explain later,” Mal put in quickly. “But let’s get you settled in first. This all you got?” He looked down at the small bag sitting in the dust.
“That’s it. I travel light, makes it easier for a quick getaway.”
“Sounds like you’ve had some interesting times,” Mal said, grinning and patting the other man on the back.
“You could say that.”
“Well, you can put your stuff in one of the guest rooms, then we’ll have a drink.” He picked up the bag and they walked up the ramp.
“A drink would be good,” Vinnie agreed. “I kinda ran out of money a while back, so ain’t had enough for luxuries.”
“Don’t tell me, Private,” came Zoe’s voice from the catwalk above. “You lost it in a card game.”
Vinnie looked up, his face lighting up in genuine pleasure. “Corporal, you are a sight for sore eyes,” he admitted. “And you’re more than a little right. Got me into a mite of trouble over not being able to pay a debt, so I was glad when I heard you was landing here.”
“How did you find out?” Mal asked as his first mate walked down to join them.
“It’s a small place, Mal,” Vinnie said. “Everyone knows.”
“Seems like Hackett’s reputation for not keeping his mouth shut is well founded, sir,” Zoe added, joining them.
“Best we don’t hang around then,” Mal said. “Soon as Jayne’s back, we’ll be leaving.”
“That the big guy on that buggy?” Vinnie asked. “I saw him leave.”
“Ain’t Jayne a girl’s name?”
Mal laughed. “If you want to lose all your teeth, just bring that up with him. Only let me know first ‘cos I’d like to stand well back and take notes.” He nodded towards the back of the bay. “Let’s get you settled.”
As they passed the infirmary, Simon stepped out, nearly colliding with Vinnie.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the young doctor said, then glanced at Mal. “I didn’t know we were taking on passengers,” he said.
“Vinnie ain’t a passenger. More like a stowaway,” Mal joked. “Vinnie, this is our medic, Simon.”
“You make enough money to pay a medic?” Vinnie asked, surprised.
“Sometimes,” Mal admitted. “But he’s been useful. Once or twice.”
“I guess in your line of work it’s probably worth it,” Vinnie agreed.
“I’ll have you know my line of work is perfectly legitimate,” Mal said. “Most of the time,” he amended quickly.
“Really?” Simon asked. “You should have told me. I wouldn’t have been worrying we might all get bound by the Alliance,” he added dead pan.
“Doc?” Mal said. “Go find something to do. Count bandages or something.”
“Yes. Wouldn’t want to go short,” he agreed. “Might cause a problem on one of your ‘legitimate’ enterprises.”
Mal glared at him, Vinnie chuckling, until he went back into the infirmary, then they carried on to the guest area.
Vinnie looked around his temporary quarters. “Not as grand as I’ve been used to,” he said, turning to Mal, “but I guess it will do.”
“Well, them luxury liners do take a lot of the fun out of travelling, don’t they?” Mal agreed, smiling.
“That they do.” Vinnie grinned in return. “Thanks, Mal. You know I ain’t got the coin to pay for my passage, so I’m grateful.”
“Wouldn’t take it if you had,” Mal assured him, grasping him by the shoulder. “Feng du, Vinnie, you been sick or something? You’re all skin and bone.”
Vinnie shrugged him off, but nodded. “I’ve been on the move a while, guess I haven’t remembered to eat as regularly as I should. And the lack of cashy money …”
“Well, the food on board ain’t maybe up to the standard you’re used to, but it’ll fill your belly, keep body and soul together.” Mal grinned then noticed Simon was still hanging around the door to the infirmary. “Zoe, take our ‘guest’ upstairs and get him something to eat,” he said. “I’m sure you can rustle him something up.”
Serenity’s first mate gave him one of her looks, but didn’t answer. Instead she turned to Vinnie. “Come on. I’ll see what I can find.”
Mal watched them go up the stairs, then turned to Simon. “What is it, doctor?”
“Do you know where your friend’s been?” the young man asked.
“Ain’t had a chance to ask yet,” Mal admitted. “Why?
“He’s malnourished,” Simon said quietly. “His skin tone, the colour … I’d say he’s been in prison.”
“Jail?” Mal was surprised. “Vinnie ain’t stupid enough to get himself caught.”
“I can only tell you what I see. But I don’t think that’s the only problem. I think he’s sick, too. If you could get him to let me examine him I could tell for sure.”
“I can ask,” Mal said. “But you sure you need to?”
“He’s not a well man, Mal. You’ve got two pregnant women on board. You want him bringing in something that might harm them?” Simon’s face was impassive, but there was something in his eyes …
“I’ll bring him down, soon as he’s had something to eat,” Mal agreed.
“Don’t leave it too long,” Simon advised. “I’ll try and keep Kaylee and Freya out of the way.”
Zoe had found some stew for Vinnie left over from the earlier meal, and she’d reheated it along with some bread. He was wolfing it down.
“Good?” Mal asked as he stepped into the galley.
“Great,” Vinnie said around a mouthful. “Been a while since I had a home-cooked meal.” He grinned up at Zoe.
“Don’t look at me,” she said. “I just warmed it up.”
“So who’s the master chef?” Vinnie asked, dipping bread into the gravy.
“Freya,” Mal said. “Stew’s about the only thing she can cook without actually poisoning us all.”
“Hell, Mal, you’d better marry her before she can get away,” Vinnie said, laughing.
“It’s crossed my mind,” Mal admitted, ignoring the sharp look his first mate gave him. Instead he sat down. “So, you wanna tell me what’s going on?”
“Going on?” Vinnie swallowed and shook his head. “Nothing’s going on, Mal. What makes you think there is?”
“Well, for a start, Harry ain’t with you. And Simon says you’re a sick man.”
Zoe straightened up.
“What does he know?” Vinnie scoffed.
“He’s a doctor, Vinnie. Not just some idiot who’s good at sticking a weave on a graze. A bona fide, actual doctor. And if he'd said you’re dead, I'd be burying you.” Mal leaned forward. “So I’ll ask you again. What’s going on?”
“And I told you, nothing.” He reached for another hunk of bread but Mal grabbed his arm.
“So what’s this?” he asked, pulling Vinnie’s sleeve back to reveal a blue scab on the inside of his wrist.
Vinnie pulled away, tugging his sleeve back into place. “It’s nothing,” he said.
“You wanna try that again?”
“Mal, you ain’t my sergeant no more. You can’t order me to do anything,” Vinnie pointed out.
“No, no, you’re right. I can’t. But I can put you right back out on Aegis,” Mal countered. “Jayne ain’t back yet – be real easy.” He glared at the other man. “Vinnie, I got people on this boat I don’t want to get sick. So tell me.”
“They won’t get sick,” Vinnie insisted.
“Then what is it?”
Vinnie stared at him, then pushed back his plate. “It never goes away, Mal,” he said finally, raising his sleeve so the others could get a better look. “Oh, it heals for a while, then the skin dries up and it opens up again.”
Mal and Zoe stared at the sore. “How’d you get it?”
“If you’d stayed you’d’a found out,” Vinnie said cryptically. “Got a couple round my neck, too.” He pulled the collar away, and there were two smaller areas, but equally painful looking. “The pacifiers rub you raw, then the dust gets in and this is what you end up with.”
“Pacifiers?” Mal asked, glancing at Zoe.
“Yeah. It’s how they keep control, Mal. Those damn guards in the mines on Tetris.”
to be continued ...
Wednesday, October 25, 2006 6:40 AM
Thursday, October 26, 2006 5:26 PM
Saturday, October 28, 2006 6:22 AM
Friday, July 06, 2007 9:48 AM
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