BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Slender Thread - Part VI
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. More things are starting to fail on Serenity, and neither Kaylee nor Hank can figure out why.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1777    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Hank couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t only that neither he nor Kaylee could figure out what was wrong with the com system, but also a feeling of something else being wrong. It wasn’t even the meal they’d had.

“You sure you got time to eat?” Mal had asked, eyeing Hank as he wolfed down his meal. “I mean, wouldn’t want you getting indigestion or anything.”

Hank swallowed a huge mouthful. “Got a cast-iron stomach.” He patted his belly.

“Right, dear,” Zoe agreed deadpan. “Then it must be someone else who tosses and turns all night and sounds like an oncoming train. Which is all kinds of disturbing.”

“Must be,” Hank said, then belched.

Bethany and Ethan laughed, and Hope covered her own mouth with her hand. Ben looked at his father wide-eyed.

“See, that’s just what he doesn’t need to hear,” Zoe complained.

“Funny Daddy!” Ben said, grinning.

“You’re going to lead him into bad ways.”

“With this crew? How could I possibly do that?”

“Difficult,” Simon agreed, taking a third piece of bread out of Bethany’s hands.

“Anyway,” Mal said loudly. “Why all the haste?”

Hank shrugged. “I want to spend another hour going over the Cortex link again. I can’t help feeling whatever’s the problem is staring me right in the face, if only I were looking at it the right way.”

“You want me to come with you?” Kaylee asked.

Hank shook his head. “No, no, sweetie. There’s just a couple of things I wanna try, then I’ll be turning in. I’ll fix it, though, never you fret.”

Only he hadn’t. And nothing he did seemed to make a difference. He’d gone to bed with the problem going round and round his mind, and it was at about the fifth time he’d listed all the possible reasons for a failure and got lost halfway that he decided he’d had enough. Something else was nagging him, and he wasn’t going to be able to sleep until he had at least identified what it was.

Zoe was out of it, her hair spread across the pillow, and she only stirred slightly when he slid out of bed and grabbed a pair of soft pants. She was too used to his occasional nocturnal wanderings to check the bridge to do more than roll into the warm patch recently vacated. She muttered a few words, but didn’t wake up as he snagged a sweater and climbed the ladder.

Up in the pilot’s seat he increased the lighting level a little, and began to run checks. Everything looked normal, except for the Cortex link. That was still off-line. Eventually, after nearly an hour’s fruitless searching, he sat back in the chair and stared out at the stars.

There was no doubt about it. The nagging sensation at the back of his neck was still there. It didn’t matter that he could find no evidence for it. In the bit of his brain that made him one of the best damn pilots around, he knew. The only problem was, without proof, he hadn’t a chance in hell of convincing Mal he was more than just paranoid.

He picked up a deck of cards from the side of the console and absently began to shuffle them, a sigh dragging itself up from the root of his soul. He loved this boat, had for a long time, and even considered it his, maybe even more than the Captain’s, and the thought that he couldn’t figure out if there was a problem, let alone what it actually was, made him feel almost nauseous.

He stared out through the window, as if he could read the answer in the unchanging, unflinching stars, and idly began to count their brittle points of light. Suddenly he sat up, the cards in his fingers flying everywhere.

Tzao gao,” he grunted.

Reaching up to the internal com, he lifted down the handset and punched in a code. “Mal,” he said softly. There was no response. “Mal.” A little louder. Still nothing.

Swiftly he checked the systems. “Gorram it,” he muttered, as he realised internals were down too. Hurrying off the bridge he stopped outside the captain’s bunk. “Well, here goes nothing,” he murmured to himself, and knocked on the panel. A two seconds later he pushed the hatch open. “Mal?”

There was a long moment, then the captain’s voice came up the hatchway. “If my boat ain’t on fire, and Reavers ain’t about to latch onto us, you’re gonna be looking for another job soon as we hit Persephone.”

“Can I talk to you? Just for a minute.”

Mal appeared at the bottom of the ladder, a sheet wrapped around his waist, and a look of menace on his features. “Talk? Hank, you got any idea what time it is?”

“I know. I just need to … it’ll only take a minute, I promise.”

“Mal?” Hank heard Freya’s voice, filled with sleep.

“It’s okay, ai ren,” Mal assured her, dropping the sheet and picking up his pants. “You go back to dreaming. I’ll deal with this and be joining you in a blink.”

“You want me to get up?”

“No, honey. Go back to sleep.”

“’Kay.”

Mal reappeared at the ladder and began to climb up, his shirt open, his suspenders around his hips. “This had better be damn good,” he ground out, joining Hank in the corridor.

“I think it is.” The pilot led the way to the bridge.

“So? What is it?” Mal asked, tucking his shirt-tails in and pulling up his suspenders.

”We’re off course.” Hank’s brows were one long line as he frowned.

Mal couldn‘t have looked much more surprised. “Off … how far?”

“I’m not sure.” He sat down at his board.

“Why not?” Mal looked over Hank’s shoulder at the screens. “This says we’re fine.”

“I know.” He ran a few combinations.

“Then –“

“It feels wrong.”

“More feelings.” Mal couldn’t take much more of this. “I know I'm gonna regret asking, but how come your feelings mean we’re off course when Serenity says we’re not?”

Hank felt a wave of embarrassment rise through him, but he knew he had to say. “The stars are wrong.”

“What?”

“The stars are wrong.”

Mal stared out of the window at the hard pinpoints of light. “How can you tell? They look just the same to me.”

“I just do!” Hank snapped, jumping to his feet. “I’ve been a pilot all my life, Mal. You think I don’t know my job?”

Mal crossed his arms. “I’m kinda wondering that my own self.”

“You think I don’t know when we’re heading the wrong way?” He squared up to his captain.

“Not when my ship tells me we’re fine.”

“Well, your ship is wrong!”

“Prove it!”

“I’m the proof!” Hank poked himself in the chest. “You gotta trust me!”

There was a pause as Mal glared into the other man’s grey eyes. Then he asked, “What are you planning to do about it? If it’s the case.”

Hank stared back. “I’d normally reset it through the Cortex, but since we ain’t been able to figure out that either, I’m open to gorram suggestions.”

Mal took a breath and a mental step back. “You think they’re connected?” he asked, his tone a little more moderate.

Hank did likewise. “Be a hell of a coincidence if they weren’t.”

“Well, like Frey says, I don’t go much on coincidences either.” He nodded out towards the black. “So what do we do?”

“I can try resetting by hand. I’ve already taken her off autopilot, but any course correction’s gonna be pretty much guesswork.” He sat back down, his fingers lovingly stroking the old console.

“Can you at least get us heading in about the right direction?”

Hank shook his head. “I’ve no idea when the drift started. Until we pass something we recognise, another planet or moon maybe, it’d be like tossing a handful of coins into the air and hoping they all come down heads.”

A chill ran itself up Mal’s spine. “What about your gut instinct? It’s telling you we’re off course. Can’t it tell you when we’re back on the right heading?”

“You trust me enough to try it? ‘Cause even if we do get back to going in the right direction, if I’m more than a few degrees out, we could miss Persephone entirely. Never even see her.”

“And if I don’t trust you? What’s the likelihood of us coming across someplace we know?”

Hank‘s normally light-hearted face was deadly serious. “You want an honest answer?”

The chill turned into frostbite. “Do it,” Mal ordered. “The way I see it, we ain’t got nothing to lose. Space is too big and too easy to get lost in, and I don’t want us running out of fuel, being on the drift.” He nodded once. “Do it, Hank,” he repeated.

“Yes sir.”

“Then get everyone in the dining area. We need to talk.”

---

“So we don’t know where we are,” Simon said, trying to get it fixed in his mind.

“That’s what I said.” Mal stood at the head of the table, looking down at his crew. “Hank’s put us on what he thinks is the right heading, but we’re not gonna be sure until we can bring everything back up.”

“I’ve tried everything I can think of, Cap’n,” Kaylee said, her hands clasped tightly together on top of the old wood. “There ain’t much else I can do.”

“I know, xiao mei-mei,” Mal assured her. “But you’re the best mechanic floatin’. If you can’t fix it, then none of us have a hope in hell of doing it.”

Her shoulders lifted a little at that. “I can take another look. See if it ain’t something that’s common to both systems.”

He smiled at her. “That’s my girl.”

Zoe looked across at Freya. “Can you pick up where Persephone is?” she asked. “Maybe through River?”

Freya shook her head. “It doesn’t really work like that, at least not with me. I can’t talk to River anyway at the moment. She’s too far away. And I’ve never really tried finding a direction.”

“Perhaps Bethie could help?” Simon suggested.

“Maybe when we’re closer to Persephone,” Freya considered. “We could try triangulating. But at the moment I doubt she could tell you any more than I can.”

“Which is?” Mal prompted.

Freya pointed towards the bow of the ship. “That way.”

“That’s good,” Hank said, stepping down into the galley. “’Cause that’s the way we’re going.”

“You got the autopilot fixed?” Mal asked.

“No. Not really. Every time I switch it on, it starts to drift again. I’ve only come grab a coffee and to let you know we’re on our way, then I’ll have to go back and babysit. It’s gonna be a long few hours.”

“I’ll make some fresh,” Zoe offered. “Keep you supplied with it.”

“That’d be good,” her husband said, smiling at her.

Then the lights went down, and the sound of the engine stopped.

Everyone stayed stock still for a moment, then Kaylee gasped, starting as she felt a hand slip into her own, before realising it was Simon‘s.

“Where’s the back up?” Mal asked, trying to see in the pitch black.

“Should have come on by now,” Hank said.

“If it’s down, what about the life support?” Simon wanted to know.

“Can’t tell,” Kaylee admitted. “Not ‘til I can get to the engine room.”

“You stay put,” Mal ordered. “Ain’t having you falling into something and hurting yourself.”

“I think I can get to the bridge, Mal,” Hank put in quickly, trying to stop the jackhammering of his heart. His claustrophobia was back, full force. “I can see … something.”

Mal turned, and realised his pilot was right. A patch of lighter black was behind him, filtering down from the bridge windows. “Good. Good.” He licked suddenly dry lips. “But first things first. We need -”

“Torches?” As Freya spoke a beam clicked on, illuminating the men and women around the table. She stood behind the counter, a torch in her hand.

“How did you …” Mal stared at her.

“I knew it was here. Kaylee was fixing the stove, and I put it in the cupboard.”

“Well … that’s good.” He peered at her, not able to pick out any features, just her overall shape behind the light. “How did you get over there?”

“I know this ship, Mal. Too many sleepless nights.” It sounded like she was grinning.

“You been spending too long with River,” Hank muttered. “Wandering around like a gorram spirit.”

“Hank, that’s my wife you’re talking about,” Mal pointed out.

“And believe me, I’m glad she can,” Hank added quickly.

“We need to get to the rest of the stuff, then Kaylee needs to take a look at the engine room, and life support.”

“If it is down, we got a few hours yet,” the young woman said. “Ain't like a fire’s eaten up the oxygen.”

He knew what she was referring to. “Frey’ll help you. Hank, you get to the bridge and try and figure out what the hell’s happening. Zoe’ll stick with you.”

“’Kay, Mal.”

“Simon, you’d -”

“I’m going to check on the children. This is probably pretty scary for them.” He stood up, his chair squealing as he pushed it back.

“Good idea,” Mal said quickly, guilt flashing through him at the realisation he hadn’t thought about the younger members of Serenity’s crew.

“They’re okay, Mal,” Freya said softly. “I put them all in with Bethie before this started, and she’s telling them stories.”

“In the dark?”

“She’s a resourceful young lady.”

Simon smiled. “She’s my daughter,” he said. “Of course she is.” He walked to the door, almost stumbling up the steps.

“You fall and break something, sing out,” Mal advised, eager to get his authority back somewhat. “Someone’ll be along to clean up.”

“I’m so happy to hear that,” the doctor said, disappearing into the darkness.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 3:24 AM

KATESFRIEND


Glad Hank figured it out, but this is one very scary storyline. They've had many enemies in the past, but Serenity has never been one of them. Very interesting!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 4:34 AM

BADKARMA00


Oh man! I'm gettin' chills reading it! THis is just AWESOME! Serenity Possessed! Keep it going, keep it going!

Totally great work and wonderful story line Jane. I am just. . .well I just am!

WOW!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 6:01 AM

SLUMMING


Excellent work, as always. This one is sooo creepifying!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 6:25 AM

COLT999


Wow this is a wild ride. I can't wait to see whats next.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 7:52 AM

NCBROWNCOAT


Way too creepifying for me. I also can't wait to see what happens!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 1:20 PM

AMDOBELL


Oh crap, that damn AI ship is controlling Serenity. I knew nothing but bad would come of it but to what end? Where in the nine hells is it trying to take them and will they get the ship out of the AI's control in time? Wish River would turn up and find a way to either get the AI to self distruct or disable the gorram thing. Very spooky and really good, can't wait to see what happens next! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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