BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Slender Thread - Part III
Friday, January 25, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. With no choice but to head over to the derelict, Mal and his crew try to find out what's going on. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1936    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

“Inverse tractor net.” Hank looked around at the assembled adults, like he’d performed an amazing trick.

Everyone waited for Jayne to grunt, “Huh?” so they didn’t have to, but as the big man was still on Persephone there was silence. It took Simon to say, “I don’t know what that is.”

Hank might have looked gratified if he wasn't feeling so worried. “It’s like a tractor beam, but it’s passive.”

“No, that still doesn’t help.”

Mal glanced out of the bridge window at the dark ship. “We’re a damn sight closer than we were,” he observed. “That have something to do with it?”

Hank nodded. “We were fine just sitting here, even moving around it, but as soon as I tried to pull us away, it pulled back.”

“It?”

“Tractor net.”

“Then why haven’t we crashed into it?” Kaylee asked, taking hold of Simon’s hand.

“Because it’s an inverse. Soon as I stopped trying to get away, we stopped moving towards it.” He shook his head in disbelief. “And believe me, that was hard. Just to stop the engines. Blind faith that we weren’t just going to end up a smear on the hull out there.”

“Did we trip it somehow?” Freya inquired softly.

“I don’t think so. In fact, I think maybe that’s what you’ve been feeling all along.” Hank looked up at her. “It’s a low grade field, until you do something crazy like try to fly away, but if you’re sensitive it might be like fingernails down a chalkboard.”

“I’ve never been susceptible before,” she objected.

“Well, I doubt you’ve come across any before. Took me a while to even remember hearing about it once, long time ago when I was still in flight school.” He peered back out at the ship that was causing all the problems. “It was something was bandied about a few years ago, but no-one could make it work properly, and sure as hell not on this scale. It’s the same technology that scrappers use for their nets, but being passive it takes more control, more energy.”

“So she has power?” Freya moved forward, almost to the thick glass, staring out at the mass almost totally obscuring the stars.

“Must have. Else we’d be on our way back to Persephone.”

Mal took a step closer to his wife, feeling her heat still mixed with her concern, even through her clothes. “Is it me or are we still moving?”

Hank looked almost sheepish. “The initial tug put us into a kind of orbit. Slow, but we’re circling her.”

“And the net. Can you disable it from here?” Mal glanced down at him.

“Nope. Everything I try just bounces back or gets lost. Have to be from in there.”

“Great.” Mal took a deep breath, holding it until he was forced to let it trickle slowly from his lips. “Well, Kaylee, looks like you’re gonna get your wish.”

“We’re going over there, sir?” Zoe asked as the young mechanic brightened a little.

“Looks like to be our only option.” He glanced at Freya, but she was still gazing outside. “At least it won’t be too much of a jump.”

“Well, the suits are still prepped.”

He had to smile at his first mate. “Changed my mind again, it seems.”

“One of those days, sir,” she said, leaving the bridge.

“Surely does seem to be,” Mal murmured. He clapped his hands. “Okay. Hank, you’re with us. You seem to know what you’re talking about, and you’ve got the best chance of switching this net off.”

“What about me?” Freya asked, turning her back on the disturbing sight outside.

“You’re staying put.”

“What? Why?” She glanced at the others. “Kaylee’s going.”

”Only ‘cause, in the event Hank can get us free, she’s the only one on board able to recognise the part we need, and we might as well kill two birds with one stone.” He forestalled her next objection by raising his hand and going on quickly, “Frey, honey, I need you here. If there’s trouble, you can come to the rescue.”

“Mal –“

“Who else can I trust to look after things for me?”

She glared at him for a moment, then muttered, “Hwoon dahn,” but there was no heat behind it.

“Besides, you’ll have Simon for company.” He let his lips lift. “And the kids.”

“So I'm to be a gorram babysitter?”

“Hey!” Simon objected, but no-one took any notice of him.

---

The black beckoned to him as it always did, but his view of it was severely restricted by the bulk of the ship hanging in front. He could only see a rim of stars from where he stood on the open ramp, but they were unblinking, unchanging.

“Stop fidgeting,” Zoe said, her voice coming clearly through the suit com.

“I wasn’t,” he replied idly.

“Not you. Hank.”

Mal turned enough to see the pilot. He was indeed fiddling with his EVA suit.

“It itches,” he complained.

Zoe huffed slightly. “Well, it’ll have to itch. You’re not going to be able to scratch for a while.”

“And I’m not a … a going out on the jobs sort of guy,” Hank went on. “I just sit at the controls and look busy.”

“Time for that to change.” Mal looked at Kaylee. “Ready, mei-mei?”

“All ready, Cap.” She was smiling widely through the faceplate.

“This ain't a pleasure jaunt, just so long as you remember that,” Mal advised. “We’re going to turn off the net, and for you to find that part. No wandering off on your own, or opening doors you shouldn’t, dong mah?”

Dang rahn.”

Mal shook his head. Very little kept Kaylee down for long. He turned back to the dark hulk in front of him, watching as Serenity’s spots caught the dark hole in her side coming round again. “Okay, people, heads up. Time to go. Frey, we’re leaving. Keep the lights on and the engine running.”

“And there I was thinking I could go shopping.” It was as if she was standing next to him.

“Now you know you only do that when I’m around to carry it.” Mal smiled as he pushed off from the Firefly, his momentum carrying him towards the derelict.

“I didn’t like to say this earlier, but it did occur to me that we might be caught in the net too,” Hank said conversationally as he watched Zoe follow her captain. The line between them tautened and he moved forward. “You know, any kind of motion on our part dragging us into the ship. Flattening us, you might say.”

“And you left it until now to mention it?” If Mal could’ve glared at his pilot, he would have.

“Well, it was just a thought. And we don’t seem to be in danger of it.”

“Hank, you and me are going to have a conversation when this is all over. Honeymoon or not.” He pulled his legs around as best he could, knowing he was going to hit the ship slightly to the left of the opening. As he approached he bent his knees, absorbing the impact. “I’m down,” he said quietly, straightening up. Half turning, he saw Zoe do the same, Hank next, Kaylee just a moment later.

“Oh, yuck,” the pilot said, lifting one foot. “It’s sticky.”

“Sticky?”

“Yeah.”

Mal leaned forward again touched the surface. It was odd, to say the least, and made his skin crawl. Even through his gloves it felt like something long dead, that clung to his fingers but left no trace when he lifted his hand away. Almost … soft, as if he could push through it and just ooze inside. “Okay, that’s weird.” He tried to stop the involuntary shudder that raced through him. “But nothing about today so far is much better. So let’s get going.” He started towards the opening.

“Still gross,” he heard Hank mutter.

“Sure is,” Kaylee agreed, sounding subdued.

As Mal approached the gaping maw, he felt a slight pull against his body, increasing as he got closer. At least the internal gravity field was working, and they wouldn’t have to float around. At the edge of the hole, he leaned in, orienting himself to the interior. They were comparatively lucky – they come up at ground level, and just needed to step over the rim.

“Okay, Frey, we’re going inside.”

Back on the Firefly, his wife nodded, even though he couldn’t see. He sounded odd, his normally warm toffee tones caught within the confines of his suit and transmitted across the ether.

“Be careful,” she said, leaning forward as if she could make him understand her better.

“We will. Just gonna take it nice and –“ His voice cut off. It didn’t fade or waver, just stopped mid-word.

“Mal?” She adjusted the volume, the frequency, but there was nothing.

“What happened?” Simon asked, gripping the back of her chair.

“Com’s dead.” Flicking switches, she ran a quick diagnostic. “Not us.”

The young man’s face went paler than ever. “You think something’s gone wrong?”

Freya shook her head slowly, concentrating. “No. They’re okay.” She sighed a half-laugh. “Mal’s wondering the same.”

-

“Frey?” Mal stood still, listening hard, but there was no sound from his radio, not even static.

“What’s up?” Hank asked from where they’d walked into the bay.

“Not getting a signal.”

Hank fiddled with his own unit. “Me neither.”

“Sir, do you want me to –“ Zoe began, but he waved his hand at her.

“Just stay put.” He moved back out into the open hatch, looking across to where Serenity was setting over the rim of the ship. “Frey?”

“You do that to me again and I’ll …” The sheer relief in her voice was palpable.

He grinned. “You’ll what?”

“Withdraw conjugal rights.”

“Ouch. That’s just nasty.”

“I'm presuming you’re all okay? No missing limbs or anything?”

He could imagine her face all too well. “No, nothing like that. Kaylee’s wondering about your side of the conversation, but that’s it.”

“Looks like we’ll be out of contact for a while.” Her good humour had vanished.

“Looks like. But you’ll be with me?”

“All the way, zhang fu.”

The smile came back to his lips. “They don’t know what they’re missing, do they?”

“That they don’t. And I don’t want to miss it either. So you take care, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am. Talk to you soon.”

“You’d better.”

Mal turned again and headed back into the darkness, his suit radio again silent, but he knew she was there, inside his mind, and her presence was a comfort.

“Everything okay, sir?” Zoe asked.

He nodded as best he could. “Looks like light ain't the only thing gets sucked up. We’re lucky our coms work inside, but we can’t talk to Serenity right now.”

“Then I think we need to do this really fast,” Hank said, shuddering slightly. He never felt happy in a suit, and the darkness pressing in around him was making his claustrophobia act up.

Mal understood. “Kaylee, can you get the power up? Least so we can see where we’re going?”

She swung her torch around. “Not sure. Might not be … oh, hang on.” She walked towards a console.

“Careful, honey!” Hank called. “There’s a lot of sharp edges around here. Wouldn’t want to have to be carrying you back to your husband.”

“I don’t know. It sounds kinda nice,” Kaylee teased. “But I’m watching my step.” She reached a control panel, and after only a moment’s study pressed a series of buttons. Lights flickered on, illuminating the entire area.

“Wow,” Hank said, looking up.

“How big, d’you think?” Mal asked, his own breath taken away slightly.

“I’d say it goes all the way up to the other side.” The pilot exhaled noisily. “Damn, that’s high.” Something caught his attention and he pointed up. “Look. That’s the sweet spot.”

The others peered up as best they could.

“What is that?” Zoe’s eyes narrowed. “And why isn’t it falling down?

They could see something hanging above them, high over their heads.

“It’s the hatch,” Kaylee said suddenly.

“I think you’re right, mei-mei,” Mal agreed softly. “And I kinda want to know why it ain't crashed onto us too.”

“It’s the sweet spot,” Hank said again. “It looks like the gravity field comes along the central axis, pressing everything out to the hull on all sides. Like they used to on some of the old colony ships from Earth-that-was.”

Mal nodded, remembering seeing pictures of space craft shaped like wheels. “Go on.”

“It’s easier, cheaper too, on something this size, to do it this way. And that point up there is where the two waves meet. Totally weightless. Get into that, you can’t fall, either way. Up or down.”

“But the bolts blew,” Kaylee pointed out. “Shouldn’t the hatch’ve been blown out, not in?”

“Maybe there’s another hatch at the other end,” Zoe suggested. “If that was opened at the same time as the explosion …“

“Might have sucked it up inside,” Mal agreed.

“Hatch must have closed again, though,” Hank pointed out. “We’d have seen it.”

“Something really ain't right here,” Mal murmured to himself. Held captive by the sight for a moment longer, he dragged his eyes away. “Come on, people. As interesting and creepifying as that is, we need to get to work. Hank, any idea where the bridge might be?”

“Well, I was gonna go with the sign that says BRIDGE with an arrow under it,” the pilot said, pointing to a doorway at the back.

“Oh. Right.” He mentally shook himself. “Let’s go.”

---

“Are you okay?” Simon asked, seeing Freya press her fingers to her temple. He sat down in the other seat.

“Headache,” she admitted. “It’s difficult to … I'm having problems keeping up with Mal.”

“You mean psychically?”

She half-smiled. “Well, there’s no problem with the physical side of our relationship.” She pressed harder. “It’s just hard to stay in contact.”

“Like River and her static?”

“No. Not really. More as if he’s a long way off. A lot more than this.” She stared out at the dark ship.

“You know, if that ship is absorbing all sorts of radiation – light, radio waves, that kind of thing … it’s possible it’s absorbing your ability too.”

She looked up at him, her eyebrows raised. “Is that even possible?”

“Out here, beyond the Core? I've come to realise that very little is impossible, if you try hard enough. Like finding a wife, having a family … I always thought that would be difficult for me.”

“And instead you have Kaylee and two beautiful daughters.” Freya smiled. “But you’re changing the subject.”

“Only because I don’t know. No-one knows how the psychic ability works. But our brains use electricity to function, so maybe … I don’t know.”

“But if you’re right, maybe there’s a way of blocking a psychic, without having to keep up mental walls.” She bit her lip in thought.

“Freya, there was a patient, while I was resident, who swore that aliens were talking to him through his brain. He insisted on wearing a hat made out of silver foil, even after he’d been medicated.” He chuckled. “It was very fetching. But it didn’t stop him being sectioned, though.”

“Are you suggesting I need to be locked up?” she asked, somewhat pointedly.

“I wouldn’t dare.” He patted her knee and stood up. “I’ll get you a painkiller.”

She smiled at him. “Thanks,” she said, then turned her attention back to the view from the window as she heard him leave the bridge. The smile faded. Something still felt bad, wrong, no matter what Mal or anyone else said. Able to do little more than touch Mal’s mind, she stared out into the airless black.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Friday, January 25, 2008 7:47 AM

NCBROWNCOAT


I really don't like this at all. I get a very bad feeling too and I can't wait to find out what's going on.

Friday, January 25, 2008 2:24 PM

KATESFRIEND


This is a lot more science fictiony than normal - interesting!

Friday, January 25, 2008 2:29 PM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, this is bad, VERY bad. I have that awful feeling that the seemingly deserted ship floating dead in the Black is no such thing. I think it's a gorram trap and the spider is just waiting to catch as many of the flies as possible. Gorramit, it sure does feel creepy. Great writing. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, January 26, 2008 7:01 PM

SLUMMING


Well now I'm all creepified. But I must say it seems good to read about Hank doing a little something new!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 4:43 AM

WYTCHCROFT


this was just a great chapter!:)


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