BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Slender Thread - Part VIII
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. The crew get an idea of what's happening to Serenity, and Hank gets physical. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1995    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Mal felt useless, something he wasn't accustomed to. Kaylee was in the engine room, trying to get different systems back on line, and attempting to stop those that were from going down, while Hank was up on the bridge, doing pretty much the same. Freya seemed to be moving between the two, offering help where she could, while Simon had decided to put himself in charge of keeping everyone supplied with coffee and sandwiches, although he’d wandered off some time back.

Which left Mal with virtually nothing to do apart from sit in the dining area and think. Hearing the soft murmur of conversation on the bridge, he found himself wishing Wash was here, that maybe he could fix it. He’d always had an affinity for Serenity, from the first moment he’d stepped on board. Sure, Zoe had made her dislike for him known immediately, although that had changed slowly, but Wash had made himself at home.

Mal remembered a case in point, not long after he’d taken the pilot on. He could see it, clear as the day the memory was formed. Wash, sitting on the floor of the bridge on a wheeled tray, the bright sunlight of Phoros filtering through the windows, surrounded by what appeared to be the entire working parts of the pilot’s console.

“What the tyen shiao duh are you doing to my ship?” Mal had asked, his hands on his hips.

“Just an idea that came to me,” Wash said, a smile lighting his face under his moustache before he looked back at the mess of wires in his lap.

“An idea.” Mal crossed his arms. “It may have escaped your notice, but this is my boat. Any ideas you have, you come to me first. ‘Specially if they involve taking her apart.”

“It’s not as bad as it looks.” With another grin Wash scooted under the console, reaching up into its innards. Although he just as quickly found himself back out and staring up at Mal’s somewhat angry face.

“Well?”

“Well … what?”

“What are you doing?”

“I told you. An idea. I was bored, and I thought –“

“Bored?”

“We’ve been down a while. And Zoe’s not talking to me and Bester says there’s things to do …” His voice died away. “Um … sorry?” he offered.

Mal glared at him. “So would you like to enlighten me on what you decided was a good enough idea to bypass the chain of command?”

Wash sat up. “Last but one ship I was on had a problem with a virus. Some fong luh shagua thought it was funny to infect a port landing sequencer. Almost took us down, and it was only my own amazing skills that saved us from ending up a smear on the landscape. So I was thinking that perhaps …” He talked on for a minute, then his voice trailed away. “So … can I carry on?”

For a long moment Mal stared in thought. “How long?”

“What?”

“To put all this back the way it was.”

Wash looked around himself. “An hour? Two?”

“And how much extra to put in your idea?”

The pilot began to grin. “Another hour.”

“Do it.”

“Yes sir!” He laid back down and scooted under the console again.

“And what was that about Bester?”

“He said there’s gonna be another delay …”

Mal had stalked off the bridge, his boots ringing on the decking, heading for the aft section of his boat. Still, if Wash hadn’t taken it into his head to be helpful, he wouldn’t have his current mechanic, who was swearing right now at something that didn’t want to be fixed.

Not that all this reminiscing helped, since it just seemed to bleed back into what had happened in the past eighteen hours, and what he could have done to prevent it.

“Couldn’t have,” Freya said on her way through from the bridge back to the engine room. She paused behind him, leaning down and wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Could have listened to you. Permaybehaps we wouldn’t be in this situation if I’d been sensible.” He put his hands on hers, holding them close to his chest, letting her warmth comfort him.

“You were going to be. It’s not your fault that ship had a tractor net.”

“No. Guess not.”

“So stop beating yourself up over it.”

He turned his head enough so that he could see her, looking into her hazel eyes, at least what he could see of them in the dim light of the emergency lanterns. “Can if I want.”

She laughed. “That’s my Mal. A sucker for guilt.”

“Always have been,” Mal admitted. “I think it’s hard-wired into my genes.”

“Painful.” She kissed his cheek, her lips lingering. “When this is all over, I promise to do a bit of engineering on you, okay?”

“Gonna hold you to that.” He squeezed her hands again, then she was gone.

He sighed. This really wasn't getting him anywhere. Getting to his feet, he grabbed two mugs, poured what looked like liquid tar into each of them, and headed for the bridge. “Here,” he said, handing one over to his pilot.

“Mal, I love you.”

“Better not let Zoe hear you say that. Even if it is true.”

“No, honestly, I’m grateful,” Hank said, smiling tiredly.

“Hold the praise ‘til you taste it. I’m not sure Simon’s got his mind on making coffee at the moment.”

“It’s hot and it’s strong. That’s all I need.”

“And it’s about all you’re gonna get.” He watched Hank take a mouthful, grimace, then swallow back. “So, you getting anything?”

“Couple of blisters from live wires, but not much else.”

“You figured where we’d be heading if you hadn’t worked out we were off track?” Mal asked, sipping his own mug and wishing he hadn’t bothered.

Hank sat back in the chair, his hair even wilder than usual. “I considered it.”

“And?”

“Far as I can tell, it’d be back to that derelict.”

Somehow Mal couldn’t get the energy up to be surprised. “Hell of a coincidence,” he said quietly.

“Thought you didn’t believe in those?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t sound shocked either.”

“Not particularly.”

“Neither am I,“ Simon said, coming up the steps behind them.

“You got something to add to this discussion?” Mal asked, half turning.

“I might.”

“Then I'm interested.”

“The infirmary’s modular. When Serenity was built she didn’t have that unit. It was put in later. You do know that, don’t you?” He was speaking slowly, clearly.

Mal resisted the urge to punch, and merely sighed a little. “Doc, you carry on that way and you’ll be needing the infirmary sooner than you think. I’ll let you know if you say something I don’t understand.”

“Sorry,” Simon apologised. “I’m … scared.”

“Me too,” Mal admitted, surprising the young man. “And you’d better close your mouth. Only a fool says he’s ain't frightened, and my Momma never raised a fool.” He shrugged. “Well, not all the time.”

“I didn’t … I’m sorry. You just look so in control of yourself.” Simon exchanged a glance with Hank, who looked equally taken aback.

“Not the same thing.” He half-smiled. “Six years of war and I was scared shitless all of the time, but you can’t let everyone see it. Doesn’t make them think they can live through it. And you need to make them believe that with every bone in their body. So no, I ain't in control. Just cover it better’n most.” He shook his head. “So what about the infirmary being modular?”

Simon couldn’t speak for a moment, realising the captain had just opened up more to them both in those few dozen words than he had in years. He pulled himself together. “Some of the systems, like the lights, the Cortex connection, they’re all linked into Serenity. Just like the shuttle com.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. So?”

“Some aren’t.”

Mal took a breath. The urge to punch was growing again. “Do you think you could maybe get to the point?”

“I've been looking at things, the readouts Kaylee’s getting, Hank’s results … and putting them through the diagnostic computer in the infirmary. That’s a discrete system, no connection with the others. Not much else works in there, but at least –”

“And?” Mal’s short temper was nearing the end of its tether. “Simon –“

“It’s a virus. But not just any virus. And not strictly a computer virus, although that’s what it’s manifesting as at the moment.”

“A virus.”

“If I had to guess, we picked it up when we downloaded the logs from that derelict.”

“Our firewall should have blocked that,” Hank put in quickly.

Simon shook his head. “This is too organic. It’s as if it’s changing even as we watch. Growing. Evolving.”

“Bethie said it was like Serenity wasn’t herself,” Mal said to himself.

“I can imagine that’s what it must feel like. She’s been invaded, and now she’s having to act as a host to something else.”

Mal’s mind flickered to the memory of Wash, just a few minutes before. “Can we purge the system? If we had something that would do it?”

Hank glanced down at the board. “Maybe. But if we can’t find it …”

“Get Kaylee and Freya into the kitchen,” Mal said to Simon. “I think we all need to talk.”

The young man nodded and ran off.

“Mal, if Simon’s right, then we’re in big trouble,” Hank said slowly.

“You mean more than we are now?”

“Yeah.” He licked his lips. “Kaylee’s trying to run a diagnostic, but even that system keeps throwing her out, so she’s doing it by hand. Freya’s helping her. But nothing yet.” He shook his head, his face tight. “Mal, this virus of Simon’s … it’d explain why it’s not just one redundancy, but there’s cross-infection through the range of –“

“Hank. Single syllables, if you can.” It had to be bad if his pilot was falling into technical-speak.

“There’s a hell of a lot of systems this could affect, not just the lights and life support. Fuel cells, locks … hell, could even open the doors and flush all the oxygen.”

“And you can’t stop it?”

“No.”

“Not exactly the syllable I was looking for.” Mal looked down at the controls as if he could magically read what the problem was just by staring.

Hank nodded out into the black, towards the shuttle keeping pace with them. “Glad they ain't here,” he said softly.

“Me too, Hank. Me too.”

---

Mal went over what he could recall of Wash’s plan.

“I remember, Cap,” Kaylee said, nodding slowly. “But if you want an honest opinion –“

“I do, Kaylee. Always do from you,” Mal added.

“Then I say no. At least, not yet. From what I remember Wash telling me, we have to shut everything down, even the systems we still got running at the moment. Including life support, main and auxiliary.” She saw Hank glance at Mal. “Oh, I know they’re on the fritz. And I’ve been doing my gorram best to keep ‘em going, to keep ‘em up, but … we take it all offline, there’s no guarantee I can get it back at all.”

“So it’s a last resort.”

“’Fraid so, Cap.”

“Hank? Comments?”

Hank shrugged. “No way of knowing. I didn’t even know it was there, so …” He thought for a moment. “But I agree with Kaylee. Last resort. If it doesn’t work …” He stopped. “Wish I could tell ‘em to move back,” he said, his voice curiously flat.

Mal didn’t have to ask who he meant. “Why?”

“Because if there’s an explosion the shuttle might get caught in it if they’re too close.”

Mal stared at his pilot as an image of Serenity ripping apart, her innards tossed into a fire-bloomed vacuum, held him for a moment, before he pushed it savagely away, glancing at Freya, her pale face mirroring his own. “You know, I think we have got a way to move ‘em further off.”

---

Ethan undid the straps holding him into his seat.

“What are you doing?” Bethie asked. “You’re not supposed to do that.”

“Have to,” he said, getting up carefully and walking towards the small bridge. “Auntie Zoe?” he said, standing by the pilot’s chair.

The dark woman turned to look at him. “What is it, honey? And you should be strapped in.”

“Mama says you need to pull back.”

Zoe couldn’t have looked more surprised. “Pull … how do you know, sweetheart?”

The little boy tapped his forehead. “In here. Telling me to tell you. She says to pull back to twice the distance.”

“You can hear your Momma?”

“Talking.”

Zoe looked at him for a minute, his blue eyes, his dark hair, the image of his father at that age, from Freya’s description. Yet what was inside was so much of his mother, sometimes it was pretty scary. “Pull back, huh?”

“Yes.”

“She say why?”

He shook his head, hugging his stuffed alligator to his chest. “Just to do it.”

“And it’s an order?”

He smiled. “Think so.”

“Then in that case …”

---

Freya nodded, sitting at the table, opening her eyes. “They’re moving.”

Hank let out a long-held breath. “Thanks, Frey.”

“No problem.” Freya felt Mal’s hand on her shoulder, and she leaned into him a little.

“Easy?” he murmured.

“No.” She sounded surprised. Probably just not used to it yet, she added mentally.

Don’t worry. He squeezed gently. I'm figuring before he’s grown he’s gonna get real pissed off at you dropping your little comments in there. He cringed as she thumped him in his mind.

Hank shook his head, knowing there was an entire conversation going on he wasn't privy to, and clapped his hands together. “Right,” he said, looking at Kaylee. “You wanna help me with my suit?”

“What?” Mal looked up. “You going to abandon ship?”

“No. Just go and take a look at the coms array. See if I can’t attach a power pack directly, take out the middle man. I might even be able to send a distress beacon if I can work it right.”

“You think you could?”

“Only one way to find out.”

“I thought you weren’t the going out on the jobs sort of guy,” Freya teased.

“Want my wife and kid back on board,” he said seriously.

“Know the feeling,” she agreed.

“And you waited until Zoe was out of the way to decide this,” Mal said, able to envisage pretty well the argument that would have ensued.

“Well, let’s just say I was only considering it before.”

Mal nodded. “Kaylee, help him.”

---

It didn’t look any different, Hank decided, staring up at the stars. Just as scary as last time, although the fear didn’t feel quite as sharp. Probably because he had other things to worry about right now. Closing the hatch behind him, he pushed himself gingerly to a standing position, his boots gripping well.

“Okay, Hank,” he said to himself. “This was your idea. Better get on with it.”

Glad the shuttle was probably too far away for Zoe to see him doing something quite so stupid, he began to sidle gingerly towards the array.

-

“What the hell is that?” Zoe muttered, seeing movement on Serenity’s hull. “Oh, you ben tian sheng de fei fei de pi yan,” she swore through gritted teeth, recognising the gait if not the intention.

“Auntie Zoe?” Bethie called. “What’s Uncle Hank doing?”

-

“How’s he going?” Mal asked, leaning on the back of the pilot’s chair.

Freya shrugged. “He’s none too happy, but he’s reached the array.”

“Think he can do it?”

“He’s almost as good as Wash.”

He glared at her. “Stay outta my mind, witch,” he growled.

“No.”

“One of these days –“

The Firefly shuddered, and in the galley a plate skittered to the floor and broke.

“What just happened?” Mal asked, still feeling the vibrations rumble through Serenity.

“I don’t know.” Freya was trying combinations on the console, but getting nothing.

“It sounded like ...” He stopped. “God.”

“What?” she asked, turning to him. “Mal, what?”

“Lock down,” he said tightly. “Serenity’s locked herself down.”

“You mean –“

“All airlocks, escape hatches … everything.”

Freya looked at him, her eyes wide. “Hank,” she murmured.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Thursday, January 31, 2008 5:34 AM

BADKARMA00


EErie, spooky, technical, Mal being all emotional for a nanosecond, this has got it all! Great story, Jane, I am so loving this! Keep it going! Only, don't kill Hank. I mean he just got married and all, wouldn't be right.

Right? Jane? Right? Hmm?

Thursday, January 31, 2008 5:51 AM

SLUMMING


Yikes! Not Hank!!!

Thursday, January 31, 2008 7:53 AM

COLT999


Not sure who to worry about. Those trapped inside Serenity or those trapped outside.

Really enjoying this story

Thursday, January 31, 2008 5:58 PM

KATESFRIEND


Glad they listened to Bethany and Ethan. I have the strong urge to believe that Wash himself gave Mal the idea that it was a virus and somehow the solution is in sight. You really know how to put them in a jam, don't you? Loved the comment about Ethan not wanting to hear his mother in his head as he gets older!

Thursday, January 31, 2008 7:16 PM

NCBROWNCOAT


Gadzukes! Whew! you really have us on a ride don't you. Right now my stomach is doing flips with worry.

Friday, February 1, 2008 12:18 AM

WYTCHCROFT


and the vice just keeps on squeezing! the fast flying dialogue was a bonus too!

Saturday, February 2, 2008 5:29 PM

FREEVERSE


Jane, I keep checking for the next installment...What will happen if Zoe comes swooping in to Hank's rescue from the sentient and desperate entity that's taken over the ship? Does Mal negotiate with AI's (can Freya?)??? And why haven't they put on their spacesuits?!

Yes, I'm hooked.


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