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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A pre-BDM adventure with the crew finding themselves in a place they thought they'd never see.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1405 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Return – Part 1
Hoban Washburne had thought he had seen everything possible from the cockpit of spacecraft. Stars, planets and moons were old hat for him, asteroids something to be admired but avoided at all costs, comets best observed from a fair distance, and supernova from an extremely fair distance. Nothing as dramatic as a supernova had ever happened in their little quadrant of space, but with so much unknown about the ‘verse in general, one never knew what could suddenly appear and in a blink of an eye you, your ship, and shipmates would be just a memory. More than one of Wash’s classmates from pilot training had met such a fate. Small asteroids could breach a hull and in less than a minute all the air was gone and everyone turned blue and puffy faced. Solar flares mucked up the nav system and all comms, leaving you blind until repairs could be rendered or you drifted into something solid. Get too close to a star and you’d burn up or its gravity would suck you into its fiery maw. And these were just the things the verse threw at you.
Mechanical failings on any spacecraft were a might more serious than those on any planet side vehicle. You couldn’t just pull over and get out and see what the matter was. Well, you could, but that meant spacesuits and a walk in the void to find the problem, which more than likely couldn’t be fixed anyway. Air locks could and did fail, engines exploded, nav computers went haywire and sent you into a big fat moon, and a million and one other things could go wrong. And then there was the human, or, in the case of the Reavers, the not-so-human element to deal with. A crewman could go mad and sabotage the ship. Someone could just plain screw up and then they’d be adrift. Or you could have a cheap ass captain who scrimped and scrapped so much that every piece of gear in the boat was older than crew’s age, combined. Not that Wash was thinking of any particular captain, but of late Kaylee had complained more about the engine than the fact that Simon wasn’t taking the hints she threw at him every chance she got.
And all of that was without the Alliance chasing you cause you were harboring two refugees, or having other rogue bands trying to hump the illegal salvage you just took off a derelict, or even having to deal with so-called businessmen like Badger who just wanted to screw you out of your dishonest profit. Reavers topped the list of all those things and Serenity’s near brushes with them had given the crew plenty of reason to pray they never tangled with them face to face. Wash wasn’t the bravest man in the verse but even a tough lug like Jayne quailed at the thought of Reavers boarding Serenity.
No, nothing in his six years of flying had prepared Wash for what he now saw filling the bridge windows of Serenity. He was tired and rubbed his eyes, thinking he’d better make sure before he hit the warning button or called for Mal and Zoe. It was late, about 11pm ship’s time, and they were on there way to Greenleaf, about two days out, carrying a load of well, weapons was the only way to put it. Illegal of course, twenty crates of rifles and pistols and machine guns and all kinds of other things that go bang and put holes in people. Mal hadn’t wanted to take the job cause such cargo attracted more than the usual share of unwanted company and cause if they got caught it would be the death penalty for sure for all of them, no matter if they were just the pilot, mechanic, or even a teenage psychotic. But times were tough and when a job came Mal couldn’t turn it down, no matter the risks involved.
It had been two weeks since Jubal Early had boarded Serenity and given them all a valuable lesson in vigilance. Simon’s leg was healing finally and Kaylee and River seemed disappointed that they would no longer be nursing him. Being more than vigilant since then, Wash had stayed up later than usual to make sure all was well. He did a full sensor sweep and had doubled back on their course for ten minutes to make sure no one else was about. Zoe was already in bed and Wash had just been setting the nav computer for the night’s course as Kaylee had gone to the engine room to set the power settings. He had already been thinking of laying in bliss in his woman’s arms. And then he had seen it.
It was a cloudy, milky bluish white light, directly ahead of the ship and to Wash it seemed to have suddenly appeared. It filled the windows and its sudden shocking appearance froze his brain for an instant. He couldn’t calculate how close it was but at Serenity’s current speed it was too close. The proximity warning hadn’t sounded so Wash wasn’t sure if it wasn’t close enough or the system didn’t register it. In an instant as all these rambling thoughts went through his head he reacted like a pro, hit the emergency klaxon and at the same time swung Serenity to the right away from the milky cloud. And it followed him. One moment he had clear space and in the next instant it was directly in front of him again, and Wash couldn’t tell if it had moved or if it had dragged Serenity back toward it. He turned left next and the same thing happened again. The klaxon reverberated through the ship and feared gripped Hoban Washburne as Serenity slid ever so inexorable toward the cloud.
Kaylee Frye was in the engine room, her favorite place on her favorite ship in the verse. At least it had been until very recently. Then that madman Early had boarded Serenity and threatened her sanity and her life in a few callous words. Kaylee couldn’t shake the memory of him binding her hands and feet and putting her on the cold metal gratings on the floor. Helpless and terrified, she lay there, full of guilt for having told him where River was. But it had all worked out in the end and they were saved. Still, it was in her favorite room all had happened and just being here brought back the memories. She’d have to be here a lot cause this is what she did and did well, but it would take time to forget, if she ever did.
She tried to think on something good that had happened here and suddenly a feeling a pleasure crept into her nether regions as she thought on Bester, the former mechanic of Serenity. It was here they had made love and it had been marvelous. He was handsome and muscular, with powerful arms and deep thrusts that had made Kaylee squirm with ecstasy. He was good in the sack but was still a jerk. He couldn’t even remember her name when Mal interrupted them and she had fixed the engine. In a small way she was glad she was the reason Bester got fired cause he sure was no gentleman. Not compared to the gentleman who was now on board Serenity.
And that was the problem with Simon; he was too much of a gentleman. If only she could take the brashness of Bester and merge it with the charm, education, politeness, caring, and goodness of Simon and she’d have the perfect man. Now that she thought on it the only thing Bester had going for him was his looks and brashness. On that day that had been enough but now she wanted more. Just Simon wasn’t offering it. Yet. Oh, she knew he was attracted to her and they had had many close brushes with romance but something always got in the way, usually his stupid mouth or another crewman’s poor timing. It would come, she was sure of it, and she would wait for him cause she knew deep in her heart that she loved him.
Kaylee felt better as she thought on Simon and her feelings for him and was just reaching for the power levers to set the speed for the night when with a jolt the ship shifted right in a steep turn and the klaxon echoed its blare throughout the ship. She lost her balance and with a small cry landed in her hammock. As she tried to get to her feet a suddenly left turn sent her tumbling the other way. She had just gotten to her feet when Wash screamed through the intercom.
“Kaylee! Emergency full engine stop! Full engine stop! NOW!”
Malcolm Reynolds sat at the table of Serenity’s dining area, a cup of his favorite Chinese drink in his hand, the bottle not far away on the table. He slouched and was broody and was very un-captainy. His mind was on Inara and her plans to leave Serenity. He hadn’t told the crew yet and it wasn’t something he was looking forward to. Kaylee was gonna take it hard and maybe even River too but he’d be the last person to take a wager on what went through the teenaged mind reader’s mind. Not even Doc Simon knew that. What his ship carried in its cargo hold also weighed on his mind and he knew it was suicidal to become an arms runner. Alliance might just toss him in a penal colony for a few years and take away his ship for hiding Simon and River, but gun running was a death penalty offense for all on board. Zoe had tried to talk him out of it and he almost let her, but without this cargo and the up front advance, they would never have had the fuel to leave that dusty backwater moon.
The job had come through Monty. His old war pal knew Mal was hurting and put him in touch with the gun runners. Monty trusted them to pay but wouldn’t touch the cargo himself. He knew the leader and had done business with him before but not for guns. Mal, Jayne and Zoe had met them in a secluded forest and taken on the cargo in shuttle two and got the destination. In no uncertain terms the gang leader told Mal that if got caught and gave up their location, Monty would have his throat slit in his sleep. Mal had been threatened plenty of times and danger was an old friend but this one felt a little different. Guns for Greenleaf? Not his business and he had a rep of no questions asked but this time he had plenty which he kept to himself. Most likely for robbers and the like on Greenleaf and that meant the crime stats of that planet would go on the rise in the next few months.
Jayne had done a thorough examination of the cargo and certified about a third prime weaponry, a third fit for scaring folks out of their money and maybe a bit of hunting or target practice, at close range, but not much more, and a third pure junk that wasn’t fit for hitting the side of a barn at twenty paces. Mal didn’t care about the quality, just the numbers and told Jayne to make sure nothing went missing, both the good and bad stuff, before they hit Greenleaf. Jayne decided to spend his time on passage trying to get the junk into better shape and Shepherd Book had joined him. The preacher’s continuing superior knowledge of weaponry was another eye opener for the crew but Jayne took it in stride and was glad to have someone lend a hand and keep him company.
Mal’s mind drifted back to Inara and he couldn’t decide what to do about her. He had feelings, strong feelings for sure for the lovely lady, but the complications of their situation were so convoluted that it frustrated him to no end. He had too many responsibilities to his ship and crew to get involved in something that could weaken him and Inara sure could do that. She always sent his head spinning and his heart pounding and he felt like a school boy on his first date when he was around her. It took all his lessons learned about leadership over the years to control his feelings and keep his nerve around her. Her barbs at his profession helped and their verbal sparing was a relief to him at times because it helped him to put aside his lust and even made him get angry at her. But it was fleeting and he knew he hurt her when he called her a whore. He always told himself he would never say it again but she always did something and it just came out.
Sleeping with Nandi had been foolish and it was one of the reasons for Inara to leave of that he was certain. She covered up well, but he knew she had been hurt when he slept with her friend. Mal had gone without a woman for so long and Nandi was there, beautiful and willing and they all could have been dead the next day. Nandi was dead and Mal felt a twinge of guilt over that. It hadn’t been his fault but he hadn’t tried hard enough to convince Nandi to leave that moon.
Mal was reaching for his bottle to pour another drink went suddenly the bottle slid out of arms reach and went flying off the table and hit the floor with a crash. At the same moment the klaxon blared and Mal immediately leaped to his feet and headed for the bridge, swaying from side to side as his ship was sent into a series of violent maneuvers.
“WASH! What the hell is going on?!?!”
Zoe Washburne lay in bed, wearing nothin’ at all, waiting for Wash to finish setting the course and come to bed. Thoughts on what they would do when he arrive made her grin. She knew he was tired but he was never too tired to make her feel like a woman. Her mind also drifted to the guns in the cargo hold, and knew it was a mistake that might cost them in the end. Tough times or not, they had never done anything so out right stupid before. Sure they had robbed every kind of place that held money and had shipped almost every conceivable cargo, but never guns. The Alliance wanted all the guns in the galaxy controlled by them but they knew that was an impossibility. Folks on the rim needed guns for protection and the Alliance decision to take away those guns had been part of the reason behind the rebellion. Or so the history books said, least the ones published by the Alliance after the war. Zoe knew the reasons for the war ran much deeper than who controlled arms in the galaxy. “Interference in local politics” “raping of resources”, “using rim planets as forced labor pools” “confiscation of private property” “excessive taxes for rim planets”, “freedom”, all these word and phrases one often didn’t see in any Alliance book on the causes of the war.
Since they couldn’t take away every gun from every person in the galaxy, the second best thing was to control the manufacture and trade in guns and that they did with a tenacious demeanor. All weapon manufacturing was strictly controlled on Core planets and any hint of an operation outside Alliance control was ruthlessly hunted down and destroyed. The death penalty was given to all involved in illegal weapons manufacturing, transportation, and selling. And now they were gun runners.
Talking Mal out of something had never been Zoe’s strong suit. He was as stubborn as they came and she had learned over the years what buttons to push to make him change his mind, which rarely happened. Her marriage to Wash had been one of the few times she had disagreed with him but she knew it wouldn’t be the last. Malcolm Reynolds streak of nobility and madness clashed at times. The nobility got them into trouble and the madness got them out again. Madness for doing the impossible, not the type of madness they all feared River had. She had seen the hope leave him in Serenity Valley and that hope had been replaced by the cold, but still smoldering embers of a once fiery heart that was now darkened against the ‘verse.
Saving Simon and River had been one part his attempt at salvation, despite the many times he said he did it to stick a thorn in the side of the Alliance. That was partly true but Zoe knew it ran deeper than that. Mal has always seen himself as the good guy, but the Alliance branded him a rebel and then a criminal. Helping the Tams made him a good guy again. Zoe hadn’t agreed with him on their staying and knew they were trouble that they hadn’t seen the last of yet, but she couldn’t deny that having Simon on board, him saving Kaylee, Mal, and even herself, more than outweighed any trouble the brother and sister could bring down on the ship and its crew.
“Where are you, husband?” Zoe thought as she waited for her man. Then came the piercing, shocking sound of the klaxon and Zoe was up and struggling into her clothes as her husband sent the old Firefly into violent twists and turns
Inara Serra sat on her bed in her shuttle, looking at all her possessions surrounding her living quarters and wondering, for the hundredth time, if she was making a mistake by leaving Serenity. She was leaving because of Mal and for no other reason than the fact that if she couldn’t be with him she didn’t want to be near him. That had to be love and her breakdown when she learned he had spent the night in her friend Nandi’s arms confirmed her deep feelings for Mal. Why and how it happened she didn’t know because he represented everything she found repulsive in the verse. He was uncultured, a thief, a killer, and a rebel. But the charm of the man cut through all that and his noble heart was clear for her to see. Any real thief would have turned Simon and River in a long time ago, collected the reward, and not have lost a wink of sleep over it. Mal had had his chances to be rid of them, guilt free, but had gone back for them on Jingyang and Ariel. He never left anyone behind.
Inara looked at her bed where she had loved so many men except for the one she really loved. Damn that man was so stubborn! Why didn’t he say anything?! She knew how Kaylee felt about Simon, the little mechanic coming to Inara for a sympathetic ear concerning her feelings on Simon more than once or twice. Mal and Simon had more in common than either would ever admit. She knew Kaylee sensed that she had more feelings for Mal than she let on but Kaylee never directly broached the topic.
Where to go had been the big question for Inara and finally she received word from the head mistress of a training house that Inara would be more than welcome as an instructor. Inara’s past, the subject of much speculation among the crew, of which she never said a word to anyone, did not come up when the head mistress waved. Perhaps they hadn’t received word of Inara’s indiscretion this far out on the rim but that was wishful thinking as it had been almost two years since she left Sihon. The Guild Mistress had promised to not say anything to the other guild houses but rumors were like lifeblood to some Companions, as long as it was about fellow Companions. The secrets their client’s divulged in the bedroom were not to be shared but any juicy gossip about other Companions was for the taking. In fact, more than once the Alliance had tried to compromise the Guild’s position as an entertainer of powerful men to use the Companions as spies but all such attempts had been successfully resisted. What a man said and did in the arms of a Companion remained secret.
After the Greenleaf run Mal had promised to drop her off at the training house. Now all she had to do was break the news to the others and pack. Inara had just gotten to her feet and was thinking about how to tell the others when her whole world lurched and she was throw off her feet and onto her bed as the klaxon screamed its warning.
Jayne Cobb sat on the floor of the cargo bay, cleaning an ancient sniper rifle. It wasn’t the best he had ever seen and it certainly wasn’t the best that was in this pile of junk that passed for weapons, but it was the oldest and had a long history of that he was sure. But most of all it was the most valuable. It was a Springfield ’03, and it had to be at least six hundred years old, made in the United States and used by her soldiers in the First World War. Jayne knew guns and knew some military history, one of the few subjects that ever interested him enough to open a book in the few years of schooling he had. How it ended up in this cargo was the question as Jayne knew it could fetch a handsome price with any ancient firearms dealer. Those idiots who had given them the guns had no idea what they had. Rifle like this had to be worth least 100,000 credits or more to a serious gun dealer.
Jayne pulled the grease rag through the barrel for the tenth time and then took an old wire brush and commenced to scraping away the spots of rust on the barrel and firing mechanism. No way was this one going back in the crates no matter what Mal said. Jayne hated taking orders from Mal and the captain pissed him off at least once a day. One of these days….but Jayne knew that day wouldn’t come cause he learned long ago that Malcolm Reynolds was a bit mad when it came to his ship and his crew and would die defending both. To Jayne, Serenity was just a piece of machinery that carried him through the verse and let him get and do the things that pleased him in life, like shooting people, stealing shiny stuff like this rifle, and getting him a woman for the right price. The right price was no attachments, no ring on his finger, and no one telling him to be home for supper.
The women on Serenity were some of the finest Jayne had ever seen but they were strictly off limits, something Mal made sure he understood the day he joined the ship and Mal caught him leering at Kaylee. A smack to the jaw and stern talking to with a pistol in his face made Jayne understand the rules of Mal’s ship. Jayne hated rules but sometimes you just had to follow a few so you could say to hell with the rest. He thought on killin’ Mal Reynolds for the first time then but he had no friends on this ship and Zoe would kill him the second after he killed Mal. Now Mal had kind of grown on Jayne and they had shared more drinking and danger than Jayne had shared with any other man in his life. You could say Mal was turning into kind of a brother, not that Jayne would ever say that out loud. Just cause he felt like that didn’t mean Jayne wouldn’t try to take over the ship if Mal ever got himself killed, with or without Jayne’s help.
Nope, Jayne had never laid a hand on any of the Serenity women but it didn’t mean he didn’t want to. Kaylee was a sexpot and had the sunniest smile in the verse but all she had eyes for was the prissy Doc and his fine airs. Even before Simon had come on board Jayne’s crudeness had turned Kaylee off in a way she made clear to him. Zoe was mighty fine too but she was tough as nails and was already married to Wash when he came on board. When Inara joined the ship Jayne thought that this was just too good, my own whore on board, but that dream was soon dashed by both Mal and Inara. Then there was moon brain. River was more than half his age younger than him and clearly out of her mind. But she was pretty and sexy and moved like a cat about the ship, the grace of a dancer hard not to see. And if what Kaylee said about her ability with firearms at the Skyplex battle was true, then she and Jayne had more in common than anyone, especially her brother, would ever admit.
Jayne placed the rifle carefully on the cloth he had laid out on the floor and was just about to stand up and stretch when the whole ship took a right ways lurch and the klaxon blared into life. Jayne was up and on the stairs heading topside within a few moments, wondering what in the ‘verse was going on this time.
Shepherd Book was in the bathroom off the passenger lounge, brushing his teeth and washing his face before bed. He looked in the mirror above the sink and his almost sixty years was deeply lined on his face. A lot of miles on this body, he thought, feeling the aches of his age. His body had the scars of those years also, scars from his previous life and even a few new ones from his brief time on board Serenity. Stay or go was on the Shepherd’s mind also this night and a reminder of his scars made him think more and more on go. There was the knock on the head from Dobson, the second more recent knock on the head from Early, and then, worst of all, the bullet from who knows who from the modern version of the gunfight at the OK corral. Simon had been gone and he knew he was dieing so he had to pull out his ID card and show those Alliance men who he really was. He always carried it, knew he’d have to show it to someone some day for some reason. He could have thrown it away years ago but he was above all a cautious man. Men like him didn’t grow old unless they were cautious.
When the war ended he knew people would be looking for him, some to get him to do more of the same as he had done, others seeking revenge. He needed a rest from all the madness he had seen and had participated in and the abbey was the logical choice. Book had been a religious man in his youth and had no trouble picking up the pieces of that old life again. Six years he stayed in the Southdown Abbey and then he felt it was time to go. Perhaps it wasn’t. Within a day of leaving the abbey he was once more entangled in the long tentacles of the Alliance, on board this ship with these people who he began to think on as family.
But gun running was the last straw for Book. He knew that Mal was in a bad spot but even this was too much. Book knew more than most men abut guns, with perhaps the exception of Jayne Cobb, but he knew that guns were the cause of much of the pain in the verse. Shipping them to criminals on Greenleaf was dangerous and foolhardy. On the first day he had sat with Jayne in the cargo bay examining and discussing the weapons but then he couldn’t stomach it anymore and had left Jayne to it alone. His friendship with the mercenary mystified the Shepherd on more than one occasion. They both enjoyed weight training and Jayne seemed to want to talk to the older man, not for religious reasons, but just to talk, about anything, seeing as everyone else on Serenity was younger than Jayne except Book. No one was older than Book and he turned to Inara at times when he needed advice. In his youth she would have turned his head in a second but those days were long past and his dedication to his vows prevented him from taking a woman.
Book exited the passenger bathroom and was heading to his room when the ship took a steep turn and he lost his balance for a second. Then the klaxon was screaming its warning and Book dropped his toiletries on the lounge table and ran up the back stairs.
Simon Tam lay in bed in his room, unable to sleep, his mind on fire with thoughts of one person who filled his mind day and night. The little mechanic had gotten under his skin and he was engulfed with desire for her. Her smile, her hair, the smell of her, her bright green eyes, her laugh, and her wholesome goodness, all made him crazy and it was all he could do to keep his composure around her. He buried himself in the work to find a cause for River’s problems and a cure but it wasn’t enough to totally block out thoughts of Kaylee. And at night there was no work and only the thoughts of Kaylee. Perhaps he should take to drinking something or taking a sleeping dose but that was not sound. He needed to be alert in case anything happened to his sister or someone else on the crew. His job was medic, doctor, life saver, and he took that responsibility seriously.
Sleep sure wasn’t coming yet so Simon sat up in bed and got out his journal, a leather bound notebook with thick creamy paper and began to write about what happened with Jubal Early. His leg still had a dull throb where he had been shot but Simon thought that was more of a mental projection of his injury than actual pain, like a person who breaks their leg and then continues to use a cane long after the leg has healed for fears of injuring it again. Early was one of the most evil men Simon had met in his life. All he did was search the ‘verse for bounties and take them to be punished. Simon couldn’t see the purpose of a life like that. Did Early and others like him get satisfaction out of finding and capturing fugitives? Perhaps. Some of those fugitives were savage criminals and perhaps men like Early were a necessity. But his sister was not a savage criminal and Early had paid the price for trying to take her in.
Thinking on River brought back all his frustrations about what to do about her and their future. Every day could be their last on Serenity and every day Simon woke up with the ground not solid under his feet. The last seven months had been a long rollercoaster ride and he had done more things, things he could never have imagined doing, in that time than in his previous twenty-seven years. This ship was both a haven and a deathtrap, allowing them to keep moving, but also attracting the kind of trouble Simon was looking to avoid. He needed a quiet corner of the verse, a place to hide and take care of River. And maybe ask Kaylee….no, he couldn’t drag her into their world of running and hiding. It wouldn’t be fair to her. But his feelings for her grew every day and he thought he’d go mad soon if he didn’t have her in his arms. He knew she felt the same way but something always stopped Simon from taking that last step and he knew then that perhaps it was true love, that he couldn’t bring himself to put her in any more danger than she already was by having the Tams on board this ship.
After some time writing Simon’s eyes grew bleary and he put the journal back on its shelf. He lay back and just as he drifted off the ship lurched and the klaxon blared. He was up in a second, hastily threw on some clothes and dashed to River’s room.
Of all the crew River Tam was the only one sleeping. Sleep came in fits and starts to her when she had first come on board Serenity but now she slept much better since their Ariel drug raid and the daily shots her brother gave her. River hated the medicine and the needles but it helped her think more clearly and to shut out the feelings of the other crew members. Emotions flooded her mind in those early weeks, feeling all that they felt and more. Fear was one of the strongest and fear was a constant presence on this ship. It had been overpowering when the Reavers had chased them and when Womack had been firing missiles at them, when Tracey was dieing and when Jubal Early was on the ship. But fear wasn’t the only emotion. There was love and she felt it strongest from Kaylee, especially when she was near her brother. Simon also felt it but struggled against it, trying but failing to control his love for Kaylee. With Mal and Inara there were plenty of sparks of love and they also both tried to control it, a little more successfully than her brother. Now with Zoe and Wash it was full on out in the open no holding back anything at anytime. Well, almost any time. Zoe and Wash did have their disagreements but they always came back to each other and River knew that was true love also. And then there was hope. Jayne hoped for a big payday, Mal hoped to keep his ship in the air, Kaylee hoped Simon would like her dress, Book hoped that all would be well, Inara hoped that Mal would overcome his stubbornness, Simon hoped that his sister would get better.
The whole gamut of emotions flooded the ship but what about River, did she also feel? Of course she did and strongest of all was her love for her brother. She knew he had given up everything to save her, was willing to sacrifice himself when those people had wanted to burn her, was even willing to give up on a chance of true happiness with Kaylee to help her. Kaylee was also in River’s mind for of all the people on Serenity Kaylee had been more of a friend to the Tams than anyone else. Inara was more like her mother than her real one and Book was the grandfather she had never known, despite their disagreements over the contents of the Bible. He just didn’t understand that a lot of that stuff was impossible. Faith had no place in River’s logical verse. Jayne was not to be trusted and all she saw in his heart was lust and greed. Zoe was wary of her and even felt sorry for her, but also felt that the Tams should be gone. Wash was funny and likeable and River also felt he had sympathy for her, but knew he would follow his wife’s position.
And that left Mal. He was the one who’s heart River knew was the purest of them all but it was scarred and trampled on and he was mistrusting of all. He had demons in his past and they were still floating around him. He wouldn’t send them off his boat, and would stand up to any that suggested it, but he knew that trouble would follow the Tams. Mal felt that he had a duty to protect them and it was something River had yet to reach a logical reason for.
The ship lurched and the klaxon rang and Simon had opened her door and then closed it again and River still slept on. After about five more minutes she suddenly sat up, eyes wide, lips trembling in fear, and she rose, dressed, and headed for the bridge.
Mal reached the bridge first and immediately saw the cause of Wash’s warning and of the violent turnings.
“What in the ‘verse…?”
“Don’t know, it was just…. there,” said Wash in a shaky voice. “Every time I turn, it’s just…there.”
“Cut the engines!”
“VTOLs off and Kaylee is powering us down now, but…”
“Momentum,” said Mal in despair. “Reverse thrust, VTOLs, full burn!”
“The fuel…” began Wash but then just did it. The two VTOLs reversed direction and Wash hit full burn. Mal and Wash held their breath as the ship slowed but was still drawn toward the swirling bluish white milky cloud.
“Shut ‘em down before we lose all fuel,” Mal told his pilot and Wash immediately stopped both VTOLs and returned them to their normal position.
“Get me a quick calculation on when we’ll hit it,” he ordered Wash and the pilot started hitting buttons and making computations on his nav computer. Mal reached over and shut off the klaxon and the sudden silence gave Mal a chill up his spine as he watched the cloud closing on his home and family. What in the hell could it be?
Kaylee’s voice came through the intercom. “Wash? What’s happening?”
Mal grabbed the mic. “Can we reverse main engine thrust Kaylee?”
“Not a chance,” came the reply. “She ain’t built to fly backwards. What’s happening?” And Mal could sense the frustration in Kaylee’s voice equaled his own. Here was a situation and nothing in his experience had prepared him for this.
“Not sure yet, Kaylee. Stay at your station,” was all Mal could say and he knew it was no comfort to his mechanic, alone in the bowels of the ship, unable to see anything that was happening.
“Roger that, Capt’n,” came her nervous reply.
Within a few minutes the rest of the crew was on the bridge with the exception of Kaylee and River. In awe they looked at the bluish white cloud and as they got closer it seemed to be glowing.
“Situation, sir?” asked Zoe and everyone just held their breathe, all except Simon who leaped to a Cortex screen and started inputting information.
“Got us this here space cloud popped up out of nowhere and we can’t avoid it or slow down,” Mal replied.
“Well, I’ll be…”said the Shepherd as he stared out the windows.
“Jus’ fly around the damn thing, Wash!” suggested Jayne as he sat in the co-pilot’s seat and stared with wide eyes at the phenomena fast approaching. Wash just looked at him in despair.
“Already tried it,” he said, his word a whisper. “Like Mal said, it can’t be avoided.”
“Why not?” asked Zoe as she lay a hand on her husband’s shoulder
“It…ah, followed us.”
Inara was just staring at him. “Followed us?”
“Or pulled us back toward it. I honestly don’t know,” Wash offered, but no one could quite understand it so he showed them. He turned the ship to the right and the cloud moved off to the left and just as quickly it was back in front. No one said a word for a long few seconds.
“Wash, need that calculation,” Mal reminded him.
“Ten minutes Mal before we are on it,” came Wash’s quiet voice as finished his calculations.
“It could be harmless,” said Shepherd Book and the others looked at him, not quite confident in his belief.
“Movement implies intelligence,” said Simon in a quiet voice and his words stopped them all. “There is nothing in the Cortex about his type of astral phenomena. It looks like space dust and gas but…”
“They don’t just pop up and follow around space ships,” said Wash.
“Exactly,” replied Simon.
“Well, we got exactly ten, no, nine minutes to do something about it. Ideas?” Mal said as he looked around and no one made a sound and the fear began to grow as each looked to the others and no answer was fourth coming. Then came a voice.
“We need to strap in.”
They all turned to look at River standing in the doorway, her eyes wide, her lip still trembling.
“Now. Going to be a bumpy ride,” she said and then turned and headed back toward the kitchen.
Mal looked at River walk away and wondered how she knew but he didn't have time to second guess her. The fact that she knew danger was approaching and she knew it wasn't going to be pleasant didn't make it any less so. “Right. Strap in everyone. Let’s not take any chances. I’ll tell Kaylee,” Mal said as he grabbed the overhead mic.
Within five minutes they were all strapped in, Mal, Wash and Zoe on the bridge, and the rest of the crew in the lounge area of the dining room. Jayne doubled checked all straps before strapping in himself. Simon brought Kaylee up to date on what was happening and then began the ride of their lives.
It was all over in a few minutes and nothing important was damaged but it felt like they had been inside a washing machine, the ship spinning and twisting, moving in all directions and making more than one stomach a little queasy. The artificial gravity had seemed to have lost its hold on the ship. They couldn’t help but shout and scream and fear filled the air as dishes went flying around the dining area, cupboards opened and cans fell out, and various other things came loose throughout the ship and went flying around.
Up on the bridge Mal, Wash and Zoe got the front seat view of a very interesting show. They hit the milky cloud and then it felt like the whole ship had been, as Wash later said “sucked right it”. Flashes of blue and white flew by and Zoe thought it was like a long tunnel they were going through. Mal’s hands almost broke the armrests on the co-pilot’s seat he gripped them so tight and Wash gave up any attempt to fly after a few seconds, the helm unresponsive to anything he did. And then it was all over.
They floated through space again and the cloud was no where to be found. Mal and Wash look at each other to make sure they were still there. After a few seconds Mal realized they had stopped twisting and turning so he undid his straps and grabbed the mic.
“This is the captain. Seems we’ve come through some sort of space…something….Check for damages and report any injuries.”
Zoe moved to the co-pilot seat as Wash fired up the VTOL’s again. She looked at her husband and he gave her a reassuring grin but it was forced. Book then appeared on the bridge.
“No injuries, Captain. Kaylee has gone to the engine room and Jayne and Simon went below to check on things. Inara and River are picking up the pieces in the kitchen.”
“Thanks, Shepherd. Hell of a ride.”
“Not one I’d care to repeat. Any idea on where we are?”
“Just getting to that,” said Wash as he started operating the nav computer.
Mal grabbed the mic and hit the button for the engine room intercom. “Kaylee, report.”
“All shiny here Capt’n, ‘cept for a few loose items. Getting to them now. You want main engine powered up?”
“If you please,” replied Mal.
“Main engine powered up,” said Wash as the indicator light came on his control panel.
“VTOL’s off. Save the fuel,” said Mal as Wash hit the switches shutting them down.
“Bridge,” came Simon’s voice over the comms. “Bit banged up down here but nothing major.”
“Roger that,” answered Mal.
Curiosity about their situation soon gripped the crew and gradually all made their way to the bridge, Kaylee the last as she finally got the engine room in ship-shape. The nine members of Serenity’s crew stared out the windows at this strange section of space.
“Need a location, Wash,” Mal said in a toneless voice, barely a whisper.
“I’m not getting any nav beacons or nav sat input,” replied the pilot. “There’s just…nothing.”
“Can’t be,’ growled Jayne. “Whole galaxy is full of them beacons and nav sat transmitters.”
“There’s something…a planet!’ said Inara with excitement, pointing off to a distance tiny speck.
“Scan that planet, Zoe,” Mal commanded. “There’s got to be nav sats there.”
Zoe hit buttons and flipped switches as all waited in anticipation.
“Nothing,” she replied in frustration.
“Too far maybe,” said Wash. “It’s about 500,000 kilometers.”
“Let’s get closer and see if we can pick up a signal or if we recognize it,” Mal said and Wash nudged the power up a bit and Serenity moved closer and closer.
“There’s a sun nearby,” said Zoe, looking at the instrument panels in front of her. “Behind us. Getting higher heat signatures on the back of the ship.”
“Check it, Kaylee,” ordered Mal and Kaylee moved over and looked over Zoe’s shoulder.
“Yup, its solar radiation alright, not from our engine. Almost directly behind us.”
“It looks like Greenleaf,” chimed in Inara after a few minutes of breathless silence, a bit of hope in her voice.
“Greenleaf’s got five moons,” said Simon. “I think this planet only has one. See it off to the left?”
“One moon,” said Zoe from the co-pilot’s seat. “Picking up some kind of electrical background, also from the moon.”
“A signal?’ Mal asked with hope.
“Too weak to tell,” said Zoe in frustration.
“What about the planet?” asked Book. “Any signs of life?’
“Nothing...except…. plenty of meteorological activity and…large amounts of radiation. And it’s too high to be solar,” Zoe told them.
“Radiation?” Kaylee questioned. “How can there be radiation? It’s a solid planet, not a gas bag or sun.”
No one had an answer.
They were close enough now the scanner could send them images of continents and islands and oceans on the planet and plenty of clouds.
“It doesn’t look like any planet I’ve ever seen,” said Book as he gazed at the scanners. “And I’ve seen most every one in our area of the verse.”
“It’s not in our area of the verse. We’re not in our area of the verse,’ said River in a quiet voice.
“Well, where in the hell are we then?” Jayne snapped, his voice with a slight tremor and tinged with sarcasm and fear.
Simon looked at his sister and then at the scanner and the images of the land and oceans. Something tugged at his memory, lessons from his childhood, history and geography of planets. And then it came in a flash of blinding light and he finally understood, the last piece of the puzzle. A blue-green-white sphere with one moon, with continents, islands and oceans could be any planet. But this planet’s distinct land formations he knew from staring at them for hours on old maps and books in his father’s study, some of them so old that they were passed down from generation to generation in the Tam family and carefully protected. Simon had to sneak into the study and take them out of a locked cupboard when his father wasn’t home, always careful not to tear the dusty pages and always putting them back in the same place.
“I know where we are.”
They all turned to him, with looks of fear, hope, and anticipation.
“It’s Earth,” Simon said in an awed voice and the disbelief and shock was on all faces as they turned to the blue-green-white sphere and its single moon that was the homeland of humanity.
Thursday, March 20, 2008 3:14 AM
Thursday, March 20, 2008 10:21 AM
Thursday, March 20, 2008 6:15 PM
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