Underground - Chapter 4
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.


Summery – Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Disclaimer – They all belong to Joss, I just enjoy hanging out in their midst.

Pairings - Its all fairly cannon.

Setting – During the series, in between Trash and Heart of Gold

This story is a hundred times better because of all the wonderful betatype advice given to me by Mal4prez. I throw many thankyous in her direction.

My story line indicates nine segments: prologue, chapters 1-7 and an epilogue. I have included more about the storyline and my motivation for writing in my blog.

If you haven’t read the beginning, I’d suggest starting at the Prologue

Thanks so much to all of you who have taken the time to leave me such shiny comments. It just makes my heart go pitter pat to read them.


Underground Chapter 4

“Back so soon, Captain?” Kaylee said as she heard the hoof beats slow to a stop outside the engine where she was working. She assumed it was the captain and that beautiful client he had got himself, although it seemed like they were back awfully early. It’d only been a few hours since they left.

She began to crawl out of the engine, but stopped when she got a look at the horses - something was wrong. They were the wrong color. From her vantage point inside the engine block she could tell that one was roan and the other was black with white socks. Katra’s horses had both been the color of golden hay. Slowly, Kaylee slid back into the engine casing, but she was too late. She had already been seen and heard.

“Well, looky here, Vetch. It seems we found ourselves just what we need. A pretty little mechanic girl.”

Kaylee felt someone grab her ankles and try to pull her from the engine. She grabbed desperately for the compressor coil but couldn’t get a good hold; the man pulling her ankles was too strong. She screamed, but there was no one outside the ship to hear. Kicking as hard as she could, she attempted to get free and crawl back inside the engine, but the confined space didn’t allow her enough leverage to get a off a good whack. At last, she grabbed onto the jug nuts, but they were small and her hands slipped off. The force pulling her ankles was unrelenting. She screamed even louder as a sharp bit of metal on the edge of one of the jug nuts sliced open her left hand.

The last thing Kaylee saw was a dark face surrounded by brown curly hair. Then she felt something press against her arm and she was surrounded by blackness.


The clouds drifted lazily over the cottonwoods as Simon sat holding his sister. He imagined them changing from a ship not unlike Serenity, to a dinosaur, to something that looked a lot like a neuro-stabilizer.

River’s breathing had slowed for the moment; but as Simon looked at her he wondered just how long the calm would last. If only he actually had a neuro-stabalizer, like the one he had imagined in the clouds, then he could keep her calm for the rest of the day.

“She’s gone!” River stood up, suddenly dislodging herself from Simon’s arms and from the porch swing where they’d been sitting. She was shaking again, her body exuding the agitation within her.

“Who’s gone, River?” Simon asked, trying to keep his sister calm. Watching her go from one psychotic episode to the next had made this a long, long day, and the day was only half over.

“Gone! She was there, shining and laughing, thinking of you, and now she’s gone.”

Simon stared in confusion at his sister for several moments, but then his attention was distracted to the two golden horses racing up towards the door of the house. The man who reined in one of them was very familiar.

“Doctor, you mind explaining what you’re doing sitting on the porch of this here ranch house?” Mal asked

“We were just finishing lunch,” Simon responded. “What are you doing here?” Simon watched the captain and the young lady accompanying him descend from their horses. River stood by the rail; Simon could feel her still shaking next to him. Slowly so as not to scare her, he put his arms around her and grabbed her wrists, hoping the captain and the woman accompanying him. wouldn’t notice her agitation.

Mal stared at Simon. “Captains don’t need to explain their comings and goings.”

“Perhaps not,” Shepherd Book said as he stepped out the doorway from the house. Simon noticed that the Shepherd was short of breath, as if he’d heard the hoof beats and hastily run out to see if the visitors meant trouble. “But a man ought to explain what he might be doing bringing a beautiful young girl out to an empty ranch house without a chaperone. Need I remind you about the special hell, Captain?”

“Caught in the web,” River interrupted. “She’s caught. Can’t get free, they’ll put her in the deep dark ground.” The girl was shaking as she spoke; she was quickly becoming hysterical.

“Doctor, do something about your sister, then somebody tell me what in the ruttin’ hell you’re all doing at the ranch house owned by our client!” Mal demanded.

“Shepherd, who’s come to visit?” Sharla Trine asked as she approached the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron. It looked like Sharla had taken the time to clean up the lunch dishes before greeting the new arrivals.

“Oh my, Mrs. Trine, I had no idea this was a ranch day.” Katra stepped through the crowd gathered on the porch and gave the motherly figure a hug. “I would have told you I was planning on coming out today. How’s the garden?”

“The garden’s coming along nicely, dear,” Sharla replied. “Who’s the young man?” Inwardly, Simon experienced a profound feeling of relief that the other men on the porch looked as dumfounded he felt at that particular moment, for once he was not the only one slow on the uptake. They all stood, momentarily frozen as the women filled each other in on the events of the morning. Katra had just begun introductions when River interrupted again, her voice pitched just below a yell.

“Kaylee’s gone! Her eyes aren’t shinin’. Her wrench ain’t turnin’.”

“Doctor, you need to be seein’ to your sister,” Mal said as soon as he could be overheard above the yelling.

Simon’s attempts at keeping her calm didn’t seem to work. He pulled his sister closer, trying to calm her. “River, Kaylee is not gone,” he whispered in her ear. “She’s back at the ship, taking apart the engine. Remember when we left, Kaylee said it would take her all day and tomorrow to put the engine back together?”

“Gone, black and cold,” River replied, her voice trembling.

“River, I’m gong to give you a smoother, come in here and lay down.” Simon escorted his sister into one of the upstairs bedrooms and made her sit. The floral coverlet of the bed wrinkled ever so slightly when she sat – it occurred to him how slight and vulnerable she was. He watched her take the pill he gave her, making sure she swallowed the medication.

***** ‘Simon really is a dummy,’ River thought to herself after he left. ‘He wasn’t there. Has no idea how good you had to be to survive.’

Suddenly, she was no longer lying down on a floral coverlet. Her skin itched against the wool blankets all the girls at the academy had been given to sleep with. She looked across the room at Jessie, her roommate, a blond girl a year her senior. Jessie smiled at her and winked.

“Tonight we should conference.”

“How?” River replied. “They’re coming with the pills now. We’ll be unconscious before they finish the hall.”

Jessie smiled at her, spilling her words in a hurried whisper. “When they come, place your pill under your tongue and then swallow.” She demonstrated a very realistic swallow.

When the attendant came with her medication, River attempted this simple deception. It wasn’t perfect, but the attendant was distracted and didn’t notice her swallow was a touch rushed and her eyelids fell a bit too quickly. She feigned sleep until he moved on to the next room.

When River opened her eyes she was again in the upstairs bedroom of the old farmhouse, laying on a floral coverlet. She listened carefully to the air. Simon had rejoined the others on the porch. No one of consequence was around the back side of the house.

Silently, she opened the window and crawled out, scaling the flower covered lattice work below the window. She glanced towards the house momentarily then set off toward the hills behind the garden.

No one would believe her, but River wasn’t about to let her friend be thrown into darkness. If she wasn’t able to convince the others that Kaylee was in trouble, she was all Kaylee had. Spiders needed air and don’t do well in the dark; they don’t like it when they’re caught in other’s webs.

****** Sorla was bored stiff by the house tour and the old people talk. As Shepherd Stevenson led them up the back staircase, she hung back. River’s good looking brother was the last to ascend the stairs. Simon was so focused on his sister that he didn’t notice that Sorla wasn’t following him. Instead she quietly went the other direction, out the kitchen door and into the garden.

She sat down among the herbs, contemplating the stupidity of these people. ‘They lead such exciting lives, flying around in spaceships and such. Yet here all they talk about is gardening and houses. Who cares if Katra’s grandfather had settled here 80 years ago? The past was dead and gone. What they should be thinking about is how to help Katra get those huh choo-shang tza-jiao duh tzang-huo for taking her mine.’

Sorla’s resentful thoughts swirled around her mind for what seemed like hours, though she realized it had probably been less time than it takes tea to boil. She had heard the front door open and close a while back, and had heard some riders approach. She ignored them, choosing instead to dig her hands in the dirt of the herb bed. If anyone noticed her she would appear like she was working, and she wouldn’t get scolded. Not that it would matter; they were all arguing about something on the porch, she could hear the voices, just not well enough to understand what they were saying.

Sorla looked up from the herbs contemplating where she would have the best opportunity to eavesdrop. She glanced up just in time to see River climb out an upstairs window and descend the latticework.

‘Well, at least not everyone from that ship are old fogies.’ Sorla thought to herself. ‘Maybe River has some spunk.’

Never wanting to miss an adventure, Sorla followed the girl away from the house.

******* Mal watched Simon, joined by Shepherd Wormfood, return to the porch and the gathering of chattering folks. Enough was enough; he needed to find out how all these people knew his crew and how they all knew his client. Listening to the women gossip and River scream certainly had not gotten him anywhere.

“Tian xiaode bi zuie,” Mal said above all the voices talking at once. “Someone is going to tell me what is going on.” He looked to each of his crewmembers in turn until Book finally spoke.

“It’s not that difficult to figure out, Captain,” Shepherd Book said when Mal was done yelling. “This young lady - I’m guessing you’re Katra Dupree?” Book looked at Katra, who nodded.

“Sharla told me last night that she boards at the same house as my friend Wormfood.” Mal just had to chuckle at the expression on Katra’s face as Book said his friends name.

“Wormfood Shepherd?” Katra interjected, trying hard not to burst into giggles. “Your friend calls you Wormfood? How’d you ever get a name like Wormfood?”

“You’ve known me for three years and you still have to ask that?” Shepherd Stevenson replied with a smile.

“Captain,” Book continued, “Last night at dinner, Mrs. Trine asked River if she wanted to come to the ranch today to work in the garden with her daughter Sorla. They are about the same age. Sharla told me she was hoping River might be a good influence on Sorla.”

Both Mal and Simon looked at Shepherd Book as if saying ‘you’ve got to be kidding’.

“Speaking of Sorla, she seems to have slipped away.” Book paused for a few minutes as they all looked around for Sharla’s youngest daughter. Finally giving up on finding her in the immediate vicinity, Book continued, “This morning, when Sorla came to collect River and I, Simon decided it would be prudent if he accompanied us.”

“And, I’m glad I did,” Simon said to the captain. “River has had a number of episodes today, and they seem to be getting worse as the day progresses. She is sleeping upstairs in one of the bedrooms. I gave her something to knock her out. Hopefully when she wakes up she will be more rational. And you, Captain, what are you doing at this particular ranch?”

“I’ve hired Katra on as another gun hand,” Mal replied. He stumbled over his words just at bit as Katra slipped her hand into his, looking up at him with a loving smile. He returned the look a bit late, remembering belatedly that he was supposed to be in love with her, luckily Katra seemed not to notice.

“She’s shippin’ out with us at the end of the week. Katra wanted to show me her ranch before we left. Said there were some things she wanted to collect.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea with River and-” Simon began, but he was cut off.

“Sure as rain, Doc.” Mal wanted to be honest with Simon and tell him the whole story, but it was so fun to confuse him. Besides, there’d be time to set Simon straight later.

“Mal, I’m glad you’re here. My friend Wormfood was telling me an interesting story last night. How about we go into the kitchen and I’ll tell you about it.” Shepherd Book said gesturing for them all to enter the house.

Within a few minutes, everyone was sitting around the kitchen table enjoying a glass of cold tea and the plate of sweet cakes which Sharla had insisted on getting everyone before she would allow any of them to discuss anything serious.

“Captain, has Katra told you about the mine on this ranch?” Shepherd Book began.

“That she has, Shepherd. Says control of it was stolen from her papa by some disreputable sorts.” Mal wondered just what Shepherd Book knew, and how his client would want this played.

“Has she told you it’s being worked by slaves?”

“Not in so many words.”

“Not everyone working that mine is a slave,” Katra said indignantly. Mal could tell from the tone in her voice she was clinging desperately to the notion that everyone in that mine was there willingly. .

“But Katra - many are. We discussed this last month,” Shepherd Stevenson said. “We have to get those people out of that mine and shut it down. I know that your daddy put all he had into it, but we can’t let it continue. If you’re truly leaving, then this is the time to do it.”

“Oh, I’m truly leavin’ Shepherd,” Katra replied. “Four days hence. And there’s nothing I’d enjoy more than seeing that mine blown to kingdom come. But last we talked you couldn’t figure how to destroy the mine, completely, without getting everyone killed.”

“You know that I’ve been working on sneaking people out for a while now. There’s a back door to that mine. One no one knows about. We can go in, get everyone out, and set charges. Then blow the mine once you are all off world. I haven’t done it yet, because I wasn’t sure just where to set the charges, to do it right. But now that Derrial has arrived we can. I believe he can tell us just where we need those charges to be, if we want the mine blown beyond recovery.”

Mal stared at Shepherd Book. “And just what would a Shepherd know about setting explosives?”

“I keep telling you Mal, I wasn’t always a Shepherd.” Turning to Katra, Book said “Did your father keep any plans to that mine?”

“I believe there are some in the study, just a second.” Katra excused herself to find the plans.

****** Several hours later, they were still sitting around the table planning just where to place all the explosives in the mine, and how they were gong to get the workers out, when they heard shouting.

“Shepherd Stevenson! Shepherd Stevenson!” Sorla came running into the kitchen. Her cheeks were red and she was gasping for air. The people at the table could tell she had run long and hard.

“Child what is it? Sit down and catch your breath!”

“It’s River! I watched her sneak out the parlor window. I thought she was just sneaking out for fun, you know. That’s something I would do if I was told to lay down. But she walked off into the hills. She kept muttering nonsense, stuff about Kaylee and spiders. Once she shouted, ‘How am I supposed to fix this here machine while I am chained to the wall?’ But she wasn’t chained to the wall; she was walkin’ through the woods. Shepherd, she went into the mine. You know - through that secret shaft, the one I’m not supposed to know about. I followed her for awhile. I almost took a wrong turn in there, trying to follow. I didn’t want to get lost. River, she acted like she knew exactly where she was going. I figured it would bet better to come back and get help, so I ran out as fast as I could to tell you.”

“Sorla, honey, you’ve done good,” Shepherd Stevenson said, patting her on the back.

Simon stood up and ran to the parlor to check to see if River was there. Upon coming back, he said “She’s gone, although that smoother I gave her should have knocked her out. I am not sure how this could have happened.”

Something in Sorla’s words finally clicked inside Mal’s brain. “Katra - do you have cortex access here at the ranch?” Katra nodded, gesturing for Mal to follow her into the study.

The wave to Serenity was picked up almost immediately; Wash’s face filled the screen, looking as if he had just run to the cortex screen from somewhere else on the ship.

“How are things going back at the ship Wash?” Mal asked as if nothing was wrong.

“Just shiny captain, Zoë and I have had a nice relaxing day.”

“Kaylee get you to take her to Triton City for parts?”

“Kaylee?” Wash questioned “I haven’t seen her all day; I figured she was with Simon and River.”

“Nope, Simon, and Book are right here with me. River’s disappeared and, apparently, so has Kaylee. Get yourself and your wife in that shuttle and come out here ma-shong. And see if you can find Jayne. I believe we’re going to need him too.”

Chapter 5


Sunday, June 17, 2007 3:48 PM


Once again, things have taken a turn for the pear-shaped when it comes to jobs and our BDHs. Just hope the crew doesn't muck up whatever plan River's got brewing in that mind of hers;)

Excellent work and I can't wait for more, Desertgirl:D



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