BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JANE0904

Slender Thread - Part II
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. Something hangs out in the black, and it spells trouble for Serenity. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2019    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Mal jumped the steps to the bridge and felt his breath catch in his throat as he stared out of the window, hand reaching out to lean on the back of the pilot’s chair. “What the hell’s that?”

“Didn’t even see it coming until the alarm went off. Nearly hit the damn thing ‘fore I could get the lights on it,” Hank admitted. “Look.” He switched off the external spots. “See? Or rather, don‘t see?”

“Bring ‘em back up,” Mal ordered, a thread of ice creeping down his spine even as he felt the rest of the crew come up behind him.

“Scary, ain’t it?” Hank said as he complied, and the ship hanging in space in front of them became visible again.

Mostly.

Where the Firefly’s illumination reached it directly, they could see hull plating, metal seams, odd patches of deeper black that could possibly be windows, but beyond that, where the ambient light should have at least reflected and picked up corners and created shadows was … virtually nothing. Just a cold blank area with no stars. Only by swinging the lights across it were they able to even guess at its shape – a fat cigar, like the ones in the smuggler’s hold, but with no protruding features.

Zoe was holding her breath, staring out. “Alliance?” she asked softly.

“There’s no markings I can see,” Hank said, his voice equally hushed. “No indication who she is, where she came from … She‘s just … there.”

“Beacon?” Mal didn’t mean to sound peremptory, but it came out that way.

The pilot shook his head. “Nothing. I been hailing too, once I got over my fright, but there’s no answer.”

“How come we can’t see her properly?” Kaylee asked, moving up next to her husband.

“There’s rare metals that soak up light,” Simon said unexpectedly. “We studied them at MedAcad since most of them are toxic.“ He pursed his lips. “Although to find enough to cover an entire ship that size … it would be prohibitively expensive. Even if you could avoid poisoning the crew.”

“Maybe it’s some kind of -”

“Kaylee, we don’t need to know how they do it,” Freya interrupted, her unease making her rude.

“Sorry.”

Mal hadn’t taken his eyes off the vessel outside. “Anything on the sensors? Lifesigns?”

Hank checked the scans again, and almost growled in frustration. “She’s hardly showing a damn thing at all. Just a kind of …dead spot.”

“Dead spot. Interestingly put.“ He glanced at Freya. “You feeling anything?”

She didn’t answer for several heartbeats, then bit her lip, consternation furrowing her brow. “I … I'm not sure. It’s almost like there is something alive but …” She shivered. “I don’t know, Mal.”

He put his hand on her arm, and could almost feel her trembling. “Frey, you okay?“

She nodded, trying to smile for him. “Just feel like someone’s walking over my grave.”

His eyes softened. “Dead spots, graves … you trying to tell me something?”

“She’s open to space,” Hank said suddenly.

“What?” Mal glared at the man then back out of the window.

“Look.” The pilot pointed to where one of their spot lights was hitting an area just coming into sight as they moved slowly around the other ship.

Mal moved forward a step. “Tzao gao.”

“Yeah.”

It looked like a cargo hatch, but maybe was more likely for internal storage of a shuttle from the size, since there was no evidence this ship had ever been built with intention to land. Not that it mattered what it was used for. The cover was gone, missing entirely, and only a gaping hole remained, jagged metal for once gleaming where the explosive bolts had thrust it away.

Mal crossed his arms, suddenly feeling cold.

“Looks like maybe they abandoned ship,” Hank added.

“Maybe.”

“So no survivors in need of assistance?” Simon asked.

“Doubt it.” Hank tried the sensors once more, but with no better luck. “No beacon, no distress call … Truth is, she could have been here years. Like I said, there’s no markings, no registration, and I've just run a check through the Cortex. There’s nothing even approximately relating to it anywhere, official or not.”

Kaylee stepped slowly past her husband as if drawn to the apparition outside. “Ain't never seen anything like this. So different from any ship I've ever come across before …” Her voice faded.

“Hey, maybe it’s aliens,” Hank joked, but no-one laughed.

“Mal, I think we need to leave this be,” Freya said, moving closer to him. “There’s something very wrong here.”

“It does seem to chill the blood a little,” he agreed. “Just hanging here.”

“We are off the usual trade routes,” Zoe said. “It’s possible no-one’s ever come across her. No beacon, hardly registering on the sensors … it is possible.”

“If we hadn’t almost run into her we’d not have known, could’ve passed by just a hundred metres or so and never seen her. But she’s … well, different,” Hank objected. “Someone must’ve been looking.”

“And we found her,” Mal finished. “Not that it‘s gonna do us any good. She’s too big to tow for salvage –“

“Cap, can’t we go take a look-see?” Kaylee asked, smiling uncertainly at him. “You know, just check maybe there ain't something of value on board?”

He looked down at her. “Not sure that’s such a good idea, mei-mei. Remember last time we took a look around a derelict? My leg still aches when it rains.”

“It don’t rain in the black,” she said pointedly.

“Yeah, well, you tell my leg that.”

“And this one won’t explode.”

“You can guarantee that, can you?”

“No, but –“

Freya stirred. “Kaylee, Mal’s right. It’s better we just slip on by this ship. Say a prayer if you want, but we shouldn’t go any closer.”

Frey? Mal thought, somewhat concerned at the paleness of her complexion, but she just shook her head slightly.

Kaylee wasn’t about to let it go, though. “But it’d only take an hour, maybe less –“

“No, Kaylee!” Freya’s voice rang sharply through the superstructure, and the others stared at her in mild shock. She took a deep breath and tried to sound more reasonable. “Kaylee, just because you’re curious doesn’t mean we have to go on board. We’re heading back for River and Jayne, who are waiting for us I might add, we’ve got cash in our pockets … we don’t need to –“

“Well, actually, maybe we do.” Kaylee looked down at her feet, somewhat sheepishly. She didn’t like getting told off by anyone, least of all Freya, since it happened so rarely, and it made her wary. “That clanking sound the Cap heard? The regulator on the aft alternator’s packing up. Gonna need a new one.”

“Are you telling the truth, little Kaylee?” Mal asked.

She looked up at him, glaring him straight in the baby blues. “I never lie about Serenity.”

He felt his lips twitch at her vehemence. “Can she wait? For a reconditioned regulator thingy?”

She shrugged, not commenting on his verbal switch from new to reconditioned. “I guess. Probably make it to Persephone okay. But it’ll put more pressure on the control linkages, and that’ll make the grav thrust –“

“Kaylee.” He stopped her, one hand raised. “I get the picture. More or less. But there’s no reason to suppose that ship’ll have one that fits.”

“They’re pretty standard. It ain't like it was designed specifically for a Firefly or anything. And even if it didn’t fit right, I could prob’ly make it work ‘til we got back to Eavesdowne.” She was looking hopeful now.

He dropped his head so that he could look at her under his eyebrows. “And you’re promising me that we need this part, and it ain't just ‘cause you wanna go nose around a ship you’ve not seen before? That any of us have seen before?”

She had the grace to smile. “Well, I can’t say it ain't tempting. You know, see what makes her go.”

“She ain't going anywhere,” Hank pointed out. “And I’m getting the feeling it ain’t gone anywhere for a long time.”

“Then maybe I can figure out why that happened too.” She was almost dancing on the spot with anticipation as she turned back to Mal. “Don’t you wanna take a look yourself? Not just ‘cause there might be something valuable on board, but just so you know you did? Ain’t you even a little bit curious?”

Freya looked from Mal to Kaylee, then back again, and she could see his resolve was wavering. “I don’t believe this,” she murmured, then said, louder, “Mal, don’t. We can limp into Persephone if we have to. But please don’t do this.”

He sighed. “Why? Frey, you’ve been jumpy ever since we saw this thing, but you ain't said why.”

“I … damn it, I don’t know!” she admitted, throwing her hands into the air. “A feeling. A premonition. Whatever the hell you want to call it.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“I wish I could. But something’s wrong.”

“It’s just a ship, Frey.”

“That’s out here, abandoned, and looking like nothing you’ve ever seen before! You said it yourself. Gorramit, Mal, why won’t you listen to me?”

He put his hands on her shoulders. “I do. And if River were here I’d listen to her too and I’d –“

“If River were here …” She gave a bark of laughter, with no humour in it whatsoever. “Oh yes, you’d listen to her, wouldn’t you? Just not me. You don’t trust me right now, do you?”

His face closed down a little. “You know that ain't the case.”

“No?” She stared at him, holding her mind in check, not looking, not wanting to see. “You haven’t since Three Hills. Not really.”

“Don’t do this,” he asked, his tone verging on an order as his fingers dug a little deeper into her flesh. “Not now.”

“Then ask Bethie! See what she thinks if you don’t believe me.”

His natural stubbornness started to assert itself. “Frey, it ain't that I don’t believe you. But everything that’s happened over the last month or so, River putting out all that static … it’s bound to make you antsy.”

She stepped back. “Antsy …”

“And Bethie’d probably pick up on that too, how you feel,” he went on, regardless of the look on her face.

She closed her mouth tight over all the words that wanted to come spilling out. “Fine. Do whatever you like. Your boat. What you say goes.” She shook her head, backing away from him. “Captain.” About as sarcastic as she ever got, she turned and strode off the bridge.

There was an awkward silence for a long while, then Mal straightened his spine. “Kaylee, you sure you need this part?”

She looked guilty, her normal buoyancy punctured. “I …”

“Is the ship gonna break down before we can get back to Persephone?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Best guess, Kaylee. You’re the mechanic. Best one floatin’, so what you say goes.”

She tried to be objective, not let her intense curiosity over the ship hanging out there influence her judgement. “It’d be a push. And if the regulator goes, it’ll take more with it, and even if it doesn’t, the strain –“

“Fine.” Mal turned to Hank. “Can we get a seal?”

The pilot shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “No. I’ve been watching, and there’s nothing like a docking hatch that I can see. Just that hole in the side.”

“Okay. Then get us close as you can, and we’ll take a walk.” He turned and walked off the bridge, saying over his shoulder as he went, “Zoe, prep the suits.”

“What’s going on?” Kaylee asked, looking at each of her friends in turn.

“Not sure,” Hank admitted. “Not honestly sure.”

---

“Would you like to tell me what that was all about?” Mal asked, dropping down into their bunk.

“Why ask?” Freya wasn’t looking at him, appearing to be concentrating on tidying the desk. “Why ask what I think, what I feel, when you just go ahead and ignore me?”

“I didn’t ignore you.”

“No?” The tension radiating from her back was almost palpable in the small room.

“No. But I have to look at the bigger picture.”

She span on her heel. “And you think I’m not?”

“Frey, you’ve not given me anything specific. Just vague feelings of unease. I have to weigh that against what’s good for the ship.”

She took a step closer to him. “Mal, going over there isn’t good for anyone!”

“Kaylee says we need that part.”

“She just wants to go and poke about!”

“That too.” He sighed and closed the gap enough between them so that he could take her by the arms. “Truth is, I‘m not sure I have that much choice. We’re still more’n a day out from Persephone, and if the engine goes –“

“Then we’ll call someone. Dillon. Or Sir Warwick. Hell, we’re working for him.” She gazed into his eyes, trying to make him see what she saw, the miasma of darkness emanating from the ship outside.

“Frey, I know you don’t like it. I got that. But we’ll be careful. Zoe’s coming, and –“

“Zoe? Why not me?”

He couldn’t hold back the small smile. “Thought you didn’t want to step aboard?”

She twitched hard enough to pull herself out of his hands. “Don’t make fun of me.” She sat down on the bunk, staring at her knees. “I'm not a child, Mal. You don’t have to humour me.”

“I wasn't.” He didn’t move, just watched her. “And what was all that crap about Three Hills?”

Her neck tensed as if she wanted to lift her head, but instead continued studying her pants. “Well, you don’t. You’re still afraid I'm going to do something stupid. Again.”

His belly tightened as it always did when he thought about what he could have come back to. The hover settling back into the cargo bay, his memory bright and fresh and clear, jumping to the deck, anxious to see her, hold her, only to be told she’d … “I worry about you, xin gan,” he admitted. “The possibility that you might … that I’d lose you, it tears me open, Frey.”

“Said I wouldn’t.” Her voice was almost too quiet to hear.

“I know. And it ain't that I don’t believe you. I do. But if I lost you …” He went down onto his heels in front of her, dipping his head to try and look into her face. “Life’s precious, Frey. Yours more than anything to me. It’s such a slender thread, and it breaks all too easily. Seen it often.” He put his fingertips under her chin, tilting it up. “I don’t want yours to break.”

“It won’t.” She felt the anger drain out of her. “But I don’t want to lose you either. And there is something very wrong over there. I wish I could tell you what it was, chapter and verse, maybe with diagrams, but I can’t. It’s just … wrong.”

“Really that bad?”

Worse.

“Frey …” Mal looked into hazel eyes just a few inches from his own, seeing the total and utter conviction there, feeling it in his mind as the words formed.

Trust me.

“Cap?” Hank’s voice filtered tinnily over the com. “Zoe says she’s ready when you are.”

For a long moment neither of them moved, communing silently.

“Cap?”

Mal finally got to his feet and pressed the reply button. “Hank, tell Zoe to stand down. And let Kaylee know she’s gonna have to coddle that part. We’re leaving.”

“Leaving? I thought we were gonna –“

“I've changed my mind. Tend to do that, now and again, or ain't you noticed?”

“Oh, I’ve noticed.”

“So get us back on course for Persephone.”

“Whatever you say, Mal.” There was a hint of relief in his tone just before the com shut off.

“Thanks,” Freya said softly.

“Well, I’m figuring it’s kinda crazy for me to have a Reader on board, in my bed, and not listen to her.” He looked at her under his eyebrows. “Not that I wasn't listening before, mind. But you’ve put forward a reasoned argument, and that’s not nothing.”

Her lips curved slightly. “Reasoned?”

“Well, okay. Maybe not. But like you said, if we break down ‘fore we get back, we can call for help. Actually, no, let me rephrase that. You can call for help. Ain't having Harrow laughing at me.”

“He wouldn’t laugh at you, Mal.”

“Sure he would. He always did wonder how I kept this boat flying.”

The com sounded again. “Um … Mal?” This time the hesitation in the pilot’s voice came across loud and clear.

“What is it, Hank?”

“I don’t think we’re going anywhere at the moment. Leastways, not yet.”

“Why? What’s happened?”

“We seem to be … stuck.”

Mal swore under his breath and scurried up the ladder, Freya right behind him.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Thursday, January 24, 2008 3:18 AM

KATESFRIEND


Ominous and dark, that's where we're going, right? Loved the marital spat, loved Mal trying to be the captain,loved Kaylee being curious, and really worried about what comes next. Great job!

Thursday, January 24, 2008 3:26 AM

BADKARMA00


Whatever it is it serves Mal right for not listening to Frey! But it sounds utterly dark and dreadful. Delisciously so, in fact :)

Now I'll be on edge till the next chapter!

Thursday, January 24, 2008 5:01 AM

COLT999


I am so glad they got stuck. I appreciate Mal listening to Frey but they have to go on the ship.
I am looking forward to what happens next.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 5:29 AM

AMDOBELL


Let me guess, the dark ominous ship has them in some kind of traction beam holding them motionless? As I was reading this I was getting so annoyed at Kaylee. You would think that girl would use her head occasionally and just pick up on the wrongness of it all or failing that, trust Freya. And now it looks like it is too late. Delaying while they made a decision one way or another may have sealed their fate in more ways than one. Hope to good gorram I am wrong. And we all know what curiosity did to the gorram cat. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, January 24, 2008 7:45 AM

NCBROWNCOAT


I dont' like this one bit. I loved the spat too. Very, very realistic and I could just see it happening.

Friday, January 25, 2008 3:47 AM

WYTCHCROFT


great chapter - really enjoyed the way the tension was played out between characters.

Saturday, January 26, 2008 6:52 PM

SLUMMING


Cue scary music! Great job building tension!


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