BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Slender Thread - Part IX
Sunday, February 3, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. Hank's stuck on the hull, and Mal's desperately trying to come up with a plan. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1899    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

“Okay, that was scary,” Hank said out loud as the shuddering died away beneath his feet.

Looking around anxiously, he was at least glad to see Serenity didn’t appear to be damaged in any way. “Not that I could do anything about it anyway,” he said out loud. “It’s not like I could run after anything might have fallen off.”

He realised he was talking to himself, and laughed shortly. “Great,” he added, shaking his head inside his suit. “Always knew I was crazy. Just goes to prove it.” Still, that juddering had unnerved him somewhat. “Much more of that and I’ll be needing to change my underwear when I get back,” he quipped. “And here I am, being all humorous, and no-one around to be impressed.”

Sighing heavily and fogging his faceplate for a moment, he continued on towards the array, trying hard not to think of all the things that could have caused his ship to judder like that.

-

Zoe watched as the tiny figure moved up the curve of the Firefly’s neck to the top. It paused, and appeared to crouch down.

“You be careful,” she murmured, too low for the children in the back of the shuttle to hear. “Just got you broken in. Don’t want to have to find someone new right now.” She absently toyed with the band on her finger.

Behind her Bethie and Ethan were staring at each other, but the little girl put her finger to her lips. Better Auntie Zoe didn’t know. No point in worrying her.

-

“I can’t do anything,” Kaylee admitted, wiping her greasy hands for the thousandth time on the piece of rag stuffed into her pocket. “Got no more control over that than over the lights.”

“Can’t you just cut it?” Freya asked. “Actually pull the circuits?”

“Wouldn’t help. This ain’t just a code been activated to stop you telling the doors to open. This is physical locks in place. Removing the circuit boards ain’t gonna make them undo.” She looked tense, unhappy. “Pretty much our only hope is that it’ll reset itself, like some of the other systems’ve done.”

“Not our hope I’m worried about, mei-mei,” Mal said darkly. He looked at Freya. “Hank?”

“He doesn’t know,” she said. “At least, I don’t think so. At the moment all I can pick up is his determination to see if he can fix things.”

“Can he?”

“He’s trying.”

-

Hank attached the power pack into the coms array, muttering to himself all the time. “Clip in the auxiliary … easier if I weren’t wearing gloves but I’m kinda attached to my fingers … adjust the modulator … remove the breaker and …” He sat back a little and grinned. “Voila.”

Removing a small screen from the pocket on his leg, he plugged it in. “Here goes nothing,” he said to no-one in particular, and switched it on. It glowed, then sprang to life, the logon flashing. “Yes!” As fast as he could, he began to type in his request on the tiny keyboard, his hands feeling unwieldy inside the gloves.

“That’s it, baby,” he murmured. “You just keep … oh, no, no, no!” The screen data began to fluctuate, twisting and tying itself in knots until it flared briefly and died. “Oh, cao.”

He sat back on his heels and looked over at the shuttle keeping pace with them, seeming to hang against the stars.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” he said. “Looks like I won’t be talking to you any time soon.”

-

“Shit.”

“Sorry, Mal,” Freya said, watching him pacing the galley. “If it helps, Hank feels as disgusted with himself.”

Mal banged his fist into the counter. “It doesn’t.”

-

“Okay. No point in sitting here feeling sorry for myself.” Hank pushed himself to his feet, careful not to lose contact with the surface of the ship. “Better be getting back inside.”

Not that he felt like rushing anywhere. He’d just about run out of ideas, and right now his brain was rebelling, alternating between wishing he could think of something else, and just wanting to get home. Glancing down at the air read-out, he started back towards the hatch, surprised to find he’d been longer than he thought. Still, plenty of time left.

-

“Now what?” Simon asked, sitting at the table and holding his wife’s hand.

“I don’t know,” Mal admitted, his voice bleak. “I just don’t know.”

Kaylee stood up. “I’ll go back. See if I can divert power to the hatches. Maybe just the one.”

“I’ll help,” Simon offered.

She smiled at him, knowing he just needed to have something to do, to feel useful in some way, even if she didn‘t herself. “Okay.”

Mal watched them go, then looked at Freya. “She won’t be able to.”

“No.”

“He’s got about forty, forty-five minutes of air left.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve not felt so helpless in a long time, Frey.”

“We’ll think of something.”

“Wish I had your faith in me, xin gan. I really do.”

-

Hank reached the access hatch and punched in the code. Nothing happened. He tried again. Still nothing, not even the vibration of the locks disengaging. He tried the handle, attempting to turn the wheel. It went through less than forty-five degrees and stopped. Turning it back, he put more effort into it this time, letting the weight work for him. It halted at the same place.

He swallowed, licking lips that suddenly really needed water. “Okay. No need to panic. It’s just a glitch. That’s all. Just take it easy and try it again.”

A third attempt, and a fourth, and every time it hit something and refused to go any further.

His heart was pounding hard, and he was breathing fast. Too fast. Using up too much air. He concentrated on calming down, and closed his eyes.

He envisaged Zoe standing in front of him, her feet planted securely on the hull, Ben on her hip, looking at him. She was saying something, but in the vacuum of space he couldn’t hear what it was. He knew, though. She was telling him not to panic, to take it easy, and just to hold on. She was probably adding something to the extent that the Captain would fix this, and that he was a wimp to take fright this easily.

Silently he agreed with her. That’s what he was. A wimp. Always had been, always would be. At least that was what she’d fallen in love with. He’d never pretended to be anything else.

He opened his eyes, looking back up to the shuttle. “Holding on here, dear. Holding on.”

-

“Bethie.”

“Yes, Auntie Zoe?”

“What’s going on?”

“Auntie Zoe?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t -”

“Why Isn’t Uncle Hank going inside?”

The little girl gazed unhappily at Ethan. “Auntie Zoe -”

“He’s back at the hatch but he hasn’t gone in. You got any idea why that is?”

Ethan shrugged, making it Bethie’s decision.

“It’s … it’s … he can’t, Auntie Zoe,” she finally said, misery dripping from her words. “The door’s locked.”

Zoe stared out at the Firefly. “Lock down,” she murmured, her face paling. “Tah muh duh.”

-

Freya took a deep breath. “Mal.”

“What is it?” He sounded sharper than he’d intended. “I'm trying to come up with a plan here.” He carried on pacing, having to do something more than just sit.

“The shuttle’s gone, yes?”

“You know it is.” He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “But even if you contacted Zoe through Ethan, the shuttle wouldn’t be able to pick him up. She wouldn’t be able to –“

Freya interrupted, “Close off all vents to the lower levels. And all the doors into the bay. Then open the internal shuttle door by hand.”

His face went from puzzled to understanding in the space of a heartbeat. “Shuttle door’s the only one can be winched open,” he said softly.

“Only one.” She sat down next to him.

“But that’ll lose us most our air, Frey. And if life support goes down -”

“I know.” She put her hand on his. “Has to be your decision.”

Mal gazed at her, the seemingly patient, calm air she was projecting, but he knew underneath it she was as anxious as he was. A physical enemy, intent on separating him from his life, that he could deal with. Serenity turning on him was something he simply wasn’t prepared for. “How’ll he know? Hank. To come to the airlock? Will you …” He twiddled his fingers by his temple.

She smiled slightly. “No. It doesn’t work like that. I can’t ‘talk’ to him.”

“You do to me. You did to Ethan.”

“I've never talked to Hank like that. And even if I did, it would probably only frighten him out of his wits. He’d think he was going crazy.”

“So what do … you …” His voice faded away as his face took on a stern, angry look and he backed up a pace. “No. No and no. You ain’t doing that.”

“Someone has to go out and get him. I can bring him back into the bay, where he’ll at least be safer.”

“We won’t be able to repressurise.” Mal tried hard to get her to understand. “Even if you close the shuttle doorway, you won’t be able to get a seal. You’ll be stuck in the bay without … no, Frey.”

“We’ll have access to the extra air packs,” she pointed out. “There’s enough in there for at least ten hours between us. And that’ll give Kaylee enough time to sort things out. Besides, Simon can’t go. You know how he gets at the sight of all that nothing.”

“Then I’ll do it.”

“You can’t. You have to be available to make decisions. Do captainy things.”

“Frey –“

“Can’t leave him outside, Mal.”

He looked into her eyes, saw the quiet determination there. “Shit.”

She smiled. “There I am, risking life and limb, and you’re swearing at me.”

“Don’t, Frey.” He took her hand and held it tightly.

She realised he was trembling slightly. “Kaylee will fix it. Even if you go the last resort, she’ll make it work.”

“Can’t do this without you, ai ren,” he whispered.

“Won’t have to.”

-

He helped her into the suit while Simon made sure anything that could be tied down was, either in the cages or lashed to the walls. Then he made himself scarce, going to join his own wife on the bridge.

“You go get him and come back, you here?” Mal said, adjusting the pack on her back. “No going off enjoying the scenery.”

“No side trips,” she agreed, pulling on her gloves.

“And you let me know what you’re doing, all the time.” He picked up her helmet. “If you don’t, well, you ain’t too big to be put over my knee.”

She let her mouth curve. “You keep promising that, but you never do.”

“Well, this time I mean it. And you use the blankets Simon’s put in the hideaway. It’s gonna be cold in here, and I don’t know how long it’ll be until Kaylee figures out how to put this to rights.”

“You too.”

“Hey, you know me. I don’t feel the cold.”

“No, of course not.” She leaned forward and kissed him gently, feeling his lips parting under hers. “Come on.” She glanced towards the helmet. “Don’t have all day.”

He gazed into her hazel eyes then lifted it over her head, pulling the connectors around to get a good seal. She took a deep breath and gave him the thumbs up.

Looking at her through the faceplate, he bit down on the urge to strip the damn suit right off her again, and instead nodded once. He saw her lips form one word, and knew what it was. “Go.”

-

“Is this going to work?” Simon asked, lurking in the doorway to the bridge.

“Has to.” Kaylee didn’t come out from under the console.

“What if -”

“Hand me that connector, will you?” Her hand snaked out from underneath.

The young man stared at the bewildering selection of bits and pieces laid out on the floor. “Which is that?”

“The yellow one. With the black tab.”

Simon put the relevant one into her fingers and her hand disappeared again. “But do you think this will work?”

“Course it will,” Kaylee assured him, her voice full of confidence. “Course it will.” She crossed her fingers and bit her lip until it bled.

-

Freya waited until the upper door had closed, giving him a few more seconds to get a full seal, then she opened the compartment next to the shuttle hatch. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the horizontal handle and tugged. It wouldn’t move. Bracing her feet, she pulled again, feeling the muscles in her arms strain and her shoulder joints want to pop.

“Jayne, where are you now, when I need you?” she muttered, groaning with the effort.

There was a click, not a sound but a feeling, and for a split she wondered if she’d torn a ligament, then the handle moved. Mindful of the possibility that she could just tear her suit open if she caught it, she tugged upwards, the handle moving into a vertical alignment.

The hatch moved, opening a few inches, and the air rushed out, dragging anything not tied down with it. It was trying to equalise, but in the endless emptiness of space that was impossible. The small window fogged immediately, but she kept tight hold of the handle, feeling as if a hundred hands had grabbed at her and were pulling her towards the gap.

-

Zoe sat forward, seeing the thin plume of air appear and immediately dissipate in the vacuum, debris spinning as it was pulled out. Not a hull breach, she prayed. Please, not that. Then she realised where it must be coming from.

“Auntie Zoe?” Ethan stood next to her, tears on his cheeks. “Scared,” he said, shivering like autumn leaves in a breeze..

She lifted him onto her lap. “Your Mama?”

He nodded, burying his face in her shoulder.

-

Kaylee stood next to Mal, who was pressing his forehead into the small window on the door into the cargo bay, one hand either side. She knew he couldn’t see anything, but that didn’t stop him staring into the dark.

“She’ll be fine, Cap,” she said quietly. “She’ll be fine.”

“Ought to be me going out there,” he whispered. “I should’ve put my foot down.”

“Since when did Frey do what you told her?” Kaylee put her hand on his back, feeling his muscles tight, hard, willing all his strength to the woman the other side of the door.

“Since never, mei-mei,” he admitted. “Just once, though, I wish she had.”

“Then you can argue about it when she gets back.” She felt him stiffen more. “What is it?”

“She’s outside.”

to be continued

COMMENTS

Sunday, February 3, 2008 1:16 AM

BADKARMA00


Oh dear! Frey and Hank, in the bay, together. Frey will probably kill him before Kaylee can get things worked out, ROFL. Great way to keep the suspense on!

Sunday, February 3, 2008 2:04 AM

AMDOBELL


I really thought Freya's reason for being the one to go out after Hank sucked. What crap that she had to do it because Mal had to stay behind and think Captainy thoughts. You just wanted to put Frey in jeopardy again admit it. Really worrying now not just about poor Hank but every gorram one. That damned AI ship is out thinking them at every turn but without being held back by anything human like sorrow or remorse or compassion. Gorramit, I sure hope Kaylee can pull the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat in time. Really love how you are keeping the tension up on this brilliant story! Just don't, for this once, don't let Frey get hurt this time. Think of the novelty value if nothing else. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, February 3, 2008 3:46 AM

SLUMMING


This arc is just unrelentingly tense! I would ask what could possibly happen next, but I'm afraid I'd find out! Yikes! To quote Willie Wonka..."The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts."

Sunday, February 3, 2008 4:42 AM

FREEVERSE


Oh dear. Seems things are going from bad to worse! But thank you so much for posting ;)

Sunday, February 3, 2008 4:43 AM

NCBROWNCOAT


LOL slumming! You put it perfectly. I have NO fingernails left.

Sunday, February 3, 2008 8:54 AM

KATESFRIEND


You are so very good at ratcheting up the tension until it hurts! And you make it feel sooo good. Loved the bit with Ethan and Zoe especially, and Mal and Kaylee. It was very special that Hank could use Zoe's strength to calm himself down. Loved that everyone's strengths and weaknesses were taken into account - from Simon hating to go outside, to Mal's impulse to go himself, but trapped in his Captain's role. Very in character and very very exciting. There's something very special in the relationship between Ethan and Zoe, though. Most likely a reflection of her relationship with Mal. Don't know where you're going with this but it's a good ride!

Monday, February 4, 2008 2:37 AM

WYTCHCROFT


well i'm late to the party here! Great chapter - your original characters really provoke as much as the crew. nicely done:)

Monday, February 4, 2008 6:13 AM

COLT999


On the edge of my seat waiting for more.


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